It’s time to stop repeating the same mistakes

“UKRAINE NOW. A vision of the future” special project of NASC

This war prompts us to get rid of illusions and frivolity, rethink public values ​​and make important decisions for the state in a broad circle. We talked about inclusivity in the formation of policies, corruption and oligarchs, as well as the lessons of war during an interview for a special project of the NAZK.

We are going through a war that can be called the War of Dignity – a kind of continuation of the Revolution of Dignity. By “dignity” I mean the assertion of one’s own autonomy, maturity, and completeness.

We may begin to rely only on ourselves for the first time when we begin to think about our own future. It is strange for the whole world: a neighbouring state suddenly decides that it knows better what it means to be Ukraine, what it means to be Ukrainian, that Ukraine is supposedly Russia, it starts some kind of policy of denazification, in fact deprives us of our subjectivity.

We are a mature enough people who can decide their own future. Actually, we are now protecting our future, our right to be a full-fledged nation, a full-fledged people, a society, a state.

This is accompanied by several significant changes.

First, we get rid of the illusion that someone will decide something for us. This is generally typical for the region of post-Soviet countries.

Everyone thinks that Western sanctions will allow them to dislodge their authoritarian leaders. Many hoped for this – from Russian liberals to Belarusian leaders of the protest movement. Even now, for some reason, the Russians believe that the Armed Forces of Ukraine should help them remove Putin.

Transferring one’s own responsibility for the future to someone and believing that someone should help us – little by little we begin to move away from this, we begin to understand that there is support, but the main burden of difficult decisions must be taken upon ourselves. We get rid of illusions, we look at things more soberly.

Secondly, the final desacralization of everything Russian is taking place. For many years we had a feeling of inferiority, which was strongly cultivated by the Russian and pro-Russian mass media: “great culture”, Tchaikovsky, Pushkin, Scriabin, etc. Compared to that, our culture seemed inferior, peripheral, secondary. Now we see a very large reverse process — a complete devaluation of the significance of everything Russian.

Many Ukrainian cities are deprived of monuments, names of streets and parks, the Russian church and pro-Russian narratives are criticized, and media resources are banned. Ukraine is becoming more critical of the high value of Russian culture.

Thirdly, we have a very difficult process of moving a large number of people.

We know how many refugees left Ukraine, primarily to Europe, and there is also a large part of internally displaced persons. Solving the problem of “stitching” western and eastern Ukraine, which arose even after the first Maidan in 2004-2005, is now taking place on a purely human level, when refugees from one region end up in another. They find support, understanding, recognition.

As for Ukrainians abroad, they will now build bridges of human relations all over the world. For us, this is a new chance to integrate into a wider modern society, a chance to rethink ourselves, to carry out the westernization of Ukraine.

And finally, there are geopolitical changes. Isolation of Russia has already partially occurred in all senses: cultural, business, sports, and scientific.

Anti-Russian, Russophobic sentiments are growing at the personal and cultural levels in countries where Russians were previously accepted as full-fledged partners, as people with whom one can have civilized relations. I think Russia has ruined its reputation for years. The attitude towards the Russians for decades will be determined by the uncivilized form of aggression that Ukraine experienced from them.

We are observing an increase in the level of trust in public institutions. First of all, this applies to those institutions that are one way or another related to the war: the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, rescuers, the National Guard, the Ministry of Infrastructure, which ensures the repair of railways, organizes the transportation of people, etc. In part, this trust begins to reflect even on areas that have traditionally been criticized in Ukraine.

Leaders of distrust, such as the Verkhovna Rada, the courts, the prosecutor’s office, and customs, suddenly stopped being criticized in the public sphere. Trust in certain institutions began to be transferred to other institutions with a neutral attitude – not with suspicion or prejudice.

The “state-people” relationship has changed significantly: the state is beginning to learn to interact with the self-organization of citizens, primarily volunteers.

The Ministry of Defense, local self-government bodies, local state military administrations somehow try to coordinate their activities with the array of charitable activities carried out by public organizations. This is a big change that must continue. Authorities are becoming more open and less jealous of such cooperation, they are gaining some experience of impartial interaction.

The level of mutual trust in society has risen. When people transfer money from card to card, donate funds or invest their own efforts in the work of volunteer organizations, they contribute to a higher level of trust. And when the belief in the good intentions of others increases significantly, we are talking about an increase in the level of public trust both at the institutional and interpersonal level. We are turning from a “suspicion society” into a “society of more benevolent attitudes towards each other.

