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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

From conflict strategy to culture of dialogue

Competitiveness is the national idea for Ukraine
27 March, 2007 - 00:00

In the early days, the young intellectuals gathered in the small city of Ostroh, in Rivne oblast, where the ancient scholarly tradition and remoteness from the world’s bustle foster meditations on the history and future of the Ukrainian people. They decided that it was worthwhile continuing these meetings. This is how undergraduates, post-graduate students, young lecturers, and scholars from various Ukrainian universities formed the Ostroh Club, a youth forum for free intellectual exchange. Similar debates with participants from Odesa, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, and the Ostroh Academy were held in Odesa, Donetsk, and other cities in Ukraine.

Then it was Kharkiv’s turn, and for the fourth roundtable discussion a forward-looking topic was chosen: “The Ukrainian Nation: the Search for Competitiveness Algorithms.” The host was the Political Science Youth Club of Kharkiv’s Karazin National University, which joined forces with the Ostroh Club. The tone of the discussion was set by Vil BAKIROV, Rector of Kharkiv University, Larysa IVSHYNA, The Day’s editor in chief, and Oleksii KRYSENKO, Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science.


“Our relations with Kharkiv National University are developing at an extremely fast pace. Less than a month ago we presented our library here.

“Today is a special day for me because two intellectual wings have united, and I believe the union is a harmonious one. All those who backed the idea of the Ostroh Club came here from Odesa, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Ostroh. I will mention briefly how this idea first surfaced.

“I was presenting The Day’s library in Odesa, like I did here, in the research library. And picture this: students came to this meeting and one of them-actually, the one who started the ball rolling-asked me about the national idea. I said: “Of course, I can offer my own point of view, but it would be more interesting for you to go to Ostroh and talk about how we see Ukraine’s future there, within the walls of the restored Ostroh Academy, which is one of Europe’s oldest education institutions dating to the 16th century.

“Instead of theorizing about lines of unification, we need to take more practical steps. We need to go from Odesa to Ostroh and from Ostroh, Odesa, and Zaporizhia to Kharkiv in order to meet here, in this wonderful university and feel its incredible history. These meetings have inspired me so much that after going to the university museum, I have been telling everyone that in Ukraine we should follow the military pattern and define education districts, and assign a missionary role to universities. In order to achieve universities will, of course, have to be granted autonomy, self-rule, and more funds to carry out their educational mission.

“Frankly, I don’t see who else we can pin our global hopes on and who will take Ukraine to a new level of competitiveness.”

Olha RESHETYLOVA, student at the Faculty of Political and Information Management, Ostroh Academy National University, and coordinator of the Ostroh Club:

“The topic of my speech was originally formulated as “The University as the Basis for Forming a Competitive Nation.” I believe it would be good to talk about further steps in the formation of a competitive nation. Universities have the highest concentration of intellectual potential, which for some reason is not being used fully in today’s Ukraine and does not reach government agencies where it would have to be. Overcoming this discrepancy is the goal of our club. To what extent can university students, our future elite, reach government structures and convey their ideas across the barriers that exist today? This can also be a topic for discussion.

“What other problem do our universities have? I see one in the fact that universities that are nominally “national” are very often not national in essence. I am not even talking about the language problem in universities-that can be researched for a long time. I am talking about the kind of upbringing that is being conducted in universities. The number-one problem is that young people are not being raised as patriots. If research work is well developed at universities, then the teaching and upbringing process is in decline. And because of this a scholar is not developing in an well-rounded fashion: he or she may be maturing as a researcher but without being oriented toward benefiting society.

“Therefore, one of the Ostroh Club’s goals is the all-round development of university students based on scholarly approaches and national values that would be unifying for all of Ukraine.”

Ivan KAPSAMUN, student at the Department of Political Science, Institute of Social Sciences, Odesa Mechnikov National University:

“What are the characteristics of the elite? First of all, it’s intellectual level, second, financial well-being, and third, social status, or formal leadership. The historian and ethnologist Lev Gumilev brought these three factors together in one word “passionateness.” But since our country regained its independence, it has not experienced all-round development. To my mind, the problem lies in the lack of a competitive political elite, which has failed to form in the last 15 years. This is the source of our many problems in various spheres of the country’s development: political, social, economic, cultural, and others. Our politicians have not learned strategy- they are being guided by considerations of tactics alone, only to stay in power.

“If we dig deeper into our history, several factors come to light, which have influenced the formation of the Ukrainian elite. First of all, the availability of fertile lands, which allow Ukrainians to be independent farmers, is conducive to individualism and anarchy. Second, Ukraine is located at the intersection of major trade routes between geographical regions. Third, Ukraine’s territory was under various regimes that subjected our elite to assimilationist influences from everywhere. All these historical factors still have an adverse affect on us.

