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Back to the USSR

2011 March 17
by sfcg

Thousands demonstrate in Kyiv's Independence Square during Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004. (from

In 2004, before the Jasmine Revolution or Mubarak’s resignation, the Orange Revolution took place in Ukraine. Idealistic and impassioned Ukrainians demonstrated en masse, against election fraud and corruption. From 2006-2009, Ukraine was the only country among post-Soviet states that Freedom House listed as “free,” in their annual mapping. But that is changing. More recent rankings saw Ukraine backsliding into the only “partly free” category and many worry that democratic backsliding has betrayed the country’s revolution, with freedoms being eroded.

With the fall of communism in Ukraine, freedom of speech was quickly restored, but reviving civil society has proven a much harder task. And without a robust civil society, freedom is a fragile thing.

For some, conditions in Ukraine feel like a move back to the days under the USSR. Current president, Viktor Yanukovich has changed the constitution to return to stronger authoritarian power. Despite the revolution, many of the same people remain in power and the state is still heavily controlled by oligarchs. Freedom of expression is facing stronger restrictions and civil society work has become more difficult to do.

SFCG Ukraine Country Director, Roman Koval, says that it would be difficult to recapture the spirit of the 2004 revolution.  He has observed a greater presence of police and security forces and says that mass demonstrations and protests could lead to violence before any real change was achieved.

Roman and his team at The Ukrainian Center for Common Ground (UCCG) are working to build the capacity of civil society organizations throughout Ukraine.  They provide training in mediation and conflict resolution; coaching; and mentoring for civil society leaders from 50 Ukrainian civil society organizations.

One of our largest projects in Ukraine is the development of juvenile crime prevention strategies, on which we have worked with the Ministry of Justice to create a community-based approach that is implemented in seven communities. UCCG has developed a community based juvenile crime prevention strategy that entails cooperation between the official legal system and local and municipal authorities and civil society.   Working within communities, using a cooperative problem solving approach, is helping to strengthen relationships and create social capital.

UCCG has recently published an extensive Resources Guide, complete with multi-media presentations, for local authorities who are trying to reduce juvenile crime. While the Guide is meant to mobilize communities around a particular issue (juvenile crime—which is on the rise in Ukraine) its cooperative approach can be applied to other challenges facing communities. The Guide was launched at a recent conference where mayors spoke about the positive impact of the model on their communities and their experience working with youth offenders before and after their involvement in the program.

Mediation as a way of dealing with conflict is a relatively new idea in Ukrainian culture but we are working to introduce it. With Open Society Institute, SFCG Ukraine is conducting research on the development of restorative justice as an effective alternative for incarceration. Victim-offender mediation, family conferences and community justice forums are examples of restorative justice approaches.

Our goal of fostering mediation in Ukraine was furthered in January, when a draft mediation law, which was co-authored by SFCG Ukraine staff, was introduced to parliament. Roman says he is proud to have contributed to the establishment and consolidation of mediation in Ukraine on the legislative level.

Ukraine’s traditional justice system treats crime prevention in a more punitive way so introducing idea of mediation can feel like an uphill battle. Right now international funding and the world’s eyes are trained on the Middle East and North Africa, but a look at Ukraine can show how tenuous the ideals of revolutions can be and how much is needed to maintain them after the initial euphoria leaves.

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