Visit of Open Dialog Foundation Observers to Volyn
On 10th – 11th April, we were in Volyn. Meeting local social activists, we tried to identify local problems and needs which may, at a later stage, become the basis for various ideas for us to act upon. A crowd of local activists welcomed us in Lutsk who presented for at a meeting we had arranged. The meeting was the logical follow-up to a conference on vetting which we had organised in Kiev on 1st April.
I arrived in Lutsk alone, having learnt from the inside about the Ukrainian system of intercity travel by ‘marshrootnoye taxi’, also called “marshrutka”. They only set off once fully booked. I wanted to buy two seats in order to get there on time. After some artistic persuasion; bordering on insolence, we set off.
The local community of Volyn were anxious primarily to learn about vetting, what the process is about, and how to proceed with it. It was pointed out that corrupted officials were irremovable because they relied upon the law. “Is there an act of law for that?” they ask. Sadly, they are somehow cynically right about it in their mass since it is hard to persuade international opinion that civil vetting is grounded in anything: morally, for certain, but in legal terms?
The lack of centralised coordination between the circles arranging the vetting is noticeable too. It is a good thing that local committees are being set up, but it is too bad they are competing against one another and, not only that – they are not centrally managed at all. Nor are they willing to work with politicians in any way whatsoever.
“On the Verhkhovna Rada they are the same, all of them, they need to be vetted as well” – this is the comment that we heard most frequently on that day.
We are trying to explain, patiently, that it is not that simple, that the ones vetted unofficially will be entitled to file complaints with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. We keep explaining and persuading them that the vetting should be done quickly but in such a way that the ECHR cannot raise any claims.
It is also clear that some Ukrainians see the vetting as an anti-corruption process, and some are aware of the risks involved in foreign agency influences, expecting that public sector employees should be vetted for their cooperation with the regime of Yanukovych and with the KGB/FSB.
We also met the Consul, Mr Krzysztof Sawicki, who gave us some valuable pieces of advice on the activities in this part of Ukraine. A universal observation was the encouragement for the Foundation to come out with its message to wider circles than only those of the Maidan.
The Polish community gave us a warm welcome. Having seated us in the kitchen, with chai (tea), other drinks and tasty home-made cakes, the Editor-in-Chief of the Volyn Monitor, Mr Valenty Vakoluk, talked about the local mixed identity, and contemporary Ukrainian problems. He underlined expressly that despite the historical events, in the Volyn of today, the Polish and Ukrainian fates are the same, the problems are the same, and matters to be urgently addressed are the same: corruption, refuges from the Crimea who are being ignored by the central authorities, and the need for an efficiently managed vetting process. He also clearly highlighted the need to shift to a truly historic dialogue, without mincing words and without being too accommodating either.
The day ended with a visit to a 14th century castle which all European monarchs of the period visited. I was travelling back to Kiev by train, across the expanse of Ukraine, and feeling overwhelmed by the realisation of the extent to which the West differs from the East, which is very apparent here.