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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

The Dnipropetrovsk context

The Day introduces the local intellectual elite to the idea of Ukrainocentrism
3 June, 2008 - 00:00

“Reviving the national culture” was the slogan of the special days that were dedicated to our newspaper and held last week in Dnipropetrovsk under the auspices of our friends at National Mining University. The university faculty and students who organized the event stressed that their goal was to rally the residents of Dnipropetrovsk around the idea of Ukrainocentrism. As part of the effort to further this goal, The Day’s photo exhibit was opened, a meeting of the Ostroh Club of Young Intellectuals was held, along with a readers’ conference entitled “ The Day and the Formation of Historical Memory among Young People.”


After traveling through Ukraine in the past two years, the members of the Ostroh Club, which was initiated by Larysa Ivshyna and The Day, are now in a position to draw certain comparisons. As soon as the Ostroh Club arrives in a new city, it begins acquainting itself with the resident intellectuals and visiting local monuments, trying to grasp the national role of the region. At first glance, Dnipropetrovsk, a city of huge capital resources, looks neglected. This raises the question why the homeland of most Ukrainian oligarchs is in this condition. The Ostroh Club members found part of the answer.

During a previous meeting in Donetsk, club member Ivan Kapsamun asked the Pro-rector for Student and University Affairs of Donetsk University about the difference between the elites in Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk. After visiting both cities, the Ostroh Club discovered the answer. Yurii Raikhel, a contributor to our newspaper, who lives in Dnipropetrovsk, explained the difference between these two powerful Ukrainian industrial centers.

Even during the Soviet era Dnipropetrovsk had a strong managerial school whose alumni have always thought in national terms, in contrast to their Donbas counterparts, who have confined themselves to the interests of “their own coal mine.” Thus, individuals born in Dnipropetrovsk have always found it easy to adapt to Ukraine’s capital. In Raikhel’s opinion, most representatives of the Donetsk elite do not find it easy to adapt to Kyiv because they maintain close ties with their homeland.

Thus, unlike their Dnipropetrovsk counterparts, the people of Donetsk care most about the development of their region. The members of the elite who are in power in Dnipropetrovsk today either regard their current position as a jumping- off point to the capital or are unable to improve things in the region because of their lack of professionalism. That is why there is a constant turnover in Dnipropetrovsk’s ruling circles, Raikhel suggested. So even if the people who come to power truly want to improve things, they do not have a possibility to do this. All they can do is satisfy their own needs and interests within a relatively brief period of time.


On May 21 the Ostroh Club of Young Intellectuals took part in a roundtable called “The Revival of National Culture as a Step toward National Unity: The Problem of Bilingualism in Ukraine. Together with the Mining University’s faculty and students, as well as guests from other institutions of higher education and civic organizations, the club members discussed the problem of unity in Ukrainian society.

Culture in general, and Ukrainian culture in particular, is too broad a concept to be reduced to the concrete framework of a single debate. The domain of Ukrainian culture has long been the sphere of influence of many kinds of cultural hegemonies. Today, Ukrainian culture is reaping the fruits of years- long assimilation. This question does not merely concern artistic expression. As first-year student Stanislav Torubanov said, “Ukrainian culture is the Ukrainians’ sense of identity.” And while there is nothing catastrophic about the mutual influence between one national culture and another, the domination of one poses a direct threat to the existence of the other. Part of Ukrainian society is not aware of this threat or refuses to see it. Despite the heated discussions, the roundtable participants came to the conclusion that, given a carefully-considered concept of development of the humanities, Ukrainian culture will be able to reach a proper level of development.


One of the topics of discussion was the burning question of bilingualism, which triggered the most acrimonious debates. Some of the discussants, who are dissatisfied with the “imposition” of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine, claimed that it is difficult for the older Russian-speaking generation to get used to the language and even to acquire rudimentary Ukrainian. To this an elderly professor, who was clearly a Russian speaker, retorted, “Do not pity the older generation: the fact that they have been unable to learn the language for so many years is their problem.”

The debaters agreed on a different point: the problem is not the Ukrainian language per se but the quality of Ukrainian-language products. The Ukrainian dubbing of films is poor not because it is in Ukrainian but because it is of low quality. The hasty introduction of mandatory dubbing in Ukrainian, when the very procedure for it has not been thought out properly, has discredited this idea from the outset. This was the opinion advanced by those who oppose the “coercive” introduction of the Ukrainian language into the sphere of culture.

