“Once I met a first-year university student, bright and open-minded. We talked for half a day. And these days she, already famous, but still as bright and diamond-hard, has been passing on the knowledge, inspiring hope, and igniting the souls of others,” Larysa Ivshyna wrote on Facebook after the meeting of public activist Hanna Hopko with participants of Den’s Summer School of Journalism at the newspaper’s editorial office.
“Communication with students of Den’s Summer School of Journalism was like a real rehabilitation session,” Hopko herself writes. “Very talented, young, and intelligent journalists from various oblasts are our hope for principle-based journalism and consolidation of Ukraine’s chance for victory!”
And one of the vivid impressions from the students themselves. “I remembered the smile, perhaps, the most sincere smile on the face of ‘civic society,’” says Volodymyr Nyzhniak, Ivan Franko Lviv National University. “It must be understood that Hanna Hopko’s experience is the experience we are yet to obtain to become full-fledged citizens and continue the building of civic society.”
Today Hopko is one of the leaders of public initiatives, in particular, of the Reanimation Package of Reforms. Ukrainian politicians get in line to meet her, when Western officials come to Kyiv, they find it necessary to meet representatives of the civic society, including Hopko. Just think about her tour of the Kyiv downtown for the US Vice President Joe Biden.
What is the right way to inform the world about Ukraine? What should be done to avoid the mistakes of the post-Orange period? According to what rules should early parliamentary election be held? Is the incumbent government ready for reforms? How should Donbas be cured? Hanna HOPKO answered these and other questions asked by members of Den’s Summer School of Journalism.
“ONE OF MY IDEAS IS TO CREATE A WORLDWIDE PARTNERSHIP NETWORK FOR UKRAINE’S ALLIES AND SUPPORTERS”
Mariana BOLOBAN, Ivan Franko Lviv National University: “You travel a lot on business, in particular, recently you visited Switzerland. What exactly are you trying to convey to Europeans and what image of Ukraine do you want to shape for them?”
Hanna HOPKO: “Actually, it is utterly important to communicate with the world from the position of humanity. When you are trying to talk to politicians not only from the point of their influence and institutions and countries they represent, but try to reach their heart and deliver Ukraine’s position in such way, it is much more effective. The world is going through a global crisis, the worldview crisis, extensive consumerism ideology has depleted itself.
“I remember the meeting with the US Vice President Joe Biden in Kyiv. I did not load him with corruption problems that he is perfectly aware of, with a talk about political elites that fight each other for power, but I talked more about the genuinely important things. About St. Sophia’s Cathedral, which was built much earlier than Moscow appeared on the map of the world. The sole fact that Americans helped us restore the mosaic of St. Sophia is a very strong signal to the world that this actually is the cradle of our European civilization. During the tour, Biden also told me about his family and children. I hope his memory of Ukraine will not be only as about a country of politicians, prime ministers, and presidents, but about a country of people with its more than a thousand-year-long history.
“One of the main tasks is to deliver the knowledge about Ukraine, its culture and traditions. The crucial point I am trying to make is that a battle for universal values is going on in Ukraine now. It is the most important to ignite people’s hearts, so they would feel their own dignity for fighting for dignity in Ukraine.”
Ivan KAPSAMUN: “You said that a ‘battle for universal values’ is going on in Ukraine. To what extent do foreign diplomats, politicians, community leaders realize this?”
H.H.: “The majority of people I talk to feel this, despite the fact there is a powerful network of lobbyists financed by Russia in Europe. They even infiltrated reputable Western analytical centers and are bribed to create a positive image of Russia and discredit Ukraine.
“But the majority of the OSCE and UN representatives understand what is really happening in Ukraine and how important this country is, because a lot still remember the lessons of the 20th century. Stability in Ukraine provides security guarantees for Europe.
“One of my ideas is to create a worldwide partnership network for Ukraine’s allies and supporters, which we have not built in 23 years of our independence. The Revolution of Dignity gave us this chance. During the events on Maidan, a lot of people all over the world joined protest rallies to tell the truth about Ukraine. People identified themselves as Ukrainians, even those who have not been to our country for 15 years. We saw a lot of platforms which must be coordinated for effective promotion of Ukraine and its interests. And most importantly, we must pursue a preemptive tactic instead of just responding to events.
“Systemic work with promotion of Ukraine and our image is required. We must block misinformation about Ukraine coming from people who constantly communicate with policy and decision makers in those world capitals where global decisions are made. Also, it is necessary to talk to supporters of the politicians whose actions often harm Ukraine’s interests. We have to communicate with media in order to provide alternative information, because Russia allocates huge budgets to spread untruthful information about Ukraine in world’s leading media.
