Ottawa Ukraine Conference Attracts Large Crowd, Delivers Tough Messages

Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic Future:
International Forum VI

March 7-8, 2012
Ottawa, Canada

Ottawa Ukraine Conference Attracts Large Crowd, Delivers Tough Messages

OTTAWA – March 10, 2012.
A major gathering of international experts assembled at the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa from 5-8 March to discuss the current situation in Ukraine, where human rights and democracy are showing troubling signs of continued regression under the government of President Victor Yanukovych. They met to take part in “Ukraine at the Crossroads,” a conference held under the auspices of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and organized by the Canada Ukraine Foundation, the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Ottawa, and the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations.

Invited speakers included prominent activists in Ukrainian NGOs and former government ministers, as well as well as senior officials and representatives of agencies from member states in the Euro-Atlantic community. The program was kicked-off on the evening of Wednesday 7 March with a well-attended banquet followed by a panel discussion moderated by New York-based journalist, Chrystia Freeland, of the Thomson-Reuters media group. The opening forum featured presentations by former Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Borys Tarasyuk; Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and head of the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; The Honourable Marcin Święcicki, a member of the Polish Sejm and a former cabinet minister who for four years served as the director of a European Community Advisory Centre in Kyiv; and the Honourable Peter van Loan, the Government House Leader for the Government of Canada. International Development Minister, the Hon. Bev Oda brought greetings, and Treasury Board President Tony Clement was among the more than twenty politicians in the audience, which also included five current and former Canadian ambassadors to Ukraine, staff from Ukraine’s embassy in Ottawa, and representatives of other diplomatic missions.

The day after the banquet a series of sessions were held during which expert panels addressed four major thematic areas: 1) Democratic Governance, Rule of Law, Human Rights and Media Freedom; 2) The New Election Act and the 2012 Parliamentary Elections; 3) Economic Issues, including Energy, Economic Freedom and Corruption; and 4) Geopolitics and National Security.

Among the speakers who presented on these topics were: Judge Bohdan Futey and Drs. Anders Åslund and Ariel Cohen, from Washington, DC, Amanda Paul from the European Policy Center in Brussels, Nico Lange, from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kyiv, and Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, past head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). A distinctly Canadian perspective on the issues was provided by Zenon Potoczny, Markian Shwec, Ihor Kozak and Danylo Bilak, the latter now a long-time resident of Kyiv. Jars Balan, chair of the UCC’s Canada Ukraine Committee, acted as the host of the conference.

Interspersing the theme sessions were two plenary presentations, the first on the State of Democracy in Ukraine by Oleh Rybachuk, a former deputy prime minister in the government of Yuliya Tymoshenko, and the second by James Sherr, of Great Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs – with additional commentaries provided by London-based lawyer Robert Amsterdam and the legendary political analyst and activist, Andrei Piontkovsky, from Moscow.

Walter Zaryckyj, of the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations summarized the key highlights of the proceedings, while Bohdan Onyschuk, the Chair of the Canada Ukraine Foundation, and Dominique Arel, the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the U of O, delivered the closing remarks.

Not only the dinner forum, but the conference itself, received enthusiastic praise from invited participants and members of the audience alike. The banquet was attended by238 guests, while the number of registrants for the conference numbered close to 250. The insightful and informative presentations stimulated many lively exchanges, and it was telling that the end of the final panel on Ukraine’s geopolitical and security challenges, over 200 people were still actively engaged in the discussions.

One of the objectives of “Ukraine at the Crossroads” was to bring together a distinguished body of specialists well-versed on recent developments in Ukraine to discuss the critical juncture that the country is at in terms of the future course of its domestic policies and geo-political orientation. Although the Ukrainian government has repeatedly declared its commitment to European integration and has reached an agreement with the EU as to eventual accession, the document is likely to remain unsigned until Kyiv meets several important requirements for membership, starting with the release of political prisoners like the opposition leaders, Yuliya Tymoshenko and Yuri Lutsenko.

Another major benchmark will be the upcoming elections to Ukraine’s parliament on 28 October, to which the Ukrainian Canadian Congress is asking the Canadian government to play a lead role in sending a substantial delegation of election observers.

Taking advantage of the presence of such a large group of leading authorities on contemporary Ukraine, two study sessions were also arranged with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. The hearings took place on the afternoons of Monday 5 March and Wednesday 7 March, and were carried on the Canadian Parliamentary Channel, CPAC. Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Alyona Hetmanchuk, of Kyiv’s Institute of World Policy, and Oleh Rybachuk, a co-founder of the NGO “Centre UA,” spoke on the first day about the progress of human rights and democracy over the past ten years in Ukraine. Messrs Tarasyuk, Nalyvaichenko, Święcicki, Sherr and Piontkovsky addressed the implications of the state of those rights and democracy for the country’s chances of integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Their presentations were well-received by the members of parliament, and sparked a lively and informed exchange of ideas.

In terms of its scale and sophistication, “Ukraine at the Crossroads” was an unprecedented event in the history of the Ukrainian community in Canada. It would not have been possible without the efforts of the UCC staff in Ottawa, countless of hours of volunteer labour, or the generous support of sponsors. Toronto’s Community Trust contributed at the Platinum level, while Gold level sponsors included the Temerty Family Foundation, Prombank Investment Limited, the Ukrainian Credit Union, the Petro Jacyk Educational Foundation, and Ian O. Ihnatowycz of First Generation Capital.

Video coverage of the conference sessions is soon to be posted on the web, and organizers will also preparing a written summary of the findings.