Dmytro Potekhin (Ukrainian democracy leader), 2008

Dmytro Potekhin, the leader of Znayu. Interview May 8, 2008 by phone in Kiev.
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

I phoned Potekhin when I was in Kiev; we had no opportunity to meet in person but I took notes. He had been a Znayu activist.

The international contaxt: In the early 1990s Russia gave freedom to the republics, was unable to control them. By 2004 the situation was different; there was a will to control the countries in their sphere of interest. In 2004 there were communication channels and they tried to exploit them. That’s the key difference. They try to influence Ukraine now. The channels of power had been outdated in 1990s. They are better prepared now and were so in 2004. [They or we?] faced the failure of the attempt in 2004.

Official policy now, feel pressure. But Ukraine today is stronger than in 2004. Now we have political competition, even if not a consolidated democracy.

[I asked whether it was harder for him and other Ukrainians to help other movements now than it had been for Otpor to help them.]

No. I am not kept out of Russia. I am not perceived as a revolutionary. I did trainings in Russia without difficulty. If they want to ban me from Russia, they can do so but Russians can come out.

Their restrictive policies are mobilizing people. The whole world can see what they are doing.

Yes, Moscow people are happy now but when they face problems, they will be less and less positive. Pensioners, protesters, etc. Now the only reason for satisfaction there is the oil money. Clashes in the regime will start sooner or later.

I’m not always happy with the way democratization is done. We questioned the funding practices in 2004 and denied such practices ourselves. We were not living on grants. Yet those NGOs in the country did exist many years on such grants. Our coalition was composed of such NGOs. We would not have been effective without them. We wanted to carry out coalition and campaign education — to educate people about their rights. We could only talk to those not in the system., Key partners were NGOs. We could criticize how they worked for many years but we talked to them — to the youths especially — and we tried to unite them in a campaign that would independent from the regime. Also we talked to western donors about their way of supporting us (cf to other countries). Ukrainians were not as critical as in Serbia because the country was not at war or in shortages. We suggested positive campaigning. The regime was looking at the Serbian and Georgian cases. We suggested that donors do a positive campaign — funny etc. Others (Otpor, Georgia, etc) were more negative.

We met with Otpor when they trained other young groups. They worked with me for a couple of months. Now I am asked for advice (from 4 or 5 countries).

{I mentioned Burma and how the monks were apparently not trained.] There were some trainings in Burma but I don’t know who or where in Burma. You can’t export revolution.

One-third of our leaflets were printed in Russian. Also, there is an opportunity now in Burma to try after the failures. They failed to provide security to the manpower.

Definitely there are mistakes in donor policies — inefficient policies. They give grounds to criticize Western involvement. But for me it’s not a question of whether to give but HOW it should be done. Even if you have people with money who dislike the regime, they will usually turn instead to the political opposition and are not really willing to change things. [He means, I think, that it is better to fund groups that have no political standing such as Znayu than minority political parties.]

The young and the third sector are most likely to change things. Local business people are not likely to give money to the political opposition, not wanting change. See the case in Ukraine and Russia.

I asked who has written about this. Peter Ackerman and the other guy in the paper, “How freedom Is Won.” They say it in a different way but the logic is this. If you find only political opposition you will not likely have effective mobilization.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books