YOUTHFUL PERSPECTIVES ON INDEPENDENT UKRAINE
Ten students from Ukraine attending the 1996 Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute offer their views - views of a cohort that reached maturity in the post-Soviet period - on generational differences in independent Ukraine and on topics of their particular interest. These excerpts are taken from special essays on the subject and a roundtable discussion held on July 31.
Yuri Smolnikov (of Kyiv, student at the Institute of Ukrainian History at the National Academy of Sciences):
Over the last five years there has been a major shift in attitudes toward independence among the older generation of eastern Ukraine. There, people of the older generation voted for independence mostly not for patriotic motives, but in the hope that they would improve their standard of living. Now many people of the older generation in eastern Ukraine regret the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This is understandable because they could not adapt to a new way of life. Many of them are pensioners, primarily concerned about the social safety net which was guaranteed them in Soviet times. The younger generation in eastern Ukraine, on the other hand, supports the idea of independence. It expects the government to create and ensure conditions conducive to private initiative, as in business and other spheres. In western Ukraine, the situation is somewhat different. Thanks to a relatively high level of national consciousness, relative to eastern Ukraine, people's view of independence hasn't changed. Both the young and the old support independence.
Relations with ethnic Russians in Ukraine, among both the younger and the older generations, are, on the whole, amicable. But, in my opinion, the generations differ in their attitude toward the government of Russia and its politics. Within the older generation in eastern Ukraine, there exists a relatively strong tendency toward closer integration with Russia. As for the young, the idea of independence has taken strong root. The younger generation wants to be the master of its own house, to make its own decisions, and it strongly rejects the idea of integration with Russia.
Irena Kovalenko (of the Kyiv region, student of Ukrainian and foreign language philology at Shevchenko University in Kyiv):
My parents' generation is the one that decided the future of Ukraine when 90.3 percent voted for independence during the all-Ukrainian referendum on December 1, 1991. This is the generation whose representatives are now in power, with the strongest influence on the economy and politics, inasmuch as they occupy positions they acquired at the time of the Soviet regime.
In contrast to my grandparents' generation, which is more uniform in its political attitudes (sympathetic to the Communist ideal), my parents' generation is more differentiated internally. It includes both representatives of the "party of power" (former Communists - political transvestites who changed their political orientation to radical nationalism) and former dissidents from the 1960s. These two wings comprise the political elite, which one must admit is not professional or experienced in nation-building, but is still capable of accepting criticism and, on the whole, strives to improve the situation in the country through the creation of democratic institutions. In my opinion, it is this stratum of the population that tries to effect changes itself, rather than waiting for changes to be effected by others, the government, let's say. Representatives of this generation see no problems with reorganizing Ukraine's external relations according to the principles of sovereignty and free trade. As to their attitudes toward Russia, they are capable of a sober analysis of those advantages that relations with the former metropolis can give.
The younger generation in Ukraine is characterized by a very critical stance toward the legacy of the past, since it is the one that has to straighten out the chaos in the country that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union. This generation, which is biding its time, has to completely reform the social, political and economic organization of the county, but for that it requires a good education, for which in fact there are already good preconditions in Ukraine. Educational and cultural relations with the West are being developed, and this is a decisive factor in enabling a new force, well-educated and determined, to replace the "party of power."
Maya Burkova (of Izmail, student at the Odessa State University of Economics):
Intergenerational differences have always existed, but in the course of democratization in Ukraine, they exploded more powerfully and gained in importance. These differences are most noticeable in attitudes toward reforms in Ukraine. I don't want to generalize, but the young are more optimistic and progressive in their views. For the young, reforms open up new opportunities for the state and for themselves. For most older people, they represent a retreat from the old system to which they had become accustomed. For that reason, they react to new reforms with apprehension. They look to the government for stability, first and foremost.
Jouri Sakvouk (of Lviv, student at the Lviv Theological Academy):
Differences among generations have existed always - this is natural. In my opinion, however, generational differences have not been particularly sharp in Western Ukraine. My parents, although brought up under the Communist regime, always dreamed about our own independent state. The older generation in Halychyna for the most part did not succumb to Russification, but preserved ancient Ukrainian national traditions and culture. Differences between the older and the younger generations are generally seen, not so much in the realm of ideas, but in the way of life. The earlier generation knew nothing about conducting a private business, using computers and the Internet, while the younger generation has largely acquired these skills. There are different tastes in fashion and music.
I think that the process of generational change in western Ukraine isn't as sharp or painful as it is in the east. I would call generational change natural - natural in that the young inherited the best traditions of their parents and their ideas, but present and realize them in a new light.
