Ukraine like Noah’s Ark every day, hour and minute surmounts the hard path to the democracy. “Ukraine” means more than just a country with its glory history, for lots of ordinary Ukrainians (those who living in Ukraine, not a nationality) it means a hope for better future they deserve. There are many foreigners who are with Ukraine during its hard time of revival. One of them is Terry Hallman, the founder and director of People-Centered Economic Development, and now P-CED Ukraine. Mr. Hallman kindly agreed to give an interview for forUm's readers.
- What is your estimation regarding the first steps of Orange democracy and how, to your mind, the Ukrainian mentality has been changed since the revolution?
-I think the first steps of democracy in Ukraine have been very promising. First and foremost, Ukraine now has media freedom and freedom of speech. This is something I watched emerge with my own eyes, in Kharkiv, during the revolution. A lot of people, particularly international observers and commentators, see only the problems and conflicts in the Orange camp after they finally took office in January 2005. If any of them can point to any democracy that doesn’t have similar conflicts and infighting, I’d love to hear about them. There aren’t any, in fact. Democracy is tough, and messy. As Britain’s legendary Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, democracy is the worst possible form of government – except for all the others. Now what we see in Ukraine is healthy debate and at times tumultuous disagreement among politicians. But it’s all public now. Media and journalists can cover it and comment on it any way they want to, and the public can pay attention or not as they prefer. In that sense, I see a fundamental and permanent shift in Ukrainian mentality. It’s the beginning, a good start. The most essential ingredient in democracy is freedom of speech, media, and expression. That was severely repressed in Ukraine as recently as two years ago. Now, it’s the opposite. Even President Yushchenko got a hard lesson in media freedom when he slammed Ukrayinska Pravda for their series on his son Andrei’s escapades and tried to intimidate them. Journalists all over Ukraine furiously demanded an apology. He apologized. That’s a big difference from the previous regime.
Overall, Ukrainians now seem to dare believe in a good future for Ukraine. More hope, more positive thinking, more belief in a good future, less cynicism. More positive, less negative, overall.
- Do you think it was a revolution or just a political substitution and another lie both for Ukrainians and world community?
- It was a revolution. It’s not finished. It began in November 2004, as a revolution. Now, it’s a movement. Like I said, the main thing is the appearance of free media and freedom of speech and expression. Any political opinion is tolerated; nobody gets killed for harshly criticizing government. There are certainly many people still in public jobs – militia, customs, judicial, and so on – who have old, bad habits toward corruption and less than the best interests of Ukrainian citizens – but fewer than before. It’s impossible to get rid of that problem in a year or two, because it’s been going on for so long and is a deeply entrenched practice. Corrupt officials and public servants deserve to be criticized and exposed. That’s the only way to deal with them, pointing them out and making their activities known to the public who pays their salaries. They are your employees, you are their bosses. Not the other way around. If they don’t like it and still want to practice corruption, they can think about it while unemployed. You just have to keep pressure on your chief employees in Kyiv to remove corrupt public employees. Freedom of media makes that possible now. Ukrainians – the majority, at least – demanded an end to corruption and the beginning of new government responsive to ordinary citizens’ needs, providing means for making a better, and more honest, more decent life possible for Ukrainian people and families. You have that now. It’s like having a bicycle for the first time. You have to learn how to ride it. But now, at least, you finally have that metaphorical bicycle.
- Do you still believe you may change common people's life here in Ukraine?
- I still believe I can provide means for common people in Ukraine to change their own lives. I can’t do it for them, but I can help reorganize things, marshal resources, and organize new development programs, and so on. People can then participate as they wish. They’ll have new opportunities that they do not have now. I’m mainly aiming at the poorest people in Ukraine who have no real opportunities to improve their lives and get out of poverty. Helping them will provide significant economic benefit to Ukraine, not least by creating a stronger economy and larger annual national budget – which in turn makes possible helping improve social and economic conditions for more people.
- What has happened with the Crimea project now?
