This photo of these Ukraine student protesting in Kiev reveals to us that they are so young and have never lived a minute of their lives in the USSR, and they have no desire to do so. Excerpts from a writer, Michael Weiss, at Foreign Policy, Fr. Borys Gudziak, Rector, Ukrainian Catholic University, and students at Ukrainian Catholic University provide a lot of insight into what is happening in Ukraine. It also makes one think about what is happening in America. The millenials in both the Ukraine and the US aren’t driven by politics as much as they are driven to want the kind of freedom and choices they have grown accustomed to in choosing their music and movies for themselves. The strong arm approach to Christians and regulations piling up against them happen here as well as in Ukraine. Ditto for education regulations. The authorities there may be bolder with some of their skullduggery and thuggery, but aren’t there some on the left here that wish to do likewise?
from Michael Weiss
A fear of succumbing to the undertow of neo-USSR designs is part of the story, there are more practical matters also driving the Euromaidan protests. Igor Pomerantsev, a Ukrainian intellectual and radio host, told me that young Ukrainians — many of whom don’t speak Russian but do speak English as a second language — aren’t out in force for some mythical concept of a United States of Europe, nor are they in the dark about the shortcomings of the treaties of Rome, Lisbon, or Maastricht, which have ungirded the E.U. They’re out in force because they demand the basic political concomitants of economic integration — the rights and privileges that people in liberal democracies take for granted. “Closeness with the E.U. gives better chances to get Schengen visas in future, opens future possibilities to study in European colleges, gives a hope to get legal jobs in the West. Most Ukrainians know that citizens of the E.U. have higher living standards, live longer, have better flats and medical treatment,” Pomerantsev emailed me.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the cyber-savvy and Twitter-proficient president of Estonia, is one of the most outspoken proponents of the E.U. (Estonia joined enthusiastically in 2004, then joined the eurozone in 2010, two years after the Lehman Brothers implosion). I asked him why Europe mattered for Tallinn a decade ago. “There was very strong civilizational element of ‘return,'” Ilves replied. “Return after 50 years of occupations, deportations, deceit and corruption. We spent, after all, some 800 years in a German Kulturraum. The Hanseatic League, our architecture, Lutheranism, literacy, Kleinbürgerlichkeit [bourgeois mass culture], Rechtsstaat, a.k.a. the rule of law. The Soviets destroyed it all. So the narrative, if you will, was getting back to where we all had been anyway, where the Soviet period was like a Crazy Eddie’s commercial in the middle of a Mozart Concerto.”
from Fr. Borys Gudziak
On May 18 at 9:27 in the morning Fr. Borys Gudziak received a call on his private mobile phone from a representative of the Security Service of Ukraine requesting a meeting.
Upon arrival on May 18 in a polite manner the agent related that certain political parties are planning protests and demonstrations regarding the controversial (and in some cases inflammatory) policies of the new Ukrainian authorities. Students are to be engaged in these protests. There is a danger that some of these manifestations may be marred by provocations. He stated that, of course, students are allowed to protest but that they should be warned by the university administration that those involved in any illegal activities will be prosecuted.
After his oral presentation the agent put on the table between us an unfolded one-page letter that was addressed to me. He asked me to read the letter and then acknowledge with a signature my familiarity with its contents. He stated that after I had read and signed the letter it would be necessary for him to take the letter back. Since I could see that the document was properly addressed to me as rector (I also noticed that it had two signatures giving it a particularly official character) I replied calmly that any letter addressed to me becomes my property and should stay with me — at least in copy form. Only under these conditions could I agree to even read the letter (much less sign).
The agent was evidently taken back by my response. It seemed that the situation for him was without precedent because in my presence using his mobile phone he called his (local) superiors to ask for instructions on how to proceed. The superior refused permission to leave me either the original letter or a copy, saying that the SBU fears I “might publish it in the internet.” I questioned this entire procedure and the need for secrecy and refused to look at the letter and read its contents. The young official was disappointed and somewhat confused but did not exert additional pressure and did not dispute my argumentation.
I cautioned the agent of the fact that the SBU as the former KGB, with many employees remaining from the Soviet times, has a heavy legacy of breaking and crippling people physically and morally and that he as a young married person should be careful not to fall into any actions that would cause lasting damage to his own identity and shame his children and grandchildren.
Finally, I expressed my and the general population’s profound disappointment that the work of the SBU is so uneven, that security and police officers live lavishly on low salaries because they are involved in corrupt activities, and that the legal rights of citizens and equal application of the law are severely neglected. I gave the recent example of my cousin, Teodor Gudziak mayor of Vynnyky, who in February 2010 (three days after the election of the new president) was arrested in a fabricated case of bribery that was set up by a notoriously corrupt political rival and former policemen through the regional and city police. Despite the fact that two months before the fabricated affair the mayor, based on a vote of the town council, had given the SBU a video of plainclothes policemen breaking into his office and safe in city hall in the middle of the night and using town seals on various documents the SBU took no action.
