Toppling the statue of Lenin in Kiev, December 2013. Photo: Pohorynsky

Maidan – sketches from a revolution

Elena Sabirova reports from post-revolution Ukraine. She outlines possible roles for adult education in alleviating the ever-present feeling of discord, mistrust and threat.

Nobody could have predicted that in the 21st century, in the heart of Europe it is possible to have a confrontation of attitudes, opinions, destinies, countries. That the main, generally accepted values of human dignity, welfare, security, social order, state, justice, freedom, responsibility will not be used to bring people together, but for their disunity, and will get a distorted and even hostile characte

This article is an account of the Ukraine crisis, from an inside perspective. I first describe the social transformations taking place in the country. I then discuss what role adult education might play in alleviating the conflict.

The situation right now is this: occupation of the Crimean peninsula continues. The focus in Ukraine today is on the South-East of the country, and more precisely on Luhansk and Donetsk regions where people are killed. Residents of these areas are under the influence of the Russian media. The new Ukrainian president elected by an overwhelming majority has declared a road map for peace in the East of the country. Ukrainian-Russian relations have become increasingly strained, despite the Russian recognition of the new president. More and more frequent cases of escalating tensions with Russia speak for themselves.

Us and them

This situation affects virtually every person, every family has representatives on different sides. The social networks are in chaos and the relationships of once beloved and respected relatives are being terminated – friends are no longer friends.

My colleague from the Crimea wrote:

“Perhaps only in such crucial historical moments one begins to be acutely aware of gains and losses, including among people who surrounded you in recent years. I was pleased that calls came from all regions of Ukraine with proposals of assistance. Sometimes they were from people whom I had seen only once in my life. At the same time, it is very painful to see how some old friends have got broken down, and it turns out that the person, who you trusted, suddenly announces you his enemy and literally is ready to sling mud because you have a different opinion. “

Ukraine today is divided into “us” and “them”, into “patriots” and “traitors”, to the separatists and defenders of territorial integrity. There is also a more deep mental break, dividing the society into two parts – those who rejoice at enemy losses and those who cannot be happy because these losses are people’s lives. The situation told by a colleague from Poltava (center of Ukraine) is puzzling:

“Last call for high school graduates … Crowds of patriotic young people – classmates walked on this day in the city and almost every class proclaimed: Glory to Ukraine – Heroes of glory .. Glory to the nation – death to enemies! Question: Who are considered as the enemy: all Russians, all who live in the Crimea, Donbass (Donetsk region)? Whom? It is necessary now to work with young people, to prevent them from turning from patriots into Nazis. It is important here to prevent radicalization… “

Young people seem to learn rather quickly a very simple dichotomy: us – strangers; a friend – an enemy. A critical realization of what is happening, awareness of choice and tolerance is required for today’s youth. “Maidan” began with the youth and our future will be decided by them – by what kind of mood and atmosphere they “absorb” today.

National consciousness

What should a person feel finding himself in the center of events in contemporary Ukraine? For most it is obvious that the Maidan, as the Ukrainian revolution is known, is not just a revolt against a corrupt and brutal regime, it is something much more important, strong and absolutely unusual. In course of the events of recent months, we witness not only social, economic and political processes, but also profound mental changes. A process of new thinking against the old one is being formulated, new values against the old.  And the biological age of the participants is not important, because we can see older people supporting new values, and, unfortunately, young owners of old calloused, conservative values.

There are a lot of controversial issues, many thought-provoking and unifying things. But the unifying factor for pro-Western and pro-Russian views is the desire of people to live in a sovereign Ukraine. More than 20 years of Ukrainian independence developed a society with new values, such as respect for human rights, human dignity, freedom of information, freedom of choice, and so forth. No wonder that the Maidan events are called “revolution of dignity”, where people showed that they no longer want to be deprived of their rights and exist in the system of old values. One thing is clear – Ukraine will never be the same again. Conclusions drawn after the Maidan, events in the East and South will contribute to Ukrainian national and civic identity.

