“After Euromaidan – Off to New Horizons” – that was the title of a conference with German and Ukrainian civil society hosted by the Federal Foreign Office and the Körber Foundation in cooperation with the Schwarzkopf Foundation which was held in the Weltsaal of the Federal Foreign Office on Tuesday (3 May). The conference focused on several issues: Under what circumstances can civil society develop? What role can it play in political reform processes? How different are German and Ukrainian civil society? In which spheres can they learn and benefit from each other?
One of Ukraine’s biggest assets: a vibrant civil society
The reforms resulting from the Maidan protests and the ongoing conflict in the east of the country meant that Ukraine was facing unprecedented challenges, said State Secretary Stephan Steinlein in his speech, which opened the conference. He went on to say that it did, however, have one big asset: its vibrant civil society.
Hardly any other country in the Eastern Partnership has such a vibrant civil society. Whenever I am there, I am impressed by the atmosphere of open discussion, passionate speech and argument, and hot disputes over how to do things the right way.
Steinlein added that Ukrainian civil society had already achieved much and that it had become stronger after the Maidan movement, so that today there was hardly any areas of society in which it was not engaged. Tens of thousands of people were working in a wide variety of spheres and were looking after refugees, displaced persons, children and young people, disabled persons, as well as fighting corruption and taking part in the legislative process.
This clearly demonstrates the pivotal role civil society plays in the development of effective state institutions, free of corruption and firmly based on the rule of law.
Gernot Erler, Federal Government Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with Russia, Central Asia and the Eastern Partnership Countries, stressed the key role played by Ukrainian civil society, especially in the current conflict situation. In the wake of the political changes, he went on to say, one of the key tasks for civil society was not only to try and influence the legislative process but also to ensure that the reforms really were implemented.
Forum for dialogue and networking
Afterwards, civil society players from Germany and Ukraine discussed challenges and possible future developments in several panel discussions. In the afternoon, working groups on various topics were formed: they focused, among other things, on the possibilities and limits of civil society participation, the importance of freedom of the press in a functioning democracy as well as civil society aspects of the topical issue of flight and migration.
The conference created a forum for dialogue and networking between German and Ukrainian civil society. This is intended to strengthen cooperation between the civil societies of the two countries.