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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Why did Petro Jacyk initiate the Ukrainian Language Contest in Ukraine?

27 May, 2003 - 00:00

On May 22, marking the Day of the Ukrainian Language, the National Opera of Ukraine hosted the closing ceremony of the Third Petro Jacyk International Ukrainian Language Contest. This popular language marathon lasted over six months, kicking off on November 9, 2002, the Day of the Ukrainian Language and Literature, in Kolodiazhne, the home village of Lesia Ukrayinka in Volyn. The contest drew over five million participants, including schoolchildren, students of vocational schools, colleges, and institutions of higher education of various Ukrainian ministries, as well as young people of the Ukrainian diaspora in the USA, Canada, Poland, Bashkortostan, and elsewhere. Among the prizewinners were thirty schoolchildren who placed first to third in all age groups (second through eleventh graders from all oblasts), five students who placed first among representatives of educational institutions of all five levels of accreditation, and ten teachers whose disciples placed first in the national stage of the contest. Five schoolchildren and students received incentive prizes. The contest was financed by the Petro Jacyk Educational Foundation (Canada) presided over by Nadia Jacyk, joined by over 200 philanthropists from the US, Canada, Australia, France, and Ukraine. On the eve of the closing ceremony, radio journalist Olha Zarichanska met with Ukraine’s Minister of Education and Science Vasyl KREMEN and Executive Director of the League of Ukrainian Philanthropists Mykhailo SLABOSHPYTSKY. They discussed the contest in particular and philanthropy in Ukraine in general. “In his scholarly work, Ukrainian Philanthropists Mykhailo Slaboshpytsky narrates the history of philanthropy in Ukraine, and in it I came across a quote of Yevhen Chykalenko, which astonished me: ‘A philanthropist is a person who loves his homeland not only from the bottom of his heart but also of his pocket.’ The names of these people were hushed up under the Soviets, and only recently we have learned about them and their charitable deeds — the Ostrozkys, Halshka Hulevychivna, Petro Sahaidachny, Ivan Mazepa, Cheryl Rozumovsky, the Tarnovskys, Symyrenkos, Kharytonenkos, Tereshchenkos, Andrei Sheptytsky, to name but a few. Are there any philanthropists of their caliber in today’s Ukraine?”

Vasyl KREMEN: For philanthropy to become widespread in Ukraine, the relevant legislation must be enacted. Individuals who are willing to donate part of their wherewithal for the benefit of literature, art, education, and culture should be supported in every possible way. On the other hand, tax exemptions for them should be reasonable. Otherwise, charity could become a means of concealing income, and the government would have no money to pay wages and salaries in the public sector. Thus, philanthropy needs legislative support, but it must be weighed, and a person should be given an opportunity to express his good will.

Mykhailo SLABOSHPYTSKY: Cooperation between the government and philanthropists is an extremely delicate issue. Once a major scandal erupted over charity in the USA. Many still remember from news reports the “outstanding American philanthropist” and friend of the Soviet Union Armand Hammer. Charity, a matter of strict regulation in the US, became his business. His companies made huge profits, and to evade taxes using exemptions he transferred funds to the Armand Hammer Fund, which bought, say, a painting by van Gogh or other famous painter and presented it to Leonid Brezhnev. In return, Armand Hammer would receive from the USSR a plant to work at or some lucrative order. Eventually, legislators found his activity to be business and not philanthropy. He was even brought to court.

Consider one more thing. Imagine that 60% of income will be in fact tax-exempt. But this is unheard of anywhere else in the world, neither in Africa, nor America or Canada. Legislation in all countries sets forth a certain percentage of income that can be used for charitable purposes. Take, for example, the late Petro Jacyk, of blessed memory. He donated a million dollars to open the Center for Ukrainian Studies with the University of Alberta, and then the government of the province of Alberta contributed two more million. Under the law in force at that time, if a philanthropist donated, say, a dollar for a noble cause, that is, education or medicine, then the provincial government was obliged to donate two. Thus, the fund of the Petro Jacyk Center for the Studies of Ukrainian History came to three million dollars.

We have studied this situation in various countries and concluded that philanthropy is encouraged and supported everywhere, but is strictly regulated at the same time.

