(Speech at World Affairs Council of Northern California, February, 12, 2015)
I represent a country that has been fighting for its independence during the last few centuries. That is why the Russian aggression did not come as a surprise to anyone in Ukraine, after the victory of Euromaidan. Because in fact, this war lasts continuously during generations, with certain temporary halts only. This war has been earlier conducted by the means of occupations and genocides, like Holodomor, by the prohibition of Ukrainian language, culture and history.
It is paramount for us today to create an effective Ukrainian state. First and foremost, this means a state free of corruption, which would defend the interests of all citizens. It is a tremendously difficult task, taking into account the post-colonial legacy of Russian empire, which governance system and political culture are traditionally based on corruption. However, I can certainly point to very important evidences of Ukrainian readiness for change.
In order to do that I have to go back to two main achievements of Orange revolution (2004-2005). These are freedom of speech and genuine political competition. The fall of Yanukovych’s regime was a result of ignorance and violation of these principal demands of Ukrainian society. The Revolution of Dignity was a way to defend a right of Ukrainians for a free choice. This was a victory of a new quality of political culture. The Ukrainians toppled Yanukovych in return. They have chosen freedom first through huge losses in street fights, then through an annexation of Crimea, and now through holding back the Russian army and Russia-supported terrorists in the East of Ukraine
A formal cause of Euromaidan (2013-2014) was a rejection of that time president Victor Yanukovych to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. He had firstly publicly agreed to do so, but suddenly he would shift towards the Custom Union, where Putin’s Russia was a ruler.
We witness that very important historical period when Ukrainians are making their own civilizational choice. They prove it by their hard work and struggle. A question of Ukraine’s integration to the European Union isn’t so easy. On the one hand, there is a certain idealization of Europe and the European Union. On the other hand, a history of Ukraine-Russia relations created an unequivocal attitude to Russia a “prison of nations” (it’s an expression of the most famous Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko). We witness idealization against demonization.
Bedrock of such a sharp difference of attitudes towards East and West is in a long lasting confrontation between more collectivist Russian culture and more individualistic Ukrainian culture. The latter proved to be closer to Western European practices, rather than to the Russian ones. A belonging to common cultural roots of Eastern Christianity did not produce decisive grounds to establishment of a political unity between Ukraine and Russia.
It actually appeared that Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic churches are much closer one to the other, rather than to Russian, which became a part of the totalitarian bureaucratic system. The Ukrainian tradition of tolerance and consideration made possible a situation when Crimean Tatars, who are Muslims, are percepted in public opinion as an organic part of the Ukrainian nation. Much has been written about a support of the Revolution of Dignity by numerous ethnic minorities – Polish, Jews, Greeks, Russians, Georgians, Azeri, Armenians, Belarusians and others. Today we can truly talk about a united Ukrainian political nation that stands up against aggressive attacks of the Russian Empire.
At the same time it would be improper to emphasize only the differences and contradictions between Ukraine and Russia. During the Gorbachev’s “perestroika” and in the beginning of the 1990-s Russia existed in a real freedom of speech environment. One could eyewitness independent intellectuals on the TV screens: dissidents, writers and politicians. A fruitful public discussion emerged. The Ukrainians and Russians gained a feeling of comfort with regard to the media space. English language obtained a new word “glasnost”, as once, in 1960-s, a word “sputnik”.
However, a question of genocide of the Chechen people in mid-1990s brought a sharp split up between the two audiences. Russia proceeded with a freeze up of all democratic processes, destroyed independent media that were built by the oligarch money – another peculiar socio-economic feature typical for both post-Soviet countries. On the one hand, they embodied a principle of market competition, on the other – they were a source of corruption.
The oligarchs created bright professional media in Russia. The Russians, however, had failed to fight for freedom of speech when the Putin-led KGB milieu started to take over an absolute power. It becomes evident that the Ukrainian society holds free press and freedom of speech as an important demand. A gradual accumulation of differences between the two political cultures obtained a critical character.
One should seriously contemplate a hypothesis that Russia could have launched a special operation to return Ukraine to its ownership a longer time ago. Chechnya has become an impediment on that way. Re-newed neo-Russian empire have been halted by two Russian-Chechen wars. It should be added that an author of the mentioned “glasnost” and “perestroika”, Mikhail Gorbachev, publicly defended and justified in 2014 the aggressive politics of Russia towards Ukraine. A well-known saying was once again re-confirmed – Russian democracy ends up on the Ukrainian question.
Occupation of Ukraine is a sacral key to the restoration of “great” Russian empire, based on mythological consciousness. Russian propaganda keeps reiterating these sorts of questions. The Ukrainians tend to ridicule a propagandistic allegation of a “special path” of Russia, its Orthodox mission or some spiritual values that are not graspable for those outside the “Russian world”. The Ukrainians treat the high level state power with irony, while the Russians equip it with extraordinary qualities. This might be because we haven’t had our own statehood for a long time and we were in opposition to any state power.
