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OSCE elections observer


Personal report as an OSCE observer at the Ukrainian pre-term parliamentary elections held on September 30, 2007


The author at work in a polling station in Kirovograd

by Richard Hufschmied, Vienna/Austria

As an Austrian historian, I had always had an interest in the history of the Ukraine. However, my initial visit to the country first took place in May 2007. On this occasion, I was invited to a symposium at the University of Chernivtsi (Czernowitz), where I gave a presentation concerning the events in the city during the First World War (1914-1918). At that time, Czernowitz was the capital of the Dukedom of Bukowina, in a role identical to that played by Lviv (Lemberg) as capital of the Dukedom of Galicia, for from around the final quarter of the 17th century until 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist, both regions belonged to Austria. Due to these facts, today it is no exaggeration to state that Austria and the Ukraine are linked by a common history.

The experiences and impressions that I was able to gather during my 10-day stay in Czernowitz and then in Lemberg, which I also visited, were extremely positive and impressive. I found the Ukrainians helpful and friendly and I quickly realised that I had developed a special relationship to the Ukraine and its people, which was something like affection, or indeed a passion, or even both.

Therefore, I was especially delighted when at the end of August 2007, I received a call from a representative of the Austrian Federal Ministry of European and International Affairs, to ask if I would consider serving as an OSCE/ODHIR/EOM (=Organization for Security an Co-operation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights/Election Observation Mission) observer during the Ukrainian pre-term parliamentary elections to be held on September 30, 2007. I should add that I had already applied to the Austrian Federal Ministry with regard to participation in OSCE/ODHIR missions some years before, as in general, national ministries put together contingents for such assignments.

I did not need to ponder on this offer for long and having discussed the matter with my wife and my employers, confirmed that I would be available. The outward bound flight (Vienna-Kiev) was scheduled for Wednesday, September 26, with the return flight on Wednesday, October 3, 2007 and as this was to be my first experience as an STO (Short-Term Observer), I decided to use the intervening period to familiarise myself with the Election Observation Handbook issued by the OSCE/ODHIR. Two days before departure, the Austrian Foreign Ministry offered an invitation to a meeting at which all the Austrian STOs were informed about the fundamentals surrounding the forthcoming operation. In the course of this get-together, I also became acquainted with the other members of the Austrian contingent and following this initial contact was able to determine that I was not the only person to be undertaking a maiden mission of this type. By contrast, I also discovered that other colleagues could reflect on numerous OSCE/ODHIR, EU and UNO election monitoring operations and that all in all, Austrian was sending 12 STOs to the Ukraine.

Up to late afternoon, the day of the outward flight was consumed with the journey from Kiev Airport to the hotel and check-in. From a notice board in the hotel, I was able to ascertain that I would be working in the Kirovograd area and this gave rise to a number of questions in my mind. Would this region be very different to the western Ukraine, part of which I had at least visited? And what would the journey from Kiev to Kirovograd be like? Whatever the case, I looked forward to the then unknown Kirovograd with anticipation.

As I am a great lover of classical music, in the evening I was drawn to the opera. During the walk from the hotel to the opera house, I was able to obtain my first impressions of the Kiev city centre and from the beginning I was entranced by the Ukrainian capital and its pulsating atmosphere.

I reached the opera five minutes before the start of the performance and can say without exaggeration that I then saw and heard the most stunning “Carmen” that I have ever witnessed. In fact, I spent an evening in the Kiev Opera, which will long remain imprinted on my mind.

On the following day, Thursday, September 27, 2007, all the OSCE observers met for an extended briefing at the National University of Aviation in Kiev, which was also attended by Ambassador Audrey Glove, the British head of the mission. Along with other experts from the core team, Ms Glove gave a presentation concerning the elections and provided us with a diversity of valuable, supplementary information. The briefing was highly efficient and furnished us with a targeted preparation for our coming tasks. For example, we learned that a total of 25 OSCE teams would be installed throughout the Ukraine and that these would consist of 2-person pairings, comprised mostly of a male and a female STO from differing countries. The smallest of the groups had five, two-person STO pairings, bore the number 1 and was to be based in Kyiv City. The number 21 (Rivne & Volyn) and 22 (Lviv) teams consisted of sixteen pairings and were the largest within the mission. I was assigned to Team 17 (Kirovograd), which with nine two-person pairings, numbered among the medium-sized groups. It must be mentioned that each of the 25 teams were allotted two long-term observers (LTOs), who had been working in the region since the end of August and had prepared everything for the day of the election and the operations of the STOs.

At the end of the briefing at around 5.00 p.m., we were introduced to the LTOs and the team members conferred for the first time. My partner was Margaret from the UK and as was later to transpire, she possessed a wealth of experience in international election monitoring from which I was to profit greatly.

