Battlefront of Civilizations: Education in Ukraine (presentation)

Speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, May, 24. Washington, DC.

This book is a collection of my publications and presentations in the US, UK, Poland, Finland, Germany, Canada, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine in English during the years 2007-2015, accordingly prepared for the foreign, not Ukrainian, audience. It is not a distortion of reality, not a representation of two different interpretations for internal and external public. The problem is that only a few Ukrainian themes are truly global. Among them – Chernobyl, the Orange Revolution, the Revolution of Dignity, sometimes the current war with Russia, and possibly Ukrainian corruption.

Largely the image of Ukraine in the world is very sketchy, fragmentary and uncertain. Ukrainian problems usually require additional explanations, because the Western audience, even academic, is not sufficiently informed. In order to convey an important message, oftentimes several steps are needed: first – to give a specific explanation regarding the lasting mythology of Soviet Ukraine, then one needs to overcome the consequences of the current Putin’s propaganda and create an overview of the context, and only lastly it is possible to dwell on the issue.

Historical experience implies that only an independent state can create the proper representation of its own history and political reality. In Ukraine we deal with a society that for centuries hadn’t had its own state. This is not very clear in the West, where society is identified with the state. In this case, isn’t Ukraine just a huge irredentist group that seeks only revenge, hiding behind the rhetoric of the struggle for justice?

Similarly, the Western general public fully understands only the liberation traditions of nations that already have their own state. For example, the Polish question was on the Europe’s agenda already during the time of Napoleon. Therefore, a necessity to restore the Polish state was never questioned. Similarly, the West used to cope with the interpretations of Russia, a country of great size and tiny political culture. Instead, Ukraine has always been in the shadow of Soviet propaganda rhetoric that much complicated things for the country, and continues to do so. Today the global arena is occupied by the old KGB rhetoric, cultivated by Vladimir Putin and supported by the vast resources and opportunities of Russia Today.

Therefore, the first chapter of my book is called “Ideology”. It is dedicated to ideology of Euromaidan and search for appropriate ideological and rhetorical coordinates to understand Ukraine’s place in the intellectual and political map of the world. Surprisingly, the tragic events during the Revolution of Dignity, Russia’s aggression, deep economic crisis only strengthen Ukrainian civil society and make it more cohesive and tolerant. Without exception, all the social, ethnic and cultural groups in Ukrainian society supported Euromaidan: rich and poor, right and left, people of different traditions and tastes.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatars, said that he is proud to be Ukrainian. From Polish activists one could hear a greeting that dates back to the armed struggle of Ukrainian nationalist resistance in 1920-1950: “Glory to Ukraine – Glory to Heroes!” Jewish activists fought in the “Right Sector,” which is used by Putin as a propaganda tool to scare Russian citizens. On the Maidan in Kiev you could have found the Azerbaijanis and Armenians, not as enemies, but as allies. They were united by the Ukrainian revolution, so they postponed their “home” scores on Nagorno-Karabakh. Also, there were activists from Israel and Russia. And so on.

The Revolution of Dignity created ideology of national and civil unity. This should not be only interpreted in the sense that we were all there. It was a deeply symbolic Ukrainian revolution that emphasized the value of the Ukrainian language even for Russian speakers, and brought up the symbols of Ukrainian national liberation struggle, which metaphorically stem from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. This symbolic marks pursuant opposition to Putin’s soviet-imperial symbolism. A fascinating phenomenon of the Euromaidan ideology yet waits for its thorough investigation and research.

Astonishingly, during just several months all anti-Ukrainian propaganda stereotypes that were created over centuries by tsarist Russia, the KGB, and now are fuelled by current Russian leadership, were destroyed, ridiculed and thrown into the dustbin of history.

The anti-Ukrainian mythology of Russia Today is formed not only by manipulative interpretation of contemporary political events. Apparently, half of it focuses on historical events. Unfortunately, they often tune with the established Western understanding of the history of the twentieth century: because Stalin was a great “anti-fascist” ally of the West, the Russian communism itself can sometimes be perceived as something more “humane” and even “progressive”. Albeit such a comparison is obviously incorrect.

The next chapter is “University World News”. In 2012-2013 years I ran a blog on the website with the same name, where I was trying to present step by step the events in the Ukrainian higher education during the dark times of domination of Viktor Yanukovych political forces, presented also by the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine Dmytro Tabachnyk. In my publications at University World News one can follow the developments in science and education, growth of professional environment and its struggle for reform.

Firstly, we have stopped the Tabachnyk draft law “On Higher Education”, which was based on the “Russian style” of governance, where all decisions are made by a person who is on the top of power pyramid. The power vertical was built accordingly: President – Minister – rector. Academic life was to be completely autocratic. After a decisive rejection of the draft law, a nationwide protest movement called “Antytabachna campaign” had started. The name of it was an allusion to the minister’s name that correlated with the word “tobacco”.

In my publications one could follow the development of many initiatives and researches of the expert community, of student activists, including examples and comparisons of Ukrainian and Western academic reality. The greatest success of the whole Ukrainian academic community, student leaders, journalists, trade unions was the development of a progressive alternative draft law “On Higher Education”, which was adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament in 2014, immediately after the victory of the Revolution of Dignity.

The third chapter is called “The Significance of University”. It is dedicated to the promotion and implementation in Ukraine of a concept of comprehensive university autonomy – academic, organizational, financial. The publications contained here tackle the Ukrainian realities after the victory of the Orange Revolution, struggle of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy for its rights and freedoms against the Ministry, led by Party of Regions, the position of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy during the Revolution of Dignity, and also my several Ministerial speeches at various conferences. They contain many facts and data, and therefore can be useful for understanding the present situation in the Ukrainian science and education.

I’d like to note that there is a lot of criticism not only from the time when we were in opposition. I also tried to remain critical of us after Euromaidan victory. Sometimes the situation is much more optimistic than the general public so imagines. For example, this is the case when it comes to the phenomenon of strong graduates with weak and outdated system of higher education. We also have the fact of the successful dynamics of educational reforms. Sometimes, on the contrary, things are quite sad. Namely, when we comprehend the state of play with the academic integrity.

Finally, the last fourth chapter, “Hermeneutics and Mass Communications”, reveals my methodological approaches, and highlights the role of freedom of expression in the development of Ukrainian society in general and universities in particular. In my opinion, apart from purely professional tasks of teaching, learning and research, the university should play the role of an independent intellectual stand. From this perspective, it acts as a mass medium that fosters and protects independent intellectuals, promotes their ideas and expert opinions in the wider society.

Freedom of speech is of particular importance to my country. The Ukrainian society has an organic need in it. The experience of the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity proved it. Unfortunately, there are types of political culture that fit into the global rhetoric and do not require freedom of speech. Like the current Russian political culture does. Moreover, it is important to consider such a mass media perspective within the framework of modern information technologies, on which network societies and network communities are built in the global arena.

The principles of philosophical hermeneutics, consciously or unconsciously, are at the heart of university life. While taking a course on conflict resolution based on Adizes methodology at the Kyiv Mohyla Business School, I was surprised to realize that his motto “mutual trust and respect” reflects a hermeneutic desire to listen, hear and understand one’s companion. Even if you do not agree with certain ideas. This is a base for the university life, as well as a base for life of any democratic society.

Hermeneutic conversation involves development of a common language between the interlocutors, according to their desire to reach an understanding. Such a fruitful discussion changes the participants through the process of understanding, consideration of opposing positions, views and interests. In the context of philosophical hermeneutics, we can also talk about the prospect of a global agreement (mutual understanding), in which the university can be bestowed with a special role. Ergo, I pay a special attention to this philosophical concept.

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