Andriy Bondar (of Kamianets-Podilsky, student of comparative literature at the University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy):
In my view, the prominence given by some political commentators to intergenerational differences in Ukraine is somewhat artificial, since they are not a central problem in Ukrainian society. It so happens that older people, educated under a command-administrative system, imbued with traditions of victory in the Great Patriotic War, etc., are apologists for the old system. They live with memories of order and economic stability in the Stalin-Brezhnev periods. The majority of young people, on the other hand, are apolitical, lack distinct views regarding the past and future of Ukraine, and are just trying to find their way in a new socio-economic situation. I think that a conflict between parents and children isn't characteristic of the Ukrainian way of life, as children until recently were considered "glorious successors of their fathers." Only now do "children" demonstrate something akin to rebellion and reject their parents' ideals and the past. Nonetheless, intergenerational conflict is not a crucial issue. A larger role is played by social, economic and political factors.
The young and the old view the meaning of Ukrainian independence differently. In my opinion, there are more defenders of the idea of independence among the young, while the older generation now regrets independence and remembers with nostalgia the sausages and socio-political stability of the Brezhnev era.
Natalia Chykyrysova (of Kyiv, student of Ukrainian language and literature at Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv):
The younger generation is always more progressive than the older. The young adapt to the new and untraditional more easily. We do not long for the stability and passivity of Soviet times, when one could live quietly without resolving any larger problems. Remembering the past, our parents (not all, but most) think that stability, economic reforms, jobs, material well-being - these are problems to be solved by the government. The younger generation looks to its own strength and abilities. They understand that no one else will build a life for them. This, in my opinion, is the main difference between the generations. The young have the strength to create a new country. They are generally optimists about the future and accept the current economic crisis as a transitional stage, their own "school of life."
OleKSander Shtepan (of Cherka-sy region, student of Ukrainian literature at Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv):
At the beginning the idea of Ukrainian independence was uniformly received positively (with the exception of the pro-Soviet Communists), as is evidenced by the results of the referendum of December 1, 1991. But gradually the romanticism of independence was replaced by an economic crisis, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, distrust of power and sometimes even nostalgia for old times. The principle of "one's own convenience" came into play, with greater value given to material goods than to ideas.
Ukraine has a future. The appearance of student movements, youth political organizations, the desire to study abroad in the leading universities in the world and bringing back this experience into education, politics, state-building, testify to the non-apathy of conscious youth toward the resolution of the problems of a new state.
Roman Zaviyskiy (of Lviv, student at the Lviv Theological academy):
The Communist system has naturally left its mark on people's way of thinking and forms of social life, but it could not destroy the internal deep-seated freedom of the individual. The older generation, at least in western Ukraine, carried throughout their lives the idea of an independent Ukraine. If today one hears complaints among the older people about independence due to the horrendous living conditions and unstable economic situation, then certainly among the young no one can imagine himself "with a sausage" but without independence.
Among the older generation it is often felt that a restoration of some type of union with Russia would make possible the solution of all problems. The young are aware that the creation of a strong economy is in the hands of the young Ukrainian government.
Ulyana HolovEnko (of Lviv region, graduate of the Precarpathian University in Ivano-Frankivske with a degree in English and German, currently employed in Kyiv as secretary of the Executive Director of the Council of Advisors to the Parliament of Ukraine):
With regard to Ukrainian independence, I think that there are no differences between the generations. For the first time in many centuries, Ukraine is united and independent. In my view, my parents and I have the same understanding of independence. An independent Ukraine is a united state with its center in Kyiv, its own political institutions, Parliament and presidency, possessing a Constitution which expresses the independence and sovereignty of the state and respects the independence and sovereignty of other states.
During the transition from a socialist to a capitalist system, the Parliament and the government must cope with new tasks, and dealing with them often leads to unpopular results: mass lay-offs, non-payment of wages, closure of unprofitable enterprises. The older generation, and they were the first to feel the effects of these methods, of course blames the government and Parliament. The younger generation doesn't expect any miracles from the legislative or executive branches. After all, what can you expect from corrupt bureaucratic power structures?
Lyudmyla Kudina (of Kyiv, graduate of the Kyiv State Teacher-Training Institute with a degree in Ukrainian history, currently employed at the Democracy Fund in Ukraine):
If we think of attitudinal changes towards Ukraine's independence, we should remember that 80 percent of the population took part in the referendum of 1991, and over 90 percent (and even 54 percent in the Crimea) voted for independence. The decision to create an independent state was made by a majority of the population, both young and old. What do we see today? Intergenerational differences that exist in any society are deepening somewhat. This can be explained by the fact that economic instability affects primarily pensioners, the older generation. The Communists are taking advantage of this and find the most receptive audience for their ideas among the pensioners.
