Vadym Hetman, the former head of the National Bank of Ukraine, would have turned 70 on July 12. This distinguished banker, Member of Parliament, and committee head at the Ukrainian Inter-Banking Foreign Currency Exchange, was shot dead in the elevator of his Kyiv apartment house on April 22, 1998. On July 11, 2005, President Viktor Yushchenko posthumously bestowed the title of Hero of Ukraine on him. The presidential decree states that Hetman was awarded this title “for his outstanding personal contribution to the creation and development of Ukraine’s national financial system, banking, foreign exchange and financial markets, and for his prolific sociopolitical activities.” The president also decreed the creation of ten Vadym Hetman academic scholarships for students of higher educational institutions. A street in Kyiv and Vadym Hetman’s alma mater, Kyiv National Economic University, were also named in his honor.
Yet, neither these high tributes nor, for that matter, the language of the official documents can adequately convey the true nature of this remarkable individual.
On the eve of Hetman’s 70th birth anniversary, his protege, President Viktor Yushchenko, shared his reminiscences about the prominent Ukrainian banker. “All that I am going to say about Vadym Hetman will be blessed in any context. This man did great things for the nation and the state,” said the president, emphasizing that the ideas that Hetman was responsible for developing and implementing were “ultramodern” in his time. “An individual who had in fact run the economic gauntlet still remained a top-class modern expert deep in his heart,” President Yushchenko said. The president also pointed out the progressive nature of the banking development methods that Hetman had chosen. “No one here had ever followed this road before. Even my generation did not fully share his views — perhaps only 40% or so,” he said, adding that Vadym Hetman’s views were “absolutely modern, market-oriented, and very controversial”. “He would issue well-grounded challenges that mobilized people,” stressed the president. He characterized Hetman as an efficient, businesslike, and successful personality. “I don’t remember Mr. Hetman ever departing from his standard behavior — he would have found it humiliating. And he demanded the same of us,” said the Ukrainian head of state.
President Yushchenko noted that Hetman’s death was a “great tragedy” for him personally. “When he passed away, I was put to a test of justice, so to speak,” he said. The president revealed that after the death of Hetman his associates planted a kalyna, a highbrush guelder rose bush, next to the National Bank building. “I call it Vadym Hetman’s kalyna and make sure that it is healthy and bushy,” said the president.
The Day asked some of Hetman’s proteges, friends, and colleagues to share their reminiscences.
Ihor MITIUKOV, ambassador of Ukraine to Great Britain, ex-minister of finance:
“We first met in the summer of 1988, and Hetman suggested that I work with him. The next year I came to Ukrahroprombank, and he was the man who taught me what I have been doing for the past 10 years. Hetman’s lessons had a considerable impact on my professional experience and subsequent career. More often than not I would just copy his style and approach to work. It didn’t escape my notice that Mr. Hetman quickly absorbed everything that was new and progressive. He had a unique flair for recognizing promising projects. On top it, he fully trusted the young people who surrounded him; he did his best to create all the necessary conditions for their professional growth. Under his guidance, those young people established the Inter-Banking Hard Currency Exchange and breathed life into the hard currency market that Ukraine so badly needed in order to switch to a market economy.
“In 1995 he was the first to declare publicly that Ukraine should enter the international hard currency and capital markets. He actively developed this idea whose implementation meant that this country was less dependent on the International Monetary Fund.
“Hetman was never afraid of new problems; he never showed timidity to his superiors. I had the impression that many people who at the time stood higher than him on the governmental ladder were in awe of him, his erudition, and high morals.
“They seemed to sense that they were weaker. I remember that after one of his trips to Moscow Soviet Ukraine’s first commercial bank was established: a branch of the Agro-Industrial Bank (Agroprombank SSSR) was allowed to break away and assume the name of Ukrahroprombank, with all its assets, not just deposits, intact. It was Hetman who persuaded the then chairman of the State Bank of the USSR to grant Ukrahroprombank a hard-currency license, the first and only one in Ukraine, which allowed us to avoid great losses of foreign exchange when the Foreign Economic Bank of the USSR ceased to exist.
“Nor can we forget that Hetman was in fact the author of banking legislation in Ukraine. It was his idea to set up an independent national bank. He also founded and led a small but very active faction in parliament, which pushed through numerous resolutions whose positive impact we are still feeling today.
“Mr. Hetman was noted for his profound knowledge and understanding of people. He could work and find a common language with practically everyone, regardless of their views, character, and erudition; he knew how to select and place staff; he managed his team efficiently, because he was very demanding of himself. Hetman possessed amazing intuition and had an excellent flair for all things new, so it was always interesting to watch him deal with his colleagues. He knew that the people who worked with him liked him, and this obviously gave him great pleasure. His innate artistry worked very effectively: Hetman always managed to encourage and lead people.”
Valentyn SYMONENKO, chairman, Auditing Chamber of Ukraine:
“When Ukraine was having a difficult time leaving the ruble zone, Hetman was the most efficient professional among those who were dealing with this matter. He could foresee all the possible consequences of this step and exercised extreme caution. He and I often visited Moscow on this matter and spoke to Yegor Gaidar and the ‘Herculean’ Gerashchenko (longtime chairman of the State Bank of the USSR — Ed.). He would drink a big glass of vodka with them and solve all the problems. And he did — a decision would be made. After this I always thought of him as a person who could resolutely and uncompromisingly overcome all difficulties. His gift for making prognostications was combined with superior professionalism and ability to solve organizational problems. This really struck me because even then you could see traits in him that are typical of young people. “In 1994 Hetman and I organized and co-chaired the Independents group in the communist-dominated parliament. It was then that I grasped, with Mr. Hetman’s help, the meaning of the philosophical and economic concept of economic patriotism. It also became clear to me that Hetman could contend for the topmost position in the official hierarchy, for he was a patriot through and through. He was also a past master of political compromise, which allowed him to find a way out of any situation. With this in mind, I suggested that he lead our parliamentary group on his own. When we were working on the Constitution, he would not only draw up a certain article but also try to foresee its effect and interpretation for many years to come. We all derived great pleasure from dealing with him as a person and a statesman.
“Hetman was a very interesting, friendly, and even adventurous person both at work and in everyday life. This was obvious to everyone, including the government, which did its best to keep him away from public life and the great deeds that he could and, I believe, was destined to accomplish. Unfortunately, we were living, and still are, in a society where such people are not always required, if ever. This is our greatest problem even today, and it has an adverse effect on a great number of genuine professionals and patriots in this country.”
Borys SOBOLEV, Deputy State Secretary of Ukraine:
“With this presidential decree Ukraine now has its first genuine Hero of Ukraine. For those awards that the previous president indiscriminately dished out for personal devotion and personal sponsorship are not a patch on what Vadym Hetman did for our country. I had an opportunity today to see the rapturous reactions on the part of the students and faculty of Kyiv National Economic University to the announcement that this educational institution would be named in Vadym Hetman’s honor. This is a noble and respected name. I hope that a few years from now these students will be proud to say that they graduated from Hetman University. This Ukrainian university, like Shevchenko University, is our Oxford, Cambridge, and Georgetown. I am also pleased by the fact that Kyiv’s Industrial Street has now been given a normal human name.
“What struck me the most in Mr. Hetman’s character was his ability to reconcile opponents who were at drawn daggers. Not only could he make peace between them, he could also convince them to work for the common goal. This man always tried to find, support, and get young people moving.
THE DAY’S QUOTATION
“Finances and banks, the core of any economy, can effectively function only in a stable and predictable environment. Not a single country in the world, not a single international financial company will cooperate with a country with uncertain political risks.”
Vadym HETMAN, “I Oppose the ‘Kazakhstan Option’ for the Ukrainian Parliament,” Den, No. 236, December 27, 1997.