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Victor Levytskyy Answered the Questions of the Reporter News Agency

24.06.2016
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Since the Donbas has become an open wound on the body of Ukraine, the public tries to understand the processes that took place there before the war and are taking place now. Many people sincerely believe that a situation similar to the Donbas one could not happen, for instance, in the west of the country, and offer to wall off ORDLO (separate districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions). Meanwhile they do not even realize that their opinion has been shaped by technologies similar to those used in eastern Ukraine.

So what methods were and are used to sway various areas this or other way? What was the true background for this in the mining region and how to bring the country together all over again? The Reporter NA talked about it with the director of the Ukrainian Institute of Global Development and Adaptation, PhD, Victor Levytskyy.

− Victor, what researches does your institute conduct?

− We are a public institution whose main objective is to study the global trends influencing the situation in Ukraine in general and in the Donbas in particular. This refers to social studies too. Our monographs and books are also a part of our research results (he shows several books). For example, “The Metaphysics of Donetsk”, published before the well-known events in the east of Ukraine. Based on the concept described here it is possible to gain a better understanding why it happened, what the grounds were and so on.

A cultural theory was formulated in the monograph “Watersheds of Secularization”, explaining not only what is happening in Ukraine, but also those trends and events that concern the world today. We tried to look at confrontations, which we are having nowadays in many corners of the world, from the author's original point of view – not just as a religious, but as a diffuse clash of civilizations, culture penetration, where the Western world and, so to speak, "non-Western" world converge. I think it can be very useful to understand the processes.

In addition, we are launching such a social project as Veri.ly, aimed at verifying information. Today, there are too many sources of information; many of them claim that they are absolutely true. And our service is aimed at checking the data online and allows either to confirm or to refute them. Roughly speaking, this service is a social network where people ask their questions, and other participants can respond to them.

− Nowadays we already have such services in the country. For example, Stopfake. How does yours differ?

− Stopfake is rather a news site, which describes itself as a source of reliable information. We do not produce news, our goal is just to verify the information. A person who is not a professional in any question can ask it, but at the other end there is the same nonprofessional, if he has factual material, he can refute or confirm it. For example, someone is interested if some photo could be taken at the particular place. Another person, for example, lives in that area and can tell. That means the service will be intended to reduce the information manipulation and speculation.


− Any site is focused on some subject. You can verify the political issues, and you can ask whether it is proper to fry onions...

− The questions may be of any kind, but we still expect that the site will be visited by people who are interested in subjects toeing the line of our studies: humanitarian, political, geo-political, social, etc. This is an attempt to provide civil society with an opportunity to reduce the degree of tension related to manipulations.


− Nowadays fake information proliferates not only at the political, social or military, but even at the mundane level. The main thing is to play on emotions, touch on the sorest subjects for the Ukrainians today, and people are ready to spout a barrage of hatred at someone, lynch without even thinking if it was true. How is it possible to increase the level of critical thinking?

− Today our society is extremely radicalized and ready to break out on such occasions which could have been left without attention until recently. We also have learned to hit those spots that will induce predicted negative or positive reactions. Today it is easy to mobilize the masses or the individual for what an initiator of the action wants.

But I do not see any other way except to increase one’s own level of critical thinking. It is necessary to separate clearly where you are led by various actions and try to evaluate how much the information corresponds to reality.

Or, when it comes to global matters, it is worth analyzing how much it corresponds to maintaining the integrity and unity of the state. Sadly, the technologies aimed at obtaining immediate benefit for individuals or forces are very commonly used in our country nowadays. And nobody thinks about the fact that it can destroy the country from within as soon as tomorrow.

− But not all people can analyze where they are led and how they are provoked. Who and how should direct efforts to increase the possibility of such analysis in society as a whole?