But I don't believe that the decision made by the Ukrainian people in 1991 to build an independent state would turn out substantially different if the referendum were held in 1996.
Yuri Smolnikov: On history
The filling of blank spots in Ukrainian history began some years ago, at the time of perestroika, with revelations of Stalin's crimes. At first it affected the Soviet period, and then spread to all periods of Ukrainian history. Despite many positive achievements, historical scholarship still suffers from residues of Soviet historiography on the one hand, and sometimes uncritical idealization of the past on the other extreme.
As for the younger generation's understanding of Ukrainian history, there has been much progress, particularly through changes in the curriculum in secondary and higher education. Knowledge of one's history is gaining prestige among the young.
There are still many differences, especially between western and eastern Ukraine, in the understanding of certain themes: the famine, Ukrainian-Russian re-lations, World War II. Therefore, an important task facing Ukrainian historians is not only to describe the past, but to create the foundations of a new historiography which would promote national consolidation.
Irena Kovalenko: On de-Sovietization
The unmasking of the Soviet myth led Ukraine, as well as other former Soviet republics, to a "re-examination of values." In a historical context, this situation is very reminiscent of the period a full millennium ago, when the Kyivan Prince Volodymyr faced the dilemma of choosing a new religion for Rus'. This period of "re-examination of values" revealed a stratification of society into supporters of Communist ideology (usually the older generation), "Westerners," atheists, religious faithful, nihilists, and so forth. Unfortunately, the young are often found among the latter. Certainly there is a dose of healthy intellect in this. After all, nihilism begins with a critical approach to everything, and who if not the young is most susceptible to negating what is obsolete? In my opinion, nihilism is intrinsically fruitless. It is incapable of creating something new, but is only a first step toward formation of qualitatively new values. The young should not lose all faith, but should evaluate all alternatives.
Maya Burkova: On the Izmail region
Izmail is a medium-sized city of about 100,000 people on the banks of the Danube in one of Ukraine's less known regions, southern Bessarabia (administratively part of the Odessa Oblast). It is unusual for its history and ethnic composition. As part of Bessarabia, Izmail belongs neither in western nor eastern Ukraine. It was under Turkish rule until 1790, the Russian Empire until 1917, and Romania from 1917 to 1940, when it became part of Ukraine. The population is very diverse: Ukrainians (probably not a majority), Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians and Moldovans, and a Turkish Christian group, the Gagauz.
Nevertheless, the idea of Ukrainian independence was welcomed in Izmail. The national movement is not as active as elsewhere, but national consciousness is growing. Most schools still teach in Russian, but all schools now offer instruction in Ukrainian, and the number of Ukrainian schools is growing. Minorities have their own schools, press and cultural institutions. Although Ukrainian consciousness will grow, Izmail will remain a multi-ethnic and multicultural society, though loyal and committed to the Ukrainian state.
Jouri Sakvouk: On religion
After many years of a spiritual vacuum, Ukraine today is truly experiencing a process of religious revival. Youth play an active part in this process on the whole territory of Ukraine and especially in the West. This is clear from the large number of youth religious organizations, for example, Ukrainian Youth for Christ, Obnova, Children of Mary. It is also evidenced by the abundance of young people entering seminaries and monasteries. The Lviv Theological Academy has been reopened, and the number of students has reached nearly 200 and is rising. In particular, the new generation of clergy will play an important role in this process.
It's difficult for me to say now what kind of priest I will be, but I have an ideal toward which I am striving. Christ was and remains this ideal. I think that the role of the clergy in society hasn't changed, just as spiritual values and divine revelation don't change. What is changing is the methods of work with the people.
Andriy Bondar: On the role of the intelligentsia
Since 1991, the cultural intelligentsia in Ukraine has both rid itself of ideological censorship and lost the support of the state. In my opinion, the intelligentsia is ceasing to be the conscience of society, inasmuch as it does not represent the culture of society: the gulf between the cultural intelligentsia and the rest of society is very deep. The gravitation towards commercialism and pop art among most people is creating a fault line between them.
In my opinion, the cultural intelligentsia should attain the Western level, orient itself toward Western cultural traditions in order to free itself from the influence of Russian culture, and enter into the European and world cultural sphere. Of course, it is important to protect one's own national identity but also to free oneself from the current provincialism of Ukrainian culture. The cultural intelligentsia should be just that, and not the conscience of society. The conscience of society should be the new people in economics and politics, and the cultural intelligentsia should create and ensure a cultural aura for society.
