FLEX 1997-98: Student Essays, Civil Society and Democracy Program

Washington, DC, May 7-13, 1998

Ukraine: New Freedom

Armenia: Youth in Democracy

Uzbekistan: Economic Reform


ANNA SEZGEEVNA TOKHTANIYSH, UKRAINE

AMERICAN HOST FAMILY: Barrytown, NY

"NEW FREEDOM"

I am one of the millions of young people who will someday create a new future for my country. Ukraine became independent only in 1991. For many years we were a part of the Soviet Union. We suffered under a severe and strict government. People were not allowed to have their own opinions: they were told what they should do and how they should do it. But now we are moving toward a democracy.

Now people are beginning to enjoy the air of independence and freedom. But Ukrainians still lack the experience of democracy. They are not used to making their own decisions, and they don't trust their government. And now even though the government is trying to make changes, often we don't recognize them. Also many old people in Ukraine fear change. Indeed many Ukrainians are anxiously waiting, hoping that someone will come and change their lives for the better.

Another problem in Ukraine is that a lot of well-educated people are trying to emigrate to other countries, because they don't see opportunities for themselves at home. And those who do stay remain passive: some people don't vote, even when there are elections, because they don't believe that their one vote can make any difference. Most young people of my age are not interested in politics at all. They don't even know about policies that our government makes, and most of them don't care.

When I came to the United States I was very interested in the systems of teaching American history here. My exchange program requires us to take a course in it. I found it especially interesting that from their early childhood Americans are told about civil and political rights. They learn that they are the owners of their country, and that the government only helps people to make their lives better. I have been living in a small town in New York state this year. My host mother is a very active politician. She works for the local town government. And here I can see how local politics work. People feel that they have the power to make changes in their lives. They can see what government does for them and if they don't agree with it they can freely offer their opinions about it. And the most amazing things is that government will listen to their opinion and will try to make changes for the better. It seems to me that people ask themselves not "what has my country done for me," but rather "what have I done for my country, for my town, for my kids, to make their lives better?"

In Ukraine we take a seven-year course in Ukrainian history. My country has a very long ethnic history. But, unfortunately, for the last 20 years no good books were published about 20th century Ukrainian history. During the 70 years of communism many history books were published. But as we can see now, they didn't tell people much truth about their own lives. And now, during this time of major changes, I think we really need new points of view on our lives and what really happened with my country in the 20th century.

Our government hid the truth from the people. When people were dying from starvation in the 1930's, all newspapers were saying that the Soviet Union was the #1 country in the world and that there was no happier nation than ours. I think people deserve to know the truth about what had happened with their grandparents and parents, so we won't make these same mistakes.

I am very happy to have a chance to go to Washington, D.C. and to see the way American government works. I want to know more about how the Congress functions, how it relates to the President. I'm really interested in the process of bills becoming laws.

As a citizen of Ukraine, I am somewhat in the position to help my country to become a better place to live. I hope that by seeing how democratic government really works in the U.S., to contribute to my own country's strength and stability. I know that it will be a challenge and that I have much to learn.



CHRISTINE ARMEN ISAYAN, ARMENIA

AMERICAN HOST FAMILY: Posen, Michigan

"YOUTH IN DEMOCRACY"

In today's world, more nations are accepting democracy than ever before. Unfortunately, not many young people appreciate or understand what it means to live in a democratic country. People take for granted the privileges a democratic country offers. I find young people in particular don't have a full understanding of their nation or the rights and privileges available to them in their country. Educating the youth in political issues and the right to vote is an important issue for me.

The group most likely to complain about their circumstances are our young people. Many discuss how they think things should be improved, whether it be school policies, the drinking age, and driving age. However, this group has a very special privilege that not every one in the world has. At the age of eighteen they have the right to vote. Regardless of this privilege, typically less than 50% of teenagers utilize this privilege. They spend a lot of times complaining and not enough time thinking how they can apply their important role in the life of their country, cities, and communities Their futures are formed and shaped by the political issues that cross the desks of all departments and they trust the decision making process to others. Regardless, they complain of the injustices towards their age group. Why would they not want to influence their own future, by the special privilege they receive at 18 years of age -- the right to vote?

Many teenagers don't vote because they lack the initiative to explore the issues presented before the people. Therefore, they don't bother to vote. Others, feel their one vote will not make a difference in the overall scheme of things. Regardless, the underlying issue still remains -- they complain without taking an active role to make changes. Many don't even know or appreciate the meaning of the word democracy. Does this age group realize how many other countries fought years to even have the right to vote? Women in the United States alone couldn't vote until Susan B.Anthony began her protest to have equal rights. And it only takes one person, as Ms. Anthony did, to bring forth an issue and organize others to fight for their cause, until they succeeded at their goal -- the right to vote. This may have been years ago, but very significant in the overall picture. It clearly shows how a group can work together to make changes to better their circumstances. To date, many nations don't have this advantage and are at the mercy of dictators. They have no choice in the circumstances surrounding their lives. Many have lost their lives trying to implement rights to vote or installing a democracy.