Some of the teams left Kiev on the evening of October 27, in order to arrive at their posts by bus or train on the morning of the next day. My team was due to leave Kiev by bus at 8.00 a.m. on Friday, September 28, and travel to Kirovograd via Cherkasy. The bus trip on the following day introduced me to a part of the Ukraine that I had not seen previously and which, with its sweeping landscape and fruitful fields, proved of great fascination.We, the 18 members of Team 17 (nine pairings of two), arrived in Kirovograd in the early afternoon and were then briefed at a local hotel about the town, the region and our tasks by our LTOs, Maud from Sweden and Elaine for the USA. With Margaret my partner, I formed a so-called B-team. This meant that apart from the monitoring of various polling stations (PSs) our assignment consisted primarily of the observation of a District Election Commission (DEC) in central Kirovograd. Each pairing was equipped with a mobile, which I thought was a good idea and in the coming days, we used the phone regularly for communications with our LTOs. During the evening of September 28, we met the driver and interpreter that had been allocated to us. In our case, the driver was an Olga and the interpreter an Evegina, who as it turned out were two highly professional Ukrainians upon whom Margaret and I could rely entirely. Margaret and I used the evening to become acquainted with Olga and Evegina and to plan our activities for the coming day, Saturday, September 29.

During Saturday, we visited five polling stations for discussions with their managers and to announce our visit as an OSCE/ODHIR team on election day. We also went to see the chairman of the DEC, as the monitoring of its activities was to constitute one of our main activities up to the morning of Monday, October 1. In addition, we familiarised ourselves with the area, the streets, etc. and looked for a fax machine, as during the election night from September 30 to October 1, we had to fax our reports regularly to Kiev.

As I have already mentioned, Margaret was a highly experienced election observer, from whom I was able to learn a great deal. I experienced Kirovograd as a charming and lively city (pop. 240,000), which I would never have visited as a “normal” tourist. However, precisely for this reason, it appeared to me to be authentically Ukrainian.


Austrian members of the OSCE/ODHIR Election Observation Mission during a break in front of the National University of Aviation in Kiev

On election day (Sunday, September 30), Margaret and I met Olga and Evegina at 6.30 a.m. in order to watch the opening of a polling station and by around 1 p.m., we had already looked in on five polling stations (PS). Subsequently, there was time for a break until the next round of visits at 9 p.m. and I tried to sleep a little, in order to gather my strength for the coming night, but who can sleep to order?

As planned, we arrived punctually at a small PS not far from the DEC to monitor the closing and counting procedures and then at around 12 midnight, we went to the DEC, where we, Margaret, Evegina and I, remained until the following morning and carried out our observation tasks.

The events leading up to the return flight to Vienna on Wednesday, October 3, are quickly explained. Monday saw a long debriefing with our LTOs in Kirovograd, while the morning of the following day (Tuesday, October 2) was consumed with the journey back to Kiev from Kirovograd and the afternoon, by a central debriefing in the presence of all STOs at the Kiev University of Aviation. I commenced the flight to Vienna on Wednesday, October 3 with a certain degree of sadness, as I had to leave the Ukraine, which I grown to like immensely and with which I felt I had almost become well acquainted.

Summary

What conclusions have I drawn from my mission as an election observer in the Ukraine? It was extremely fascinating to meet, work and exchange ideas with so many people of differing nationality in such a short time. For example, the eighteen members of my Team 17 came from Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Poland, Portugal, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States and my homeland, Austria. The Team 17 LTOs were Swedish and American, while the driver, Olga and interpreter, Evegina, allocated to Margaret and myself, were Ukrainian. I am convinced that my encounters with these people have made me more open-minded and tolerant than I was prior to the mission. Indeed, I remain in e-mail contact with some of my colleagues.

Furthermore, I got to know the working procedures of an international organisation in the shape of the OSCE/ODHIR/EOM and at this point I would like to express my gratitude for the smoothness and excellence of the organisation on the part of the core team. One only has to consider the logistics involved in accommodating several hundred LTOs in Kiev and their mission locations, not to mention their transportation back and forth from the Ukrainian capital to points throughout the country. In fact, everything passed off with supreme professionalism.

I was especially fascinated by my contacts with the local population, which were of a level and intensity unavailable to a “normal” tourist. For me personally, the mission not only provided captivating impressions, but also a number of very special moments. Here, I am thinking of my numerous discussions with Ukrainians, which were even of a confidential nature, during which I was confronted with their daily worries and problems, but also the joyousness of the people, which I would not have missed for the world and which will remain an indelible memory.

In closing, all that remains is to thank my colleagues Margaret, Olga and Evegina and “my” LTOs Maud and Elaine for their helpful support and excellent teamwork.


A market scene in Kirovograd



 
 


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