The celebration of Bill of Rights Day differs considerably from any other celebration in one important aspect: unlike a battle or war, which can be won once and for ever, a law is not immediately established when it is passed. Adoption is often the easiest part in a law’s existence while its maintenance requires everyday effort, protection against many seen, hidden and potential dangers, and strong temptation to sacrifice it for the sake of momentary political gains.
Therefore the substance of a law (in our case it is the Bill of Rights, which may really seem a bit archaic and restricted) matters less than resolve to uphold it, to fight for its inviolability. Such struggle, as I have mentioned above, is never over; the victory should not be taken for granted. And this is the first lesson the USA can give to Ukraine, which has a constitution more perfect at the first glance but substantially less revered.
At the same time the USA can serve as an example of more concrete and particular features of democratic life. The important detail here is that these features belong to the specific American conditions and have been formed as a result of a long process of development started even before the Bill of Rights. So we should perceive them critically rather than copy thoughtlessly.
The USA is currently trying to play a key role in the establishment of the world democracy helping countries like Ukraine to remain on the right track in their development. Such assistance helped the USA to gain ‘the Beacon of Peace’ nickname. I think, however, that it is essential to remember that a beacon gives only the light (which, by the way, means that the light should be well maintained and if possible made brighter) while a ship chooses the course for itself – this is the model I believe would be perfect for Ukraine. It implies the lesson for the both sides: the USA should act responsibly taking into account its honourable role and Ukraine should not rely entirely on the outside influence.
The Bill of Rights was not a unique document and not the first of its kind: attempts to adopt similar laws were often made throughout the human history, most notably in England in 1689 and France 100 years later. Neither was it an exhaustive list of what citizens are free to do. But the longevity, continuity and apparent success of the Bill of Rights are undeniable. A brief look at its articles helps us identify the source of its efficiency: the rights, though not numerous, are strong in total because they have a clear underlying message: taken and not given, they represent a conscious choice of the Citizen preferring freedom and independence to any kind of the State’s intrusion, be it oppression or excessive “protection”. And this is the third lesson to the young Ukrainian democracy – here is the choice that insures strong and stable democracy. Whatever happens, we should always be aware of this choice, and it is relevant not only to Ukraine but also to the USA and any country, any people striving to be free.
Author: Yaroslav Kozak, Donetsk National University
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Competition is held by the Center for Political Studies (Donetsk, Ukraine), jointly with the portal “American Clubs – Ukraine”, and the Kyiv Alumni Resource Center (ARC). General partner of the competition: American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii (Honolulu, USA). Partners of the competition: Institute of Professional Lobbying and Advocacy (IPLA) and Donetsk Regional Association of International Researchers (DAIR). More detailed information about the competition is available here.