“In your book about Petro Jacyk, The Ukrainian Who Refused to Be Poor, you have told the life story of the Ukrainian from Canada, millionaire and philanthropist, whose last undertaking was this contest in Ukraine...”

M.S. : Even during his lifetime he was a living legend. Suffice it to enumerate his major charitable projects. He funded the building of Ukrainian schools and churches in Brazil. His financial support made possible the publishing of scores of major works on Ukraine’s history and culture. He was a major sponsor of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and the renowned Encyclopedia of Ukrainian Studies of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta. Later he donated a million dollars to open a special Ukrainian chair in the Harriman Institute of Columbia University. Research and information centers named in his honor are now functioning at the Universities of Toronto and London. The Petro Jacyk Educational Foundation — his main life work — is implementing a large-scale scholarly project, that is, the translation and publication of Mykhailo Hrushevsky’s fundamental ten-volume History of Ukraine-Rus’ that will open for the English-speaking world a kind of window onto Ukraine. This project has a price tag of fifteen million Canadian dollars and is being completed by Nadia Jacyk, a daughter worthy of her father. Incidentally, she also manages Petro Jacyk’s last project, the Ukrainian Language Contest.

Then I became interested in the logic of a person given to charity. After meeting Petro Jacyk, I started to explore this issue and concluded that we can be proud of the phenomenon of philanthropy in our history dating back to the princes of Kyiv Rus’. A tenth part of the property and incomes of our princes was allocated for the construction of the Tithe Church. Yaroslav the Wise sponsored libraries that have lasted to this day. I get the impression that even the most undistinguished prince could at that time become an exemplary statesman and philanthropist. The Kyiv-Mohyla Academy — or the Mazepa Academy as it used to be called — is also an example of philanthropy. Take, for example, the Vydubytsky Monastery with its churches built by Col. Myklashevsky. And during the Hetmanate there was an unwritten rule for senior Cossacks to build churches, monasteries, and hospitals. It is largely due to Ukrainian philanthropists that Ukrainian culture has survived. Kotliarevsky’s Aeneid was published by Tymko Padura and the uncensored Kobzar by Platon Symyrenko. I have seen old calling cards of Kyiv’s most outstanding figures, which — aside from their titles — invariably read “member of the Board of Trustees of the Pavlo Halahan Collegium.” Such membership was very honorable in the system of education, for the Pavlo Halahan Collegium provided instruction to gifted children destined to become scholars, writers, and artists from Ahatanhel Krymsky to Drai-Khmara and Fylypovych. Philanthropy is a major phenomenon in our history and it must be revived. It should become prestigious and create publicity for the donations of honest money for charitable purposes.

“Book publishing was among Petro Jacyk’s first charitable projects. He donated a large amount for the publication of a Ukrainian-Portuguese dictionary and textbooks for Ukrainian children of the diaspora... But our philanthropists could as well invest money in in the future of their country...”

M. S. : Incidentally, I first heard the expression “to invest in the future” from Petro Jacyk when he learned that we were at last launching our joint project with the Education Ministry, that is, the Ukrainian Language Contest. I sometimes got the impression that Petro Jacyk simply dreamed about Ukrainian education while living in a foreign land.

As for book publishing, I remember him urging his colleague Marian Kots from the USA during a League of Ukrainian Philanthropists session: “We must publish books. For example, you have published a history textbook bearing an inscription, Marian Kots. Many years from now people will read this book, and you will live in the future.”

Today, considering the level of our nation’s education and the fact that we have lost science, it is crucial for us not to lose school amid our economic hardships. For this reason the League of Ukrainian Philanthropists cherishes so much its cooperation with the Education Ministry and the Ukrainian Language Contest above all else. Some 270 Ukrainian philanthropists from the USA, Canada, Australia, France, and Ukraine have contributed to it. Incidentally, many of them did not know Petro Jacyk personally. Perhaps today there is no nobler and potentially more important cause in Ukraine than education. And the Ukrainian Language Contest named in honor of its initiator, Petro Jacyk, is a wonderful example of cooperation between philanthropists and the government. It gives me pleasure to cite Vasyl Hryhorovych speaking at the closing ceremony of the first language marathon: “This is a celebration of Ukrainian intellect, a celebration of Ukrainian patriotism.”

Interview recorded by Svitlana KORONENKO