The debate revealed that the Ukrainian language is even an impediment for some television viewers. One debater said that her parents shun Ukrainian TV channels only because their programs are in the Ukrainian language. Another argument in favor of bilingualism is: it does not matter in what language culture is developing; what really matters is that it should develop. Obviously, which language a person chooses to speak is a matter of moral choice, which depends on the cultural level of each one of us.

In civilized countries there is such a notion as “conscious citizenship,” which sets out not only citizens’ rights but their obligations, such as knowing the language of the state of which you are a citizen. It seems to be a difficult task to break this closed circle, but solving this problem guarantees the existence not only of the Ukrainian cultural sphere but, to a certain extent, the Ukrainian state.

The Day’s sojourn in Dnipropetrovsk was concluded with a readers’ conference called “ The Day and the Formation of Historical Memory among Young People. Joining Larysa Ivshyna were Hennadii Pivniak, pro-rector of National Mining University; Yurii Khomenko, pro-rector for Student and University Affairs; Viktor Pushkin, director of the Institute of Problems in the Humanities; and faculty members and students. All the participants agreed that the formation of historical memory among youth and the task of shaping their civic position lie in supporting such projects as the Ostroh Club of Young Intellectuals.

As the editor of The Day noted, “there are enough ideas in Ukrainian society, but there are few excellent ones and even fewer people who are capable of putting these ideas into practice.” Perhaps owing to its ability to initiate and implement ideas, the Ostroh Club is attracting greater numbers of young people and creating a unified force that, step by step, is rousing young people to action all over the country.

The club members are now working on creating a Web site that is expected to be one of the most popular in Ukraine. Meanwhile, information on the Ostroh Club may be found on The Day’s site.


Stanislav TORUBANOV, first-year student, Dnipropetrovsk National University:

“The club is very untypical. It is an organization that was founded and is developing on enthusiasm alone, and it is ‘infecting’ others. Since I barely knew anything about the Ostroh Club, I expected all kinds of things, for example, a stern delegation that would try to impose its views on students, who are simply tired of studying and are relaxing this way. But they turned out to be friendly people, who are very aware of the problems in contemporary Ukraine, keep an open mind to new ideas, and are able to draw conclusions and pose new questions. They are able to act. The debate around the problem that was raised at the roundtable was extremely fruitful, and I heard things that made me look at things from a different angle. Ukrainian culture is not a new problem. What was new was the approach, at least for me.”

Bohdan HAL, Candidate of Sciences (History), post-doctoral fellow at the Department of History and Political Theory of Dnipropetrovsk National Mining University:

“The Ostroh Club of Intellectual Youth, under the patronage of the editor of The Day, visited Dnipropetrovsk after its encounters with the young people of Odesa, Luhansk, Kyiv, Donetsk, Lutsk, and Kharkiv. Perhaps this is why the guests felt almost at home among the people who came to discuss the developmental prospects for modern Ukrainian culture through the prism of the bilingualism problem. But this sense of ease in no way hindered the sometimes heated debate, when passions brought forth diametrically opposing approaches to the problems being discussed. This was to be expected because a debate is unthinkable without this.

“It was interesting to see that, contrary to expectations, intellectual barricades did not divide the debaters along age- or language- related lines. As one of the older participants in the debate aptly noted, one should not justify the behavior of elderly people. It is not so difficult to learn the language if one lives permanently in a foreign- language environment.

“No, the watershed of thoughts has moved to the place where, through the efforts of politicians, politics and culture have come into seemingly permanent conflict, where the degree of state intervention in the cultural process is a burning question, and criteria of Ukrainianness are being sought. These passionate girls and boys from the Ostroh Club are very different. It is wonderful to see that they have managed to find a common language. It is very good that they are finding it with their peers in various corners of Ukraine. And even if you do not share their belief in the possibility of drafting a great plan of national unity, you cannot help admiring their intention to reach an understanding. We who are so different from each other find it interesting to communicate.”

