The conference lasted for two days at the Elliott School of International Affairs of the George Washington University. Its participants were the alumni of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program (the program offers students from Ukraine an opportunity to serve as interns in the Canadian House of Commons) from different years who are now pursuing their education or career in North America. This time those for whom the internship in Canada’s capital was the first experience of witnessing real democracy first-hand and now continue their education or work in the West gathered to share their ideas on the individual, identity, rights, and responsibilities in a “Model Ukraine,” which was the conference’s topic.
The discussions were heated due to the fact that the conference was held a few days after the presidential elections in Ukraine, the outcome of which drastically changed the direction of Ukrainian politics. Participants of the conference approached life in Ukraine from different perspectives and discussed the following themes: Ukrainian identity (Who is a Ukrainian? Is it someone with a Ukrainian passport, or it is something akin to the state of mind, regardless of citizenship?); How can we make our native language become a common value, rather than something that divides Ukrainians? (Participants from eastern and southern Ukraine suggested that a forced introduction of Ukrainian in all spheres of life had a negative effect, and in order to make Ukrainian acceptable among traditional Russian-speakers, the government could use positive marketing techniques); Recent official recognition of individuals in Ukrainian history, such as Shukhevych and Bandera? (Shall we ignore those who disagree with their status as heroes, or would it be more reasonable to devote more attention to education on these subjects?); Is Ukraine a post-colonial state, or should it share the responsibility for the tragedies in its history and refuse to see its history from the position of a subaltern?
Another interesting component of the conference was the participation of invited honorary guests. For example, Taras Kuzio, a prominent scholar from the University of Toronto, had a presentation on the subject “What does the election of Yanukovych mean for Ukraine?” Though most of the young Ukrainians present were upset by Yanukovvych’s victory, they didn’t automatically have praise for Tymoshenko, his main competitor. That is why Mr. Kuzio, as a supporter of the former Ukrainian PM, had to field some uncomfortable questions.
Andy Semotiuk, a well-known attorney from Los Angeles, who has written articles on the legal aspects of the Holodomor and in defense of John Demjanjuk, gave an impressive lecture entitled “If you don’t know where you came from, you cannot know where you are going. What can be learned from Ukrainian history? What can be learned from the foreign experience?” His presentation was full of emotional and thought-provoking moments. For example, he explained how, while visiting Ukraine during the time of the USSR, his relatives had to take him to an open country field – and even there they felt the need to whisper in his ear – to speak about their relatives who belonged to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).
Bohdan Vitvitsky, who has served as a Federal prosecutor with the US Department of Justice since 1992, spoke on “Patriotism, facts, history, learning from others, and who vs. what.” He was somewhat critical of contemporary Ukrainian society, saying that Ukrainians sometimes do things that can’t be explained from a rational viewpoint. Having worked for two years at the US Embassy in Kyiv on an anti-corruption project, he was very convincing.
One of the speakers expressed an idea that each democratic society must have three constituents: strong opposition, free mass media, and developed civil society. Ukraine seems to have the first two. The third, and most important, one is still in a nascent state in our country. Since the Washington Conference was the first in the series of the CUPP conferences, the participants offered their recommendations for subsequent conferences.
The second conference will take place in Ottawa (Canada) in October 2010 and will focus on the state, its electoral system, integration into the Euro-Atlantic Community and relations with the EU, Russia and the USA. The Third Conference is scheduled to take place in Kyiv in November 2011 and will focus on combining the conclusions of the first two conferences to create a “Model Ukraine.”