“For example, at the last meeting in Switzerland, an American diplomat asked a question that shocked me: ‘Fascism is growing in Ukraine through Pravy Sektor and Svoboda Party. Do people support all this?’ I laughed and wondered: ‘Where did you get this information from?’ He answered that he was watching CNN and other channels. But when I told him the percentage of votes Tiahnybok and Yarosh received in the presidential election, great disappointment could be seen on his face.
“Why? Because Americans have been living with an image of democracy, and freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democracy. And when an American citizen sees this freedom of speech does not guarantee truthful information (his own media have manipulated his mind), it is an offense for him. After a conference that politician came up to me and asked to tell what is happening in Ukraine. He even offered to create a blog about Ukraine on CNN.”
“IF NEEDED, MAIDAN ACTIVISTS ARE READY TO COME BACK AND CONTINUE THE STRUGGLE”
Khrystyna LUSHYNA, Ivan Franko Lviv National University: “You are a journalist and have a Ph.D. in social communications. How did you transfer from journalism to public activity, active promotion of reforms, and developing various projects?”
H.H.: “Journalism is a way of conveying truth, a way of awakening people and making changes. I volunteered at a public environmental organization back in my freshmen year. I wanted practical activity, initiatives, and projects. In that organization we engaged in solving the problem of expired pesticides through information campaigns, packaging of pesticides, returning the nature reserve status to sites in Lviv oblast. That is where my civic stand consolidated, I realized the problems and saw the ways to solve them. Then I started actively cooperating with other NGOs.
“When I moved to Kyiv, I came across a project that engaged in development of civic society in Ukraine, where I met a lot of initiative people and NGOs. I saw the possibilities of civic society in making changes together with media, government, etc. I understood how important it is to coordinate everyone. That is how I became a public activist. And there is not much time left for journalism. If I write, usually it is about the most painful issues, for example, Ukraine’s agricultural land. Several articles were published by Den/The Day.
“I have vivid memories of coming back from the World Conference of Science Journalists, which took place in London in 2009. When I was already on the plane, I opened The Guardian and read a large article on land grabbing, which was supplemented by a map that showed Ukraine, countries of Persian Gulf, Kazakhstan, etc. It said that countries rich in oil and gas and transnational corporations use various approaches to buy land from other countries through involvement of various banks. One of the UN reporters explained that this phenomenon is one of the new kinds of neocolonialism. I could not refrain from writing about Ukraine and contemporary land grabbing by transnational corporations after reading that article. Den published the piece I wrote then on front page.”
Anastasia PANCHENKO, University of Human Development “Ukraina” (Kirovohrad): “Did Euromaidan become a subject in social and political relations? How do Maidan’s organizations cooperate?”
H.H.: “Maidan became an opportunity to reveal the initiative and potential of people who ‘burned out’ due to the lack of prospects. Thanks to Maidan, sprouts of various initiatives, eager to live in a different way, broke through the asphalt. There were a lot of public initiatives and grassroots movements: Automaidan, Samooborona, Euromaidan’s Civic Sector, Euromaidan SOS, a Facebook page...
“After Maidan was over, a lot of organizations switched to other tasks. For example, Euromaidan SOS started helping settlers from Crimea, took over a part of problems that emerge in the south and east of the country. Our initiative (Reanimation Package of Reforms) focused on fighting against the system via reforms everyone has been expecting for over 20 years.
A DEN T-SHIRT TO THE GUEST AFTER A LONG AND MEANINGFUL CHAT / Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day
“My vision of Maidan today is the following: a part of Instytutska Street should be left as a pedestrian street, and the rest should be open. Near the stele, where Euromaidan actually began, an Open University of civic activism, the best practices of advocacy and legislation can be set up, where lecturers will tell how to become an effective citizen of your country. That is, the idea of Maidan as a Revolution of Dignity should remain, but mostly in the enlightening sphere, where various people will tell about their experience of struggle and how this chance should not be lost. Experts can be invited, who would explain the implementation of new laws, their meaning, and how citizens could use them for the revolution to bear fruit.
“Now it is not necessary to stay on Maidan. If needed, many activists are ready to come back there and continue the struggle. It would be naive to think that physical presence of several tents on Maidan is a guarantee of safety and protection. An information campaign must go on, people from various regions need to receive the knowledge of how to influence MPs, local authorities, and how to create agendas for them to allow the changes for the better to happen. Activization of people is one of the most important achievements. Ordinary citizens must become a foundation of a genuine society, not NGOs that exist thanks to grants or international technical aid, but rank-and-file citizens, who will prioritize for the government the most urgent issues.”
