By Bishop Paul Peter Jesep
There must be leadership from a new generation. In the past, I’ve penned that the Diaspora must be better equipped at getting out a coherent, sustained message to the Western media as to what it means to be Ukrainian. The Western media still portray Ukraine as some kind of historical aberration of greater Russia. The Diaspora needs a marketing infrastructure with qualified personnel. This requires sophisticated leaders who think outside the box.
In addition, while the Diaspora was very successful in pressing Western governments years ago to address human rights abuses during the Soviet era while maintaining the vibrancy of a non-Russified culture, it has fallen at the cross roads unsure of the direction to take. This underscores the reason why another generation must step forward to guide the worldwide Diaspora in various Western nations.
In another editorial in the Kyiv Post, Jen Sunden the publisher said, “At present, no Diaspora organization is playing an important role in Ukraine.” He’s right. The Diaspora is stuck in a pre-Soviet, anti-Communist mindset that does not lend itself to realities of the present day.
No one, but for the Communists, should be afraid of reform. Change is part of life. In the corporate world, businesses must develop new services and products to stay competitive. An individual must grow spiritually, however broadly one wishes to define it, or he or she loses a part of their humanity. So too must Diaspora organizations be overhauled if they are to be relevant.
As Sunden pointed out, the worldwide Diaspora is composed of many affluent, highly educated individuals who have maintained some type of cultural connection to their ancestral Motherland. It has significant potential to be enormously helpful in today’s Ukraine.
There are many challenges that Ukraine faces that the Diaspora can better address in a positive manner ranging from combating AIDs, fighting anti-Semitism, orchestrating a strategy to end homelessness, fostering a free and independent media, and encouraging civil liberties for all citizens no matter their background. This is not to suggest that such issues aren’t already a concern to some Diaspora Ukrainians. Yet there is no identifiable, coherent strategy to assist on such social and cultural issues because the focus still remains on the past.
It is naive to believe that President Putin or Kremlin bureaucrats have given up on exploiting or influencing Ukraine. Hence, it is pragmatic to remain watchful regarding the Russian government’s motives and for the Diaspora to be ready to offer a measured, appropriate political response if merited. Its focus, however, must remain on Ukraine’s new beginning with both the challenges and many wonderful opportunities ahead.
The Soviet Union is dead. There is a new world order. Let the Diaspora’s political activism begin anew.
Hopefully, this commentary along with the others that have come before it, will encourage ongoing dialogue about the urgent need for fresh leadership and the shifting of Diaspora economic, political and intellectual resources. It’s possible that many of the current Diaspora organizations and those identified as leaders are unable to meet the challenges of a post-Soviet, post-Kuchma Ukraine. If that is the case, then it’s time to consider starting new organizations leaving the old ones to implode from their own irrelevance.
Bishop Paul Peter Jesep is Chancellor of the Archeparchy, Vicar General of Public Affairs and Government Relations and Episcopal Vicar of Colombia and Venezuela in the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Sobornopravna of North and South America. His Grace, a lawyer and political scientist by training, has studied at Bangor Theological Seminary (bts.edu), the third oldest such school in the United States. He is also a former aide to U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). The views expressed here are strictly personal.
He speaks the truth, yet again.