Ukraine’s example for Missouri lawmakers


The Russian invasion of Ukraine promises to be a fascinating issue for Missouri law makers in the session’s closing weeks.

Already measures have been filed to prohibit state and local government from purchasing Russian products and ban contracts with businesses that have ongoing contracts with Russian “strategic industries.”

There also are bills to suspend for six months the motor fuel tax, citing motor fuel price increases due to the Russian invasion.

Beyond legislation, I wonder if in the closing weeks of the session, Ukraine could be an inspiration for our legislators to unify around issues upon which they can agree rather than the recent divisive and hateful episodes in the state Senate.

My own experience from years working to help assist rebirth of independent journalism in countries that had been under Soviet domination provides an example for those Missouri senators.

The passion of those journalists I was assisting is similar to today’s Ukrainian resistance to Russian tyranny. One of my closest partners in those journalism efforts was Jan Pieklo, a journalist who subsequently became Poland’s ambassador to Ukraine until a few years ago.

Jan had a passionate drive to promote freedom in areas re-emerging from domination, including Ukraine. I must confess, that I once criticized Jan for being so active in freedom efforts for Russian Chechnya while also being a leader for Polish journalism.

Jan felt compelled to become involved because of the brutal attacks against the Chechnyan efforts similar to what we are seeing in Ukraine.

Ukraine has caused me to reconsider my doubts about my Polish colleague’s Chechnyan efforts.

In fact, I still have on my study wall a badge Jan gave me promoting Chechnyan independence.

Another inspiring Polish partner in these journalism assistance efforts was Walery Pisarek.

Before becoming a respected journalism scholar, he was sentenced to several years to work in coal mines for his anti-communist activities. One of his friends told me he had built a bomb to blow up a Krakow statute of Lenin.

In one of the last times I was in Krakow for the journalists’ center, I sensed a more optimistic atmosphere in the city. Walery told me it was because Poland had been admitted to NATO.

It is only now with the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaching Poland I better understand his observation. Poland’s NATO membership means that if Russia advances beyond Ukraine into neighboring Poland, it would trigger the obligation of NATO countries to defend a member from attack.

Another partner in these efforts to empower journalists in former Soviet-controlled regions was Jerzy Pomorski.

Jerzy described to me Nazi tyranny during occupation of his country as a young child and the aftermath. Jerzy wanted to go into journalism. But subsequent Russian-dominated Communist control of Poland made real journalism nearly impossible.

So, Jerzy pursued a doctorate degree in economics and became the rector of Krakow’s respected Academy of Economics.

Although a respected academic and communications researcher, he did not abandon his commitment to journalism. He founded Krakow’s journalism association.

Jerzy was a brilliant economist. 

He included in the journalism association’s facility a restaurant that provided profits to finance journalism assistance and training efforts — and, I must confess, cheaper beer for journalists.

One of the most difficult issues at that time was the split between journalists.

The Communist-controlled government required employed journalists to be members of a government-approved union. On the other side were journalists reporting for underground news organizations for little or no income.

Some of the union-member journalists thought of themselves as more professional. The other side considered themselves as voices for freedom without collaboration.

Jerzy told me that having a bar and restaurant for journalists was an effective vehicle to bridge the journalistic divide. It meant that journalists would lose a pleasant place for meals and beer if disagreements dissolved their association.

In a way, it was similar to a pattern in Missouri where lobbyist-funded meals and drinks for groups of legislators were vehicles for finding compromises.

Jerzy’s news association is just one example of the unified commitment to freedom by journalists with whom I worked in so many countries recovering from Communist tyranny.

Maybe these journalistic efforts and the unified resistance in Ukraine can set an example for Missouri lawmakers.

(Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of Missouri Digital News and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes).