November 16, 2017
It is such a pleasure to be here with all of you and obviously the distinguished guests in our front row. I am sure everybody here is distinguished. I am honored to join you at this Sixth Annual Civil Society Capacity Building Forum and greeting 1,700 civil activists who are participating in this Forum.
Many of you have heard me say this before but it bears repeating: I continue to be inspired by how civil society is forging Ukraine.
Just four years ago many Ukrainians wondered whether they had any control over their country’s destiny at all.
A clique of oligarchs sucked the wealth from the state and from the Ukrainian people to get rich and empower themselves.
Ukraine was a model of corrupt, kleptocratic, self-interested government. Ruling officials benefited while ordinary citizens suffered and the nation was vulnerable to exploitation from neighbors.
But four years ago in the bitter cold of a Ukrainian winter – Ukrainians, probably many of the people in this room, lit a spark. Ukrainians came together and said, “This is our country.“
And they did it for something better, not for themselves but for future generations.
They championed not just the aspirations of Ukrainians – they championed the universal aspirations of all mankind, to live free and have dignified lives.
And history is on the side of the free Ukraine.
All across the world the last century of progress has shown us that to the path to peace, prosperity, and freedom lies in liberal reform, inclusive institutions, rule of law, transparent politics and free markets. These are the hallmarks of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This is what Ukrainian people want.
The tide of history cannot be resisted. Almost four years after Maidan the hopes of Maidan are still alive and the work of transforming this country continues.
Today, the people in this room, the representatives of civil society help drive democratic reforms and push the parliament and the government to do the same.
You promote functional democracy and the rule of law, you help hold the government and the representatives of the Verkhovna Rada to be accountable. You are the gadflies that every democracy requires.
You advance the judicial reform. You build new consolidated communities and continue decentralization process.
You provide badly needed humanitarian assistance as well as supporting Ukrainian soldiers defending their homeland in the East.
You are everywhere, as you should be in a society that values the rule of law, the rights of individuals, and an open and accountable system of government.
But you know better than anyone else that it is not easy.
Sometimes you are verbally abused and even physically threatened.
But you continue your work, because you understand that if you succeed, Ukraine succeeds.
And with this understanding comes great responsibility, perhaps the greatest, because future generations depend on you.
You carry the hopes and dreams of Ukrainian citizens.
At the same time, you bear the doubts and suspicions of your opponents.
Your admirers look to you for leadership and for role models.
The skeptics exaggerate any flaw or inconsistency to undermine you.
And speaking of comments Pavlenko said, there needs to be better understanding between civil society and political leaders.
But I would also address a word to each one of you about the thing you can control, which is yourself.
You can only rise above the doubts by upholding yourselves to the highest standards of integrity, working diligently in the public service or the public interest, eliminating conflicts of interest or avoiding partisan interest.
If Ukraine is to be governed by resilient institutions, then your behavior and the behavior of your organizations will be the model that others follow.
The United States stands firmly behind you in Ukraine’s transition. We look forward to continue our partnership with civil society – with all of you, as you build a strong, prosperous and free future for all Ukrainians.
Through USAID, we are proud to support your efforts to give greater voice to citizens shaping Ukraine’s future.
This Forum is one of many ways to ensure that civic activists know the latest methodologies and best practices for being effective, sustainable, responsible in the long run.
I hope you come away inspired and determined to continue your vital work in making the hopes and aspirations of the Maidan a reality.