National Dialogue Process in Ukraine - An Urgent Necessity

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, which started its deployment of monitors a month ago, is under increasing pressure to focus on that part of its mandate which tasks it to :

"Facilitate the dialogue on the ground in order to reduce tensions and promote normalization of the situation".

This has proved difficult with much of the Mission's first weeks taken up with securing the release of the OSCE military observers held hostage for one week by pro-Russian militants in Slavyansk,in the eastern part of Ukraine.

At the same time, initiating any form of dialogue on the ground, particularly in the eastern part of Ukraine, will be virtually impossible so long as the spiral of violence continues and the gruesome body count increases by the day.

The traumatic events that rocked the old imperial city of Odessa a week ago resulting in  over 40 deaths brought Ukraine to the edge of the abyss. What lies beyond is civil war and a violent disintegration of the country. The only solution to prevent that happening would be for an immediate cessation of hostilities  on both sides and the launching of a dialogue process.

In return for a firm and verifiable commitment by the Interim Government to initiate 'a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine's regions and political constituencies ',(#), the pro-Russian militants should lay down their arms and end their illegal occupations of public buildings . Russia has the means to convince them to do so, if it wishes. At the same time, the National Parliament in Kiev, which includes elected representatives from all the regions of Ukraine, should launch the national dialogue process.  The right sequencing of these steps will be critical to overcome the deep mistrust and suspicion that has added fuel to the arguments of the extremist elements on both sides.

The OSCE Monitoring Mission meanwhile, which should reach its full complement of 500 monitors within the next weeks,must prepare the ground for the dialogue at the local level. This would involve identifying key interlocuteurs, as well as the elements of concern, both short and long term,  common to all of them. These will no doubt include issues relating to identity, language rights, economic opportunities and devolved administration. A critical part of the process  should be   to facilitate a space for the moderate elements to express their views, up to now drowned out by the armed and vocal extremists groups. Building confidence in the dialogue process itself will remain a crucial element in fostering local ownership, without which success will not be guaranteed.

The national dialogue to be launched by the Parliament could take the form of a Constitutional Convention. There are past examples in Europe which could offer some guidance, in particular as to the organizational and representation aspects. The most recent is the Constitutional Convention of Ireland which completed its work two months ago. It brought together :
- sitting Members of Parliament from each of the political parties represented in the Dail (Irish Parliament);
- one representative from each of the political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly;
- 66 citizens representative of Irish society and balanced in terms of gender,age, region,etc.

All in all, the Constitutional Convention was composed of 99 people plus an independent Chairman, whose personality and standing commanded respect and was critical for its success. It met in different parts  of the country and received submissions from a broad spectrum of organizations and communities across the country which were processed by the Convention Secretariat and presented for discussion.

Whatever model is chosen, it must be given sufficient time. It would be a mistake to organize round tables around the country without having undertaken beforehand the preparatory work required to bring the interlocuteurs to the table, and to create an environment where all those participating will feel confident it offers a platform where their problems will be addressed.The four powers must work in tandem to support the process and the financial assistance necessary to guarantee  effective implementation of the end result. 

Even if the Presidential elections take place as scheduled on 25th May, it won't bring the crisis any closer to a solution, unless a dialogue process across the country is well under way. And as Senator George Mitchell said in the context of the Northern Ireland peace process, since conflicts are started by human beings, they can be ended by human beings. This is the challenge facing the citizens of Ukraine whether pro Ukraine or pro Russia.


(#) Joint Statement by the Representatives of the EU, US, Ukraine and Russian Federation , Geneva,17 April.