“What possible solutions are there? We need to pay maximum attention to educating young people and investing in science in order to foster the development of our intelligentsia and provide it with normal living and working conditions. Alongside the national elite, a democratic country has to have a counter-elite, which would compete with the former by keeping it always on its toes. However, our politicians have discredited themselves so much that we would be better off temporarily avoiding the use of the word “elite” in reference to them.

“Finally, a nation’s elite is its creative minority, which initiates cultural innovations. The nation’s competitiveness hinges on the competitiveness of the various segments of its elite. When we have a worldwide, competitive national political elite, we will have a worldwide competitive nation. The national elite does not have to be national in its ethnic composition, but it must by all means be national in spirit.”

Maksym CHERKASHYN, intern at the Department of Interparliamentary Relations, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine:

“In my opinion, the education of our young people today is improving in terms of quality; there is a lot of attention paid to this question. New institutions of higher education are being opened, at least in western Ukraine, because of a significant inflow of money coming from Ukrainians working abroad. As far as providing young people with conditions to live and work, I am reminded of what MP Andrii Shevchenko, who heads the Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information, said: if we create excessively comfortable conditions, our youth will not develop their competitiveness.

“A question for Ivan: who is supposed to carry out the tasks you mentioned?”


“I believe the answer is obvious: young people, organizations like the Ostroh Club and others like it. As concerns conditions, we should not be afraid that they will be too comfortable in our country.”

Vil BAKIROV, rector of Kharkiv Karazin National University:

“We have a topic for our discussion, and it is a pointed question. Is the Ukrainian nation competitive? Probably not right now. Will it be competitive one day or never? And if it will be, thanks to what? That is the question.”

Kateryna SIRINIOK, student at the Department of Journalism, Zaporizhia National University:

“I have a question for the scholars and our distinguished hosts, in particular Dr. Bakirov. We have just heard that our Ukrainian education is very theoretical. In the West it is more practice-oriented. We are actively joining the Bologna Declaration. So what progress will the Ukrainian education system, in particular universities, make to help first our youth and then our nation to become more competitive?”


“I will say something expected; you may think it’s subversive. It is useless to count on someone to build this education system for us. There are things that are hard to control and direct purposefully. There are things that are hard to even begin to influence. It is utopian to dream that such a clever minister or prime minister will come that he or she will change our education system, build it up again, and overnight we will become competitive on the world labor market.

“Of course, much depends on the quality of education. Still, I don’t think we need to look for the source of our problems in the quality of education.

“Now I have a question: are Poles in some way different from us? Or Hungarians? Or Italians? Why are there successful and unsuccessful nations? Estonia borders on the Russian Federation’s Pskov oblast. They have the same air and the same soil. But the living conditions are totally different! Perhaps there are differences in people’s overall mentalities, and in the case of less successful nations, is this mentality in some way defective?

“Sometimes we complain that if we had a better elite, we would live better. I will let you in on a secret: the elite worries only about itself. I don’t remember any time in history when an elite took care of the masses, the people. This is how it has been and so it will be. The elite consists of more powerful, more dynamic, and thus more selfish individuals.”

Kateryna SIRINIOK:

“What about Vasyl Karazin, who donated money to found this university? He was part of the elite. He didn’t just look after himself; he looked after all of us, so that we could sit here today and discuss important issues. What would you say to this? Perhaps he simply wanted to have his name remembered for all time, but I’ m not sure.”


“All by himself Karazin is not the elite. Karazin was a brilliant and passionate individual. Of course, there are many examples in history of individuals doing something for progress.

“The elite is a social stratum. Without a doubt, I know that there were and there will be individuals worthy of respect, and I am grateful to them. But believe me; I am skeptical of any creative, noble intentions of the elite as such.

“I asked our prominent philosopher Myroslav Popovych: what awaits Ukraine in the 21st century? He gave me a lengthy and very vague answer. No one has a clear prognosis and an optimistic scenario for our future yet.”


“Dr. Bakirov, do you agree that there doesn’t have to be a clear vision of the future, but that you need to have a clear action plan in order to create a future that would be most like the one we would like to see?”


“Of course. But that’s the catch: we don’t have any action plan!”


“Every time we take our tiny, practical steps and say: we can’t be responsible for the entire country and the whole government, but each one of us can be responsible for himself or herself. And we can think: where do I have to be today, in a pub or at an intellectual club? If at the club, what for? To exchange ideas and understand what to say next time, what to do next time, and precisely what action to take.”


“Ms. Ivshyna, this reminds me of the philosopher Karl Popper. He warned against hoping that one can carry out some great social project and rebuild the country by means of certain plans or strategies. Any attempts to change society for the better through a purposeful strategy are futile. But small steps toward the better are feasible. Perhaps we should not be appealing to ourselves and others to participate in some gigantic project called “Happy Ukraine” but simply be doing what each one of us should do.

“If that’s not convincing enough, at least it’s sincere!”


