29.09.2014

Yevhen Hlibovytsky presents in London a new set of assumptions for what Ukraine is, and is not


On Monday, September 22, 2014 Yevhen Hlibovytsky made a presentation at the Ukrainian Institute in London with a title ‘Reintroducing Ukraine: a new set of assumptions for what Ukraine is, and is not.’ He talked about the evolution of values in Ukraine, changes in institutions and a new role for Ukraine in the region. He outlined recent events on Maidan and in Ukraine in a wider context of culture, history and politics. Hlibovytsky 01

by Yevhen Hlibovytsky

I selected three important assumptions, which, as it seems to me, often lay the foundation of perceptions on Ukraine:

1) Ukraine is a post-Soviet Eastern European state, which generally shares the same development problems as the other former republics, and is lagging behind Russia institutionally

2) Ukraine is as split state between East and West; language and ethnicity define the divide in Ukraine

3) Ukraine has little value to bring to the European table

I must admit that too little scientific data lays beyond my conclusions (it is often simply unavailable, sometimes, by the time some data is interpreted it is not relevant anymore, many things only wait to be researched), so please, take my further statements critically. However, based on my experience I wouldn’t take them sceptically. Slide 1

I believe that all 3 assumptions are inaccurate, and by now the errors have multiplied themselves to the extent, when they cannot be tolerated. Let’s take those one by one.

1) Ukraine is a post-Soviet Eastern European state, which generally shares the same development problems as the other former republics, and is lagging behind Russia institutionally

Categorizing Ukraine as Eastern Europe is rooted into the early days after the fall of the USSR, when the West had to comprehend all these new bodies. As only institutional reliable data was available, and cultural was not – all former republics were categorized after Russia as “Eastern European”. A position on the map was obvious enough to prove the statement. Institutionally Estonia and Azerbaijan were in one boat at the early 90s. And those countries, which have not joined the EU largely remain institutionally similar until now. Slide 5

After good 10-15 years after the formation on these new states, interpretations of the cultural research started. My conclusions from my work at the Univska group (vision for Lviv-2025), The Nestor Group (long term vision for Ukraine), similar groups in Dnipropetrovsk, Yaremche, and beyond Ukraine (Georgia, Kyrgyzstan etc.) that I was either part of, or interacted with, lead me to challenge the perception that “Russia is the centre, and everyone else are a deviation from Russia” or “Ukraine is just a softer version of Russia”.

Russia is a highly centralized country, where citizen stands no chance in an open standoff with the state. Major decisions are taken at the top, and are later conveyed down below. Ukraine cannot be a softer version of this model, as it is exactly the opposite: this is a decentralized country, where the grass roots define “a framework of the possible”, major decisions are made not at the top, but are accepted at the top after they reach the critical mass in the society. I would actually claim that the state has little chance in the standoff with a citizen. Ukrainians have perfected their skill of using corruption to dismantle the authority, undermining the central government capacity. This puts Ukraine much closer to Southern Europe, than to Eastern Europe. Comprehending Ukraine’s governance struggles is much easier if we have Greece or Southern Italy in mind than Russia, Belarus or Georgia. Slide 6

Russia-centric perception of “Ukraine repeating Russian way a few years of delay” may be explained by the fact that Russia is in fact developing or modernizing its autocratic institutions. Ukraine really lags behind in this, as Ukraine tries to develop – often unsuccessfully – democratic institutions. Judging cats on how they bark will produce similar outcomes – cats appear to never reach puppy state in their development.

2) Ukraine is as split state between East and West; language and ethnicity define the divide in Ukraine.

Ukraine really is split if we accept that identity issues (language, religious denominations, historic narratives etc.) are decisive factors for in decision-making. Sociological data from many tears tells us that identity issues are secondary to security ones (physical survival, rule of law, corruption, opportunities etc.). However, control of the ruling elites over the media in Ukraine, unchallenged by weak civil society, allowed them to manipulate agenda for some good 20 years. If identity is applied – we have a split. If security is applied (like Leonid Kuchma exceptionally did during his re-election campaign in 1999) – there is little difference in how Ukrainians see themselves.

The Nestor Group has challenged perception of Ukraine as a sum of the regions – generalization seems to be quite misleading. We observe a set of about a dozen of different urban and rural communities with different settings of planning horizon, assertiveness, uncertainty avoidance etc., which create a variety of diverse cultures melted/integrated in Kyiv, a soft and inclusive platform for the whole country.

If we were to look for some split in Ukraine, it would rather be in the reflection of the geopolitical East/West conflict. In these terms actually the border between East and West has shifted eastwards more than 1000 km in the last 25 years, including predominantly Russian-speaking territories which at the same time look for European pluralism and acceptance versus Soviet discriminatory system. Language, religion, ethnicity in modern Ukraine contribute ever less to identity. Unlike usually in Europe, and like on the American continent, one becomes a Ukrainian when one feels like Ukrainian – an important difference to observe. Slide 4

3) Ukraine has little value to bring to the European table

This is something which Ukrainian experts often hear in the EU, and it shows how little the European decision-makers believe Russia and other post-Soviet countries matter for the sustainability of the EU development.

Current Russian crisis at least will cost the European countries increase in security spending, and threaten some countries to be uncomfortably cold during the winter, but it can also restrain trade, retard certain industries – enough to ignite recession.

The EU possesses great resources and strong institutions, but it has little capacity to interpret Russian culture and to see how Russian imperialism can become the greatest challenge to the current reading of European values after Nazism. Ukraine, whose determination to transform Russia into a democratic and peaceful state is defined by pure need of survival has exactly those things that the EU lacks: ability to understand and interpret Russia, and make a contribution into formation of a common long-term policy towards transformation in the former USSR. Slide 7

Should Ukraine be neglected, rejected or cease to exist – the EU remains one-on-one with a threat to which it has little tactical tools to match Russian blunt and short-time effective advances.

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