− The greater technological progress we have, the higher price we pay for it. In fact, the mass media and marketing techniques are aimed to ensure that the person does not even need to know how to read today. And then a generation grows up that asks, “Why do I need to learn this? I can easily order food and everything necessary on the Internet.” And this is directly connected with both critical and strategic thinking.

And I am sure that there is no other method except the old-fashioned one: to read. To read a lot and right literature. Ten years ago, when I taught students (at the Faculty of Philosophy at the State University of Informatics and Artificial Intelligence in Donetsk – the Reporter NA), I said, “It is necessary to practice the hygiene of the mind.” It is desirable not to read foolish things, it is not necessary to watch everything. Do not let TV penetrate in your head. Do you remember the movie “My Life”? The character with cancer records video tips to his unborn child, whom he won’t be able to see. He says, “Listen to what is time-tested. Do not waste your time on something that no one will remember tomorrow.” Critical thinking is work, and you need to work hard if you want to get a result.


− Do you think that there are some methods to settle the conflict within the country today?

− That’s not the issue, I believe. Our country has chosen the path, called the Minsk Agreements. And there are no other legitimate solutions to this issue, because nobody signed other documents in this respect. And if we are going through the procedure of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, there is no need to think about how not to implement them, gaining in the rankings.


− But maybe there were some miscalculations in them on our part from the beginning, so they are not implemented?

− I think, it would make our life more difficult in the short term, but much simpler in the long term, if politicians gave straight honest answers to the most difficult questions for the country today. Whether there is a war or not, whether there are terrorists or not, whether we are implementing the Minsk Agreements or not. Unambiguous answers. Once the country’s national interests are put at the forefront − regardless of what the ratings will be tomorrow − the situation will change immediately.

If the people we have authorized on our part have signed the Minsk Agreements, then let’s finish talking about whether they are correct or not, and let’s implement them. Or let’s get out of the process and say that the Minsk Agreements are not our agreements, but a betrayal. But then we need to offer some kind of alternative.

However, I remind you that this document was ratified by the UN Security Council, and certain sanctions can follow after such decisions. Today it is the only taken international decision on the settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, justified and supported by the international community. Everything else is just speculation. Our country is not in a position to continue deceiving itself.


− But, in fact, there are two parties to the conflict, and not only we have to comply with the rules provided for in this document...

− The Minsk Agreements were adjusted not by two parties. First, they were signed by the Trilateral Contact Group, and then the leaders of four countries, including Germany and France, approved them with their visas. Afterwards they were ratified by the UN Security Council. And if we say that we will quit or not quit, that means we challenge both Germany and France.

In addition, monitor the world’s media: everyone says about the fact that there are violations, but no one says that they are not fully carried out. They have been carried out for two years. Many people say that if we implement these agreements, it will be bad. But no one says what it would be like if we had not entered into them two years ago, maybe there would be other borders of the ORDLO zone, there would be other consequences.


− If we talk about the ideological conflict of opinions within the country, earlier it was East vs. West. Now there is a narrower positioning: the Donbas vs. the rest of Ukraine. What are the ways to resolve a mental conflict?

− Firstly, this confrontation is heated all the time. And for the sake of certain politicians. Since the beginning of the country’s existence politicians have tried to set off benefits for their constituents at the other side’s cost during each elections. Do you remember the campaigns, starting from Kuchma, then “the last battle” between Yushchenko and Yanukovych, afterwards between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko... During each campaign politicians did not consolidate the nation, but tried to find more and more gaps to drive another wedge and divide the country on grounds of nation, language, religion, culture, and so on.
Various media have fueled these ideas for 23 years.

Today, having found the sore spots, we just touch on them more carefully, pulling apart on the same grounds. That’s why I can see the single answer: only the ideology consolidating the country can help us. When the media are not allowed to oppose one region to another and the Ukrainians to the Ukrainians in favor of particularistic benefits of various mass media owners at the state level.

Secondly, the whole state machine should work on that Ukraine is a great nation with a rich history and common great future, but not look for where else to drive in a stake to have short-term political gains.


