Title

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December 1, 1991
This Day in Commission History
Saturday, December 01, 2018

By Alexa Zouboukos,
Intern

On December 1, 1991, 84 percent of eligible voters in Ukraine exercised their democratic rights in a referendum on independence and the election of their president, peacefully transferring power after the long struggle of the Cold War. If the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled a symbolic end to the war, then Ukraine partaking in the democratic process was a concrete outcome.

Three U.S. Helsinki Commission staffers sent to monitor the elections—Orest Deychakiwsky, Michael Ochs, and Heather Hurlburt—reported on the implementation of regulations that we recognize in today’s U.S. elections. Some of these regulations included the collection of a certain number of signatures for a candidate to be placed on the ballot, campaign finance laws, and the methodology for marking and counting ballots.

Despite many accounts of a free and fair election, however, there were also indicators of information suppression. Helsinki Commission staff noted that there were reports of pro-independence literature being withheld from Crimea and Mykolaiv.

Limits to the free flow of information were not the only threat Ukrainians faced, but also “dark warnings by Mikhail Gorbachev, by the central Soviet media and, to some extent, Russian media about the difficulties and dangers Ukrainian independence would pose to Ukrainians themselves, to their neighbors and to international stability.” These threats to the will of Ukrainian people did not dampen their spirits; in fact, according to the report, “many Ukrainians later told Helsinki Commission staff that such attempts to intimidate them only made them more determined to see their cause through to the end.”

Ukrainian citizens demonstrated this determination through a landslide referendum. Three-quarters of participants voted in favor of independence. Helsinki Commission staff also observed a distinct feeling of festivity at polling stations, reinforced by the testimonies of Ukrainians previously imprisoned in Siberia who said that this day was the realization of a long-held dream of independence from the Soviet Union.

Ukrainians were aware that there would be greater struggles ahead, but also recognized that these could be opportunities to exercise their new sovereignty. December 1, 1991 did not mark the end of Ukraine’s conflicts with Russia, but it did finally allow Ukrainians to exercise rights that were long suppressed under the Soviet yoke.

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    This report is based on the findings of two Helsinki Commission delegations to Yugoslavia. First, Commission Chairman Dennis DeConcini led a congressional delegation to Ljubljana, Slovenia, from April 7-8, 1990. The delegation observed the voting at polling stations in Ljubljana as well as in nearby villages on April 8, and met with the President of Slovenia, the President of the Slovenian Assembly, the Slovenian Republic Election Commission, and representatives of the LCS-Party of Democratic Renewal, DEMOS­ United Opposition, and the Progressive People's Party of the Center. A staff delegation then traveled to Zagreb, Croatia, from April 20-23, 1990. It observed the voting and some counting of ballots at polling stations in Zagreb and surrounding towns and villages on April 22, as well as voting in Krsko, Slovenia, for the run-off elections in that republic. The delegation also observed voting and the counting of ballots at work places on April 23, and met with the Croatian Republic Election Commission, the Committee for Information, and representatives of the Croatian Democratic Union and the Democratic Union of Albanians in Croatia. During the course of both visits, the delegations also had numerous informal meetings with Communist, opposition and independent candidates. Other sources include the Croatian and Slovenian press, Tanjug news agency and Radio Free Europe reports. The U.S. Consulate in Zagreb and U.S. Embassy in Belgrade both provided considerable assistance in arranging the congressional and staff delegation visits, which was greatly appreciated. In April and May 1990, the republics of Slovenia and Croatia in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia held the first genuinely free elections in that country since World War II. In both cases, a large number of alternative parties fielded candidates, and the local Communist Parties lost control of both republic governments. The Slovenian and Croatian elections took place during a time of major political and economic problems within Yugoslavia, as well as ethnic strife. Beyond the creation of multi-party, democratic political systems in Slovenia and Croatia, the election debate in these two northern republics focused on their respective futures in the Yugoslav federation, with consideration being given to the formation of a confederation and, sometime in the future, perhaps even independence.

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  • Documents of the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in the U.S.S.R. and Lithuania (1976-1986), Vol. 3 - Ukraine

    November 9, 1986, marked the 10th anniversary of the largest and, in terms of prison sentences, the most repressed of the Soviet Helsinki Groups--the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. Founded by Ukrainian writer and World War II veteran Mykola Rudenko, the group produced extensive documentation on violations of the Helsinki Accords in Ukraine, such as persecution of individual dissent, suppression of the Ukrainian language and culture, and religious persecution. The Soviet Government was determined to deny this group any public voice. Of the 38 members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, all but one have been imprisoned at one time or another. Fourteen Ukrainian Helsinki Monitors and one Estonian human rights activist who joined the group while in a labor camp, are currently serving lengthly sentences. Since May 1984, three members have died in camps. All three men had been ill and denied adequate medical care. Oleksa Tykhy, Yuriy Lytvyn and Vasyl Stus all died for their beliefs. Prior to his death, Stus had written "Moscow has given the camp authorities complete power, and anyone harboring the illusion that our relations with /the camp authorities/ are regulated by some sort of law is sadly mistaken." His words were tragically prophetic. We are concerned that the same fate awaits others, including Lev Lukianenko, Mykola Horbal, Ivan Kandyba, Vasyl Ovsienko and Vitaly Kalynychenko. It is vital that we remember the courageous members of the Ukrainian Monitoring Group and their eloquent call for compliance with the ideals of Helsinki. In fact, the Congress recently passed a resolution commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki group and honoring the members of all the Soviet Helsinki Monitoring Groups. At the ongoing Vienna CSCE Follow-up Meeting, the United States and other Western delegations are speaking out on behalf of the imprisoned members of the Ukrainian and other Helsinki Groups. We hope that the documents contained in this volume will help to ensure that the Ukrainian Group and its message are not forgotten.

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  • Fifth Anniversary of the Formation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group

    On November 9, 1976, 10 brave men and women in Kiev organized a citizens' group to examine how the Soviet Government was living up to its Helsinki human rights pledges. Tragically, however, far from greeting this new civic endeavor, the Kremlin, in a savage campaign of official reprisal, singled out the Ukrainian Helsinki Group for especially harsh treatment. By 1981, 30 group activists were in Soviet camps, prisons, and places of exile. The four witnesses at the Helsinki Commission hearing provided expert testimony on Ukraine and the Helsinki process, and their fates gave an insight into the radically different ways in which our Government and that of the Soviet Union reacted to citizen interest in the Helsinki process.

  • Profiles: Helsinki Monitors

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  • Implementation of The Helsinki Accords Vol. XI – Religious Persecution In U.S.S.R. & HR Violations in Ukraine

    The first part of this hearing, led by Commissioner Dante B. Fascell, focused largely on the imprisonment of Russian Pastor Georgi  Vins, who had spent eight of the last thirteen years in prison simply due to his occupation. Repression of this Baptist minister exemplified such repression of other Baptist clergymen by the U.S.S.R., whose denomination in the country dated back to the early 1900s. However, in 1965, the Soviet Baptist movement split into the recognized and legitimated all-union Council of Evangelical Christians, and the dissident reform Baptists, making the latter the first Soviet dissident human rights group. The second portion of the hearing discussed Ukrainian political retribution and dissidents, exemplified by the cases of witnesses who had all been political prisoners in the Eastern European country.

  • Helsinki Commission Annual Report - 1978

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  • Podcast: Welcome to Observe

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