back ¯: our position


“Should the visa barrier be established, Ukraine will become a gray zone between Russia and Europe”

By Diana BAZYLIAK, The Day

¹16 May 21 2002 «The Day»

The culture research journal Yi published by Taras VOZNIAK can be called the ABCs of the new Ukrainian: not the “modern” but precisely the “new” Ukrainian still in his infancy. This provocative project was launched twelve years ago in Lviv. It could not have emerged elsewhere, for it is the Galician capital that had a suitable cultural milieu in the late 1980s. And although it is not always so today, the ball started rolling, it still rolls, and during the past twelve years Yi has established a network of its contributors and devised a unique layout of cross-divided pages. A generation has already grown up and become accustomed to the 1920s Kharkiv orthography (suppressed by Stalin in 1933 to bring Ukrainian spelling closer to Russian —Ed.) that the journal uses. The journal founders display an equally strong desire to outrun and influence public opinion, and to set the pace, while doing this from the standpoint of well-mannered tolerance. No wonder that, contrary to all warnings, the journal still survives in our conditions. There is no shortage of ideas here, for the very Galician humus, with all its historical alluvia, seems to be ideal for their cultivation. Moreover, Yi is a non-governmental organization, an element of the so widely discussed civil society. It is this organization that raised the alarm over the smuggling of Bruno Schulz frescoes out of Ukraine, initiated debates on our European integration, and raised the problem of open borders (a subject constantly broached by The Day). In addition, this is no idle talk: every problem becomes the object of a serious scholarly research, which turns a non-governmental organization into an institution to develop socially important ideas. The interview with Taras VOZNIAK, editor-in-chief of Yi, by The Day centers around deals with the latest achievements of this true institute of ideas.


“Mr. Vozniak, during a recent television bridge with Russia you, a figure better known for cultural and philosophical studies, introduced yourself as a political scientist. Why do philosophers re-qualify as political scientists?”

“Unfortunately or fortunately, life forces one to do specific work. The classics of semi-political science-semi-philosophy might have been right in a way that the fundamental task is not only to understand the world but also to change it.”

“All Galicians seem to be ill with the same disease, being centered on Lviv. But do you think Lviv, as a city that accumulates the national idea, has rivals, and if so why are their voices unheard?”

“The national idea will only be effective when it is being formed not only in Lviv but also in other regions and cities. I think it is the voice of Lviv that is very little heard in reality. On the other hand, there is such a thing as economic voice that helps one get a bigger bite of the budget pie. Incidentally, our journal’s economic publications show that such regions as Donetsk oblast are very successful in getting their piece of the pie. Their voice is heard quite well in this country, not only because they supposedly produce the lion’s share of the national product, but also because they consume it very ‘effectively.’ For example, they invest in such an absolutely unpromising industry as coal mining. (The point is there is no politician in Ukraine who could say that we don’t need a so highly-developed coal-mining industry, for he will immediately become a political corpse.) But I say again: if the question is of the economic forms of federalization or autonomization, the voice of Donetsk, Odesa, or the Crimea sounds far louder.

“On the other hand, Lviv residents’ self-organization level and political mentality are somewhat different, no matter how unpleasant this may sound to some of our colleagues. But, in reality, this is a political tradition, if not a tragedy, because this tendency finds no expression in the Ukrainian state structure. Do you see many Galicians holding the office of vice premier or prime minister? (recall Vice Premiers Ihor Yukhnovsky, Viktor Pynzenyk, Mykola Zhulynsky, Mykhailo Hladiy, Roman Shpek, and Bohdan Stupka — Ed.) I also strongly doubt that a Galician could become president of our state. So in this sense we feel hurt. This is also something to discuss. By fighting for Ukraine, Galicians are losing Galicia. Being pressured by the post-Soviet Russian information juggernaut, we feel very uncomfortable in the new Ukrainian state. In other words, there are instances when we are dissatisfied with our representation in the overall structure of the Ukrainian state and in the nation’s political mechanism. Nor are certain other regions satisfied. For example, in this aspect we have more things in common with Odesa than with Kyiv, for the center cannot really understand the specific problems of Ukraine’s other regions.”


