Democracy can be considered to be the greatest social experiment mankind has ever undertaken. For the greater part of human history ordinary citizens have had little, if any, say in how they were governed. This is no longer the case. In comparison with the scope of our history, democracy has been but a blip on the radar of time. However, during this short time, humanity has lived through its most prosperous and free moments in its entire history.
The idea of democracy, at its roots, addresses one simple yet complex question. From where is power derived? The foundational belief within all democracies is that it is from the individual citizen that power resonates. For the citizen to hold any true political power, the elected officials closest to the citizen must be the most democratic. Town councils, mayors, and local municipalities the world over are required to be far more receptive to the criticisms of their constituents then those further up the power ladder. Simply put, if a town has a huge problem with potholes and the mayor does nothing, that mayor will not hold office very long. Therefore, if we are to address democracy at the most basic, fundamental level, we must build from bottom-up.
This is a belief the Ukrainian government has attacked head on. Following the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 the newly elected government in Ukraine enacted reforms that have become collectively known as decentralization. Through decentralization, Ukraine has incentivized local governments to become more transparent, and accountable to their constituents. If these local municipalities follow certain steps they gain more autonomy, sovereignty and most importantly, gain more control over their own budget. During my next two years, I will have the distinct pleasure of working with one of these town councils in Hlyboka, Chernivtsi Oblast. I will work daily with the town council of Hlyboka and other organizations throughout the area to help find financiers both foreign and domestic as well as work with the government to engage and activate their citizenry to become more participatory. I am overwhelmed with pride to take even the smallest of parts in this broad endeavor.
Like all former Soviet republics, Ukraine is relatively new to the democratic process. During Soviet times all local governments did not have any control over their own territory. Officials were simply put in place to maintain order for the greater national government. If they ever encountered a problem or needed something fixed, they had to go up the chain of command and request money from the central government. Years of having no control over their own destiny created indifference towards the system and of the federal government. To truly build a strong, empowered democracy one must start by creating a strong, empowered people. If the government on the local level becomes more responsive to their constituents, the hope is that the citizens will start to truly believe they can make a difference. The Ukrainian government has taken these fundamental challenges in stride even while fighting a war within their own borders that has cost the lives of over 10,000 people, and having their territorial integrity compromised by one of their neighboring countries.
So why should the United States care? Why am I here? The simplest answer is in hopes of being a part of history. Ukraine right now is at the crucible between east and west. Between democratic, Western norms and the possible return to reliance and subjugation by neighboring countries. If we truly believe in these principles of self-determination and human rights, then it is our duty to try and help those who also strive towards these goals. These changes will not take place in a day or even months, but over many years. It is a battle to win hearts and minds. To hopefully help even just a few people believe they can make a difference. As Martin Luther King Jr. said of injustice, a threat to democracy anywhere, is a threat to democracy everywhere.