As Vice President Joe Biden heads to Ukraine this weekend for the inauguration of new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, he might want to pay closer attention to the new era of politics in the country. In an apparent sweeping endorsement of those who prefer Ukraine to tilt westward toward the EU rather than east toward Russia, Poroshenko won outright on the first ballot, taking more than 50 percent of the vote. In Kyiv's mayoral election, pro-Euro politician Victor Klitschko also won handily.
Powered by a broad center-right consensus, Ukraine's politics look brighter than they did last year when Euromaidan protests to oust former president Yanukovych and his government gripped the capital Kyiv and other major cities.More than 100 people were killed in these protests before Yanukovych finally fled the country in February 2014 with other top officials. Within two weeks Crimea had been annexed by Russian forces, and sporadic fighting still rages on between Ukrainian security forces and paramilitary Russian separatists along parts of the Ukraine-Russia border.
Before Poroshenko was elected, various groups associated with the Euromaidan protests helped form an interim government. These included some far right elements, notably the Svoboda party which has an unsavory history of antisemitism and inciting hatred against other vulnerable groups. While Svoboda particularly has made an effort at respectability in recent years, it and another far right group, Right Sector, barely registered any support in May's presidential elections. In the Kyiv municipal elections held the same day Svoboda won 6.5 percent of the vote, giving it five seats on the 60-member council, down from 17 percent support it won in 2012 parliamentary elections.
The centrist Democratic Alliance Party, which describes itself as a Christian Democrat party, is among the new political players who won support for its part in the Euromaidan protests. Local press reports its reputation as one that "largely caters to young, typically more liberal voters." The party began as a youth movement, then registered as a political party in 2011, when it began running on an anti-corruption platform. Two of its members were among those shot dead during the Euromaidan protests, and it won two seats on the Kyiv council in last month's elections.
But those hoping to see a new politics emerge in Ukraine to replace the appeal of the far right suffered a jolt on Wednesday when the Democratic Alliance refused membership to prominent LGBT activist Bogdan Globa. Globa told Human Rights First, "This was a major surprise to me -- I mean, I believed this political party would be properly democratic, but apparently not."
Democratic Alliance leader Vasyl Gatsko first said that Globa's sexual orientation had nothing to do with the decision, but conceded that Globa's views differed from the party's on family values. Pressed for clarification, Gatsko said, "Democratic Alliance is a Christian Democratic party. Our position is that family is made up of a man and a woman."
President Obama, speaking in Warsaw this week, said, "as we've been reminded by Russia's aggression in Ukraine, our free nations cannot be complacent in pursuit of the vision we share -- a Europe that is whole and free and at peace. We have to work for that. We have to stand with those who seek freedom," but also that, "Our democracies must be defined not by what or who we're against, but by a politics of inclusion and tolerance that welcomes all our citizens ... Our societies must embrace a greater justice that recognizes the inherent dignity of every human being."
While in Ukraine, Vice President Biden should make clear that the United States has no wiggle room when it comes to this sort of bigotry and that such discrimination undermines democracy and progress. Ukraine's leaders have a responsibility to promote inclusive politics and the United States has a vested interest in supporting civil society figures like Globan, who should be allowed to play a full part in the country's new politics.