Ukraine: Prospects for Democracy in the Framework of East Central Europe

May 13, 2002 // 12:00am

In a recent meeting at the Kennan Institute, Mykhailo Kirsenko, Regional Exchange Scholar at the Kennan Institute, discussed Ukraine's role in East Central Europe (CEE). While traditionally considered a "sister nation" to Russia, Kirsenko stated, Ukraine's historical and contemporary linkages with the other countries of the region illustrate Ukraine's connections with the liberal traditions of the West. He noted that while Ukraine is not ready to join NATO or the EU, Ukrainian leaders could learn valuable lessons from the collective experience of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Kirsenko stated that despite its shared background with Russia, Ukraine's traditions of property and political rights are more closely related to those of its European neighbors to the west. For example, he noted that while Russian rural society was based on collective ownership, periodic partitions, and collective responsibility, norms in western Ukraine emphasized private property and individual responsibility. Ukraine's steps toward democracy can also be traced back to the 18th century when provisions regarding the separation of powers appeared in early Ukrainian constitutional drafts.

Kirsenko also offered several examples of Ukraine's connections to other CEE countries in the modern era. He mentioned that Ukraine's declaration of sovereignty during World War I closely paralleled the Polish, Czech and Hungarian declarations for independent statehood. He stated that while the relationship between Poland and Ukraine is well documented, it is important not to underestimate Ukraine's strong ties with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He noted that Slovak and Ukrainian diasporas exist along the border between the two countries, and that Czech settlements in Volhynia and Kyiv continue to influence various aspects of Ukrainian culture and society.

According to Kirsenko, Ukraine should use its historical heritage to strengthen its contemporary relationship with its Western neighbors. Kirsenko contended that Ukrainian history should be placed in the proper European context, with special attention given to sociological factors such as language and culture. He argued that the era of Soviet-rule in Ukraine should only be viewed as a period in the national history. Kirsenko stated that Ukrainian leaders should also openly address negative or controversial periods of Ukraine's past, including the atrocities committed during WWII.

Kirsenko concluded by discussing how Ukrainian leaders could learn from the collective experience of other CEE countries. He contended that Ukrainian leaders should use mass media to help shape public opinion toward the advantages and responsibilities of integrating into Euro-Atlantic structures, including eventual NATO membership. Finally, Kirshenko noted, Ukraine and other CEE countries could have a vital role in forming closer relations between Russia and the West.

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