By Roger Annis, Nov 6, 2014
The tenth annual, Danyliw Research Seminar on Contemporary Ukraine took place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 at the University of Ottawa, Canada. It was hosted by the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the university and featured 47 invited scholars, journalists and diplomats (presenters) from Europe and North America. This writer attended the event.
There were a total of ten, two-hour presentation sessions during the seminar plus several special events. In addition to the invited presenters, seminar participants included non-presenting scholars, students and interested observers from the general public. Presenters included Michael Bociurkiw, Spokesperson for the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and David Herszenhorn, Moscow Bureau Chief of The New York Times.
The typical format was ten-minute presentations by three or four presenters, followed by questions and exchange. The discussion periods favored participation by the invited presenters and guests, but there was time given to registered observers to participate as well. A good atmosphere of open and frank exchange prevailed.
The program and list of presenters of the three-day seminar is here on a dedicated website. Many of the presentations as well as interviews with the presenters and their background papers are available by clicking on ‘Program’ and then ‘Participants’ on the website.
Hundreds of people attended the seminar over the course of three days, with typical session attendance of 75-100 people.
Among the sessions that I found to be the most interesting and perceptive were the following:
- The war in eastern Ukraine. This was an insightful session with sharp observations and some important critiques of Kyiv’s political course. One of several issues debated during the session was how to characterize the war in eastern Ukraine. Serhiy Kudelia of Baylor University (Texas) suggested that an apt description is “an internationalized civil war”.
- Diplomacy and the crisis in Ukraine. (see section below on this session)
- The 2014 elections. This session devoted a lot of attention to understanding the decline in voter participation in Ukraine during the past ten years (from 29 million and 23 million votes cast in the 2004 presidential and 2007 Rada elections, respectively, to 18 million and 15.8 million cast in the June 2014 presidential and Oct 2014 Rada elections, respectively). A wealth of election data was presented by presenters, including Keith Darden of American University in Washington DC.
- Politics and the law. Discussion and controversy sparked by one presenter in this session, Timothy Waters of Indiana University, could have seen this session alternatively titled ‘Self-determination for Ukraine’s national minorities?”. The session discussed possible juridical and constitutional solutions to Ukraine’s longstanding divisions over political and economic orientation for the country and its complex, national and linguistic makeup. Discussion focused on possible formal, juridical solutions to Ukraine’s difficult challenges. Unfortunately, the discussion largely neglected the vital elements of political, class and national struggle.
- Political radicalism: The (far) left and right. Notwithstanding the session title, only one presentation acknowledged the ascendance of right wing and extreme right wing nationalism in Ukraine and the consequences of that for the civil war and the country’s political course. That presentation was by Volodymyr Ishchenko of Mohyla University, Kyiv. He presented results of study going back to 2009 of social and political protest movements in Ukraine.
Overall, not a balanced presentation of the crisis in Ukraine today
While I recommend many of the video recordings as well as background papers of presenters to the Danyliw Seminar, as per the above, I must also say that overall, the situation in Ukraine as presented to the Seminar was heavily weighted towards the views, policies and interests of the Kyiv government and its national and international backers.
For the better part of a year now, a civil war has raged in Ukraine and the country has descended into an economic calamity that is worsening, not improving. The expressed view of most conference presenters about the war was that it is a necessary response to ‘Russian aggression’ or even a ‘Russian invasion’ against Ukraine. Several session moderators introduced their respective sessions with words to the effect, “The goal of this session is to expose the Russia propaganda machine serving to justify the threats/aggression/invasion against the Ukrainian people”.
Given the gravity of the economic crisis, I think too little attention was given to examining its origin and possible solutions. The assumption of many presenters was that the course of economic association with Europe will, somehow, produce economic salvation and create a Ukraine resembling Poland or other, post-1989, east European ‘success stories’. (The subject of what the post-1989 resurrection of capitalism has wrought economically and socially for the countries of east Europe and Russia would have provided some interesting context for discussion of Ukraine.)
