EDMONTON, Alberta – Bohdan Krawchenko, former director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, recently delivered three lectures in Canada on “The Global (Dis)Order and Ukraine.”
He spoke first at the J.B. Rudnyckyj Distinguished Lecture in Winnipeg on March 8, then delivered the annual Shevchenko Lecture in Edmonton on March 10 (sponsored by CIUS and the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association of Edmonton) and, finally, CIUS’s Wolodymyr Dylynsky Memorial Lecture in Toronto on March 13 (co-sponsored by St. Vladimir Institute). This story is based on Dr. Krawchenko’s talk in Edmonton, although it is much in line with his presentations on the two other occasions.
The lecture began with what the speaker noted was a much-needed “hard, cold look at what is happening in the world,” although it eventually ended on a more hopeful note concerning positive developments in Ukraine.
Dr. Krawchenko prefaced his presentation by stating that he has recently been writing about the implications of the global economic “new normal” for the region where he has been working in the past dozen years – Central Asia and Afghanistan. He argued that the world is not experiencing a technical downturn in a normal cycle of long-term recession, but something more serious which most likely would represent the “new normal” for decades ahead. The term “dis(order)” that he selected for this lecture implies that order is being contested, and this can be seen in many places. There is no answer yet as to what might emerge as an alternative, or what capacities societies have to bring about positive change.
For people who uphold liberal-democratic values, pluralism and the idea of a socially oriented economy, the year 2016 was an annus horribilis, Dr. Krawchenko stated, pointing to recent developments in such places as Syria, Poland, Hungary, Turkey and the Philippines, as well as the ties between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and radical movements of the Right and the Left elsewhere.
The speaker then elaborated on the rise of populism, observing that often its manifestations of frustration are played upon by right-wing populist political charlatans, who are, to quote the Nobel Foundation’s chair Carl Henrik Heldin, “winning votes by denying knowledge and scientific truths.” Dr. Krawchenko described this as a terrible statement to be uttered in the 21st century.
He also examined wealth inequality in the world, including in the United States and Russia, as well as economic trends in places such as China, where the middle class has been growing.
Comparing policies in several countries, he concluded that in the United States, “and not only there, a new industrial policy is needed,” one that “focuses on the most productive patterns of investment, advancing sectors that promise to be strong competitors internationally while helping to develop the industrial infrastructure – highways, ports, sewage systems, regional growth – and particularly government investment in developing a skilled workforce to support these endeavors.” Discussing Ukraine in these terms, Dr. Krawchenko referred to the Gini coefficient to indicate that, by this measure, Ukraine was “more egalitarian than Sweden by a wisp and much more egalitarian than its neighbors.”
For the remainder of his lecture, Dr. Krawchenko focused on Ukraine. He had moved there just before independence, and everything at that time, he reminisced, was in flux. Twenty-five years on, opposition to the progress made by the people of Ukraine “will not vanish like dew when the sun comes up,” Dr. Krawchenko said, referencing the Ukrainian national anthem. It will take effort to overcome these “enemies,” and he proceeded to provide suggestions as to “where that effort could be made.”
Good institutions, Dr. Krawchenko underlined, originate in “the material conditions of life, the totality of which is embraced by the term civil society.” He pointed to Ukraine’s IT industry as an interesting example of how rights are exercised, recalling that in Bishkek he watched a BBC report about NGOs in Ukraine using drones to spot undeclared assets in their fight against corruption. It was a remarkable case of innovation, Dr. Krawchenko said.
He praised the robust nature of the IT industry in Ukraine, which is driven by youth – the generation of the Maidan – and whose growth is very sustainable. Apart from meeting domestic needs, Ukrainian IT is export-driven and globally competitive; it is a significant contributor to the economy, helping with the balance of payments and employing a growing number of people. He added that the IT sector was also the most dynamic driver of Ukraine’s education reforms.
Agriculture was the next topic. Today, Dr. Krawchenko said, Ukraine is a major player in global food security. About 800 million people around the world suffer from chronic hunger, and global food production has to be increased by 60 percent by 2020. Ukraine, he observed, contains one-third of the world’s black soil and is one of the regions least vulnerable to climate change. Faced by a blockade of its exports to Russia, Ukraine went global and succeeded, Dr. Krawchenko noted, with agricultural exports to 190 countries.
In other words, sustainable economic and social development is strongly correlated with the level of strength of civil society. The experience of the Revolution of Dignity, he pointed out, resulted in a large number of Ukrainians, in particular young people, embracing a new identity based on civic engagement, volunteerism and creativity. When the state failed, civil society stepped up, drawing on its historic resilience. Dr. Krawchenko expressed the hope that “they keep the drones flying.”
The speaker also discussed education – where, he said, further reforms were highly overdue – and the subject of small and medium business, which in his opinion required incentives to stimulate growth. He also touched on the war in the Donbas, saying that the occupied territories would be recovered, but that “economic reconstruction, and more to the point, reinventing the economy, is going to be a formidable task.”
During the Shevchenko Lecture, Dr. Krawchenko fittingly drew on the poetry of Ukraine’s bard (for whom the lecture is named) to illustrate a point about social responsibility. March 10 this year, he told the Edmonton audience, falls on the 155th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko’s death. He then drew attention to the “remarkably interesting dissident” Ukrainian artist Alla Horska, who in the mid-1960s collaborated on the production of a stained-glass window that was installed in the main building entryway of Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv. “It depicted a militant Shevchenko,” Dr. Krawchenko said, “with a fist raised in defiance.” Framing Shevchenko’s portrait are lines of his poetry: “And I will give voice to the common people who are not heard. In their defense I will place the word.”
The “word” in this context, Dr. Krawchenko explained, should be understood as “logos,” or reason. He considered Shevchenko’s words to be a powerful statement of the social responsibility of intellectuals and universities. Dr. Krawchenko added that the stained glass windows were destroyed by the Communist authorities, and in 1970 Horska was murdered under suspicious circumstances.
Dr. Krawchenko concluded his lecture on a positive note. There are challenges ahead, he said, but citizens acting together through strengthened civil society are a reason for genuine optimism. Yes, Ukraine has weak government institutions, but it also has a strong civil society and this gives hope for the future. He stressed the importance of education for strengthening government institutions – which, in turn, could help spur economic growth.
“Faced with general global disorder, Ukraine is moving in the right direction,” Dr. Krawchenko declared. “Choosing Europe is a civilizational option, not only an economic one,” he continued. Ukraine is “an inspiration to the rest of the post-Soviet world,” and constitutes a “stark alternative to the authoritarianism and narrow nationalism of Putin’s Russia.”
The speaker, formerly residing in Canada and now living in the Kyrgyz Republic, ended with a Canadian reference. “I don’t know whether you saw the [October 29] 2016 cover of The Economist,” he asked. It was headlined “Liberty Moves North: Canada’s Example to the World.” Dr. Krawchenko, who is director general and dean of graduate studies at the University of Central Asia, said he has shown it to many people in Bishkek. “Canada is a fundamentally decent society,” he said, and in listing Canada’s positive attributes, he noted that The Economist mentioned above all Canada’s policy of multiculturalism.
Dr. Krawchenko closed by expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to return to Canada on its 150th birthday, “to be among Ukrainian Canadians who made a singular contribution in pushing for multiculturalism and helping make this country a place of sanity in this time of the overbearing denigration of the other.”
Dr. Bohdan Krawchenko’s lecture in Edmonton can be heard in full by visiting https://www.ualberta.ca/cius/news-and-events/seminars/2017/the-fifty-first-annual-shevchenko-lecture. A video of his Toronto presentation can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-cAOPH9Kmo&feature=youtu.be