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

On Ukrainian “soft power”

Yurii SHCHERBAK: “We should focus now on obtaining US major non-NATO ally status”
9 August, 2016 - 11:43
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

It is not an accident that Yurii Shcherbak visited Den. He has long been contributing to the newspaper, so it is not surprising that he heads the James Mace Prize Supervisory Board – he knew Mace personally. As the guest is a multifaceted personality – an environmentalist, a political journalist, a diplomat, a politician, and an author – Summer School of Journalism 2016 students and he had an interesting discussion.

The first question the students heard was: “What is it that distinguishes the new generation from the old one, for example, from mine?” There were different answers, but when the audience heard the guest’s viewpoint, they all came to the same conclusion: if you analyze the past, you will see that people do not change their qualities, it is the conditions that change. “There is such thing as discreteness: an airplane can be upgraded until the 7th-9th generations, but when a human being is born, he or she starts from point zero and can be made anything you want: an Islamist, an imperialist, a democrat – this is a crucial problem for humankind. The current generation is distinguished for an incredible capacity to absorb information. You have all fallen hostage to information systems, i.e., computers,” Mr. Shcherbak comments.

Incidentally, the writer gifted his documentary sci-fi novel Doomsday Weapons for best answer. The novel is set in 2014-16, when Ukraine’s destiny is at stake: to repel the Russian aggression, a group of Ukrainian patriots is secretly trying to make nuclear weapons. Summer school student Dmytro Baida won this mini-competition.

Mr. Shcherbak wound up giving the students his wife’s advice: “Tell them not to become Moscow-style propagandists.”


Mykola SIRUK: “When you were a parliament member, could you imagine that Russia would become our enemy?”

Yu.Shch.: “When I came to Moscow in 1989, there was an overall sensation of the empire’s collapse, although nobody was thinking of this so far. I asked a former CIA director: ‘What did you think of Ukraine?’ He answered: ‘Before 1990, when Gorbachev visited Kyiv, we did not think that Ukraine might secede. We thought that Ukraine was so communized and subdued that nothing of the sort could happen there.’ This is what professional researchers of the Soviet Union were saying, but we had a presentiment. Everything was very obvious. We felt that this mainland was having the shocks that would just destroy it, we saw that it was a volcano about to erupt.

“Now about Ukraine and Russia. You know, Jozef Pilsudski, the Polish national leader and one of the 20th century’s heroes, said a famous phrase: ‘We rode together on a train called ‘Democracy’ just as far as the station called ‘Nation.’ Likewise, our Moscow friends and we rode as far as ‘Ukraine station’ and they never forgave us this and failed to get rid of their great-power chauvinistic views. It was a very bitter discovery for us. I remember Sobchak, who like pompous gestures, shouting to me: ‘Mr. Shcherbak, don’t forget: together, we are united!’ But we knew that we were no longer united.

“Yurii Lypa said (I used it as an epigraph to my new book Ukraine in the Epicenter of a Worldwide Storm) that ‘a democratic prosperous Ukraine cannot exist until Russia is destroyed as an imperial force.’ Only now can we see that some people, who were considered extremists, were right.

“Naturally, I think that even in a country that is turning into Mordor, there are at least 25 percent of people who still have a democratic potential, but the younger generation utterly hates Ukraine, the idea of liberalism, the Western world, and America, even though Russia is a European country by definition, which all emperors emphasized.

“We were opening our eyes gradually. Somewhere in 2008-09, after the aggression against Georgia, we understood that Ukraine was next on the line. But we have been brainwashed with myths about our unity with Russia for so many years that Putin even now declares that we and they are the same nation. Hitler also said that Germans and Austrians were the same nation, for he was going to rule the latter. These are important things, and I think we are still to wake up to be aware of them. We are kind, but not nationally-minded enough, people. I am not calling for hatred, for it is a destructive feeling, but I’m calling on everybody to love and protect their family, nation, and themselves.”


Khrystyna SOLTYS, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv: “How should we build our relations with Poland in spite of all our discords in the past and after the Volhynian tragedy has been recognized as genocide?”

Yu.Shch.: “We should not respond to the provocations of Polish chauvinists who use the Volhynian massacre as an excuse for worsening the relations. In my opinion, all criminals must be named and punished – not only Ukrainian, but also Polish because Armia Krajowa also committed grisly atrocities. We should look at those events in a broader historical context. Every human life has an immense value. And we should not take into account the fact that the Polish and Ukrainian estimates of the death toll differ – 100,000 and 20,000, respectively. The killing of even one human is a crime. We should only look at those crimes in concrete terms: who is to blame and who stands behind this? All the rest is up to historians to research. We must continue trying to forge closer ties with Poland – otherwise, we’ll be unable to establish a Black Sea – Baltic arc which can replace NATO to a large extent. I think both the EU and NATO may break up. Instead, there will be other alliances and combinations of states. And the Polish will understand that they should cherish unity with Ukraine as the apple of their eye.”


Dmytro BAIDA, National University of Ostroh Academy: “You served as ambassador to the US and Canada, but there have been many changes since then. What do you think of the current change in the balance of geopolitical forces? And what place will Ukraine occupy in the world?”

