KIEV, Ukraine — Given the circumstances, Hanna Hopko, a public health expert-turned-democratic activist, had ample reason to feel gloomy. Russia’s prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev, had just warned that her beloved Ukraine was “on the brink of civil war” — a slight exaggeration, but one that underscored the dangerous power struggle taking place in the east of the country. There, pro-Russian commandos had stormed local government buildings and police stations in several cities, while Moscow, after swallowing Crimea, was further unnerving the government in Kiev by concentrating 40,000 Russian troops near the border.
Yet, reached by telephone in Lviv, in western Ukraine, where she was spending Easter with her family and seeing her three-year-old daughter for the first time in months, Ms. Hopko, 32, sounded anything but discouraged. For her, the glass is now at least half-full because, even as destabilization grows in the east, the so-called Maidan Revolution that ousted President Viktor F. Yanukovych in February is bearing fruit.
For this, credit is due to a determined group of activists, which Ms. Hopko helped to organize, who are pushing reforms through a Parliament that until a couple of months ago was much more interested in profiting from the system than in changing it.
Earlier this month, the group managed to get the law on the independence of public broadcasting passed. For Nataliya Gumenyuk, 30, a former public-television journalist who co-founded the independent, web-based Hromadske-TV, this is a watershed event. “We waited for this for years,” she told me. “I could not dream that it would become reality. Thanks to the pressure of civil society, the government is actually giving up the control of the state media.”
Also adopted by Parliament: A bill on public procurement and another on the appointment of judges, both part of the fight against the corruption entrenched in Ukraine’s public life. Additionally, the legislature completed a reading of a bill on higher education that would give more autonomy to universities. Across the street from Parliament, the interim cabinet moved ahead with a crucial bill on decentralization that would give more power to the regions.
Hanna Hopko and her friends, who have been instrumental in drafting, preparing and promoting this legislative work, see it as the next stage of the revolution that started on Independence Square on Nov. 21, when President Yanukovych rejected an Association Agreement with the European Union. Civil society activists involved in local NGOs, they were on the Maidan from the first day. But after the president fled and his power base collapsed, they sensed the danger: The political establishment, including the opposition parties, which had not led the popular uprising but tried to surf on it, could very well pick up the pieces and start all over again, preserving the same rotten political system. The activists had good reason to worry: It happened before, with the Orange Revolution, in 2004. This time, they decided, things would be different, but only if the energy released by the movement was quickly translated into real, institutional change.
So they set up a “group of experts” comprising highly qualified people from civil society, think tanks, NGOs, the media and universities who are not involved in political parties but committed to the rule of law and to the democratic future of their country. Some of them had studied abroad. Ms. Gumenyuk earned a master’s degree in global journalism at Orebro University in Sweden. Daria Kaleniuk, 26, from Kharkiv, was a Fulbright scholar of the Chicago-Kent College of Law; she heads a group working on corruption in financial services. Most of them are in their 30s, and women are at the forefront.
This is the Maidan generation: Too young to be burdened by the experience of the Soviet Union, old enough to remember the failure of the Orange Revolution, they don’t want their children to be standing again on the Maidan 15 years from now. They started by assembling a few dozen experts. A month ago, they numbered more than 80; today it’s at least 150. Testifying to their new clout, they have formed a “committee to support reforms” that will hold biweekly meetings with the interim cabinet of ministers and parliamentary groups.
For them, this is a race against time. Notwithstanding events in the east, they believe they must build the foundations for structural change before the May 25 presidential election. So they work round the clock, organizing public meetings and keeping pressure on the government and Parliament. To bring to life proposed legislation that has been stalled for years, the activists have proposed a “reanimation package” of reforms, along with a detailed schedule for their adoption. This week, some of them went to Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk to present their initiatives to people in the east who, they claim, are just as worried about corruption and abuse of power as people in the west.
Ukraine’s politicians are taking notice. Quick to get the message, for one, was former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who is running for president and fighting to restore her credibility. Appearing recently on the popular TV show “Shuster Live,” she told Ms. Hopko that she would commit to working with her group and implement the reforms it advocates. Ms. Hopko explained the strategy: “We’re asking all the leading candidates to make a public commitment to support our reforms. We have to use them before it’s too late. The system is attacking us, so we fight back.”
This generation of activists is the antidote to the Putin system. “The Kremlin wants to create the feeling that Ukraine is a failed state,” said Ms. Gumenyuk, and they want to prove him wrong. They are the future of Ukraine — and the people we should help.
Sylvie Kauffmann is the editorial director and a former editor in chief of Le Monde.'via Blog this'