Ambassador Melanne Verveer. Ukrainian Catholic University Lecture
November 12, 2012
It is a wonderful pleasure for me to be back in Ukraine, to be in this beautiful city, and a special honor to be here at Ukrainian Catholic University. “It is delightful for me to be with all of you today. My grandparents – both on my mother’s side and my father’s side were born in Ukraine.” (spoken in Ukrainian)
This country has always had a special place in my heart. My grandparents came to the U.S. from this region in the first wave of immigration from Ukraine at the turn of the (twentieth) century – more than 100 years ago. As a child growing up during the Cold War in a Ukrainian-American family, we were ever mindful of the oppression experienced by the Ukrainian people, but we, like Ukrainians here, believed that freedom would one day triumph.
There are strong links between our two countries, not least of which are the one million Ukrainian-Americans; however, the strongest bond is the values we share.
I am pleased to be here today with a great friend of Ukraine’s, and one of our top diplomats, Ambassador John Tefft – U.S. Ambassador to this country.
I first came to Lviv with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1996, just a few years after Ukraine became independent. As she said then, “Even in the face of unspeakable horrors, the people of Ukraine, living under Soviet domination, did not give up. Instead, you found the best shield against oppression – you started down the road to democracy.” Even then – over 15 years ago, when many of you were very young – we felt that commitment to democracy in all the people we met here.
I remember well, as though it were yesterday, we were welcomed to St. George’s Cathedral by a very impressive young theologian, who was not yet ordained a priest. That was someone you know well – Boris Gudziak. Even then, he was engaged in service to people with special needs, which continues here today. Being at the Cathedral reminded us of the struggle against oppression experienced by the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which became the Church of New Martyrs for several long decades, and was forced to go underground.
You have gone from a place that witnessed the worst in humanity to a place that extends the circle of humanity. This university is tied to the history of that struggle. Today, you have the distinction of being the first Catholic university to open on the territory of the former Soviet Union and the first university of the Eastern Catholic Church.
And since the establishment of UCU a decade ago, you have become a center of academic excellence, recognized for rigorous intellectual standards, ethical principles, a moral vision, a spirit of community, and a place where future leaders are being formed and nurtured.
Bishop Boris once described UCU this way: “a center for cultural thought and formation of a new Ukrainian society based on human dignity…a place breathing in the winds of freedom with full lungs and the hunger to make your path for the future.”
I had the opportunity to tour this campus and meet with some of your leaders yesterday. What is occurring here is truly a transformative experience for students and faculty alike. Taras Shevchenko wrote, “In your house, you will find truth, strength, and freedom.” In Ukraine, we find them here at UCU.
Let me offer my congratulations to the new Apostolic Exarch. Bishop Boris is not here because he is in America growing support for this university to which he has been so devoted. I have no doubt he will continue to be engaged in every way he can in his new position.
I come to your country at a defining moment – a crossroad in the life of your young democracy. As the U.S. Government has noted, the recent parliamentary campaign and elections were a step backwards for Ukraine – riddled with irregularities, falsification of results in some places, intimidation, diversion of government resources to benefit ruling party candidates, as well as the politically motivated conviction and imprisonment of opposition leaders like Yulia Tymoshenko that kept them from competing in the election.
It was not that long ago that Bishop Boris and this university were warned about students’ participation in protests. If this had not been stopped, it would be the kind of harassment that undermines democratic values, religious liberty, academic freedom, and human rights. I think we should take to heart what Bishop Boris said then because it is a guidepost for today.
“We can do more than we think,” he said. “This is not the first time we are in a crisis; it is not the first time Ukraine is in this condition. The current situation is not only one of challenges and dangers, but also a huge opportunity.” And it is opportunity that I want to speak to you about today, and in particular, two ways that you can truly make a difference.
First, the call to citizenship.
Democracy has been described as messy business. It requires patience, hard work, constant nurturing and vigilance. Democracy is who we are and how we live our lives. It is the values that the French political thinker Alex de Tocqueville observed in the earliest days of America’s history and he called them “habits of the heart” to be passed from one generation to another.