“Dr. Bakirov, those citizens who went to the Maidan just now to participate in the People’s Self-Defense-is it possible that to them this may be the beginning of a series of these little steps?”


“There are soft ways and forceful ways of reacting, and the two complement each other: one will press while another one will give advice.”

Oleksandr BOIKO, Ph.D. student at the Department of Sociology, Kharkiv Karazin National University:

“We have heard several theses that are basically preventing us from analyzing the topic of today’s discussion. Dr. Bakirov mentioned a defective nation. Don’t you think that this sounds like a diagnosis?”


“Is our nation defective? What other nation leaves hundreds of thousands of children without parents? Orphanages are crammed. Children live in horrible conditions. Americans take care of every child, even a sick one, and foster them. In our country they drive them into the streets and place them in orphanages.”

Oleksandr BOIKO:

“Are we talking about nation or society? We appear to be talking about the defectiveness of the nation, but are the existing living conditions, economic standards, norms, and values related to the nation? These are all attributes of society.

“We seem to be talking about our nation and at the same time we are using such terms as ‘unsuccessful,’ ‘competitive,’ ‘poverty,’ ‘elite,’ ‘executions,’ and others. Ladies and gentlemen, these are all categories of sociological analysis, namely the analysis of society. That is to say, we are talking about the competitiveness of society rather than the nation.”


“It is better to consider the two together rather than contrast them.”


“Oleksandr, in order to avoid turning our roundtable discussion into a theoretical seminar, I will simply say that the concept of nation is very complex and broad. There are no universal approaches to the concepts of nation, people, nationality, ethnos, etc. Contemporary sociology has dozens of paradigms with different views of the nation and society.

“Let us find a common understanding of what a nation is.”

Mykola SAZONOV, chairman of the Department of Political Science, Kharkiv Karazin National University:

“Of course, we are not discussing theoretical approaches to what a nation is. There are many works on the subject in Ukraine, in Kharkiv, and in our department. Today we are talking about something else: the competitiveness of Ukraine in general and our nation in particular.

“A while ago, in this same room, when passions were running high and the outcome of the presidential election was uncertain-but we had the Maidan-I spoke from the same place and said: we are witnessing the end of the formation of the Ukrainian political nation. This was because the Maidan was something we had never experienced in Ukraine, not even in the early 1990s.

“Time went by, and can we say today that the process launched by the Maidan has advanced at least one or two steps? Not at all.

“Mikhail Bakharev, the editor in chief of Krymskaia Pravda, spoke about languages, the need for a second official language-Russian-and denied the existence of the Ukrainian nation, questioned the future of the Ukrainian state, and demanded that Ukrainization be blocked. What is this? The point of view of an average pro-Russian citizen of the Crimea? No, he is a newspaper’s chief editor.

“Speaking about the competitiveness of Ukraine, it can essentially be our national idea. It would be interesting to discuss this question as well: can competitiveness be viewed as the national idea?”

Kateryna SIRINIOK:

“The topic has two aspects: a humanitarian and an economic one. The former is the nation, whereas the latter is competitiveness. As a student of the humanities, I see ways of achieving competitiveness for our nation in some humanitarian aspects. One would be national tourism, i.e., establishing contacts between all parts of Ukraine. As a journalist, I would like to say that there is not one TV program or print product that would show all the parts of Ukraine to the entire country. We have TV guides for other countries, but we do not know what cities and villages are on our own territory: where we can go and what we can see.”


“One of the objectives of the Ostroh Club is to revive the rules of communication, which drastically differ from the way our, pardon the expression, older generation and our politicians, whom we see on TV, communicate.

“To me this idea promoted by the Ostroh Club is very important. Against the background of pompous ceremonies, fiery speeches, and at times very interesting lectures, the club may seem minuscule. But this minuscule thing has a live kernel. These young people have gotten together for the fourth time and listened to one another. We didn’t have this excitement everywhere, and not everyone understood each other the first time around. Sometimes the debates were extremely heated. But these people are the same age and from the same country, and they are all university students. That is why this is such an invaluable and interesting practical experience.”

Maksym POLUNIEIEV, head of the Students’ Scholarly Society, Kharkiv Karazin National University:

“It is not about the elite, after all. There are individuals who step by step do their thing, each in his or her place. But the main problem is that these people who represent different regions of Ukraine lack a single vision. In our country there is conflict rather than dialogue. We must shake off hostility inside the country.

“We will not be competitive if we cannot sort out our domestic problems, the problems within one unitary state. As soon as we manage to leave behind the conflict strategy as such, we will reach a new stage. In the conditions of a competitive environment, as is the case in the world, the majority of nations act as single monolithic units. Therefore, rather than an individual leader or stratum of society, we need to speak about all of society, which understands the culture of dialogue.”

By Yevhen KHODUN, Kharkiv