Parallel Session 14

Conflict Transformation in Donbas: Dialogue between Human Rights Activists and Peacebuilders

Overview

The aim of the session was to discuss the complex relationship between human rights defenders (HR) and peace builders (PB) in the context of the violent conflict in eastern Ukraine. In doing this, the session took reference to the content of the workshop organized by the DRA (German-Russian Exchange) and swisspeace, in the framework of the Civil Solidarity Platform, in November 2017, which brought together civil society actors from Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, and Netherlands, representing both approaches in the framework of their work in Donbas.

After an overview on the complexity of the conflict perspectives from Ukraine, Donetsk/Luhansk People's Republic, Russia and an international perspective, speakers and participants of the session addressed the following issues:

  • Polarization of the civil society actors in Ukraine;
  • Possibilities of cooperating with civil society actors in the non-controlled territories;
  • Inclusion of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the process of conflict transformation.

1. Brief overview of the events and factors preceding the beginning of the conflict:

  • The “Revolution on the Granite” in October 1990;
  • Referendums on Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union in 199;
  • The issue of Ukrainian identity versus Soviet (Russian) identity;
  • Socio-political discourse about the role of “big brother Russia” in the history of the Ukrainian state
  • Miners’ demonstrations in 1993;
  • Unfair and non-transparent privatization of 60 thousand industrial objects during the decade 1992-2002;
  • Development of a civic culture in Ukraine vs. cleavages within the Ukrainian society;
  • Ambivalent political sentiments regarding the Ukrainian state between the West and Russia;
  • Violent conflict, which began in Spring 2014;
  • Growing civil society engagement contributing to conflict resolution in the eastern Ukraine.

2. The complicated issue of Donbas identity: Is it an artificial construct made up as a part of Soviet propaganda or maybe a symptom of a so-called “post-Soviet syndrome”? Many people in Donbas are working in the heavy industry sector and have shown a lack of interest and their discontent with more recent protests (i.e. Orange Revolution in 2005). Almost 20 years ago, these very same people were fighting for better working conditions and higher salaries by taking part in large-scale miners’ strikes in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, the shared experiences of violent conflict brought the people closer together. Since the beginning of the armed conflict, the feeling of belonging to the community became stronger, especially in the industrial centers.

3. The Fears of the people who stayed in the uncontrolled territory: One the one hand, people are afraid of the future and a possible reintegration with Ukraine. Many fear that Ukraine will label them as terrorists or hostile collaborators and will prosecute them. On the other hand, they are terrified by the idea of total isolation from Ukraine, as multiple strong ties, shared memories, and historical experiences exist.

4. Common identity and common agenda of civil society actors for peace and justice: What are the roles of Russian human rights defenders in the conflict? Is a dialogue with de facto authorities in the occupied territories possible? How would this dialogue be arranged? We need to reflect on the identity of peace builders and human rights defenders, and the potential disputes between them.

Takeaways

In the context of war, the existing framework does not provide rules of behavior for human rights defenders, if those civil society actors formally belong to one of the conflict sides and the mechanisms of human rights protection do not properly function.

The Ukrainian government must be aware of possible pitfalls and be prepared to deal with long-term consequences of the conflict. An effective and cohesive civil society could push state institutions to transform the conflict in a inclusive, justice and peaceful way. The involvement of civil society actors from Russia in the process of conflict resolution in eastern Ukraine is essential as they might have a positive impact on the perception of the conflict within the Russian society. Moreover, Russian civil society actors can monitor occurrences on the Ukrainian-Russian boarder and they can partly enter the non-controlled territories in the Eastern Ukraine (“D/LPR”). Therefore, their work is substantial in order to monitor the human rights violations in the “black box” of “D/LPR”.

Recommendations for civil society working on the conflict in Donbas

  • Influence the decisions and actions of state authorities to prevent counter-productive actions, which could promote further fragmentation and lack of trust in the future, e.g. polarization of the society, political instrumentalization of identity.
  • Concentrate on the conflict lines (in Ukrainian society as well as between societies in Ukraine & Russia), which have to be tackled by multiple stakeholders. There is a definite need for regular consultations between civil society actors from different “silos” – HR, PB, etc.
  • Work on a joint strategy of civil society to promote peace and justice: e.g. to stop political instrumentalization of identities; create a feeling of belonging and common identity within the society of eastern Ukraine.
  • Share the most effective practices and strategies in the realms of advocacy for peace (PB) & raising awareness (HR).
  • Carry out a joint-conflict analysis to understand the impacts of possible changes in order to improve the process of conflict resolution.

Hosts



Inputs

Facilitator: Dr. Yuliya Erner, German-Russian Exchange DRA e.V., Germany