The Euromaidan’s victory made Putin believe it was a threat to his plans and pushed for active anti-measures. Ukraine became a target after a partial restoration of Russian military capacities. It is all despite the fact that Russia remains an extremely poor and corrupt country. Incidentally, the huge scale of post-Soviet corruption is a common feature for Russia and Ukraine.
During the reign of Victor Yanukovych Ukraine’s army, police and intelligence service have practically lost their capacities. Ukraine’s occupation was masterminded by the Russian armed forces for the year 2015 when the next Presidential elections were supposed to take place. Yanukovych thought that Ukraine is nothing more than a smaller in size Russia, where he can calmly enrich himself and his family. But he was wrong.
As a result of both democratic revolutions in Ukraine, Orange Revolution and Revolution of Dignity, and as a result of the complete curtailment of democratic processes in Russia, social and political demands of the Ukrainian society began to emerge in line with the rhetoric of the European Union members. First of all, I mean the new members that previously belonged to the so called “socialist camp”.
We can observe an interesting fact of the emergence of a modern European political culture in post-Soviet country, where society demands and strives to big changes.
There are popular statements made by numerous politicians, experts and journalists about the “window of opportunity” that is wide open for Ukraine during this historical period. My country refuses and condemns the Russian authoritarian style of governance as one, which tends to slide into totalitarian. The new Ukrainian political culture forms as a democratic, attentive to opinions and extremely sensitive to any acts of injustice.
The higher education reform and reform of scientific research organization led by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine is a good example of a pro-European policy.
In the summer of 2014 the Ukrainian Parliament adopted a new Law “On Higher Education”. This has commenced an important reform of higher education and research. One should understand that during the Soviet times and in the modern Ukraine the scientific research was developing outside the universities, in a completely different system called the Institutes of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientific criterion was not an element of quality in higher education.
So today we implement a concept of university autonomy, which stipulates primarily an active involvement of the academic community. The university autonomy unfolds in academic, financial and organizational dimensions. A struggle for university autonomy has started in 2005 and united representatives of the academic community, experts, public and professional student organizations, trade unions, journalists and politicians. It was a real victory of the civil society.
The new Law “On Higher Education” aims to overcome the post-Soviet self-isolation and bring Ukrainian universities to the global fora. It is required to alter the structure of Ukrainian universities and research infrastructure by integrating these universities with the research Institutes of the National Academy of Science. That is why the next reform will be linked with a new Law “On Science and Research”, which the Ministry plans to submit to the Parliament in March of this year.
The well-known researchers will get an opportunity to teach on new MA and structured PhD programs. This will also grant access to the modern labs for the university students and researchers. Along with that we plan to create several powerful research centers, which will operate outside the universities and will have narrower specialization, where Ukraine has a critical mass of researchers of decent quality. It is valid for fundamental, as well as applied sciences.
Academic freedom is perceived as a continuation of other civil rights. Zeal to reform the higher education and science sector attests to a wish to get rid of Soviet colonial legacy. A problem is that the Ukrainians identify themselves with a wider area of European values, than the Europeans themselves can admit.
Now, during the undeclared war between the two countries, the European Union doesn’t have enough understanding that Ukraine protects not only its territory and independence against the aggressor. As a matter of fact, the Ukrainians are defending territory and civilizational values of the whole Europe. From this perspective, Russia has a particularly negative image of an anti-world and evil empire, if you will. The success of Ukraine in democratic and economic transformation is in direct link with the failure of international Russian politics.
Ukraine breaks the remains of its economic relations with Russia. By knocking down the Lenin’s statues, the country refuses any bounds with the colonial past. At the beginning of 21 century the Ukrainian people have chosen European terms of political culture, rather than Russian manipulations based on the murky notion of “brotherhood on blood”. The European Union is increasingly aware of this, but appears to be not ready to stand up to fight for Ukraine as it’s natural, though not de jure, part.
Comfort is always more attractive and appealing than massive problems that entails a recognition of Ukraine and its fight. The Ukrainians firmly believe in European values, as if it is a truth that has to be guarded because it is a truth. They give to European neighbors an opportunity to responsibly realize that values aren’t just a comfort, private interests and political rhetoric, but also willingness and resoluteness to stand for their defense when necessary. Otherwise the European countries will be able to learn straight on their borders the “uniqueness” of an ancient “Russian Orthodox civilization” demon.
We have high hopes and big plans, and I am confident that Ukraine will soon win in so called hybrid, but in fact anti-colonial war for national liberation. My country will defend its own values, meaning western civilization values, and will in particular occupy leading positions in higher education and science spheres on global arena.