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Ukraine: U.S.-Ukrainian Foundation Head Optimistic About Crisis

The crisis in parliament has divided Ukrainians (RFE/RL) April 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- While many observers have become skeptical about the democratic gains from Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Nadia McConnell, the president of the U.S.-Ukrainian Foundation, remains an optimist. The organization McConnell leads seeks to promote democracy, free market reform, and human rights in Ukraine. RFE/RL's Brian Whitmore spoke with McConnell.

RFE/RL: Looking back at the hope that accompanied the Orange Revolution and looking at the situation in Ukraine today, are you discouraged or disillusioned?

Nadia McConnell: You know when you talk about the fall of hope, I guess I do argue with that premise because I think what happened in the Orange Revolution -- the most significant thing that happened there -- is really a change, a sea change, in civil society. And I believe that remains to this day.

"You hear people from all the political spectrum say -- and I think they really believe it, they're not just saying it -- that everybody was changed by the Orange Revolution."

RFE/RL: Can you give an example of how this change has manifest itself?

McConnell: In the early years, people were grasping the freedoms of democracy but had yet not paid attention to the other side, the responsibilities within a democracy. And we see that now beginning to take shape and hold.

RFE/RL: Are there any other examples you would like to add from your organization's work in Ukraine?

McConnell: We have been working at the local level with cities for over 12 years and we have seen some phenomenal changes. And that is perhaps why we're more hopeful because while we may be concerned about what is happening at the national level we have seen continuous progress at the local level.

RFE/RL: Do you think that given the divisions in Ukrainian society between the pro-European west and the pro-Russian east, efforts to join Western and international institutions like NATO, the EU, and the WTO will continue to be divisive?

McConnell: I don't think there are as many divisions as are hyped. I think unfortunately in politics everywhere -- in this country and in Ukraine -- sometimes these issues are used for political purposes. We've been working in eastern Ukraine for over 15 years and what we have come to understand is that there is a lack of sometimes information and that people are still making decisions based on stereotypes that they had for years.

RFE/RL: Do you think the changes you spoke about in society from the Orange Revolution are permanent?

McConnell: The success of the Orange Revolution was that civil society -- and if you know anything about the history of Ukraine -- that was such a dramatic turning point and that I believe is permanent and will not change.

RFE/RL: Regardless of who is in power?

McConnell: Regardless of who is in power, because there was a fundamental sea change if that is the correct term.

RFE/RL: Do you see any danger that these changes could be reversed?

McConnell: Of course there is always danger that there could be some regression because what happens at the top does impact the population. But you hear people from all the political spectrum say -- and I think they really believe it, they're not just saying it -- that everybody was changed by the Orange Revolution.

Rethinking The Orange Revolution
Opinion polls in Ukraine have shown declining support for the Orange Revolution since before last year's legislative elections. more
From Orange To Blue
By August 2006, it seemed as if the 18-month run of the Orange Revolution was over in Ukraine. more

Ukrainian Voices

Ukrainian Voices

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service asked people on the streets of Kyiv on April 11 whether the Constitutional Court will be able to determine the constitutionality of the president's decree dissolving parliament.

Oksana, a student from Lutsk:
"Their decision will at any rate be beneficial to one of the political forces."

Oleksandr, a high-school student:
"[The court] will be able to do it, but only if the judges agree upon it."

Alla Asilyevna, a pensioner:
"How can the Constitutional Court solve the problem if there is pressure on it from all sides?"

Ivan Yukhimovich, a pensioner:
"If [Prime Minister Viktor] Yanukovych and [President Viktor]Yushchenko find an agreement, everything will be resolved."

Yuliya, a worker:
"I doubt very much that the judges will agree on anything."

RFE/RL's coverage of Ukraine. The Ukrainian-language website of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

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