Pact Ukraine staff: Reforms must be forged locally, by ordinary UkrainiansCorinne Reilly · April 22, 2015
To succeed, reforms in Ukraine must involve ordinary citizens who see the benefit of taking part, and they can't be focused only in Kiev, two Pact directors said during a visit to Washington, D.C.
Roland Kovats, Pact's Ukraine country director, and Yulia Yesmukhanova, Pact's senior manager for governance programs in Ukraine, spoke April 21 at George Washington University's Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies.
Their talk focused on reforms in the wake of the country's 2014 revolution, the likelihood of their success, and the important role that civil society must play. Pact has been working in Ukraine since 2006. In addition to HIV/AIDS prevention programs, Pact is carrying out a wide-ranging governance and capacity-building project that is strengthening civil society and has helped hundreds of local organizations push for democratic gains.
"The question to me is not whether reforms can succeed," Kovats said. "The question is how they can succeed."
Informing Pact's work are public opinion polls gauging how much progress Ukrainians believe their country has made, their desire to push on, and what problems they see as most important, Yesmukhanova explained. She said results of Pact-administered polls show that Ukrainians are less willing to suffer for the sake of reform efforts than they were late last year, mostly because they've seen few positive effects and don't believe such efforts will make a meaningful difference in their lives.
They named stopping government corruption as the top priority, followed by resolving the country's economic crisis. Polls have shown limited demand for the kinds of reforms being pushed by the international community, such as constitutional changes and the decentralization of power.
Citizen engagement will be key as Ukraine seeks to strengthen itself amid war, Kovats and Yesmukhanova said. To move ordinary people to take part, they must be shown that reforms will improve their lives in real ways, particularly economically.
Rather than focusing on abstract reforms, Kovats said, "we have to demonstrate the material benefits of this transition." And citizens must be engaged directly, he said.
That means efforts must be forged locally, and not focused only in Kiev.
The recent past has given Pact and its partners in Ukraine reason to be optimistic, Kovats and Yesmukhanova said.
"The trajectory is positive," Yesmukhanova said.