- That was a project I worked on in 2002-3, based in Simferopol. It was designed to create up to 10,000 new small businesses over a four year period, specifically for the poorest people in Crimea. It was proposed as a joint Ukraine/US project, and the US side was willing to go with it. A few politicians in Crimea’s government wanted “private payment” before they would allow it, namely the economy minister’s and prime minister’s offices. Never mind that nearly a third of Ukrainians in Crimea lived in poverty. They didn’t care about anything but their own money, and were in office mainly to grab money wherever they could. So, I paused the project and decided to wait for a better time to try it again.
That time has arrived. But now, instead of just one region, in light of the orange revolution and Ukraine’s clear national commitment to democracy and market reforms, I am preparing a new proposal to include Crimea as well as all of Ukraine. It is proposed as a joint Ukraine/US project, again, and both sides now have more than enough money specifically allocated for such projects to make it happen. However, I’m also including nationwide childcare reform into the project now, to eliminate Ukraine’s orphanages and get children into something like a real home and family. It all goes together. That latter part, childcare reform, will require a very substantial initial budget outlay, and that isn’t likely to be approved unless the public knows and understands the reality of some of Ukraine’s worst orphanages – which I’ve talked about in your forum in the topic “Ukraine’s Death Camps for Children.” It sounds like a fantastical, demagoguery phrase, but it’s literally true, and it can no longer be overlooked. Right now I’m trying to simply go in and document the 20-30 worst orphanages, to show exactly what these children are suffering. Once that’s done, I’ll have all the research and documentation needed to finalize the proposal and make a compelling, unquestionable case for overall funding.
There will be people who disagree with childcare reform in particular, and who need Ukraine’s present orphanage system to remain as it is, with little regard to the well-being of the children. They are not only in Ukraine, but also in the US and possibly other countries. Many people are making very good income from Ukraine’s existing orphanage system, and therefore will almost certainly fight and try to undermine and sabotage any change. Unfortunately, I’m embarrassed to say, some of those people are in the US, calling themselves “charity” organizations. Ukraine’s orphanages supply them with a commodity they need to make money, and quite a bit of money. It is absolutely to Yushchenko’s credit, and one thing he has done absolutely correctly, in stopping foreign adoptions. It isn’t because he doesn’t care about the children, in my opinion, but because he has a very good understanding that many so-called charities are concerned with nothing more than their own bank accounts. The children in orphanages are their market commodity, and they want to keep it that way. Watch for them to appear. I'm sure they will.
Based on my previous experience, and knowing very well what very honorable people in US government care about – including the incoming US Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor – I have little doubt that the US side will help Ukraine any way possible in solidifying Ukraine’s new democracy, and in dealing honestly and toward the best advantage of ALL of Ukraine’s citizens toward a better life. At that point, the new project begins, and to answer your original question, so does the Crimea project, finally, after three years of effort and one revolution. There’s just a little more to be done, to expand the original Crimea project now to all of Ukraine, because now all of Ukraine clearly deserves every honest assistance toward building your new democracy and fulfilling the enormous potential of Ukraine. That means the human potential of 100% of Ukrainian citizens – most especially those that at present have no voice, no protection. Your children. Your children are my personal boss. I will do anything for them.
- Regarding Ukraine's bureaucratic legal system, I think, you had to face some obstacles on your way to combat poverty there, did not you?
- Yes indeed. As I indicated above, the project ran straight into corruption. I have a very simple rule about corruption and dealing with corruption: don’t be corrupt. Rather than agree to corruption, I did the unexpected – at a time when most Ukrainians couldn’t for fear of their lives. I went public. I blasted them in an op-ed piece in Kyiv Post, followed by a radio interview on Voice of America - Ukraine. I was furious that those guys were willing to block a development project to help desperately poor families. I was furious that they were typical of most officials in Ukraine, starting at the top. I was furious with Ukrainians for allowing their government to run all over you, abuse you, reduce your lives to penury and poverty, and you just took it. In short, I blasted everybody and everything in Ukraine, all Ukrainians, for allowing such a sorry state of affairs to even exist. That was May 2003. I became an Orange Revolutionary at that time, before there was either orange or a revolution.