“Your NGO is doing a great deal to apply the experience of the German-French border to the Ukrainian-Polish one. Has there been any progress?”

“We have been implementing this long-range program for about six years. We try to apply the experience of French-German reconciliation to solving our border problems. I think much more blood was shed on the Rhine than on the Ukrainian-Polish border, although Galicia was torn apart by a bloody confrontation fifty years ago. However, I cannot say we’ve managed to have a significant impact on the organization and the future status of the Ukrainian-Polish border. Unfortunately, ineffective development of the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian entrepreneurial activities will offer no rosy prospects for Ukraine’s EU membership. Thus there are two processes unfolding on the Polish-Ukrainian border. On the one hand, the half century of joint efforts by Ukrainian and Polish society, especially the ÎmigrÎs, resulted in such an important thing as reconciliation after the bloodletting of the forties and early fifties. On the other hand, we are going soon to be divided, whether we like it or not, by the EU administrative border. Poland is joining the EU, and we only welcome this positive step. But, while this sector of the border has been open to us during the past decade, and we could exchange individuals, ideas, and goods, now we are in for changes. I do not say the changes will be of a drastic nature, but, unfortunately, the administrative logic leads precisely to this. While, earlier, 40,000 individuals a day crossed the border, now the Polish consulates in Lviv, Lutsk, and the embassy in Kyiv, taken together, will not be able to issue 40,000 Schengen visas. We are trying to somehow restrain this and bring home to politicians that if the barrier is set up, Ukraine will be again pushed into what is known as the Eurasian or Russian space or will just turn into a gray zone between Russia and Europe. Oddly enough, while Russia is now more pro- Western, Ukraine is taking absolutely chaotic steps. We cooperate with the Upper Rhine region divided after World War II between Germany, France, and Switzerland. This somewhat resembles Galicia, which although partitioned by the Ukrainian-Polish border is still a cultural and economic unity. We are interested in developing relations and strengthening this unity. Of the same nature is the region of our Volyn and the Polish Lublin wojewodztwo. The existence of these natural regions paves the way to open borders. Cooperation between neighboring cities and territories can help let out the seams to be stitched in Europe. We would like the Polish, Slovak, and Hungarian local authorities to try to draw the attention of their governments and the European Commission to the complexity of these issues. For Warsaw can make a very simple decision by a majority vote without understanding that they are building a new Berlin Wall.”


“You said Russia is now more pro-Western than Ukraine. So why not accept the formula, to the EU with Russia?”

“This is absolute nonsense. The more so that Russia has recently announced it was not planning to join the EU. Russia is a huge state with its own interests, which everybody is interested in cooperating with if it has a normal political regime and economic climate. At the same time, Ukraine has set a goal to become an EU member, and many Ukrainian political con artists used this formula before the elections, confusing such things as Europe and the EU. Both Russia and Ukraine are and will always be part of Europe, but Russia has not set the political goal of entering the EU, so this thesis is political provocation pure and simple.

“Now as for the Russian Federation’s rational steps: Mr. Putin reacted appropriately to the September 11 events, which prompted Russia to dramatically strengthen its relations with both NATO and the EU. Russia has robbed this country of the initiative in moving toward Europe, NATO, and the US, while Ukraine, due to its inertia, low political culture, and the shortsightedness of the current political leadership, is now bringing up the rear of Russian political thought and action. While Russia allows US troops into Uzbekistan, its sphere of influence, and observers into Georgia, abandons its last military base in Cuba, and politically supports the antiterrorist campaign, Ukraine is mumbling something about the overflight of two planes, which, in reality, were carrying teddy bears to Afghanistan. In other words, this country continues to bow to everybody, favoring a European, Russian, and God knows what other choice. In other words, it is not making any choice as such. Marking time has left Ukraine trailing far behind in the wake of Russia’s pro-Western interests. Moreover, sometimes the Ukrainian leadership looks more pro-Russian than the Russians themselves, for it still orients itself to some standards that Russia dropped long ago, moving in a different direction.”


“It is interesting, in this repect, that your journal’s next issue will deal with national security. Why do you think this question is so important just now?”

