FACES AND PLACES
by Myron B. Kuropas
Good intentions are not enough!
In his letter of March 1, Victor Chudowsky accuses me of writing an article that "contains errors and inaccuracies, is based on faulty assumptions, and wrongly criticizes U.S. and foundation-funded programs to support 'civil society' in Ukraine."
Mr. Chodowsky is entitled to his opinion, but I stand by my views. The statistics I cited that suggest that Ukrainians do not believe they live in a democracy were published in Infolink, a publication of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, a highly reputable source.
Mr. Chudowsky is most critical of my belief that before one can have a vibrant civil society, there must be a moral consensus and a collective national self-consciousness.
Mr. Chudowsky suggests that Ukraine doesn't need a moral consensus because the United States has never had one. He points to the Civil War, disenfranchised women and blacks, riots, ethnic strife and numerous anti-democratic social movements as evidence. A spurious argument. It is precisely because there was a moral consensus in America regarding slavery, the rights of all of our citizens, and other social abominations that these wrongs were condemned as immoral and eventually righted.
Another brick-bat flung in my direction by Mr. Chudowsky is the accusation that I have misread de Tocqueville. "America's individualistic 'can-do' attitude, common sense, and pragmatism was what most amazed de Tocqueville," writes Mr. Chudowsky. If that's true, how does one explain the following observation by de Tocqueville: "The religious atmosphere of the country was the first thing that struck me on arrival in the United States ... In the United States the sovereign authority is religious ... America is still the place where the Christian religion has kept the greatest real power over men's souls."
Mr. Chudowsky continues: "Dr. Kuropas then tears into U.S. government and foundation support for pro-democracy programs in Ukraine because they do not support nationalism in general, and religion in particular." What I wrote was "There seems to be little appreciation [among American agencies] for the fact that every country is different with its own unique culture, traditions and history." That is a far cry from what Mr. Chudowsky believes I wrote.
I stand by my belief regarding American, one-size-fits-all hubris. I have seen how some government-funded "trainers" operate in Ukraine. During one such civil society seminar, trainers flew in from Russia, Mongolia, Poland and Lithuania. None spoke Ukrainian. All followed the same prescribed training outline.
I have also seen how civil society programs function in the United States. Cadres of Ukrainian officials, usually older bureaucrats, are flown in for two or three weeks of intensive workshopping in a kind of "lookee, what we have" approach to nation-building. The more honest among them have admitted that given present circumstances in Ukraine, much of what they learned is nice but irrelevant.
Mr. Chodowsky points out that people form associations out of self-interest. True enough in the United States, that is. Volunteerism is an American tradition and remains the bedrock of our society. Voluntary organizations, mostly co-ops, blossomed in western Ukraine during the 1930s, but were snuffed out by the Soviets. Volunteerism was coerced during Soviet times - the Soviets were always looking for "volunteers" for various projects - and was viewed as a form of exploitation. Can Ukrainians, whose initiative was destroyed by 40-70 years of Soviet rule, be expected to form a Kiwanis chapter when they haven't been paid for months? On the hierarchy of needs, volunteerism is not basic.
Although the federal government has promised to involve the Ukrainian American community in their decision-making in Ukraine, this has not happened in any significant way. With one or two exceptions, many of the large grants have gone to those who are part of an incestuous network that has "done work" for the feds for years, the so-called "beltway bandits." They rarely know the local language or the customs, and it makes little difference to them if they work in Uruguay, Uganda or Ukraine. They often hire indigenous people to translate and to "administer" their programs and only occasionally allow them meaningful input.
Among the deconstructionist and post-modernist American elite, nationalism and religion are "frightening" notions as indeed Mr. Chodowsky admits they are for him. In a pre-modern Ukraine constructing a new society based on mutual trust and the rule of law, these concepts are less intimidating.
At a symposium titled "The Rise of Nationalism in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union," held in Kyiv late in 1996, Viacheslav Chornovil declared: "Unfortunately, in the West, nationalism today is portrayed as something opposed to liberalism, democracy and human rights. The term is applied equally to the Ku Klux Klan in America, extreme nationalists in France and Austria, and to the national democrats represented here ... Here, we consistently link the concept of nationalism to one of patriotism. This means identifying people as part of a nation, an ethnic group, and it means having a national awareness about the importance of statehood."
Addressing the issue of Western hubris, Mr. Chornovil also stated: "At a discussion organized in 1992 in Potsdam, the Western organizers tried to impose on us, the representatives of the former Communist countries, the idea that we had to adopt the path of Western Europe and the higher form for unifying European countries along the lines of the recently adopted Maästricht Treaty. They did not suggest that we unite with Europe. Instead we were supposed to put together our own union, either within the borders of the former Communist empire or within the narrower confines of the former Soviet Union ... the organizer's misunderstanding, common in the West, is based on our passing through different historical stages. What would have come of the idea of Maästricht unification if it were proposed in the 19th century just after Italy had freed itself from Austrian occupation or when Bismarck was unifying Germany under one national state? Nothing obviously. Why is it then that we, over a century behind in our development of national states, must be subjected to equally unsuitable proposals discordant with our historical development?"
Do I believe American efforts to help Ukraine build a civil society are ill-intentioned? Of course not. But as we learned during our attempt to overcome poverty in America during the 1960s and 1970s, good intentions are not enough.
Myron Kuropas' e-mail address is: email@example.com
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, March 15, 1998, No. 11, Vol. LXVI
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