Why Ukraine and Other Post-Soviet Countries Need Mediation


By Frank Laney

Although mediation has strong societal values, mediation could be a very valuable and powerful tool to help the courts of Ukraine.  The Ukrainian court system is and has been going through a crisis.  Confidence in its fairness, objectivity, and impartiality is very low among Ukrainian citizens.  But at the same time, the courts are underfunded and overworked.  Many judges have more cases to handle and decide in a year than is humanly possible (over 350 cases per year per judge).  Although not a panacea, mediation may be helpful in building public confidence in the courts while also relieving the case load stress.  (Research in Maryland courts showed that in mediated cases the impression of the court’s fairness increased over cases that did not go to mediation.)

In addition, a robust program of mediation in Ukraine could have ameliorative effects on Ukrainian society in general.  Through the use and acceptance of mediation, Ukrainian citizens will become engaged in the most grassroots, fundamental exercise of democracy – citizens taking responsibility for and effecting their own lives through cooperative action.  As stated by Daniel Kemmis, former Mayor of Missoula, Montana:

The birth of democracy in Athens was a remarkable event which we will perhaps never fully understand.  One explanation is that despite their fiercely contested differences about public policy, Athenians generally “cared more about Athens than they cared about winning.”  One of the real reasons we see democracy losing its hold on us is that we are no longer encouraged enough to care more about our communities than we are about winning.  But as ever-expanding numbers of people are given the opportunity to participate in working out win-win solutions to their public problems, this fundamental training in the democratic ethos is once again gaining a foothold in our political cultures.

Through mediation, Ukrainian citizens will assume the task of working cooperatively with their fellow citizens to find common ground and discover unique ways in which to solve their personal problems.  Although the courts may well play a role in implementing mediation programs and encouraging their use, the parties will be the ones fashioning their own solution to their problems, not an overworked judge or other government official.  That step of assuming personal responsibility for the events in one’s own life, rather than simply accepting whatever the local or national government dictates, is a fundamental building block of a democratic society.