Yu.Shch.: “In my view, we are at the beginning of World War Three, and unless some serious measures are taken to change this situation, there may be very grave consequences. Today, we can see the EU disintegrating, which means there can be a serious destabilization at any point of the globe. This may result in a worldwide turmoil. Somebody was right to say that we only lack Archduke Ferdinand, the victim that triggered World War One. We don’t know how the Russia-Ukraine war will end. We exist in such a shaky and dangerous balance that any provocation may result in the serious outbreak of a bloody war.

“The geopolitical structure based on US power, the Helsinki Accords, and a series of bilateral agreements is breaking up, and the signs of instability are everywhere. What does the Almaty shootout mean? It is only the beginning. What is instability in Armenia? It’s also the beginning. Hostilities may resume in Karabakh at any moment, which means a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia again. What do the events in Turkey mean? How come there were lists of dozens of thousands of people to be arrested just half an hour after the military staged an abortive coup? Turkey is becoming unpredictable. China has problems, first of all economic, of its own, and brilliant development has already ground to a halt. They already have problems with the yuan and with economic growth. As for the US, I can remember the times when it had a prosperous inflation-free economy with a very low level of unemployment, but the Republicans have squandered it away. I think Trump will win the elections. And the destiny of the world depends on the way America will regain its might. Trump is longing for power. He is a dangerous populist and may therefore win. The people there are tired of politics.

“As it is clear after the summit now, Ukraine will not become a NATO member in the near future. But there is an important status known as ‘major non-NATO ally of the United States,’ such as Japan or New Zealand. And we should focus now on obtaining this status.”


Olena KURENKOVA, applicant, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv: “What can you say about the development of relations between Ukraine and Canada whose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently visited this country and signed a free trade area agreement?”

Yu.Shch.: “I think this is a new huge breakthrough in the Ukraine-Canada relations. For signing an agreement on entering the market is really a breakthrough. We are joining NAFTA and entering the markets of Latin America and Canada through the back door. It’s an enormous breakthrough, for we can move further on through Canada. The only problem is that the structure of our export is quite similar to that of Canada. Canada makes airplanes of approximately the same class as Ukraine does – and we are rivals. Canada has a well-developed mining industry: they extract as much iron ore as we do. Canada is a grain-producing country, as Ukraine is. We will have to seek ways of entering the market, which depends on the fantasy and persistence of our trade representatives. By the style and design of its democracy, Canada is much more favorable to us than the US. Suffice it to recall the health care system. Canada is a social state – it is Britain transposed on the American continent. In my view, Canada is the highest type of democracy and societal tolerance.”


Maria CHADIUK, National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy: “What is the role of the Shevchenko Prize now? What do you think of the state of Ukrainian culture, particularly its contemporary literature?”

Yu.Shch.: “There is such thing as ‘soft power.’ ‘Hard power’ is tanks and missiles. Ukraine can and, in my view, must become famous by its soft power, i.e., culture. We have brilliant European examples of painting, music, and theater, but we don’t know how to propagate them. Although many people visit various events now, such as exhibits, all kinds of biennials and triennials, we still have a lot of work to do. We have a heap of good literature but not a single Nobel laureate. The point is we are sitting in the ghetto we ourselves made artificially, while the state is doing nothing to change this. Why? Very few of our works are translated into English, and even if some are, this little group does not represent big-time literature. We have some prominent poets who quite deserve to be awarded the Nobel Prize. We have excellent, albeit not very numerous, prose works. But in any other country the state helps get out of this ghetto. There are Spanish-language and German-language institutions that help translate from or into Spanish and German. Our literature cannot exist on its own: the state must fund it and invite Ukrainian-language translators here. But, as long as we remain behind in this ghetto, nothing will happen. Lobbyists have been sitting for dozens of years at the Stockholm-based Nobel Committee, where rivalry is underway. And suddenly representatives of little-known cultures win. The point is their works were translated into English and German so that committee members could read them. I am convinced that we have every chance to be a powerful culture. We can do it, and we have works to be proud of. It’s simpler with music: you can listen to it as you please. For example, Silvestrov can be heard all over the world, while Lina Kostenko is read in Italian because her daughter did the translation. But I’m not sure if there are her translations in English.”


Anna HOLISHEVSKA, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv: “What do you think is the importance of the James Mace Prize in the preservation of people’s historical memory?”

Yu.Shch.: “I am proud to chair the James Mace Prize jury. The newspaper Den is now an extremely important instrument of struggle for national development and renaissance, as well as a factor of fierce resistance to Russian aggression. The newspaper has gathered brilliant political writers, takes a clearly outlined national position, constantly fights against great-power Russian chauvinism, and adheres to national principles. Many people have won the prize and are the pride of Ukrainian journalism and the newspaper itself. I personally knew Mace: he really was a great Ukrainian who, unlike many Ukrainians, was very deep-thinking and patriotic. He reflected not only on the past, which he knew perfectly, but also on the future. He was the person of an incredible human magnitude. And I think the existence of a prize named after him is important not only for Ukraine, but also for the US. And the US must be proud of such a citizen as James Mace.”

By Olena KURENKOVA, Maria MATIAZH, Den’s Summer School of Journalism