The political course of the modern Ukrainian nation is very evident: cooperation with NATO and the EU, the reformation of the political, social and economic state of Ukraine to become in line with European standards and norms. Such actions can be and should be praised, however by praising and providing feasible help the quintessential question should not be forgotten: What does the Ukrainian society require to overcome post-soviet realities and enter the path for a fully functional and European development? This requires a systematical solution. If this solution is not found then no reformations, no diplomatic assistance, no sympathy from the EU, no humanitarian aid or favorable credit terms will be able to change the situation.
Possibly the delegates from the Ukrainian city Nikolaev on visiting Liepaja and Riga on the 26th to 29th of September could facilitate in the search of an answer to the question stated above. Does this sound excessively ambitious? Possibly ambitious, but not excessively. Well, at least from our perspective.
“The Two Ingredients of Success”
Generally every successful and extensive reform is made up of two components. Firstly comes the program – it should be clear, realistic and at the same time daring. Secondly come the people, who represent a decent enough number, big enough to make this even a possibility and at the same time possessing all the required qualities to make it a reality. These qualities must include the foremost strong morals and willpower. Never will the battle against corruption be successful if the person fighting this battle can persuaded by “good money”. Besides a strong moral foundation, certain professional qualities, and level or knowledge is required as well.
Overall, the people involved are always more crucial and important than and program or plan. To develop a comprehensible roadmap for such reforms it is merely enough to just hire some professional economists and political scientists. The real question lies in where can we find competent leaders? Where can you find the people who are going to do the work not only in the big cities, but also in regions and even villages to initiate this “new way of living”?
Obviously, at this moment the success factor of the new reforms and the future of Ukraine is directly correlated with whether it will be possible to create such leaders or not. And the fate of the Ukraine is going to paint a framework for the future of the rest of Eastern Europe and Russia as well.
When my colleague and good friend Alexander Noynets had informed me that in association with the administration of Nikolaevsk region a “Development Office” aimed at the development of the area is being formed, I was very pleased with the idea, and found it very positive. The essence of the idea was that the experience gained from collaboration between governmental institutions and volunteers, which was initiated earlier by the Ukrainian Defence ministry, should be incorporated in the civil sphere. The Development Office was conceptualized as a platform there civil activists could interact with regional councils, with the aim to incorporate reformations on a regional level, fighting corruption and the delivery of various projects related to the improvement of the city and region.
The idea to lay the foundation for the Development Group was an answer to the question of where to recruit the new managerial resource from. That was however only answering half the question. Truly, within the context of modern Ukraine one cannot find a better source than volunteers - a variety of people, from various walks of life who have made the extra step to help their society. As typical as this might sound, these people had already proven to their country and their people that they possess the necessary moral values and willpower to make push nation onto the path of European development.
We still have the second part of the question though. It was clear where to get new blood for the reformation army, but how are we going to make sure they are competent? Are they going to be trained in Ukraine? Are they going to adopt the experience of Soviet and post-Soviet officials? This was highly unlikely to be a good idea. Possibly only from the perspective of “knowing thy enemy”. So should they look for this experience within the EU? The answer might seem obvious, but only at first sight.
“The Unique Latvian Experience”
The EU is not a single country or nation. The member states have different histories and experiences. Western Europe is much more developed in an economic sense and has never known Socialist totalitarianism. Simply because of that the integration of their institutions and systems on to Eastern European soil would most likely be unsuccessful.
Eastern Europe had a history of being very close to the Soviet system – definitely too close than it would want to be. But even the countries of the Eastern bloc had much more liberal and softer realities than those of the USSR. Of course a Polish person will have a much easier time understanding and relating to Soviet realities than say a French of Dutch person, but still, the life within Socialist Poland was never as harsh and restricting as the USSR.
There are however three countries that have felt the full Soviet experience on their own skin. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are former Soviet republics, currently members of the EU, Schengen and NATO. All three have successfully gone from Soviet occupation to European integration. So their starting position was very similar to the one of Ukraine.