When my grandparents came to America from Ukraine all those years ago, they brought with them the values of service to community, a belief in a better tomorrow, a strong faith and an optimistic spirit that enabled them and their fellow Ukrainians to establish the first Ukrainian self-help organization in the U.S. in 1894. It was like so many voluntary organizations in the U.S. that even today are addressing the education and social needs of the émigré communities – from providing access to credit to start small businesses to English language classes, so their children could better themselves in their adopted country. Despite all the challenges, they faced in a new land, they did rather remarkable things. They built churches and schools. They were true civil society leaders and they were agents of change.
Each generation is called to meet the challenges of its times. You are among the best and brightest of your generation. You will be the young professionals and the civic activists like so many I have met here in Ukraine this trip and in the past, who are making a difference for your country.
I’m always inspired by so many citizen activists fighting against corruption, promoting tolerance, supporting women’s equality and human rights, advancing religious freedom, struggling for free democratic institutions and rule of law, supporting entrepreneurs, economic reforms, and mentoring programs, working with people with special needs, and so much more. Where would this country be without these efforts? Ukraine has accomplished much in the last 20 years of independence, but there is still much work to be done.
As you look forward, the decisions of government will not only determine Ukraine’s future, but your own. Secretary Clinton has reminded us that societies move forward when “citizens are empowered to transform common interests into common actions that serve the common good.” A healthy democracy depends on a healthy civil society. It depends on each and every one of you. And I hope you will seize the opportunity to do all that you can in the months and years ahead.
Secondly, I hope you will work to advance women’s equality. The status of women in Ukraine and around the world is not only a matter of morality and justice, but it is an economic, social, and political imperative. Until women around the world are accorded their full rights and afforded opportunities to participate fully in the economic and political life of their countries, progress and prosperity here and everywhere else will have its own glass ceiling.
The evidence is irrefutable. When women are free to develop their talents and fulfill their God-given potentials, all of society benefits. A nation’s progress depends on the progress of women as well.
A democracy without the participation of women is a contradiction in terms. When women’s participation in elective office at every level – local, oblast, national – is restricted, we are shortchanging not only them, but all of society is deprived of their talents, experiences, and perspectives that are so important to good government and sound public policy, which affects everyone. It is disappointing that only 13% of the candidates in the parliamentary elections from major parties were women.
In Kyiv, the other night, I met with three female parliamentarians from three different parties. They and others have formed a parliamentary women’s caucus to focus on key issues that would likely not otherwise be addressed. And just this morning, here in Lviv, I met with the Governor and he told me that he had appointed women to head administrative districts, including in a mining region. This is progress.
Further, it is discriminatory and dispiriting when political leaders make statements about women that are demeaning and disrespectful.
It is also the case that a vibrant economy depends on the full contribution of women. When they start and grow businesses and participate in the workplace, they not only grow income for themselves and their families, but grow their country’s economy and create jobs. Today, there is a mountain of data and research that correlates positively women’s economic participation with a country’s prosperity and economic competitiveness.
According to the World Bank, gender equality is smart economics. I just came from Warsaw where my government is currently hosting a conference in support of women entrepreneurs from across the region, including Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and Poland because we recognize the critical importance of advancing women’s entrepreneurship to the prosperity of all countries. Ukraine confronts severe economic challenges and more should be done to encourage and support women’s economic participation in the workplace and in starting and growing businesses.
When human trafficking and exploitation are prevented, when women’s rights are protected, nations are more stable and secure. Violence against women should never be considered simply a private matter or cultural. It is criminal and perpetrators should be prosecuted.
The position that I hold in my government is unprecedented for our country. President Obama and Secretary Clinton created this position to reflect and reinforce the importance of women’s issues in U.S. foreign policy. Our major economic, security, and environmental issues cannot be tackled or solved without the participation of women at every level of society.
Women’s issues should concern everyone and I hope they will be a concern for all of you. It is a simple fact that no country can flourish if it leaves half its population behind.
It’s been said, “Some people see things as they are, wring their hands, despair, and ask: why is this happening?” Others see things as they could be, like the opportunities Bishop Boris spoke about, and they say, “Why not?”
You are the not so ordinary people who will do extraordinary things to make a difference for your country. And the U.S. remains committed to assisting Ukraine, as it has for the past 20 years on its path to strengthening its democracy. We are with you on this journey.
You have been and must continue to be the moral force that bends the arc of history to moral justice. To echo the words of your national anthem, “your persistence and sincere toils will be rewarded and as a result, freedom’s song will resound throughout Ukraine.” “Glory to Ukraine.” (spoken in Ukrainian)
We wish you all the best and Godspeed.