U. faculty member to brief Congress today

Kara Hull and Kara Hull

A University faculty member is part of a three-person panel set to address a Congressional committee this morning on the aftermath of the fraudulent presidential election in Ukraine last month, and will suggest what the government can do to encourage the emerging democracy.

Alden Craddock, director of the International Democratic Education Institute on campus, has been spearheading democracy education projects in Ukraine since 1999 with the start of the first U.S. efforts and the first collaboration between the United States and the European Union in the Ukraine. Craddock travels to the country at least once a year, meeting with government officials and leading teacher exchange programs to bring democracy education into the classroom.

Craddock’s message to the 50-member Ukrainian Caucus today, will be one encouraging the redistribution of resources. Too much time–and money–have been spent on problems in the Middle East recently, leaving countries like the Ukraine virtually alone in the struggle for democracy, he said. Craddock was contacted by the office of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who chairs the committee, to address the lawmakers.

“We can’t allow our interests to be drawn elsewhere,” Craddock said. “What we need to do if we are truly committed to supporting democracy around the world is not only go to those places that aren’t democratic and try in whatever means responsible to support people’s freedom, but to go to places where people have already made that choice. We’ve made a mistake in not doing that (in Ukraine). And now I think what we’re doing is facing the repercussions of seeing backsliding across the world in areas where we’ve withdrawn our support.”

Fraud marred the Nov. 21 presidential election in the Ukraine, which named Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych victorious. Observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said there were countless instances of people apparently voting multiple times and voters being forced to turn over absentee ballots to state employers.

Evidence of systematic vote-rigging prompted the country’s Supreme Court to cancel Yanukovych’s victory and another election has been set for Dec. 26.

Supporters of the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko have taken to the streets in protest, setting up “tent cities” in Kiev, the nation’s capital.

The grassroots effort for democracy seen in Ukraine now is proof that democracy projects there–like the one housed at BGSU–are needed, Craddock said.

“When I hear about Ukrainians in the streets protesting for democracy … it’s incredibly rewarding,” he said. “What it does is it reaffirms what my own perception is–that Ukrainians want to be free, they want to be democratically governed, they want control of their own lives.”

The passion that the Ukrainians and others in struggling democracies have is inspiring, Craddock said.

“You start doing these projects and you start working with people in other countries who want democracy so badly,” he said. “It’s incredibly moving and powerful and rich. It becomes almost intoxicating to be around people with so much energy and drive and desire to better their lives, to make a difference in their lives.”

Among the latest developments, the Ukrainian Parliament adjourned a raucous session yesterday without voting on amendments to secure a fair rerun of the disputed presidential vote later this month, and throngs of opposition protesters appeared to be growing restless with the prolonged political crisis. Supporters of Yushchenko say the changes are necessary to close loopholes for fraud in the next election.

A loose coalition of communists, socialists and pro-government factions in parliament had insisted that the electoral changes should be passed at the same time as the constitutional reforms to trim presidential powers. Yushchenko has balked at the changes, saying that the other side fears his victory and wants to curtail his authority. Rival parliamentary factions reached a tentative agreement Monday to vote on the legal changes all at once, but the deal collapsed later after several hours of European-sponsored talks between outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and both rivals.

If opposition candidate Yushchenko prevails, “major reforms” will be in store for the Ukraine, Craddock said. Unlike his pro-Russian opponent, Yushchenko appears to want to reach out to the United States and the European Union, which the country has yet been allowed to join, he said. Currently the nation has little privatization with most of the wealth being hoarded by top government officials.

“That (election result) will present us with a great opportunity to support those organizations within the country that are democratic and support practices within the government, within the schools that are also democratic,” Craddock said. “And so I would hope that our government would be willing to step forward to that challenge.”

But even if the opposition doesn’t win the election Dec. 26, it’s “only a matter of time before they win” and democracy will prevail in Ukraine, Craddock said.

“For me the question is will we have it now or will we have it later?” he said. “It’s not are we going to have it? It’s a matter of when Ukraine is going to have a chance for democracy.”

And from what Craddock’s seen through his most recent travels to the country, democracy can’t be too far off, he said. Even his visit to Kharkiv University in the eastern “non-democratic” part of the country last spring, revealed an overwhelming desire for democracy, he said.

“I don’t believe that there is currently a debate over whether the country should be more democratic or not,” Craddock said. “I think that the vast majority of people in Ukraine want democracy. It’s almost a human condition, universally, that people want to have a say over what happens in their life.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.