Ivan SOPIHA, second-year student majoring in Political Science, Ostroh Academy National University, and member of the Ostroh Club of Young Intellectuals:

“The latest meeting of the Ostroh Club left many impressions, but also a few disappointments. What impressed me the most was the fact that the roundtable was organized at Dnipropetrovsk Mining University, which is a technological institution. There was great interest and active participation in the debate. This is an acute problem in today’s Ukrainian society. Speaking of culture, all the debaters expressed concern over the plight of Ukrainian culture and emphasized the need to revive it so that it will be a guarantee of unity in the state.

“However, the debate on bilingualism revealed certain differences of opinion. Most of those present considered it unacceptable to continue the linguistic policy now pursued by the government, and claimed that it is necessary to grant Russian the status of a second official language. They are clearly unaware of the threat that this poses for the Ukrainian language.

“Unfortunately, the long years of Russification, the imposition of all things Russian, and the merciless destruction of all things Ukrainian never taught people to appreciate, care about, and defend their own culture. It is a pity that such well-educated people are unable to open their eyes and look impartially at things and finally begin to work in the national interests of their Motherland, instead of supporting the chauvinistic policies of a neighboring country. In general, the debate was a success. All the participants showed praiseworthy tolerance toward their opponents. Although everybody stuck to their guns, I still hope the forum was not a waste of time and will compel many to revise their not always correct persuasions and take a different look at some circumstances.”

Ivan KAPSAMUN, fifth-year student, Department of Political Science, Mechnykov National University of Odesa, and member of the Ostroh Club of Young Intellectuals:

“Modern Ukrainian culture is much politicized. This applies especially to the language question, which I think was forcibly imposed on society. For the sake of their individual and corporate goals, politicians are ready to use anything to please themselves and their retinues. This is why politics in Ukraine is very low in terms of culture.

“As for the revival of Ukrainian culture, this depends on both the public at large and the state. I agree that individuals should first look at themselves, but the state also plays a tremendous role in this matter. It is the state and its overall development strategy and cultural development policy that in many instances shape the people’s spirituality. So culture should be free of politics and not thrown on its tender mercies. Only a professional, not a local (one-time), approach to this matter can solve the problem of culture. The state must offer society a high-quality and competitive Ukrainian cultural product. Why introduce Ukrainian-dubbed films if the translations into Ukrainian are bad? This only dishonors the Ukrainian language and leads the Russian-speaking population to resist. What I mean is that the state may be doing the right thing, but it is doing it with totally unacceptable instruments and methods.

“Another important point is that Ukrainian culture should only develop on the basis of the multifaceted history and cultural traditions of the Ukrainian people rather than through the inane imposition of Western, Eastern, or any other type of mass culture. Historical memory is an inalienable part of Ukrainian culture. The renaissance of our country depends on the revival of historical memory, especially among young people — the future of Ukraine.

“But I have a lot of questions, including this one: what kind of history do we have? My answer is unambiguous: it is full of suffering. So what kind of young people are we raising? Will these young people be proud of their ancestors, or will they only recall how bad it was for them? This is a crucial question because history shapes memory. Yes, I agree that Ukraine has had a very difficult history and nobody denies the Ukrainian people’s sufferings, but you cannot raise the younger generation on this alone.

“The emphasis should unquestionably be placed on what glorifies the Ukrainian people, on their great leaders, etc. For example, I think too little is said about the might of Kyivan Rus.’ If Russia says it is the legitimate successor of the Russian Empire, Muscovy, and mainly of the Byzantine Empire, then why doesn’t Ukraine position itself as the legitimate successor of Kyivan Rus’? Yes, this is a controversial point, like all of history is, but still...The formation of historical memory in young people is one of the things that socialize society as a whole. But our state is not performing even this function very well. This is the kind of country we have now.”

Denys OPARIENKO, student, Dnipropetrovsk National Mining University:

“I am grateful to the members of the Ostroh Club, who found the moral and material resources to come to Dnipropetrovsk. I think they were able to see once again that Ukraine is pluralistic, which is cause for joy. The organizers conceived this roundtable debate as one that will promote a more active nationwide discussion of this topic, the emergence of a system of national values and cultural priorities in Ukraine, and the formation of a national idea. What sparked the most heated discussions at the forum was the problem of bilingualism, in particular the introduction of the Ukrainian language in films and other fields. One should not hush up or sidetrack these problems: they should be discussed more often because otherwise we will never be able to tackle these burning issues. I will give you an example from my own life. When I was seven years old, I went to a Ukrainian school where all subjects were taught in the Ukrainian language.”