‘Diplomacy and the crisis in Ukraine’
A late afternoon, Oct. 30 special session of the Seminar was titled ‘Diplomacy and the crisis in Ukraine’. There were two speakers. Some 150 people attended. The session was an example of the contradictory nature of many sessions, providing both valuable information but also voicing a strong the pro-Kyiv bias.
On the one hand, outgoing Canadian ambassador to Canada Vadym Prystaiko presented a forceful defense of the war course of the Kyiv government. But he was followed by Michael Bociurkiw of the OSCE who presented invaluable and up-to-date information on the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine.
The OSCE, like the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is deeply biased against the autonomy movement in eastern Ukraine. It refused, for example, to play any observation role in the elections in the peoples republics of Donetsk and Luhansk on Nov. 2, declaring them to be invalid and illegal. It has, to date, failed to report or condemn the use of cluster weapons by Kyiv that was revealed in separate reports issued on Oct. 20 by the New York Times and Human Rights Watch.
Mr. Bociurkiw reported the following:
* There are many hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (he says this term is more accurate that the term ‘refugees’) in Ukraine living in very perilous conditions. Many are in tent camps, including in the most perilous location, Luhansk. About half of the pre-war population of 450,000 in Luhansk is still living there. Two months after the Sept 5 ceasefire agreement reached in Minsk, Luhansk still lacks electricity, natural gas (for heating and cooking) and water supply.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, IDP’s are living in unheated facilities, for example in summer vacation spas in Odessa region. Bociurkiw reported that in the city of Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine’s fourth largest city, there are an estimated 30,000 IDPs and this has stretched the city’s capacities to its limits and beyond. It can no longer accept any more.
Bociurkiw reminded the audience that winter is upon Ukraine and said, “We are getting very, very close to a humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine”. (There are more than one million IDPs in Russia and most live in significantly better circumstances than those in Ukraine, including many who have obtained gainful employment.)
* More or less explicit in Bociurkiw’s description of the situation of IDPs is that the Kyiv government is overwhelmed and unable to handle the IDP/internal refugee crisis. He did not answer a direct question to this effect, but he did explain that for the first time in history, the World Food Program has established an office and program in Ukraine. He calls that situation “unbelievable”, considering that Ukraine has historically been considered a ‘breadbasket’ of Europe. (In 2011, Ukraine was the seventh largest grain exporter in the world. It rivals numbers two to six, which include Canada, Russia and Australia; all of these are far behind number one, the USA.)
* An untypical question was asked during the discussion period–that is, a question implicitly challenging the pro-Kyiv bias of the session. An audience member politely asked about the aforementioned reports of cluster weapons use. Ambassador Prystaiko did not respond to the question. Bociurkiw did. He said that the OSCE will shortly issue a “spot report” on the subject. (The agency issues daily situation reports it calls ‘spot reports’.) He said the agency is reviewing the photos and documents in the NYT and HRW reports and will comment once that review is complete, in a matter of days.
Bociurkiw denied accusations (in Russian media, among other outlets, he said) that he has denied the claims in the HRW and NYT reports. Readers can judge for themselves: Here is an excerpt from my report on the cluster weapons story. I cited Mr. Bociurkiw as follows:
The Canadian of Ukrainian origin who is a spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also denies the findings of Human Rights Watch and the New York Times. Michael Bociurkiw told Germany’s Deutche Welle news service, “We have around 90 observers in eastern Ukraine. If we had encountered anything like that, we would have reported it, but that hasn’t happened. Everything we can say about ammunition and shelling is in our daily reports.”
As of this writing, one week later, no OSCE report or comment has been issued on the accusations of cluster weapons use by Kyiv. The European Union issued a statement on Oct 29 saying that “if true”, the reports on use of cluster weapons would be “of great concern”.
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Volodymyr Ishchenko of Mohyla University, Kyiv, spoke to a public forum in Toronto on November 2, 2014. Some 30 people attended. His talk was filmed and is broadcast on the You Tube channel of Left Streamed (Socialist Project). Watch it here.
Roger Annis is an editor of the new website ‘The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond‘.