But I also saw enormous potential for Ukraine, for Ukrainians, for common citizens and not just a small percentage of bosses and officials. That’s really why I was so angry, seeing that potential and seeing exactly who and what was blocking it, and citizens doing little or nothing about it. The bureaucratic legal system still exists, mainly because that’s about the only possible organizational scheme that can work in any large organization. But it’s changed, it’s still changing and transforming, as ordinary citizens discover their voice matters and can speak out now to demand better government.
- What forced you to come to Ukraine and to stay here?
- I came to Ukraine for the first time in April 2002, to work on a possible development proposal. That became the Crimea project mentioned above. I had already gotten a development project into Russia – Tomsk – in 1999. Work there came to a logical conclusion for me at the end of 2000, and I always had Ukraine in mind as my next stop. In both cases, I thought that I might be able to find ways to help our former enemy, the former USSR. The US and USSR had been enemies for so long, it just seemed time to try and be friends. President Clinton usually listened to my ideas, so I felt that if I came up with a good idea for a development project, he would help get it done. That’s how the Tomsk project came about. For me, it was all in the spirit of friendship, reaching out and trying to help former enemies if possible. There just wasn’t any sense in being enemies, particularly since ordinary citizens in the US and former USSR have much more in common, than not, as human beings. I realized that if US citizens and Russian or Ukrainian citizens actually had a chance to get to know each other, as people, there would never have been a Cold War. We, US citizens, for the most part didn’t want to hurt you. You, USSR citizens, for the most part didn’t want to hurt us. It was an insane battle of ideology between Washington and Moscow, which most of us had nothing to do with. Washington convinced US citizens that all of the USSR wanted to harm us, and Moscow did the same with USSR citizens. For the most part, it was never true. I just wanted to get past the nonsense, and really try to establish friendship in place of enmity.
I learned a lot in the Tomsk effort, including that I must anticipate the possibility of corrupt people in positions of authority who do not care a bit about ordinary people and citizens. This same principle holds true in the US, by the way. Thus I was somewhat prepared for dealing with extreme corruption in the Crimea project. When I had to pause the project after corruption was attempted by government officials, I couldn’t stop thinking about the thousands of people I’d seen, many of whom I met personally, who were suffering terribly from poverty. I saw children starving, some starved nearly to death, and some I’m sure starved to death out of sight. I was almost able to help them, but had to stop the project because Crimea’s government clearly hoped to loot the project and enrich themselves. I couldn’t just stop and go do something else. So, I’d say it was simply the spirit of friendship that compelled me to come to Ukraine, but it was seeing so many people suffering, really needlessly except for corrupt government, and seeing starving children and babies that compelled me to stay here. Now I’m here for as long as it takes to see the project through, and turn the tide against poverty and needless suffering in Ukraine. These are problems that can be fixed, in Ukraine, and I can’t say the same for identical problems in other locations such as Darfur for example. But they can be fixed in Ukraine.
- What’s your opinion on US hand in the Orange Revolution?
US government and various US non-governmental organizations funded civic development initiatives for years prior to the revolution. This was totally transparent and public information, not secret, no mystery at all about it when it was going on. Funding was available to anyone – blue, orange, red, white, green, and so on. Those who were serious about civic development and honest elections tended to find a home in what became the orange faction, the opposition. That’s why it looked like the US helped the orange side – because we did, but that was not the point. It was simply that people who cared about honest elections, the ones who used US money for civic development for years, found little place or welcome in the blue camp and by default had to be opposition. That’s the main US hand I saw in the elections and the subsequent revolution. I think the US merely fostered free and fair elections by helping Ukrainians to learn about civil society, over many years, prior to the revolution. It was Ukrainians’ own personal decisions to learn, or not. Those that learned about and wanted civil society, rule of law, and anti-corruption were by definition opposition. Orange.
- How do you assess the reforms launched after the November of 2004?
