Larysa Ivshyna, chief editor of Den/The Day, recently met the participants of the USAID-sponsored Parliamentary Internship Program, part of the Parliamentary Development Project for Ukraine. This is a kind of school of parliamentarism, aimed at helping young Ukrainians participate directly in lawmaking. Many of today’s politicians, legislative, and civic activists made their debut as participants of this project.
The current participants are students or specialists aged 21 to 29, who passed a strict two-stage selection process involving statistical questioning and an interview. They won the right to intern in the Verkhovna Rada’s committees, secretariats, and directorates for a period of 10 months. The interns had to meet such criteria as civic activism, work experience, command of languages, as well as personal qualities.
According to the coordinator of the Parliamentary Internship Program, Olha Stefurak, 30 to 40 percent of the interns plan on becoming expert analysts, if not high-ranking officials. The program is invaluable in that it is injecting new blood into normally hidebound government offices by training young experts with fresh ideas and progressive views.
This program has been operating in Ukraine for the past 12 years. Similar projects were also launched in Romania, the Czech Republic, and the US. Unlike in the West, however, the Ukrainian government refuses to support this initiative and is steadily cutting back funds.
High on the program’s agenda are meetings organized for the parliamentary interns with well- known Ukrainian personalities from different walks of life. In her welcoming speech, guest Larysa Ivshyna endorsed the idea of the program, calling it a major step in overcoming young people’s indifference to current political events.
The guest speaker also broached a number of pressing issues, which the audience heatedly debated for almost three hours. Of greatest interest were questions concerning education, the current political situation in and outside the country, the vectors of Ukraine’s policies, as well as the prospects and peculiarities of the current Ukrainian media market. The discussion was lively, and some of Ivshyna’s statements triggered a strong reaction and even a debate among the listeners.
As the meeting drew to a close, the guest speaker presented books from The Day’s Library Series to interns who asked the most interesting questions and took the most active part in the debate. The impression is that this kind of unofficial but meaningful discussion can provide clear guidelines to up and coming young people. Below are a few fragments of the discussion.
Yulia SHUMYLO, Kyiv, intern at the Secretariat of the Verkhovna Rada’s Chief of Staff:
“Den has been publishing for more than 10 years. What is its civic stand?”
“Den’s readership belongs to the minority, but I think it is a thinking and progressive minority. It is like the ozone layer: it is very thin, but you can’t live without it. In this time of changes, the government should support influential publications that give society clear guidelines, select and cover the most valuable examples of intellectual thought, offer serious topics for discussion, unite the protoelite, establish intellectual goals, and blaze a trail to new meanings. Our newspaper does not entertain - an obvious downside from the viewpoint of the ordinary reader, but ours is not a country that can only amuse itself: we have something to work on and think about. I think this is the correct role for a newspaper that strives to be influential.
“The Telekrytyka Web site recently reported that the First National TV Channel ‘has finally lost its virginity.’ This saddened us a great deal because the report said that, instead of the only good, popular historical program ‘To Be Continued,’ which was aired on prime time Sunday, 1st Channel is going to broadcast ‘High Society Gossip’ hosted by Kateryna Osadcha. I have nothing against the hostess, but this is a question of priorities, and there is no social responsibility in this country. And this is a channel funded by taxpayers. Swiss television has a lot of educational programs and shows that explain civil rights to viewers.
“You will all agree that Switzerland is hardly the poorest country in Europe, but still its television broadcasts cattle auctions because this is a considerable part of the economy.
“But in our country ‘glamour’ is the acme of openness, and people believe that we are edging towards Europe now that we have scrapped a historical program in favor of making the rounds of gay clubs. Some people even believe that this freedom should not be regulated. I’m sorry, but if people are dimwitted, they should be ‘regulated.’ It is about the question of the fourth estate: the media must struggle to earn this power, not only by way of shows and entertainment but also by seriously addressing the public so that people will know how to defend their rights, how to obtain an education, or battle injustice in courts. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people in Ukraine want to get involved in anything, and not because this poses some kind of threat but because they are not paid for this. We need serious schools of journalism; we need the public to hear at least those few publications that cultivate principled and honest journalism. This is no easy task because right now people are literally drowning in informational garbage and cannot penetrate the essence of things.”
Vitalii SHPAK, Lutsk, intern at the Secretariat of the Parliamentary Committee for State Development and Local Government:
“I have been at the Verkhovna Rada since October and there is one thing that I don’t understand: why is the political force, the bulk of whose electorate lives on the territory that was stricken by the Holodomor, afraid to recognize this tragedy as an act of genocide?”
“We live in the same country but in totally different informational fields. We are talking about the Holodomor and the unwillingness of the Party of Regions to help Ukrainians reach some kind of consensus. These are complex issues: nobody knows exactly how many people survived and how those lands were settled. This is a colossal societal trauma, a very painful issue, and we should adopt a very delicate approach to that period of history. I remember the contemptuous attitude in Soviet times to people who came to the cities from the countryside. This contempt dates back to the days when cities lived more or less well, while starving villagers scratched at city dwellers’ windows and lay on railway tracks. The city-village problem still awaits a full-fledged discussion. And we cannot take this disaster easily, because it didn’t happen that long ago. The nation has to be nursed back to health and helped to rid itself of those horrible ulcers.
