The People’s Frigid Struggle for the Future

Statement by Marta Farion, President of Kyiv Mohyla Foundation of America

Delivered in Washington DC, December 12, 2013; “Ukraine in Congress” Symposium


Despite frigid temperatures, violence, threats to their safety, provocations, and brutal assaults, millions of Ukrainian in Kyiv and other cities throughout Ukraine came  out during the past three weeks to protest the rejection of the European Union Association Agreement, and against a corrupt government that beats defenseless protestors.


I am proud of the students of the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy who called for protests and student strikes, and I applaud the courage and conviction of the students of all the universities who came out, and the unprecedented number of rectors and alumni of universities who joined the EuroMaidan. 


With a dysfunctional judiciary and a co-opted parliament, expectations for reforming the deeply corrupt governing elite from within have faded. The limited Association Agreement with the European Union offered a glimmer of hope that gradual change would come to Ukraine with pressure from the outside.


Besides their anger at the dashed hopes for change, the people are also furious with Moscow’s role in supporting and encouraging the corrupt status quo angry with Mr. Putin’s manipulations to pull Ukraine into his orbit of the totalitarian past. Even deeper, there is anger at Moscow for threatening to limit fuel deliveries for the cold winter. People say, “with Slavic brethren such as these, who needs enemies?” Compared to a return to the Soviet-style totalitarian past, the economic austerity demanded by the European Union hardly seems frightening.


Although it appeared that the people returned to apathy after the failure of the Orange Revolution, the sudden refusal by Yanukovych to sign the EU Agreement and his turn towards Russia was the spark that ignited the underlying discontent.


The young generation erupted in protest first. Yanukovych does not understand that this generation is different from previous ones. This generation is the product of an education that provided access to the world’s knowledge, and opportunities to study and travel abroad. This generation is integrated with the freedom and open communication offered by social media, one that on a personal level has  extensive exposure to the West. T This generation identifies with the West more than they do with Russia. This is critical to understand. Not only did these students react to the loss of perceived political and economic opportunities offered by the EU Agreement, they reject the claim that Russia is closer to them. They genuinely do not identify with Russia. 


Askold Krushelnycky wrote recently in Foreign Policy that “Ukraine’s young generation is educated, most speak English or other languages, they are computer savvy, they travel, they inhabit the same virtual space as their counterparts in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and other democratic and economically advanced countries. ... Their sense of right or wrong, their values and expectations are similar or identical to those of their counterparts around the world.”


As a result, the young people have hope and expectations for a better future. They reject corruption, abuse, selective justice, incompetence, and greed as a way of life.


Institutes of political analysis, non-governmental organizations, independent media, the Electronic Library of Ukraine project, and online media have all played a major role in moving the country toward the world community. The role of universities in building a civil society has been particularly crucial in this process.


Kyiv Mohyla Academy and the Ukrainian Catholic University pushed open the door toward accepting European standards in higher education. New schools of journalism, law, business, and political science provided students the tools necessary to join the world with confidence. Education initiatives produced centers to monitor elections and corruption, and the skills needed for analysis, monitoring, and management.


To fully grasp the importance of this strong, anti-government reaction in Ukraine, it is necessary to understand that the current EuroMaidan has once again dispelled another favorite myth that keeps being promulgated by Russia and its appointees in Ukraine, promoted by Russia’s paid spin-masters, and accepted by foreign media and analysts who neither know nor understand Ukraine’s history. The persistent spin that there is a fundamental divide in Ukraine has been used to portray the country as weak and fractured. This view is often simplistically portrayed by analysts who draw lines, circles, and squares on a map, dividing regions of Ukraine in an attempt to describe  differences based on language, religion, and ethnicity that supposedly cannot be overcome. 


Let me call your attention to the fact that the current protest united Ukrainians regardless of language, geographic location, or ethnicity. We saw videos of speakers who spoke in Ukrainian and in Russian, we heard protesters from Kyiv, Sevastopol, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lviv, Ternopol, and from all around the country. This picture is a reflection of a long list of events that has united Ukrainians for a long time. 

Some of you may remember the first Afghan war where the Soviet Union sent their army.  The organization Mothers, Sister and Daughters of Soldiers was founded in Ukraine. Women were united regardless of language or region against the war and brutality in the military. 


The reaction to the Chornobyl disaster in 1986 also knew no divides. In 1991, the vote for Ukraine’s independence was over 92%. Even the Communists wanted to get away from Moscow. The passage of Ukraine’s Constitution in 1996, before political corruption had fully seeped in, was a remarkable testament to the fact that parliamentarians from all regions of Ukraine, all parties, all ethnicities, and all languages could find common ground.


The month-long Orange Revolution in 2004 again was an action of civic protest that knew no barriers. And neither does the 2013 EuroMaidan. Despite non-stop dire predictions otherwise, Ukraine has never had a breakdown because of ethnic or religious violence.


The insurmountable differences in Ukraine are between this government and its people. They have more to do with corruption and greed thanlanguage, religion, or ethnicity.


CardinalLubomyr Husar, Patriarch Emeritus of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, once said, “Between eastern and western Ukraine there is no separation; there is only separation between those who love Ukraine and those who do not.”


The fundamental difference in Ukraine is a worldview. The educated Ukrainian population understands this well. The people who hit the streets, and the millions they represent, reject being shackled to a totalitarian Russian version of a glorious past. They do not want to be robbed of their future. 


During the Soviet period, educational policy was based on controlling information and on communist indoctrination.Increasingly, the policies of the current Ministry of Education have reverted to Soviet-style policies of control. Foreign degrees and publications are not acknowledged; there are increasing attempts to control university administrations and faculty through financial manipulation, audits, inspections; curriculum and textbooks are imposed not based on academic excellence, but on political interests; corruption in education, such as the purchase of degrees or nepotism are tolerated. The young people who began these protests understand that they want education without governmental controls and interference. They want an education that meets academic and not political standards.


Despite increasing attempts to control, the world has changed. Technology and the internet have changed the rules in favor of students and young professionals who have access to information and the world community. This freedom has provoked fear in the government, and this is one reason why education in Ukraine has become a target of the repressive policies.


The protesting students are clear in their demands and in their goals. The mission stated by Vyacheslav Bryukhovetsky when he re-established Kyiv Mohyla Academy in 1991, was to provide the best education for a new generation of future leaders of the country so that they can rebuild the nation. Today we are witnessing the results of that labor.


The people know they have been abused by the current government. They know they matter little as individuals. They know that for the president, citizens are a nuisance, as his family and friends plunder the wealth of the nation. For Moscow, Ukraine is needed for completing the goal of a reconstructed Russia. The people of Ukraine want no part of it. That is why they chant, “Ukraine is Europe” and “Europe is in Ukraine.”


Millions have stood in the cold because they believe in the dignity and the responsibility of the individual. They believe in their right to choose their future, to live according to the political and civic values accepted among the countries of the EU.


Yanukovych may need Russia, but it is doubtful if he actually wants it. On the other hand, Russia  wants Ukraine, and Russia needs Ukraine. For Moscow, all means justify this end. In the past, Moscow has used violence, threats, provocations, and disinformation. It would be naive to believe that they do not have paid provocateurs in Ukraine today, attempting to influence events and perceptions.


Regardless of Russia’s interference, provocations, and pressure, the current government of Ukraine must take responsibility for the acts of violence against peaceful protestors. Violent suppression cannot be accepted as national policy. 


Allow me to close with the inspiring words from the late Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world. ”Nowhere is this idea more powerfully visible than right now in Ukraine.

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