The three Baltic States have noticeable differences between each other though. Lithuania for example does not have a very large Russian (and Russian-speaking) population. In Latvia and Estonia however such communities exist, which make them much more relatable to Ukraine (especially the South East) and makes their experience more intriguing. So the options came down to Latvia and Estonia.
The Estonian way has one dominating characteristic – the historical, ethnical and cultural closeness to Finland. In fact most of the reformations and laws in Estonia were done to mirror those of Finland. This common denominator turned out to be very helpful, and the achievements of the Estonians should also be closely studied by the Ukrainians, however Latvia which operates within the EU, Schengen and NATO without any external models to follow resembles much more of a closeness to the Ukrainian situation.
In other words, Latvia as a country has already walked down the path which Ukraine is yet to start making its first steps on. The Latvian example of overcoming Soviet stigma is much closer to the one that Ukraine is yet to overcome. And thus, this makes Latvia the best school in the sense of practical experience exchange for those Ukrainians who are motivated to work on the reformation of their own country.
“The First Visit”
From the 26th to the 29th of September the delegates from the regional administration of Nikolaevsk were visiting Liepaja and Riga. Among the delegates were representatives of the “Development Office” – the governor’s advisors and volunteers. The goal was to study the operation of the Liepaja city council and meetings with representatives of the Latvian Seaima and various NPOs. The first part of the program was organized by the Liepaja City Council and the second with Delegates from the Saeima and the NPO “European Russians” (the initiator of this meeting was the author of this text).
How the visits went can be read below from the experiences of the participants themselves; there are two aspects that are worth mentioning.
Firstly – and this was something everybody agreed one, the quality difference between the current group of volunteers and the ones from previous Ukrainian visits was very significant - in a good way. People were expecting to see representatives form a much older age group and social class – but what they saw was group of ambitious young people, mostly women.
Secondly (and this was also noticed by many) – besides the youth and high energy levels of the volunteers, they also carried a large amount of experience of practical work and a large collection of various projects many of which have already have been successful delivered and some which are only in the early development stages.
Now the most important mission is to make sure that all of this doesn’t just end at one introductory visit. To share the transformational experience of Latvia going from a Soviet republic to becoming a NATO and Schengen member state, and for this experience to become accessible to an ever growing number to Ukrainians, who will be able to learn and implement these lessons within Ukraine, a systematic study program should be formed in Latvia with an emphasis of practical implementation for future Ukrainian municipal workers, NPO members and politicians.
This is exactly what we at “European Russians” are willing to start working on in the nearest future. This is exactly the type of assistance that Ukraine needs the most right now. You can solve people’s problems a multiple times, but it is much more important to give them the knowledge and skills to learn to solve these problems independently – and to gain incredible achievements of their own.
Today Latvia possesses everything to become the school of Euro-Integration for Ukraine. We can only hope that this becomes a reality.
Elena Noynets, Deputy head of the “Development Group” of the Nikolaevsk region: Over the last years in Ukraine a new trait has been developed – socially active Ukrainians have united and learned to reform their country to high quality standards, without looking back at the resistance from the old system. WE have acquired all the necessary tools, but the final goal is still very generic. Thanks to the visit to Latvia our team has received a priceless opportunity to visualize the goals of reformation. The differences between the local councils and institutions can be talked about infinitely – the contrast is striking. All these differences ultimately lead to Liepaja and Latvia all together, over the last quarter of a century developing in accordance to a well-designed plan, the main characteristic of this plan being consistency. Every governing mechanism is in the right place, and even the slightest step away from these lawful principles leads to the disapproval and unrest of the public, which the governmental organs simply cannot ignore. Over 5 working days we managed to establish good contacts with the local municipalities, representatives of various institutes, delegates from the Latvian Saeima. The results from our conversations and negotiations provide a basis to believe that future cooperation will be active and productive, as we all share the same values.