“THERE ARE WORTHY PEOPLE IN UKRAINE WHO UNDERSTAND IN WHICH DIRECTION WE MUST MOVE”
Hanna KALAUR, National University Ostroh Academy: “Open government was one of Maidan’s main demands. How open to cooperation is the government now?”
H.H.: “During almost 5 months since the new majority was formed, we managed to push only 10 laws. This is a very small number, especially for a period after the overthrow of the Yanukovych regime. It would be possible to adopt them in one or two plenary weeks. But this Verkhovna Rada is so sluggish. And as for the importance of our laws, for example, the Law ‘On Higher Education,’ for adoption of which we fought Dmytro Tabachnyk and his henchmen for over three years: even now it would have never been adopted, had it not been for the pressure on the parliament and speaker Oleksandr Turchynov. Now we cooperate with the ministry of education, MP Lilia Hrynevych, student communities to prepare a foundation and be able to make amendments to universities’ statutes this fall, to give higher educational establishments more autonomy and decentralization. Moreover, students will be able to choose 25 percent of subjects according to their own wish.
“The next legislative act is the Law ‘On Access to Public Information.’ Amendments to 50 regulatory acts were to be made so that everyone could have a possibility to get on websites of city and oblast councils and see draft resolutions. This will help to understand what MPs are really busy with and give an opportunity to create agendas for them and offer projects demanded by the society. Laws ‘On Transparency of State Purchases,’ ‘On Restoration of Trust in the Judiciary Branch,’ ‘On Amendments to the Criminal Code on Visa Liberalization’ (which was demanded from us by the European Union), and others are no less important. These 11 laws are the first step towards a long-lasting reform of the country, which finally has to start.
“Creation of certain competitiveness between political forces is a significant result; they also started looking for new faces to revamp their composition. But this will hardly change them substantially.
“We have created a cross-faction group ‘Platform for Reforms’ which comprises 26 MPs, as well as the Center for Promoting Reform under the Cabinet of Ministers. Now we are trying to figure out how we could more efficiently cooperate with Dmytro Shymkiv, recently-appointed member of the Presidential Staff responsible for reforms. Maybe we will do it via the Civic Council. Our key task now is to coordinate the efforts of the president, parliament, government, and the civic society in a unified vision of the methods of reforming the country. The competition between various branches of power is a disadvantage for the state at the moment. We have to show that at this transition stage, also given the situation in the east, fruitful cooperation is important. This is also what the West expects. We must show that Ukraine has worthy people who realize in which direction we must move.
Hanna HOPKO: “My vision of Maidan today is the following: a part of Instytutska Street should be left as a pedestrian street, and the rest should be open. Near the stele, where Euromaidan actually began, an Open University of civic activism, the best practices of advocacy and legislation can be set up, where lecturers will tell how to become an effective citizen of your country. That is, the idea of Maidan as a Revolution of Dignity should remain, but mostly in the enlightening sphere, where various people will tell about their experience of struggle and how this chance should not be lost.”
“Sometimes you can get an impression that the incumbent government forgets about the sacrifice of the Heavenly Sotnia. The same corrupt officials have returned who were in office under Yanukovych, or even earlier. We must realize that a complete overhaul of the system, including such top-priority directions as war on corruption, decentralization of government, regional development, public administration reform, reform of the judiciary, law-enforcement bodies, election legislation, mass information media, tax system, agrarian sector, education, medicine, and public finances should all encompass positive changes for the people and the future of Ukraine, instead of becoming a tool for oligarchs to squeeze another superprofit.
“For instance, our group that deals with public access to finances is very interesting. It comprises enthusiasts who want to create mechanisms of public control over the allocation of the funds which Ukraine’s government receives in grants and loans, because their spending is obscure. Even when the EU gave Ukraine the first 200 million euros credit tranche, question arose as to how and where this money was used. We must ensure that the monies we receive for the development of economy be not used for those sectors which are only profitable for oligarchs. These monies must be used to boost Ukraine’s economy. And this is where journalists’ professionalism matters, their ability to prioritize topics, the professionalism of civic society which will be oriented for the country’s interests and not the donors’ needs. Now it is important that we become the platform which will unite the interests of Ukraine, and not some particular groups.”
Larysa Ivshyna: “Today the price is extra high. We are under scrutiny both from the West and East. The reputation of Ukraine’s society is so important now that sometimes you hear: ‘Now you must be impeccable.’ The images from Maidan were broadcast worldwide. And just imagine the world’s disappointment, should it all be wasted! What will Ukraine’s sympathizers feel? That is why we must be demanding and we must uphold our principles and formulate our questions for politicians in such a manner that they should know: no compliments are coming, but a serious conversation. Even if we find them likeable, we have to be unflinching – which we often sadly lack. On the other hand, this does not mean that we should oppose anything and everything. When the country faces such a threat, we must be able to consolidate. What we observe, however, is a beginning of clan wars.”