“I recently spoke to a Russian, who asked me, ‘Why is it that there was no famine in western Ukraine, but you, more than anyone else, talk about it the most?’ I replied, ‘Don’t you believe in such a thing as human sympathy?’ In my view, the Party of Regions made one of its gravest mistakes by refusing to vote for recognizing the olo HoHolodomor as genocide. I am pinning great hopes on the evolution of this party - I see no other chance for them. They won’t be able to remain a pro-Russian force any more. They are bound to go pro-Ukrainian if they are to become a national party. The Party of Regions must get to know its own people; otherwise it will forever be a regional force.”
Ihor NAZARENKO, Kyiv, intern at the Foreign Affairs Committee:
“Today, we are winessing attempts to disband the Institute of International Relations at Kyiv National University. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we must admit that students have no say at all in this situation. If we are talking about the duty of students to assume responsibility, we should not forget that there can only be responsibility if one has rights, but today’s students in fact have no rights - maybe only on paper. What is your attitude to this?”
“Kyiv University was absolutely different when I was graduating. In spite of the ever-growing number of so-called universities, it should remain the main and most prestigious one in Ukraine. I think you understand that this situation was caused in many respects by hidebound staff-placement policies. It is always like this in Kyiv, there is a lot of nomenklatura here, where each person clings to the other until the last breath, which naturally hinders free intellectual exchange and stems the influx of new blood. So we see that those who can work are denied opportunities, and those who cannot work are kept in their jobs. All the problems stem from this. Although there are a lot of academies and universities, there is obviously depreciation in the quality of teaching. But the education minister will not champion self-government too actively. People at the top do not like it when somebody down below enjoys greater rights. This is your task. Everything depends on whether you are prepared to take a step.”
Olena MELNYCHENKO, Cherkasy, intern at the Secretariat of the Committee for Culture and Spirituality:
“Your statement ‘Every Ukrainian should visit Chyhyryn at least once’ is often quoted at my university. Do you think Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s manor should be turned into another country retreat for the president?”
“Our president has already been stripped of all rights, and now you encroach on his country retreat. But seriously, both Chyhyryn and Subotiv are in need of serious government attention. When I say that every Ukrainian should visit Chyhyryn at least once, above all I mean the idea of all-Ukrainian integration. There are very few people in our country who travel throughout Ukraine, know it, visit its historic places, and know their own history. Most people treat their historical heritage in such a way as though nothing ever happened before they were born. I’ve been to Chyhyryn, and I am happy that I did. I have a natural desire to visit such places; later you read and perceive history quite differently. You reconsider events and actions, and decide what attitude you will take to one issue or another.”
Dmytro LYTOVCHENKO, Poltava, intern at the Secretariat of the Finance and Banking Committee:
“There is a warped attitude in our country: to achieve success, one must take up politics and make a splash, while in Western societies the emphasis is on society and its development. That’s where the best managers should work, and the government should be the protection mechanism by helping the disadvantaged or those who are ‘dropping out’ of society. Do you see any possibility of saving Ukraine from governmental centrism?”
“Politicians are constantly calling upon people to gather on the Maidan, leave their workplaces, and engage in politics and governmental affairs. This raises the following question: what good are politicians who are capable of taking steps only when there is a million-strong crowd in the streets? They are in fact helpless without this million. Do we have to attach a permanently active million people to them to get them to make the right decisions? How can we reach the stage of social development where society can make a rational choice? In my view, we are now doing what is contraindicated for us. For instance, the super-concentration of power is contraindicated for Russia; they should ease up on their society a bit. But it’s the opposite in Ukraine; there is utter chaos here. What we need is a rational line from the center.”
“What publications, in addition to Den, would you recommend to Ukrainian readers?”
“A few good weeklies have appeared in the past few years, such as Expert and Profile. Oksana Zabuzhko once said that Ukraine does not have a newspaper like Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza. This is true, because we constantly have to revert to the same issues. The Poles do not need to be told their history: they know it anyway. In Ukraine, though, different regions have different historical experiences, so history is the most important policy for our newspapers. That’s the way it should be.”
Tetiana CHERNYSHENKO, Poltava, intern at the Science and Education Committee:
“There is an acute shortage of unbiased information about Ukrainian history. Universities still employ the same professors, who have the same views and teaching methods. Are you doing anything to make the publications of The Day’s Library Series available in school and university libraries?”
“Our books are already in many libraries. True, I have spoken to many university professors and noted different levels of effectiveness among them. It’s too bad that students end up in different situations. More often than not they have no choice; they have to listen to outdated information. Luckily, there are also unique teachers. I once invited a professor to give lectures at another university, where he was very much sought after. He came back almost a national hero, and his own university began to genuinely respect him.”