Not for the first time I turn my eye to Ukrainian civil society – in particular the issue of a perceived need for a specific law guaranteeing the right to peaceful assembly and protest (which is indeed guaranteed by the Constitution).
Regular readers will know, so many times have I written about Ukrainian civil society that if I were to link to each entry there would be dozens of links in this entry. For those who don’t want to enter “Civil Society” in the search facility of this blog and be faced by the numerous entries that will be listed, a suitably median sample of my thoughts on Ukrainian civil society can be found here.
Naturally the problems listed in that link – and others in many other entries – continue to exist within Ukrainian civil society.
Excluding the Orthodox Church as a civil society actor, civil society still operates with about 5% of the Ukrainian populous taking part – an almost static percentage since 1991 and Ukrainian independence.
Ukraine still has far less civil society actors per capita than the vast majority of Europe – something that is hardly surprising considering civil society’s inability to capture and expand public participation over the past 22 years.
Thus civil society remains further away from the society it purports to represent than the political class does both in overall presence by way of meeting the public face to face frequently (if at all) and also by self-projection via the media to the public. A few clever lines and quotations on Interfax Ukraine or a brief appearance on Inter or Kanal 5 television channels etc, are not likely – and have actually proven not to – increase the Ukrainian public participation in civil society.
It is seen – and acts like – an elitist bubble serving either its own, or its financial donors interests first and foremost – both reasons not endearing to a cynical and distrustful Ukrainian public. An image not helped in any way by the clever thinking, quotations and TV appearances coming across as an “adult to child” lecture to the population, rather than the “adult to adult” conversation it necessarily needs to be when purporting to represent society over issues the political class demonstratively fails to respond to.
In short, the visibility of civil society in every day Ukrainian life for almost all 46 million Ukrainians is practically zero – I don’t even remember the last time I saw a civil society actor raising awareness of its existence or cause in the streets, let alone engaging in something as basic as face to face public opinion surveys in relation to support – or not – for its cause.
To the contrary, walk along any high street in the UK and you can expect to be accosted by Help the Aged, Amnesty International or any number of international, national or local civil society actors.
However, this is not the issue I raise today. I have historically written that NGOs and civil society actors will often turn on each other – for various reasons.
This may be because they are a pseudo-NGO that is in fact a government sponsored entity thrown into the civil society mix in order to back the government line and therefore give the government line some form of civil society credibility, or they have simply allowed themselves to become too close to government to advance their cause (even glacially) to the point they deem it necessary to attack other civil society actors who may begin to gain the government ear to which they have become accustomed, or simply to rubbish competitors in the fight for funding.
With this in mind, one wonders what is going on here, why, to what end and who is ultimately behind it?
This statement in relation to human rights and freedom of peaceful assembly legislation may actually be correct in its content relating to the options on the legislative table – “According to UHHRU, best of all meeting these standards is the bill supported by the Coordination Council for the Development of Civil Society under the President of Ukraine. The Union believes that it may serve as a basis for the successful achievement of the purpose set by human rights activists.”
Just because it comes from the presidential circles doesn’t make it necessarily bad or something to rally against simply because of the legislative origin. Good policy and good legislation is just that – whether it comes from the presidential administration, parliamentary majority or parliamentary minority.
And yet this statement follows – “UHHRU called on civil society organizations and activists to stop manipulating its position in relation to the law on freedom of peaceful assembly, and on the media and journalists to take into account that the statements of the initiative For Peaceful Protest have nothing in common with the position of UHHRU.”
Which is worse? A fellow civil society actor with similar goals manipulating the UHHRU position – or the media who seemingly (and unfortunately regularly) are muddying the waters with slip-shod reporting, rather than helping set public opinion by accurately reporting the different and definitive positions of the civil society actors involved?
For me, the media come out of that statement far worse than any competing civil society actor.
As ineffective as civil society in Ukraine generally is, whatever individual actors do say, should at the very least be accurately reported and their positions clearly identified if the media is to fulfill its role in framing public opinion and debate.
Thus, not only is the Ukrainian opposition in a mess as far as lack of policy, leadership etc. is concerned, civil society which would be the next vanguard against any government running amok is seemingly intent not only upon remaining out of touch with society itself, but also engaging in infighting.
A situation nicely topped of with a slipshod 4th estate incapable of reporting on “independent” civil society actors accurately.
Amongst all this, due to the circus now surrounding it, I have almost forgotten about the freedom of assembly legislation and the inherent human rights/liberties issues that should be the only story.