The XXIX UNWLA Convention

Friday, May 27, 2011
Reception and pre-convention program

A light buffet supper was followed by the traditional pre-convention program and reception. The featured speaker for the evening was journalist Roslava Gongadze, who was introduced R. Gongatze and C. Melnykby UNWLA’s Vice President for Public Relations Christine Melnyk. Ms. Gongadze, who came to the United States as a political refugee in 2001, is the widow of Georgiy Gongadze, the investigative reporter who was allegedly murdered by government police in Ukraine in 2000. A respected journalist in her own right, Myroslava formed the Gongadze Foundation, an internationally recognized organization dedicated to protecting journalistic rights and freedoms.

Ms. Gongadze first spoke about the events that led up to her seeking asylum in the United States. “In 1999,” she stated, “Leonid Kuchma was elected to his second term” and the slow erosion of democratization in Ukraine, which had begun during his first term as President escalate. Kuchma surrounded himself with like-minded cronies and took steps to silence any opposition. According to Ms. Gongadze, much of this stemmed form a dichotomous mindset of a man wanting to feared but also loved; thus, as he began to portray himself as “the heroic creator of a new state,” those who disagreed with his politics “committed suicide” or “died in car accidents.” She spoke in depth about secret recordings in camera, recordings that specifically alluded to Kuchma’s determination to rid himself of Georgiy Gongadze When the tapes were released by an activist colleague of Gongadze, thousands protested. It is likely that the tapes not only prevented Kuchma’s reelection to a third term but were also part of the confluence of events that culminated in the Orange Revolution. Ms. Gongadze’s presentation continued with an analysis of the subsequent administrations in Ukraine, the failure of President Yushchenko to deliver on idealistic promise and the meaneuverings of President Yanukovych that are designed to return Ukraine to its subservient role as a Russian sphere of influence. The speaker noted that her personal disillusionment mirrored the bitterness and apathy of many in Ukraine, but that her personal debt to her husband and what he stood for has not allowed her to simply give up. Citing Gandhi and Shevchenko, she stressed a continued commitment to a Ukraine decidedly different—a Ukraine in which journalists and others are guaranteed the freedoms their colleagues in democratic nations enjoy.

Ms. Gongadze answered questions from audience members, her answers poignant and unreserved, even when the questions touched on very personal matters, including the risk to herself and her daughters. “When my husband died,” she responded, “I vowed to see that those responsible would pay. Silence and waiting wouldn’t have done this. Yes, there is risk—but there is a God and there is hope. Here, I feel safe. In Ukraine, I have protection. Yes, there is fear. It doesn’t stop me.”

Asked about the status of women in the new Ukraine, she responded, “There are no women in the administration . . . but there is a president who says ‘come to Ukraine and see our women get undressed on Khreshchatyk in the spring.’”

Asked for a prediction on whether and how Ukraine will dig itself out of its current state, Ms. Gongadze was less than sanguine. “There’s no fast, sure panacea . . . the mentality has to change.” There are, she concluded, “many young idealists, but the system eats them alive. I know young people who could be good leaders, but the system has to change.”

Vice President Christine Melnyk closed the program with a note underscoring that the UNWLA is a nonpolitical organization and that speaker’s opinions were not to be construed as the opinions of the UNWLA.

Friday, May 27,2011
President’s Welcoming Remarks
National Board Meeting
Reception and pre-convention program.

Saturday, May 28, 2011
Opening Ceremony and Plenary Sessions
Luncheon Program
Convention Banquet

Sunday, May 29, 2011
Morning Plenary Session
Luncheon Program
Afternoon Seminars and Evening Program

Monday, May 30, 2011
Morning Plenary Session and Convention Closing

Click here to view the pictures from the ХХІХ Convention