Ukraine must listen to all its people to be a fair and responsive democracy, University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy said Wednesday -- just days before he goes to listen to some of the country's most divided minorities.
"It's not easy in a country that hasn't had that for some time," he said.
Axworthy will be among an international group of respected veteran diplomats and politicians going to eastern Ukraine, where Russia is fomenting dissent among Russian-speaking residents.
"This mission is specifically designed to do observations and assessments of upcoming elections," Axworthy said. "Some of us will go to Donetsk in the eastern part of Ukraine, which has been in some turmoil because of Russian activity in the area."
Axworthy, a former foreign affairs minister, will be a delegate with the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) which is fielding a pre-election assessment mission for the May 25 presidential election in Ukraine.
Ukraine has to show it can be responsive and fair to regions with large religious or Russian-speaking minorities, he said.
The West wants to know how democracies and international organizations can best help Ukrainians, Axworthy said.
Axworthy lectured on human rights in universities throughout Ukraine a year ago: "I had a strong sense of young people wanting change," he said. "I certainly saw divisions occurring between east and west (parts of Ukraine)," as well as Russian-speaking and other Ukrainians, and members of various churches.
Ukraine needs a continued demonstration of strong interest from the West in what happens in the beleaguered country, he said. The delegation will examine Ukraine's federal system to provide the government advice "that gives regions some recognition of their rights."
Among the delegates will be U of W vice-president of finance and administration Bill Balan. "He's very fluent in Ukrainian. He knows the people there," said Axworthy.
Axworthy retires as U of W president June 30, but said he expects to remain active in such international missions. "It's the kind of thing I'd like to do -- this is a really crucial one."
The delegation will assess the state of preparations for the elections, including the legal and political environment, through a series of meetings with election officials, presidential candidates, political party leaders and representatives of civil society, the media, the international community and government.
The delegates include Edward "Ted" Kaufman, former U.S. senator from Delaware; Tom Andrews, former U.S. congressman from Maine and president and CEO of United to End Genocide; Matyas Eorsi, former member of parliament from Hungary and former member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; Nadia Diuk, vice-president of programs for Europe, Eurasia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean for the National Endowment for Democracy; Andrew Bruce, executive director of Electoral Reform International Services; Laura Jewett, NDI regional director for Eurasia; and Catherine Cecil, resident director for NDI in Ukraine.