It is said that (national) consciousness is thoroughly mastered and assimilated past. Consciousness is a difficult thing, the crowning work of man and people over himself/themselves. It was true yesterday but today and tomorrow for modern Ukraine it is of double importance. In Ukraine, there is no inter-national or inter-ethnic conflict. It is not divided between “Russian” and “Ukrainian” segments, it occurs between the opinions and positions of those who gained Ukrainian national identity, and those who have not yet acquired it. Throughout the period of independence there has been a desire in Ukraine to obtain European values. However, in some separate parts of the country, there was a certain “mental autonomy”, where people remained hostages of an archaic Soviet thinking, propaganda and manipulation. How to develop a resistance against it? This requires a completely new project for representatives of the Ukrainian society – Ukrainians, Russians, Crimean Tartars and other ethnic minorities. Democratic values should not only be declared, but also embedded in the everyday life of modern Ukraine.

What role for adult education?

The importance of the everyday knowledge of the citizen increases in this transformative time. Much depends on his or her vision and understanding of the processes, his ability to make a choice from a set of alternatives based on his own values system.

Recently I was talking to a teacher at a university about the situation today in the field of education, the attitude of students and teachers to what is happening, to education and to life in general. The teacher was of the opinion that, unfortunately, current traditional education does not heed the call of time, and students are often more interested in how to recoup money spent on education than in their own development. Working youth spends almost all the time on making money, having precious little time for education, let alone other forms of self-development. Adults over 30 years undertake, at best, advance training, and at worst increase their education watching TV programs.

Meanwhile, the world in which we live in is not just “knowledge society”, but also “risk society”, in which there is no certainty of anything – neither of employment or career, or even of an own individual identity. Millions of people are not able to explore the contradictions in their own value systems, deeply explore their own life goals. Nothing can help you, if you are not sure in your own purposes and not able to make decisions in the existing conditions of over-choice. It is not surprising then that many people go into the future in random ways, here and there bumping into obstacles.

The second aspect, which today is no less important, is the ability to think critically. This is a “litmus test” on which people can check the ability to make informed decisions, not only in terms of logical arguments, but also in conjunction with the “natural mind”, intuition and conscience. The ability to develop their own internal risk management procedures is the only way to learn to live in an unstable world. Unfortunately, these skills are rarely taught in high schools and this is a niche for adult education. The courses for adults in this direction could cover the following topics: “Life skills-based education”, “Critical thinking”, “Social skills” and  “Social intelligence” and also be incorporated into additional education in the universities of the country and even into the school curriculum.

One thing is clear: the basis for adult education is not knowledge transfer, but a person – his/her perception and knowledge of himself/herself, spirituality and self-development, through critical consciousness and perception of the world, through a process of his/her conscious change and action.

Once again it is worth noting that in Ukraine there are no conflict parties, there is a conflict of opinions and positions. Adults need to be taught tolerance today and critical consciousness; they will do the rest themselves. This is demonstrated by the events in Ukraine, it is dictated by time. And it is a lot of work to be done for adult education.

The Ukrainian layman’s statement: “We are committed to Europe, because we share European values” often baffles people and the answer is not immediately found. “In Europe it is better than here”  is a response that can be obtained immediately in this country. The reason why it might be better in Europe than here is because Europe does not only proclaim its values of democracy and human rights, but also lives by these values. This is what gives Europe the right “to be better”. And we in Ukraine need to learn this.

This article is produced in cooperation with the InfoNet adult education correspondents’ network. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the publisher of LLinE.

The Ukrainian revolution and the crisis of Crimea

Russian soldiers guarding a Ukrainian military base, March 2014. Photo: Anton Holoborodko

The former president Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine was getting ready to sign the EU Association Agreement in November, 2013. Suddenly in the same month the Ukrainian government decided to suspend preparations for signing the Agreement, citing national security interests and the need to restore lost trade with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

This sudden decision of the government sparked massive civil protests in Ukraine (“Euromaidan”) in support to political association and economic integration with the EU. The unrest culminated in the ousting of President Yanukovych In February 2014 and the installation of an interim government. Causes of the revolution include a history of corruption, slow economic growth and mismanagement, coupled with the cancellation of the Association Agreement.

This revolution led to a de facto annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014. Crimea is populated by an ethnic Russian majority. The EU has officially stated that it does not and will not recognize the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation and signed the political provisions of the Association Agreement with Ukraine where the parties confirm their commitment to proceed to the signature and conclusion of the remaining parts of the Agreement.