− How will the situation with the Donbas be resolved in the end? What is your forecast?

− If it is not fueled, it is not a problem that will last for decades and centuries. A good example is Sloviansk. It all began from there. The city was under siege. Today it is Ukraine. Once active hostilities stopped, all straightened out. There’s no fratricidal war, some night attacks on ideological grounds. There are still their conflicts, but it is not a paramount problem.


− What do your researches show: how has society changed for the last two years? What main trends can be distinguished?

− Major changes. On the positive side, I will not be original here, I note the increased civic participation and the development of civil society.

On the negative side, the society has become more pessimistic due to the strong economic downturn. Also, as already noted, the society has become significantly radicalized. And it should be multiplied by four million weapons, which are now freely available in the country. Both apathy to changes and disappointment are growing along with the civil activity. And it is not even disappointment in the government. The worse thing is that people are disappointed in those processes, for which they had high hopes. For example, recently Ukraine has been denied a visa-free regime once again...


− Which of these trends will be further exacerbated?

− If we cannot solve the economic issues, all the negative processes will be exacerbated. And as for the crime situation, we have slid back to the 90s, let’s speak straight out. Only then there weren’t so many weapons. In addition, tens of thousands of people are leaving prisons under the “Savchenko’s law” today – it is a big risk factor.

Another consequence: last week, the Foreign Ministry said that only according to the official data five million Ukrainians work abroad now. And since I do not see why the confidence in the government should return, there are all the prerequisites that a further outflow of people working abroad will only increase.

Today, according to opinion polls, 73% of the population does not approve the course that our country is headed for. Figuratively speaking, they don’t get a say, that is, they are not heard. And there are people who are watching this discontent ferment and waiting for the moment when it will be possible to open the valve, touch on sore spots and then harness this energy. Their media continue to get the Ukrainians all worked up. And sooner or later, it can lead to irreversible consequences, up to breakup of the country.


− What specific forces are you talking about?

− It may be any force. If those voicing extreme right-wing ideas today feel tomorrow that they can take an office on the basis of the far-left ideas – they will immediately change their rhetoric. Do not forget: today, almost every self-respecting oligarch has two opposite parties, extreme in their ideological views.


− Please give specific examples.

− There is, for example, “Solidarnist”, and there is “Nash Krai”. Aren’t they tied up through some people, in your opinion? Next come UKROP, “Svoboda”, “Vidrodzhennia” – there is also no tie-up between these parties, is there?


− No matter how our political forces played earlier upon the opposition of extreme ideas, east and west, the country still coexisted in a single space. But as soon as the third force intervened, it was a very fast break down two years ago, the families began to fall apart, and the Ukrainians began to kill each other. What start button was pressed at that moment?

- First, I have already talked about the absence of a national consolidating idea. Second, in light of recent events, when the friendship, family ties tear apart, the issue comes to the ultimate level, the level of identity. That means one person identifies himself/herself with one part, and the second person with the opponents. This is the ultimate, deepest level. And as it turns out: if I accept your position, I should not just give up on my position, but on the part of myself. On the part of my own identity. But people are so constituted that they can refuse it all, but not their own identity. They will fight for this to the end. And when these spots have been found, the constant appeal to these ultimate points, to the deepest levels makes this conflict within Ukrainian society very difficult to solve. Even religious issues were used in order to mobilize the maximum number of masses and get to them most deeply.

And third, “directors” do not dampen down raging conflicts deliberately. That is, the use of mass media, social networks, a series of fibs – whatever to mend this fire. Eurovision is a political discourse. Football is a political discourse. Amazingly, people were often happy that Lazarev lost, but not that Jamala won. At the same time I want to note: no matter how the discourse of hatred and xenophobia was formed, Ukraine gave Russia the maximum number of points, and Russia gave Ukraine almost the maximum. This once again shows that the source of opposition is in the minds of politicians, but not in the hearts of people. The situation with Savchenko is the same... We have perverted everything, everything has become a tool for driving up political ratings. Even the church! But this is the ultimate meaning of life. However, one tries to involve even this institution in a political discourse and use not for the salvation of our souls, but to derive any particularistic political benefits.