Olga Malyarchuk, Governors Advisor for the Nikolaevsk region: Ukraine is going through hard times. A highly ineffective reformation process of public administration over the last 2 years has been disrupted by the damaging actions of the Russian Federation, which has focused colossal amounts of effort undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine. Dealing with real threats supplemented by an external enemy became the responsibility of civil unions and that together with a large amount with internal pressure from old and established corruptioneers. For long we have been pushing our organization towards the values which are identical to the ones that the EU members share. 25 years ago Latvia was in a similar situation which Ukraine is in now, but thanks to the willpower of the Latvian society and help from European partners the people of Baltic States managed to escape from the Soviet realities thus creating a standard of living of which modern Ukrainians can only dream of. The examples are numerous: An automatic system for street lighting, traffic lights, waterworks. A developed system of bicycle lanes and parking spaces, modernized playgrounds for children, comfortable kindergartens, well designed living condition for people with vision impairment, renovated energy efficient housing and Waste recycling centers – none of this wouldn’t be possible without the financial help of the EU. Ukraine is in serious need of help from its European partners and we hope for an organized and methodic aid from our newfound Latvian partners.
Nelly Yarovenko, Governors Advisor for the Nikolaevsk region: Liepaja rejected the methods of Soviet “Societal Control” and embraced the European model of qualitative services for its citizens. With the introduction of the term “service” into the public administration of Liepaja, came the understanding of the need to provide these services to a level of quality which is prevalent within the private sector. Every action that is executed by the Liepaja administration is embedded with the strong will and interest to improve the lives of citizens, and the employees of the municipalities happily participate in important and charitable work outside of office hours. The waste recycling plant we visited had left a very strong impression. Waste is a massive problem within our region and is currently solved in the most basic of ways – open dumping grounds. To have the opportunity to see an improved system is invaluable.
Alexey Proydysvit, head of public organization “Institute of reformation for public administration”: Based on information provided by the Saeima, the level of corruption regarding governmental purchases is in the region of 7-9%. This is taking into account that most procurement is done in the form of paperwork – the same system which lead Ukraine to develop “corruption en masse”. A few months back Ukraine successfully had adopted the ProZorro procurement system, which is officially admitted to be the best in Europe, and we are ready to help the Latvians with the integration of this system. In everything else, however, we are very much falling behind. It was still pleasant that we had something to boast about. We saw that an approach based on systematic providing of high quality services can solve a lot of problems. The main difference between Ukraine in Latvia is a radically different approach to work from the side of the municipality representatives. In Liepaja we are pleasantly surprised to see the workers of the local council putting in a lot of effort to please the citizens and provide a great service. Unfortunately the situation in Ukraine is very different. Our officials are stuck in the Soviet past to a much bigger extent.
The kindness and openness that we are greeted with in Liepaja and Riga left a very strong impression. It was incredibly pleasant to see that everyone is willing to help us and share their experience.
Anton Gromov, chairman of the board in NCO “European Russians”: First of all I would like to thank my colleague, co-founder and chairman of the board of our NCO and party member if the party “Vienotiba” Artyom Urshulsky for organizing this visit for our Ukrainian colleagues to the Latvian parliament and the meetings of representatives of NPOs. We have laid the foundation to a very crucial process, which can help improve the lives of Ukrainian citizens and improve the dialogue between Russian and Ukrainian representatives of the “European choice”, regardless of the official positions the Ukrainian and Russian governments. May I add that our organization has big plans aimed at the development of such initiatives and the expansion of them for young democratic leaders, economists and managers from Russia. During my visits to the “Free Russia Forum” in Vilnius and the “Open Russia” conference in Helsinki I saw a large interest in our project from the attendees of these events. Latvia is a natural and successful example of an ex-Soviet republic that has successfully foregone the process of integration into the Euro-Atlantic institutions, and the presence of a large Russian and Ukrainian population here makes this experience even more relevant for modern Ukraine and a post-Putin Russia. Global changes within our countries will be foremost dependent of the middle class of young pro-European oriented specialists which will come to replace the compromised older colleagues. Our current duty now is to promote such resource. I am confident that our organization will bring its hearty investment into this positive process.