“The issue of national security is multifaceted. It should not necessarily consist of military aspects alone. In principle, nobody threatens Ukraine. What is now much more realistic than any direct military threat are the possible neocolonialist and environmental dangers as well as information enslavement. The danger to Ukraine lies in its uncertainty and in the fact that it falls hostage to somebody else’s game rather than becoming an active subject of international political life or confrontation. It is the Ukrainian leadership’s inarticulateness and insanity that, unfortunately, makes us lose out on our interests. We are losing out on our cultural identity, turning into an appendage to certain forces in the world. The only way out is at least to become conscious of our interests in all fields: from culture to ecology or computer technology. This should be followed by a consistent and well- balanced defense of our own interests rather than the pursuit of Russian or US interests.”


“There will be changes in society only if the middle class is interested in it. You claim we don’t have conditions for this class to emerge, but if you walk down the streets of not only Kyiv, you will see what precisely this class, perhaps not yet much interested in politics, has done. Why do you think so?”

“Yes, of course, there are people who can be assigned to this class. There could be thousands or tens of thousands of them. But we need millions of such people. Unfortunately, our society has been markedly divided between a small group, a few percent of the population, that owns almost 90% of the nation’s property and a fully lumpenized majority. The $30- 40 the average Ukrainian earn is no longer the level of Poland but, say, Zimbabwe. We started ten years ago in the same condition as Poland and Hungary did: we used to earn $10. Now, while the Poles draw about $400 and Estonians $200-300 a month, Ukraine stubbornly hangs on to $30. Why is it stagnating, not developing? So we tried to answer this question. When will we have people who will earn not only the average $400 but also $5-7 thousand a month? When will this be a mass phenomenon? Can we possibly rely on our impoverished proletarians or on a few kiosks at a marketplace?

“The middle class cannot be built on resale. There are no producers at all in our society; business comes down to buy-and-sell deals. What is more, this buying and selling also dominates in big business — I have in mind the sale of Russian oil and gas as well as pursuing and defending Russian interests in this field. Are these go-betweens really Ukrainian producers? Yes, there are some producers as such, but they are too few to set trends for the entire Ukrainian society. I still hope this country will develop contrary to the wishes of its post-nomenklatura administration. I think it will grow a civil society and the middle class as its main bearer. But I see no purposeful and deliberate steps in this direction, with perhaps some exceptions, by past and present governments. This is why we are unable to build an effective and, hence, affluent society. I think our administrative machine is doing everything it can to foster a unique business, controlled monopoly connected with the government. But this monopoly cannot form the basis of a middle class, it can only promote such huge conglomerates that we now have in the steel or coal sectors.”


“Two of the questions Swiss playwright Max Frisch asked in his Diary 1966-1971 are printed in your journal. How many homelands do you need?”

“I think there can be several homelands: a little homeland, the small town you were born in; a big homeland, the capital of great Galicia; and a still bigger fatherland, Kyiv, the capital of our vast state. An individual is unable to embrace such a large state as our Ukraine. It is difficult to love one and all, but is more important to feel good about your small homeland and be proud of your big fatherland. If somebody else loves the Crimea, let him, for it is a beautiful place and his small homeland. And if in addition he is glad that the Crimea is part of Ukraine, then everything will be all right in Ukraine.”

“How much of a homeland do you need?”

“An ordinary person does not need much. What an individual needs is shelter and prospects. Some also need love. It’s difficult to lay claim to love. I would therefore lay claim to tolerance, so that we respect and tolerate one another. As to love, we’ll see.”

“Your main principle in life?”

“To try to be tolerant of others.”


Taras VOZNIAK, editor-in-chief and publisher of the independent culture-research journal, Yi. Born May 11, 1957. Graduated from the Lviv Polytechnic Institute. Since 1994, chief of the international relations department of the Lviv City Council. Conducts research in philosophical hermeneutics, political tolerance, and pluralism. Author of numerous political science and cultural essays; translated Heidegger, Gadamer, Marcel, Scheler, Schulz, and Gombrowicz. Winner of the Galician Knight-2000 prize in the Public Figure category.