Back in October 1998, “The Year 2020 Conference” attempted to answer such questions as: Does an independent Ukraine enrich and invigorate the diaspora, or undermine its raison d’être? Will the “Fourth Wave” of immigrants from Ukraine play a key role in our community’s future? Are the futures of the Ukrainian Canadian and Ukrainian American communities connected, or will their paths diverge due to different circumstances? And, ultimately, will our community survive?
The conference came to be as a direct result of a panel discussion during The Washington Group’s 1997 Leadership Conference at which Dr. Bohdan Vitvitsky noted: “Our parents were involuntary ethnics, …but we have a choice: we can assimilate. We are voluntary ethnics.” The organization Dr. Vitvitsky led, the Ukrainian American Professionals and Businesspersons Association of New York and New Jersey, announced it would sponsor a conference focusing on the question “Will there be a Ukrainian community in North America in the year 2020 – and does it matter?” That conference, held on October 10-11, 1998, in East Hanover, N.J., attracted over 120 participants from the U.S. and Canada. It was a worthwhile undertaking, the likes of which we have not seen since.
Dr. Vitvitsky opened the proceedings by citing three views of our community: the first says “don’t worry, we’re on automatic pilot”; the second that “only Ukraine matters”; and the third, which he referred to as “the sky is falling” view, is that “we as a diaspora are doomed to near immediate extinction.” He went on to explain that his own and his colleagues’ reaction to these views was staunch disagreement, as there were “still far too many of us who care about what we have inherited to allow our community to disappear.” Thus, he enjoined conference attendees: “we must collectively commit ourselves to the community’s continuity.”
And just what was needed for our diaspora community to thrive? Dr. Vitvitsky offered this: “we must understand that the community’s future depends on us”; “we must come to understand that we’re all in this together” and take advantage of the synergies we have; we need “a renewed commitment”; “we must learn to market and promote the community’s value and attractiveness to ourselves and our children”; and we “need to strengthen its intellectual base.”
During the conference session that presented the views of “the younger generation,” attorney Taras Szmagala Jr. said the challenge was “to make our organizations relevant,” “to make membership something people want.” He opined that the community would exist in 2020 “because we need it – not because we are members of that community out of obligation.” A young mother, architect Oksana Stojko, stated that whether our community continues to exist “depends of the parents of today,” who “need to show the same commitment and generosity to the Ukrainian community that their parents showed.”
Presenting the perspective of those recently arrived from Ukraine, Svoboda editorial staff member Serhiy Myroniuk, originally from Lutsk, advised that “New immigrants should first become familiar with the situation here; at the same time, the diaspora should not prejudge new immigrants, but should be willing to take the time to understand them.” What is key “is that there must be a desire for mutual understanding.” Kateryna Nemyra, a radio journalist from Lviv Oblast, rejected stereotyping and referred instead to “our common dream: to confirm the independence of Ukraine.” She said she was optimistic about the future, “if only we work together… and focus on what we have in common.”
Peter Paluch, an entrepreneur, picked up on the theme of “quantity vs. quality “ in community life. “Some organizations today are on life support,” he said, because “after 1991, when Ukraine became independent, previously well-defined organizations no longer had a game plan that worked.” He outlined what Ukrainian organizations must do to survive: “set high standards, be substantive and develop leadership skills.” University lecturer Vera Andrushkiw advised: “We must be inclusive, rather than exclusive, and we must also have fun being Ukrainian,” as pleasant memories are a key factor in group cohesiveness. She added, Ukrainians must be represented within the American community in which they live, and the diaspora should make efforts to “get Americans involved in caring for Ukraine.”
There were many more interesting presentations by a variety of speakers representing various generations and organizations (see the link in our online archives: http://ukrweekly.com/archive/1998/The_Ukrainian_Weekly_1998-42.pdf). Over all, the conference provided a resounding “yes” answer to the question of whether the Ukrainian community in North America would exist in 2020 – a generation removed from the year that landmark event was held.
Back in 1998 we asked in one of our editorials: Are we prepared to do what is needed to ensure our community’s existence – to invest our time, commitment and money? That question needs to be asked, and answered, once again by our community organizations, our local communities and individual community members. 2020 is almost here, and another generation awaits our answers.