H.H.: “Certain journalists who have become hostage to the situation are also involved in these wars. We have to understand that oligarchs will always find a common language. Meanwhile, many journalists could lose the most precious they have: the trust of the audience. And it is the country that is the loser.”
“OUR GENERATION AND THOSE TO FOLLOW WILL HAVE TO CARRY A HUGE BURDEN”
Kateryna HLUSHCHENKO, Donetsk National University: “You have recently emphasized the necessity to bring not only ex-president Yanukovych to account, but also the man who introduced him into politics: Kuchma. Because it is during the latter’s presidency that such outrageous crimes were perpetrated as the assassination of journalist Gongadze and assaults on public activist Podolsky and MP Yeliashkevych. Do the society and the government both realize that these processes are necessary?”
H.H.: “In the society there is a huge demand for fair trial. However, there is little popular understanding of how it can be ensured and what precedents should there be. Unfortunately, journalism does not play a very prominent role here, with the exception of Den/The Day. There have been few instances of providing objective information and demonstrating a clear standpoint in the administration of justice in the abovementioned cases. It is critically important for us to create at least one precedent of establishing justice regarding former leaders of the government. Then, as the domino theory has it, this precedent will cause other politicians to perpetrate crimes.
“Here the standpoint of men like Oleksii Podolsky and Oleksandr Yeliashkevych, who dedicated the recent 14 years of their lives to the quest for justice, is of critical importance. Their struggle against the Kuchma regime and those who attempted at their lives is necessary for the cleansing of this country. But they should not stand alone: society must help them, for it is in everyone’s interests.
“Recently PACE co-rapporteur for Ukraine Marietta de Pourbaix-Lundin visited Kyiv. In particular, she also met representatives of civic society. I invited Podolsky to this meeting without warning the PACE office. Why did I do that? Because he has been trying to contact them for years, but they have not been able to find time for the injured party in the case. Meanwhile, a meeting with Kuchma did find a way into their agenda. My opinion is that making Kuchma a negotiator on the situation in the east of Ukraine would mean nipping the whole thing in the bud and openly working for Russia.
“At the meeting Podolsky began telling the truth about the huge resistance to the ratification of the Rome Statute in Ukraine and the people who are interested in it. He explained that besides the crimes committed on Maidan and in Donbas, there are also the crimes dating back to ‘the Kuchma period,’ and it is the impunity of the perpetrators which paved the way to new atrocities. Podolsky cited the Pukach trial, which is now in progress in the Court of Appeals, and shared the details of abuse in that closed process. Of course, he asked why the PACE would meet with Kuchma, who is very negatively described in their reports, and avoid meeting the victim. This twist in the conversation gave the PACE co-rapporteur some serious food for thought and made her feel embarrassed.”
L.I.: “After the recent events in Ukraine there is a gleam of a chance. Recently Mykhailo Honchar of Razumkov Center dropped an interesting phrase in The Day’s office: ‘Europe is becoming an industrial appendage to Russia.’ This is a chance for Ukraine to promote its uniqueness. Identity multiplied by modernization.”
H.H.: “It is very important to consolidate and not let this chance go. The future depends on each of us. Our children must be proud of living and studying in a modern Ukraine, rather than of standing on Maidan fighting against dictators of all sorts. I want us to do this at last and build a normal country. When Malaysia became ‘an Asian tiger,’ back in 1998 it had plans for 2020 stating that by that time their country would have joined the world’s top 20 economies. Therefore a road map is very important: we must see our road, where we are going, and what we are building.
“Our generation and those to follow will have to carry a huge burden. We have to be prepared for a super-difficult near future, in all aspects. The economy will be seriously deteriorating, the quality of politics will be depressing. A scenario of hopelessness, despair, and division will be imposed on us. Putin is perfectly aware of how far he has gone and how hard it will be for him to find a way out of this situation. Now, concerning Crimea. In fact, we lost it much earlier than the effective annexation took place. We lost the battle for the minds of the Crimean people. For 23 years we had no responsible policy for Crimea.
“The most urgent task today is to reanimate the country and prevent any aggravation of the situation. And then, afterwards, we must prepare ourselves for some very serious systemic struggle.”
By Dmytro PALCHYKOV, Lesia SUKHOMLYN, Den’s Summer School of Journalism