It is important to better educate our younger adults of the benefit of this special privilege and the impact they can make towards their future. Young people today need to form organizations to better appreciate the right to vote and how they can influence politics to protect their rights, the very meaning of democracy. Creating organizations that will give young people the opportunity to learn more about elections, politics and the various issues that are in their communities and countries. This would give students an opportunity to learn more about candidates, their beliefs and plans for community and the nation. To date, American young people fall short on this critical issue since less than 50% choose to vote.

I am from Armenia and we have formed a youth organization designed to address this same issue. I am a proud member of the organization "Vote for Voting". This is an important role in our country. Armenia only recently gained its independence; prior to a few years ago we were a communist country. Therefore, most of our young people were influenced with communists beliefs early on. Hence, now we are facing generations that need to be educated on the democratic policies. "Vote for Voting" is essential to educate my country's people on the rights they have to influence our government. Armenian exchange students, as myself, upon returning home from our year of living abroad will share with other young people in Armenia the experience of living in an older democratic country.

I spent the entire summer of 1997 traveling around my country spreading the knowledge I have gained on the right of voting, but more importantly how we as young people do have a voice that can influence our nation for the better. We educated on the process of candidate selection, elections and voting. We utilized a particular informational format for our educational sessions. I am confident this same format could be a particular informational format for our educational sessions. I am confident this same format could greatly benefit the United States young people as well. We separated our classes into several groups, each group had the task of inventing a presidential candidate and presenting them on many political issues and an election process. This method was very beneficial to educate our young people on the indispensable role they can play in shaping our future by voting. Our organization grew over the last several years to the point where our government has even issued grants to support the continuation of our group, recognizing its importance for the future voters of our country. The U.S. could benefit greatly from the same organizational format to spread the importance of democracy and voting to our nations as a whole. I present these ideas in my government class as an exchange student at Alpena High School, Alpena, Michigan, hoping to spread the idea and eventually form their own organization to benefit the young people as we do in our country.

Youth in Democracy is a very important political issue for me, because living in a democratic country and having a right to vote gives me the great opportunity to have a voice in the future of my country. Keeping young people occupied with real life political issues may help discourage them from socially unsuitable behaviors and better prepare them for active roles as citizens who are proud of the communities and countries they represent.

After experiencing a year of staying in the U.S., I will gain more knowledge of the privileges of democracy and be eager to share it with the youth back in my country. This is my duty as a proud citizen of my country to always be willing to spread my knowledge to further encourage the youth of Armenia and the U.S. to take the responsibility of voting seriously. I dream of the day when young people will realize we each have a voice in shaping our future, and that voice is "Vote for Voting."



SULEYMANOV MAHMUD NAGMANOVICH, UZBEKISTAN

HOST FAMILY: Havertown, PA.

"ECONOMIC REFORM"

The fall of the Soviet Union made profound changes in Uzbekistan and throughout the republics of the former Soviet Union. Although Uzbekistan's political system became democratic, former communists retained power. In addition, the country's economic and cultural identity had been altered because of the over one hundred year domination by Russia and the USSR.

Economically, Uzbekistan was poor and weak. Cotton, which was and still is Uzbekistan's major export, is expensive to produce and, for Uzbekistan, to export, because of the country's lack of sea borders. After its separation from the USSR, the country quickly introduced a new currency. However, the new currency, the sum, did little to slow down a high rate of inflation. Although unemployment is officially estimated at 0.4%, there are many underemployed and low paid workers. Many former government paid workers have started their own businesses, and although this is a positive development, many of these businesses are involved in the black market and in speculation, which has, in turn, led to a more unstable economy.

Although there are many economic problems confronting Uzbekistan, there have also been some major positive developments. The government introduced new monetary policies, privatization, and tried to create an environment favorable to foreign investors. In addition, freedom of food production, which the Soviet GosPlan did not allow, gave to Uzbekistan the promise of food independence. Foreign investors have recognized the young country's resources, like gold and natural gas, and economic potential. South Korean investors, in fact, helped make Uzbekistan the 26th country in the world to produce cars. However, the government's maintenance of a deep involvement in the Uzbek economy has made foreign investment in Uzbekistan less attractive than it might be.

Many steps can be taken which will help make Uzbekistan into a capitalist and modern nation. The first step is education. Many formerly socialist people do not understand the basic ideas of the free market system. Through an intensive educational effort by the government and other foreign democracies, this can be changed. The government needs to recognize that in a free market system government involvement in the economy can sometimes mean government interference. Finally, cooperation and trade with the former republics of the Soviet Union is necessary. A new currency, like the coming European currency, the Euro, should be introduced in the CIS. It should not be the ruble because this would represent a reemergence of Russian dominance in the region. A single currency would make trade easier and would ease inflationary pressures. An increase in trade would help all the countries of the CIS, including Uzbekistan. Because all the CIS countries were, during the Soviet era, designed to be interdependent, this reality must be recognized and used to benefit former republics. If Uzbekistan would have free trade with other CIS countries, using a single currency, its economy would improve. Goods from other countries could flow more easily into Uzbekistan and Uzbek exports, particularly cotton could become more profitable.

The opportunities that independence has given to Uzbekistan are great. With cooperation and single currency trade relationship with the former Soviet republics, with less government interference in the new market economy, and with a greater awareness and appreciation of the free market system. Uzbekistan can become a wealthy, modern independent nation in the 21st century.

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