As I think about Sunday’s presidential election in strife torn Ukraine, I am reminded of US President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address on March 4, 1865.
After four bitter years of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln told Americans that at the end of the bloody conflict that would take over 600,000 soldier’s lives to not seek vengeance against the rebels and “to bind the nation’s wounds; ….to do all which may achieve justice and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” In a little more than 30 days, Lincoln himself would be struck down by an assassin, another casualty of a conflict between citizens of the same country.
The winner of tomorrow’s election will face the challenge of uniting a nation disillusioned by years of willful neglect by corrupt political leaders. The motivations fueling the separatist movements in eastern and southern Ukraine are as much about deeply held frustrations against a self-serving and inept government in Kyiv as they are about provocations by Russia.
In his or her speech at the inauguration ceremony, I hope the new president will provide a vision of unity and hope to counter the climate of instability that has helped to fuel the violence that has taken the lives of Ukrainians, both pro-Kyiv and pro-separatist. When citizens have rule of law and civil rights they feel secure and less prone to respond with violence to provocations.
Lincoln spoke of reconciliation between opposing sides to realize justice and lasting peace. This will be as important to Ukraine today as it was for the United States one hundred and forty-nine years ago. The next president of Ukraine will need to communicate a vision of a big tent for everyone, whatever their views, to achieve the common goal of building a united country. Leaders like Lincoln and, more recently, Mandela understood the importance of rising above hate and prejudice to heal deep wounds in a divided nation.
Lincoln also understood the need for a lasting peace “with all nations” for the United States to fully recover from a civil war that had geopolitical consequences for its neighbors and trading partners. The incoming president of Ukraine will need to lead this process by creating a multi-lateral dialogue with Russia, the EU and the US to address issues of territorial sovereignty, ethnic rights and access to energy.
If I had the ability, I would channel President Lincoln’s spirit into Ukraine’s new president. In the absence of those skills, I hope that a greater power has been listening to my thoughts and is ready to help out.