− How should our country respond to manifestations of non-state policy in the churches?

− As a theologian by profession, I would say that a church is separated from a state in our country, as well as throughout Europe. Our task is to avoid dragging the church into a political conflict and making it an instrument of a political discourse by all means.

Second, in no case the religious map of Ukraine can be changed in favor of a certain denomination at the legislative level. It’s definitely not the task of deputies. And this will lead to further tension in the country.
The state should create equal conditions for all religions and believers. But some of the highest religious leaders think about the political dividends and appear at social events more often than in the pulpit.


− But it induced the reaction on the part of the state institutions just because the clergy in the churches agitated their laity for one side of the conflict, aggravating the threat to our statehood actually. And if the church is not a social institution, the priests should have prayed for united Ukraine, but not have become a tool in fueling the conflict. Do you think the state should leave it without any reaction?

− If a priest carries on anti-state propaganda – he breaks the law, and as a citizen of Ukraine he should bear liability, including criminal.

Yes, the church in the Donbas was also used as a tool for swaying the situation. Just as the government was demonized in the Euromaidan, the rest of Ukraine was demonized in the Donbas, i.e. those forces which, according to local media, “seized” power in Ukraine. And the Donbas just held itself out as the only survived territory to struggle against darkness, “soulless West”. There were unauthorized processions; battalions used religious symbols, heraldry with icons, saints and so on. And all this was in the framework of the Russian World. Now, by the way, much of this concept has been struck by the leaders of the so-called DNR from its so-called constitution.


− You constantly communicate with foreign colleagues, politicians, representatives of civil society abroad. What is the rhetoric about the events in Ukraine abroad today?

− Foreign mass media discourse, think tank discourse are very different from the Ukrainian ones. We don’t hit the headlines anymore; the Ukrainian issue is not even the third on the background of migration and European crisis. And we need to understand that the Europeans are tired of our illogicalness. The rhetoric of our politicians abroad is significantly different from what they say in the country. Everyone sees and understands it; it does not buoy optimism and confidence. Disappointment is growing.


− In your opinion, are there any ways to return the Crimea?

− The diplomatic one only. But, unlike the situation with the Donbas, which the European Community is discussing, there is no site today where Russia would agree to sit down at the table and discuss the Crimean issue. And if we want to do it, then we should not undermine the line poles, deprive the peninsula of water – all this will not awaken the Crimeans’ love for Ukraine. The logical questions to those who did it: what did they want to achieve by this, and whose interests did they pursue? I recall one example: the day before the election in 2014 the entire Kyiv was hung with posters of one extremely radical-minded politician – “I’ll return the Crimea” (this refers to Oleh Liashko – the Reporter NA). And what? It is necessary not to run through the stands, not to seek publicity with this and not to break off the last chain, which connects the peninsula with the mainland, but to develop strategies on return, to represent them in the international arena.


− What do your researches show: is World War III possible?

− In the European society I have heard the idea that it has been going on already. In Syria, more than 80 foreign military forces were counted. There is even a North Korea military force. And while there are weapons of mass destruction, we should never reject this possibility. On the other hand, namely a nuclear weapon has deterred the war for the last 60 years.

And our country should develop such a global strategy of behavior on the world stage, which would allow us to minimize the impact of the conflicts that we see on the border of the Western and non-Western worlds. Ukraine is at the crossroads of the battle of interests of such giants as the USA, China, Russia, Europe, Asia... We can either fight them (with a known final result) or use these movements to solve our political and economic interests. We have to think how to make these movements favorable for us.

Текст: Алена Медведева

Фото: Владимир Бородин

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