- On the positive side, there’s been the move to parliamentary democracy with less authority concentrated in one office, the President’s. There’s the successful reprivatization of Kryvorishtal, which produced a fair price. Ukraine just had it’s fairest election ever in March parliamentary elections. And again, freedom of media has taken root and is getting stronger. Kyiv has made clear to Moscow that Ukraine will not be pushed around any more. The US and Ukraine now have normalized trade relations, and the EU is slowly warming to improving trade with Ukraine.
On the negative side, Yushchenko is widely viewed as having not lived up to many of his most crucial campaign pledges: bandits to prison, getting the Gongadze murder case fully and transparently resolved, aggressively cleaning up corruption, for examples. His performance has been lackluster at best, and much of the time he doesn’t seem to get what’s going on around him. He praised the RosUkrEnergo deal, for example, without even knowing who was involved or all the details of the deal. He seemed to just be relieved to have some sort of solution to Russia’s energy blackmail, even a bogus solution. The energy problem was clearly visible a year ago, and in fact I wrote quite a bit about it on Maydan last year, stating emphatically that Russia was going to blackmail Ukraine over energy supplies. I’m not your president, it’s not my job to see glaring threats like that, but even to me it was obvious even then what Moscow was up to on the energy front with Ukraine. Apparently nobody in government did much of anything until Russia cut off gas supplies, and then they seemed shocked. I was shocked that they were shocked. How hard is it to figure these things out? What were they thinking? Were they thinking?
Which gets to the main problem that remains to be reformed and hasn’t yet been touched? When you get down to it. no one in Rada has to pay a bit of attention to Ukrainian citizens. They’re in office, they have full immunity while in office, and they can steal Ukraine blind if they want to. The checks and balances that might stop them are the president and prime minister, but the president doesn’t seem to be paying attention, is gone half the time, and the prime minister at present is basically his yes man. At the least, immunity for parliament deputies is going to have to be removed. Otherwise, you’ve got 450 people in Rada whose only check and balance is the president’s office and prime minister’s office. Citizens can’t touch them, so they don’t have to listen to a word you say. That one factor – immunity for parliament – can easily prove fatal for Ukraine’s new democracy. Parliament can trash everything if they want to, and there’s nothing really to stop that except for their consciences. These guys didn’t get into office on the basis of conscience or even being directly elected. They got there by paying millions of dollars for positions on a party ticket, and you can be sure they’re going to be looking to recover that investment while in office. That’s why they’re in office. That means making a ton of money for themselves, and once again leaving the rest of Ukraine wanting. Money is not an infinite commodity.
Which gets to the greatest reform failure: not separating business and political office. If that isn’t fixed, your democracy is at grave risk. That is the great unreformed problem, and it hasn’t even been touched despite Yushchenko’s promises to the contrary. In fact, instead of separating business and political office, they are at this time one and the same thing.
- Did you believe in Ukraine? Post-Soviet country is not a good climate for the son of democracy, where do you find inspiration to go on working here?
- I believe in the people of Ukraine. It is Ukrainian people where I find inspiration to go on working here. The vast majority of Ukrainians are decent, hard-working people. You have world-class universities, formidable intelligence, and enormous human potential. I simply cannot say that enough times, your human potential. It is your greatest national asset and, once unleashed, will bring Ukraine among the forefront of leading countries in the world. My role in Ukraine is to help unleash that potential. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m here mainly as human being, by the way, not as American, but being an American, there are certain things I can do to help that happen. Given hundreds of other countries in the world that I could work in, I see Ukraine as the best, most promising country to spend my limited life time.
Ukrainians also tend to be modest, gentle people, maybe a bit shy, making it rather easy for ruthless people to try and control you. However, and by that same token, I’m convinced that Ukrainians have a certain genius for being able to resolve crucial national problems peacefully and making your voices as citizens heard and respected by government – even if government has other ideas. It’s that particular genius, which shined brilliantly in the Orange Revolution and struck the whole world that inspires me profoundly. I consider it a gift and an honor to be here now.
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