We need to expand our view, involve a wider circle in the process of creating ideas, without waiting for some intellectual elite from their environment to create “super ideas”.

There should be a difficult process of comparing different positions, their critical analysis, rationalisation of this process, incorporation into the preparation of government decisions, etc. This is a huge work that has not yet begun – even the need for it is not yet sufficiently realised in our society.

Until now, it was believed that corruption is not bad, but acceptable, you can live: not good, but not a sin that will deprive you of the Kingdom of God. And now corruption will be perceived almost as national treason. Perhaps I, as a philosopher, fall into excessive pathos here, that is, I pass off wishful thinking – what is called “wishful thinking”. But I see that the discourse “all sold, all bought” is becoming less and less. Maybe because the war, and it distracted public attention. But I really want to hope that there has been a mental and psychological breakdown in society.

What are oligarchs anyway? If we take the primary Greek meaning of the word, it is the power of the few. There is a monarchy (mono- – one), there is a poly-, there is a democracy, where the whole people – kratos – has the right to power. Oligarchy is the power of the few, that is, someone has privileged access to decision-making. Strip him of that privilege, and strip others of access discrimination, and the problem is solved. Therefore, the only way to fight oligarchs is to give them equal opportunities to influence the formation of policies.

These should be arguments, not influences. For me, this is a question of privilege and discrimination in terms of participation in policy making. One definition of justice is equality for unequals. Streamline the policy-making process, make it fair, open, manageable and rational, then it will remove the privileged influence of the oligarchs.

There is an international practice of how inclusion works in the policy making process. Although if it is state policy, then it must be a function of the state. Ministries and parliamentary committees should act as arenas for this. They must accumulate within themselves a process that has many participants in the game: bearers of interests, bearers of knowledge, as well as bearers of resources and powers. How to arrange them at different stages of this process is a separate big conversation.

Transparent policymaking is part of democratic governance, which, unfortunately, is not even recognised as a problem in Ukraine. We believe that the most important thing is to find the right people, put them in the right places, and they will make good decisions. In our country, all the problems of state policy boil down to personnel issues. That’s why we always revolve around two topics: how to remove scoundrels (that is, impeachment, recall of deputies and lustration) and how to lead honest people (that is, contests and new electoral legislation). Around this we all break spears.

The problems are not in the people – the problems are in the procedures, how these people are arranged and interact with each other. An absurd process cannot produce successful results. No matter who you put in the ruined “Zaporozhets”, even Schumacher, even another winner of “Formula 1”, he will not get out of it, and he will not overtake the Euroblacher neighbor. This is a big problem that we are not solving – we haven’t even realized it yet.

We very often repeat the same mistakes in Ukraine. I call it “Odysseus the Rake”. We constantly had opportunities to change something – from the moment of the declaration of Independence to the election of a new President, from President Kuchma, then to President Yushchenko, then to the Revolution of Dignity, etc. There were constant “windows of opportunity” that we blew very hard.

I hope we will not be a country that has been lost, that will be “denazified” and forced to rebuild. If we acquire the status of a candidate country for EU membership, the direction of modernisation of our institutions and our practices will appear. This will simply need to be done as homework in order to acquire full membership. It will no longer be about rapprochement, but simply about borrowing, transferring and appropriating these norms and practices.

Ukraine is now in the focus of public attention of the countries of the world. They finally began to consider our subjectivity – we can establish long-term and more productive relations with other countries, with other communities, both at the international and human level.

The uniqueness of the moment is that we are experiencing what is called an existential crisis in the individual sense, when our very existence is called into question. We must rethink ourselves. This is a moment that makes people look at themselves with different eyes. This process is not fast, but it gives an opportunity to shift those things that have remained unchanged for many years, which no one knows about or didn’t pay attention. They can become the subject of first articulation, then discussion, and therefore potential change.

Roman Kobets, Candidate of Philosophical Sciences, researcher at the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, expert in the development of state policy of the Office of Effective Regulation

The project “UKRAINE NOW. Vision of the Future” is implemented by the NAKC with the support of the EU Anti-Corruption Initiative (EUACI) – the leading anti-corruption program in Ukraine, financed by the EU, co-financed and implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. The goal of the project is to outline the vision of Ukraine’s development after the victory in the war with Russia. In interviews with famous Ukrainian figures, thinkers and opinion leaders, we seek answers to questions about how the state is changing today and what it should become tomorrow.

Published in Українська правда