The population of Ukraine continues to fear and distrust both state security and police personnel because of the woeful track record of law enforcement and because of the diffuse practice of police intimidation of honest politicians, journalist, common citizens and the wanton extortion practiced by security institutions and police with respect to middle and small business.
Besides noting the SBU’s solicitude for stability in Ukrainian society there are a few conclusions to be drawn from the encounter and the proposals that were expressed:
- 1. Signing a document such as the letter that was presented for signature to me is tantamount to agreeing to cooperate (collaborate) with the SBU. The person signing in effect agrees with the contents of the letter and their implication. In KGB practice getting a signature on a document that was drafted and kept by the KGB was a primary method of recruiting secret collaborators.
2. Such methods have no known (to me) precedent in independent Ukraine in the experience of UCU and of the Lviv National University whose longtime rector (and former Minister of Education, 2008–10) Ivan Vakarchuk I consulted immediately after the meeting. These methods were well known in the Soviet times.
3. The confiscation of the letter after signature makes the letter and signature instruments to be used at the complete discretion of the SBU.
4. The possible scenarios for the exploitation of such a document include the following:
a.) In case of the arrest of a student the SBU could confront the rectorate and charge that the university was informed of the danger to students and did not take necessary measures to protect them from violence or legal harm. In this case the university administration could be charged with both moral and legal responsibility. A charge with legal ramifications could become an instrument to try to force the university to compromise on some important principle (freedom of expression, forms of social engagement and critique, even religious practice, all of which have precedent in recent history). Furthermore, the authorities could use such a pretext to exert a high degree of pressure on the university to curb any and all protest by students.
b.) After a hypothetical arrest of a student or students the students and their parents as well as other members of the university community could be shown the document with which the administration was warned and counseled to curb student activities. Since the administration did not stop the students from the activities that became the pretext for the arrest, parents or others could draw the conclusion that the university does not have adequate concern for the welfare of its students. This would be a most effective way of dividing the university community and undermining the university’s reputation among its most important constituents–students.
5. The apparent genuine surprise of the agent at my refusal to do as requested could mean that he is not used to such a reaction. He had explained to me that he works with clergy on a regular basis. It could be assumed that other clergy (who work with youth, students, etc.) have been approached and that they have not refused to sign such documents.
6. Measures of this nature create apprehension and unease. They are meant to intimidate university administrations and students. They are part of a whole pattern of practice that is well known to the Ukrainian population. The revival of such practices is a conscious attempt to revive the methods of the Soviet totalitarian past and to re-instill fear in a society that was only beginning to feel its freedom.
7. Since only two of the approximately 170 universities of Ukraine have been voicing there protest regarding recent political and educational developments and many rectors have been marshaled/pressured to express their support regarding the turn of events, it is clear that in recent months fear and accommodation are returning to higher education at a rapid pace. It can be expected that UCU will be subject to particular attention and possible pressure in the coming months. The solidarity of the international community, especially the academic world, will be important in helping UCU maintain a position of principle regarding intellectual and social freedom.
8. Speaking and writing openly about these issues is the most peaceful and effective manner of counteracting efforts to secretly control and intimidate students and citizens. As was apparent during this incident, state authorities are particularly sensitive about publicity regarding their activity. Information can have a preemptory, corrective and curing role when it comes to planned actions to circumscribe civic freedom, democracy, and the basic dignity of human beings.
Appeal of Ukrainian Catholic University Students
It is Ukrainian youth and Ukrainian students who have initiated this mass protest movement against the corrupt and secretive actions of their government. It is they who have taken to the squares in Kyiv, and other cities and towns of Ukraine, in hopes that the authorities would listen to the voice of the people. A million-strong wave of peaceful protesters has received significant international support, for which the Ukrainian people are extremely grateful. This support has helped us brave the cold and the attacks by the riot police.
Within hours of the new attack on the Maidan on December 11, the government opened a large number of court proceedings, and took steps to block the work of Ukrainian and international journalists, and introduce anxiety and fear into people’s hearts.
In spite of emphatic declarations of their peaceful intentions and desires to hear the voice of the people and participate in dialogue, the Ukrainian authorities went on the offensive, not merely against opposition forces and journalists reporting on the events, but against the nation’s students — the initiators of this broad protest movement.
Among the methods of pressure and bullying that our university has encountered in recent days are phone calls and visits from representatives of the police, talks with our deans and vice rectors, attempts to inspect our students’ attendance records, searches for particular student activists, summons to the state’s attorney’s office, and the opening of criminal cases against students and professors.
We are convinced that these and similar steps will only increase in magnitude. After the new nighttime crackdown on the Maidan, we have resolved along with our professors to withdraw our moral loyalty, as citizens of Ukraine, for Ukraine’s president and government.