I come from a south-western European origin; I was born in Barcelona, so despite I travel a lot, still my learning about Eastern Europe, ex-sovietic countries is a constant and accelerated process.
I landed in Ukraine at a moment in which the region is in a fast changing process: their people change, the country changes, international relations change, … and they are in the middle of several violent conflicts (-not just one). I am not only trying to understand how Ukranian cultures are, how is the country structured, but also what is happening. I am not only trying to understand that, but also trying to explain it, to communicate it. I run, but I hope I will give you an understandable picture of what I see.
In order to do that, today I have, as an invited guest, Oleksandra “Sasha” Romantsova.
We sit in the meeting room of her association Center for Civil Liberties, a Human Rights organisation that was very active during the EuroMaidan (they started the EuroMaidan SOS initiative, they provided with legal help to 20 activists detained during the pacific protests, they accused the state for tortures and crimes against humanity, and followed the campaign to bring the government to the International Criminal Court in The Hague); an organisation that has grown significantly after the Maidan, according to Oleksandra because “people are understanding their position in society in a different way”, more people understood now that it is about their society, that human rights are their rights, that democracy is their democracy.
And because of this change, which would be a major social change if it would be generalised, Oleksandra says that high career specialists are coming to Center for Civil Liberties to offer their expertise as lawyers, economists, etc. This is an added and new profile.
The truth is that I cannot know if this is a generalised change or not. I know that I’ve seen that sparkle in the eyes of many people when we visited Kiev those days. And I may repeat this in each of my articles about Ukraine: people are desolated by the war, but there is also strength and hope coming from a deep change of mind (if not of system) brought by the EuroMaidan events.
Oleksandra is a young woman full of energy, I would say also of self-security, who feels comfortable to talk about the changes that happened during and after the Euro-Maidan. She shares her points of view with confidence, maybe less impacted by our visit than former interviewees during our mission in Kiev. Our conversation was long, but I could synthesise it on 2 main topics: how society is changing; and how the system is changing, after the Euro-Maidan.
We talk about participation and democracy. We discover that now not only the Center can have their voice heard in the Parliament, but also some parliamentaries call them because they want to be publicly identified with their cause: human rights are getting trendy…? Astonishing! At the same time we hear that the Ministry of Home Affairs didn’t really change, that mechanisms (and people?) are the same as in the last “regime”. Real change is a long journey…
We talk about economy and social justice. We feel again that difference in our history, East and West, where in the west we claim for public protection as a social advance, and in the east anything that sounds like economy liberalisation sounds like democracy. And then we get to the greys; Oriol Andrés, a Contrast reporter, talks about public services like health system and hospitals being irreplaceable if we seek for equality: Oleksandra ensures that corruption makes everything public work worse than any low quality and unfair privatised system. And we get to the point, to my point in fact: in the east and in the west the real danger to democracy and equality is corruption. In corruption private and public meet. They take what is ours to some limited “theirs”. And there is another danger to democracy, of course: the lack of participation, the lack of civic engagement and a system that does not allow them. And because, as Oleksandra says, there is a change of mind, some changing structures, in Ukraine there seems to be a future.
We talk about a future. Since EuroMaidan, Center for Civil Liberties has tripled their size, they have 400 lawyers helping them as volunteers, they are feeling the need of a 5 year long strategic plan to fulfill their goals. The person who explains this to us lives, though, in a country that is involved in several wars within its territory (that is why in fact we visited them and why we opened this blog), that has 1’5 million Internal Displaced People living a really challenging and harmful reality, with a very complicated future, that has sent many voluntary batallions to war, dozens of thousands of people, some of them formed by fearful far right movements that nobody knows how they’ll behave when they return from war. This is all future.
But I tricked you in the begining of this post: Oleksandra was not my guest that day. All of the contrary. Instead it was me, the guest to her future, to the future she represents: what I believe is that such future can be stronger, can take a bigger space, if we find the ways to support it, to strengthen what they represent (and maybe what we represent); a future built by honest and energetic civil society, working for equality, for human rights and human dignity, for participation and democracy, like Oleksandra does, like Zoryan does in Amnesty, like Svetlana does in Krim SOS, like many others. And if, in a country surrounded by such challenges, we are invited to their future, what will we do?[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEcXoMUoLP0&w=560&h=315]
I leave you here some of their contacts
Center for Civil Liberties website: http://ccl.org.ua/en/about-us/
The site of the EuroMaidanSOS initiative: http://euromaidansos.org/en
Some interesting informations from CCL campaigns: