Why is the government afraid of Ukraine’s civic organizations?
This was the question representatives of various civic organizations tried to answer at a press conference called in connection with recent proposals from the main party in power to ban financing of NGOs from abroad, as well as with the possible consideration by parliament on 12 May of the draft Law on Civic Organizations (No. 7262-1).
As reported, the Party of the Regions is preparing to draw up a draft bill aimed at imposing control over the funding of civic organizations in Ukraine. Such a law might, for example, have a norm saying that civic organizations could only exist on money received from Ukrainian citizens. The source within the Party of the Regions cited on 20 April by the newspaper Kommersant – Ukraine said that the idea had arisen among the Party of the Regions management two weeks ago, and that it had recently been discussed at a closed meeting of the faction. The Head of the Party of the Regions faction in parliament, O. Yefremov had previously claimed that a scenario similar to that in Northern Africa is being set in motion in Ukraine on money from the International Renaissance Foundation’s founder, George Soros. The statement issued immediately by the Head of the International Renaissance Foundation can be read here.
At Wednesday’s press conference…
Maxim Latsyba from the Ukrainian Centre for Independent Political Research spoke of the possible risk that foreign funding by other countries would be stopped.
“When this is expressed by the head of the largest parliamentary faction, Yefremov, it is a serious statement and needs to be considered seriously. We also have confirmation of information that the Russian Law on Non-Commercial Organizations has already been entered by the Party of the Regions and is being translated into Ukraine. We can remember how two years ago Putin carried out a purge of financial support of civic organizations – when the British Council was thrown out of Russia, and even before that the Soros Foundation had been pushed out of the country. Censorship regarding which actions need to be supported was introduced for all others. Such a risk therefore does exist. It depends how strong the critical response from civic organizations, international organizations and journalists is. “ Latsyba imagines that Yefremov is testing the water to see what the reaction will be. He suggests that the main thing now is to make it clear to the party in power that their reputation will suffer badly, that there will be very vocal protest that this is unacceptable for Ukraine which is aiming at integration with the EU.
Maxim Latsyba is convinced that recent events demonstrate that the Party of the Regions is trying to achieve its political tasks by discriminating against civic organizations which, not receiving support within the country, are forced to seek it abroad. NGOs use such funding to address socially important issues, provide quality social services, carry out measures aimed at preventing negative trends in society and provide charitable assistance.
With regard to draft Law No. 7262-1, there is a danger that being placed at the end of the agenda, the draft law will yet again not be considered.
Those groups represented at the press conference called on Verkhovna Rada Deputies to fulfil the commitments taken on before the Council of Europe and support draft Law No. 7262-1 which is in line with European standards.
Dmyro Sherembei from the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV stressed that a strong civic society is vital for a country to be strong, and that any country without a civic society is as if castrated. Over 10 years of work, organizations working with people with HIV have brought a brilliant dollars to the country. He says that he personally, like hundreds of others, has survived thanks to that funding and the chances for treatment it gave. He pointed to the paradoxical situation: while the international community shows support, Ukrainian deputies demonstrate only their fear. Instead of trying to control NGO, deputies should be thanking civic society for the work they do without any support. He warned that if such idiocy was passed, around 25 thousand people would be left without treatment and 200 thousand people would lose the opportunity to take part in prophylactic measures. If foreign support was stopped, the spread of HIV and AID would be equivalent to that in Southern Africa.
All those present at the press conference stressed that NGOs account for the money they receive and that, unlike the rhetorical declarations of those in power, they do a lot more than they talk about. They stress that journalists can act as partners in helping to inform the public about such civic organizations and what they offer. They noted that the press conference had received considerable media coverage and hoped that this was not a temporary thing.
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