Archive for May 11th, 2012

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EU and Ukrainian Civil Society – A question from a reader

May 11, 2012

Every now and again I get a question from you dear readers.  I am pleased to get them too.  It shows that amongst  the thousands of you who at least according to the website statistics read this blog each week, some do actually read it.

Behind the scenes my blog spaces are going through a tidying up process and will emerge, hopefully some what more distinct in categories and will offer a few services and advice for those coming to Odessa.

Hopefully the new look, when ready, will allow easier navigation should you need an English speaking dentist in Odessa or simply want to know the latest on the Chernobyl Sarcophagus.  At least OdessaTalk, one of my other blogs will.  This one may remain looking as if it is created on tablets of stone, carved atop a mountain somewhere from eons ago.

Anyway, the question I have been asked by Alena, an Odessa based follower of my ruminations, is what does the EU hope to achieve by engaging with Ukrainian civil society when it has no political power and was pretty much ignored by the last and present governments?

Well, the flippant answer would be more than they have achieved with Ukrainian governments past and present, but that would fail to recognise some fairly major, albeit neither swift nor linear, progress in the past decade from both previous and current government.

A better answer would be to gain Ukrainian society’s support and buy into EU orientated domestic reforms emanating from the RADA.

As is recognised by the current authorities publicly,  and was no doubt recognised by the last government, although I don’t remember them stating so publicly,  there is a structural breakdown between state, agency and society, and no matter who is in government, the regional fiefdoms and regional agencies are obstructive to anything that will effect their ability to coercively and corruptly add to their bank accounts.

As I must have written more than 100 times in various posts, reforms need society to buy into them or they won’t work.  Top down and bottom up pressure is needed upon the regional fiefdoms and agencies to reduce their obstructive behaviour and corruptive practices.

The EU is well aware of the weaknesses and deficiencies in the pillars of Ukrainian society.

Having witnessed the weakness of governments past and present to effectively implement any real reforms due to the aforementioned  issues, the EU has now directed its EaP strategies towards direct engagement with civil society (by civil society I mean the now largely accepted definition of NGOs, academia et al rather than society en mass.)

Now whilst the academics may appear on TV shows stating the obvious, or making similarly obvious comments to the press, NGOs are usually more accessible to the general public when it comes to walking into their offices, seeing them on the streets and person to person contact.  NGOs are, after all, supposedly grass roots organisations (unless a foreign NGOs parachuted in behind enemy lines completely unknown, and fairly distrusted by Ukrainian society and governments alike.)

The idea behind this new EaP strategy will therefore be firstly to assist Ukrainian civil society to keep pressure up on the government of the day (whichever it happens to be) and now, just as importantly, to spread the “good EU reformist word” amongst the hoy polloy with whom their members live and associate every day.

Now there are problems with this, which I have written about before.  Grass roots NGOs are exactly that, grass roots community causes born from within.  Current fashion now dictates that once one gets established, those who fund such NGOs (and they all need funding somehow), put in professional NGO managers and management teams, and that needless to say,  can have a very counterproductive repercussion on a particular NGO when those who started it are subsequently pushed to the side by “professional NGO managers” who appear from somewhere, but that somewhere is not from amongst the grass roots where the NGO began.  Noses being put out of joint and all that.

Is an effective management team capable of far better interaction with the state players worth the loss of the grass roots support?  Who and what does the NGO represent when it has lost the backing of the community, or the community sees the NGO morph into something they no longer like or trust because the “new management” are seemingly getting too close to the State in order to gain only peripheral gains whilst the core issues remain unmoved?  Worse still, what if the NGO management begin to ignore the community that founded it?

How do the grass roots react when their NGO under “new management” publicly attacks a different NGO that is far more prickly in its attitude towards government on the proviso that to do so will mean progress for the now seemingly government friendly NGO?

When the perception of independence is gone, a NGO is dead in the water as far as society is concerned, and thus how close is too close to government in order to win a minor battle or two from the grass roots perspective of a NGO?

Alternatively, if you are a particularly prickly NGO towards government, and others take a more understanding attitude towards the issues and problems the government have, and they do make noticeable progress in their cause, should you change your tactics when you are getting nowhere?

As you can tell, I could go on and on and on about this subject and the relationships not only between NGO and the  government of the day, but also NGO management and the grass roots support that swells or shrinks behind it.

So, returning to the EU EaP strategy to engage directly and comprehensively with Ukrainian civil society, the answer Alena, is person to person contact and spreading the “EU word” in an attempt to get people like yourself to buy into much needed reforms even if you don’t particularly like them.  Reforms needs bottom-up support if it is going to be successfully implemented and that is the message the EU, via NGOs and the academia in Ukraine, is trying to get across to society.

To be fair to both the current government and the opposition, they both jointly supported a new law that comes into effect in January 2013, to create and register NGOs far more easily.  A very positive thing.  I am tempted to look more actively at starting an NGO myself when this law comes into effect.

In the meantime, if you want to know more about the EU’s EaP strategy and thoughts on direct engagement with NGOs and civil society, have a look here.

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