Natalia Chykyrysova: On Ukraine's relations with the East
The "mysterious Orient" has always fascinated Europeans with its exoticism. More recently, interest in the East has grown in the field of economic relations: trade and joint business ventures. For Ukraine, such relations open up new possibilities - especially with Turkey, with which Ukraine has had old (though often hostile) relations. Ties with Turkey require knowledge of the language, familiarity with its history and culture. Unfortunately, Turkology was long neglected in Ukraine, and Oriental studies were concentrated in Moscow and, especially, in Leningrad. Since independence, however, interest in the East has led to the gradual development of Oriental studies in Ukraine. I wish to take advantage of these new possibilities to study Turkish, perhaps also Arabic, and thus help to build bridges to countries that will play an important role in Ukraine's future.
Oleksander Shtepan: On culture
With independence, Ukrainian writers, artists and other workers in the field of culture were freed from the shackles of ideology and state control, and now have the possibility of free self-expression. Unfortunate-ly, Ukrainian art practically lost the support of the government because of budgetary constraints, while the lack of tradition and poor economic conditions have not allowed private sponsorship to pick up the slack. We also have poor artists who do not create real art very well. Parallel to this is the rise of a mass pop culture, not always on the highest level, but trying to be "relevant."
Until recently, the Ukrainian stage reflected Russian popular culture, but today there is greater orientation toward Western popular culture. Ukrainian culture is developing at a growing pace, oriented toward the West, building on a national foundation the culture of a healthy nation.
Roman Zaviyskiy: on religious revival
The religious revival in Ukraine is an extraordinary experience. Over the past five years Church life has been reborn, Protestant movements have spread, one sees efforts by various missionaries from the West. Often the young in their search for the transcendental turn to Eastern non-Christian religions. In such situations, it is difficult to analyze the religious revival.
Regarding the role of the clergy in contemporary Ukraine, I think that it has not and cannot change. Only the forms and the methods of pastoral care have changed and new opportunities for the expression of eternal Christian truths have opened. The Church is called upon to exist in the world and at the same time not to become a secular institution, a part of the world. There has been progress in inter-confessional relations. Misunderstandings among Churches are becoming rarer.
Ulyana Holovenko: On attitudes of eastern toward western Ukrainians
Because of different historical experiences, there are, of course, many differences between western Ukrainians and their fellow countrymen in the east. And not only because they speak exclusively Ukrainian, but also in their value system: attitudes toward religion, private ownership, their sense of being Ukrainians and not "Soviet people," as many eastern Ukrainians felt during Soviet times.
I felt these differences strongly when studying at the Institute of Foreign Languages in Horlivka in the Donbas in 1988-1989. As the only representative of western Ukraine among students from almost every oblast in Ukraine except the west, I felt somewhat like a "foreigner." There was a great difficulty with language. Initially, I tried to speak Ukrainian. But I wasn't understood, or they pretended not to understand me, or simply snickered. In this non-Ukrainian environment I began to develop an inferiority complex. I tried to speak Russian, but that came out even funnier. Since all subjects were taught in Russian, I followed the path of least resistance: I began to study the Russian language seriously. Because I spoke Russian poorly, I didn't have many friends. Even having learned Russian, I felt like an "outsider," because I spoke two languages and was the only representative from western Ukraine.
I was honestly surprised by preconceptions among the non-western Ukrainians about western Ukraine, as a place where Russians are virtually persecuted and forced to speak only Ukrainian.
Lyudmyla Kudina: On youth groups
At the end of the 1980s new student organizations were formed in many cities as an alternative to the Komsomol. The students were filled with revolutionary romanticism. In the fall of 1990, youth from all over Ukraine traveled to Independence Square to conduct a hunger strike against the Communist government. It was poetic and explosive - and successful. Student activism flourished through 1992, and the number of organizations was growing.
But, today student activism has declined. What can be done in order to not lose the young? I think the future lies with new organizations that allow for spiritual growth, professional development and prospects for material improvement. Such organizations are now appearing. I work in one of these, The Youth Alternative. It began in 1994, initially from the desire of the young to take part in the parliamentary elections, to mobilize and overcome political apathy. Now The Youth Alternative is involved in a new project: "Students for Parliament." We prepare university students to work as assistants to Parliament deputies, to take part in the work of government, gain experience in the mechanisms of the legislative process.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 18, 1996, No. 33, Vol. LXIV
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