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Ukrainian Civil Society Struggles To Build On Euromaidan Gains

Dmytro Kotlyar (right), from the Ukrainian civil society initiative Reanimation Reforms Package, shares experiences with Robert Basch of the Open Society Fund.
Dmytro Kotlyar (right), from the Ukrainian civil society initiative Reanimation Reforms Package, shares experiences with Robert Basch of the Open Society Fund.
There were many reasons why tens of thousands of Ukrainians spent months on the barricades in Kyiv to bring down the government of then-President Viktor Yanukovych.

But civil-society leaders say the most universal was popular fury at the extreme levels of corruption the country had reached under his rule.

Now, that same anger is fueling a push by Ukrainian civic groups for reforms they hope will put an end to the abuses of the past.

But it is no easy task.

Dmytro Kotlyar, a leader of the Ukrainian civil-society initiative Reanimation Reforms Package, says that despite the success of the Euromaidan revolution, the country's corrupt political system remains firmly entrenched and resistant to change.

Speaking on April 10 in Prague at the World Forum on Governance, a global gathering of anticorruption experts, Kotlyar said the challenge now for civic groups is how to fulfill the Euromaidan's demands for reforms when new faces have yet to reach the parliament.

The next legislative elections are not due until 2017.

Pressuring The Parliamentarians

The national parliament, the Verhovna Rada, is made up of deputies elected in 2012, when the Party of Regions loyal to Yanukovych won the majority of seats. Some 150 of the parliament's original 450 deputies fled following Yanukovych's ouster but have not been replaced.
Daria Kaleniuk from the Kyiv-based Anticorruption Action Center
Daria Kaleniuk from the Kyiv-based Anticorruption Action Center

Kotlyar says that to maintain pressure for reforms, Ukraine's civic organizations have issued a flurry of new legislative proposals.

"For each week when the parliament is in session, the civic groups produce a list of five or six draft laws which should be adopted and they meet parliamentarians near the parliament to give them information leaflets," he says.

He adds that the continuing presence of some protesters on the city's central Independence Square, including members of the self-defense forces in riot gear who helped topple Yanukovych's regime, helps add pressure on the parliamentarians to consider changes.

The Reanimation Reform Package initiative includes some 100 civic groups and experts who are working together to draft the reform proposals.

Another civic leader, Daria Kaleniuk, of the Kyiv-based Anticorruption Action Center, says anticorruption laws are "the top priority" among the proposed reforms.

"Basically, what we are doing right now is, through negotiations, through direct action events, and through publications in the media, we are pressing them to develop these draft laws," she said at the Prague gathering. "We want them to close key corruption loopholes through which billions of Ukrainian state funds are siphoned off."

WATCH: Interviews From The World Forum on Governance In Prague (RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service)
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To speed the process of change, the civic organizations would like to move legislative elections forward to fall of this year. But there has been no move by parliament to do so.

Upcoming presidential elections on May 25, the activists say, do not hold the same potential for change.

"So far, it looks like we will have only two main contenders and these are people from the past," says Kotlyar. "They are the main contenders because new faces have no chance to emerge when politics are still run by a huge amount of money."

The main candidates are former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and businessman Petro Poroshenko, who has also been in politics for more than a decade.

Civil Society Synergy

The Ukrainian civic leaders are attending the three-day World Forum on Governance (April 9-11) to meet with other civic leaders and experts from around the world and share ideas for fighting corruption and promoting good governance.

The annual gathering in the Czech capital offers the chance for the Ukrainians to share experiences with civic groups in the former Soviet satellite states of Central and Eastern Europe, many of which have faced similar challenges.

"Ukraine is facing the same challenge that is associated with Prague from the Velvet Revolution of former President Vaclav Havel," says Norman Eisen, the U.S. ambassador to Prague and one of the founders of the forum. "The question is how do you move from a revolution to a stable successful and prosperous system of governance, one that does not feature corruption?"

The forum -- now in its third year -- gathers civil society leaders from around the world to make contacts, share resources, and engage in cooperative projects. It is run by the Washington-based Brookings Institution and the Prague-based civic society group Zaostreno.

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