EPSS Lecture: ‘The Role of Culture in the Emergence and Reconciliation of the Conflict in Ukraine’

On November 18, the 5th EPSS lecture, “The role of culture in the emergence and reconciliation of the conflict in Ukraine” was held, inviting 3 experts in the fields. Dr Svitlana Kobzar, Head of the International Affairs Dept at Vesalius College, introduced the topic and the speakers: Dr. Olga Burlyuk, Centre for EU Studies, University of Ghent; Dr. Olena Prystaiko Executive Director of Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels.; Jerzy Pomianowski, Executive Director of the European Endowment for Democracy.

Nov 18 EPSS_Svitlana“The timing of the event was important as Ukraine’s Euro-Maidan movement, what came to be also known as the Revolution of Dignity, marked a one-year anniversary. The movement was sparked by Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the association agreement with the EU, but it was a sign of much deeper problems in Ukraine – a deeply dysfunctional governance system.

Nov 18 EPSS_OlenaThe EuroMaidan movement has demonstrated that many Ukrainians could no longer tolerate the government’s corruption, brutality and violence, and more importantly, the lack of any genuine signs that such regime was willing to change. The European integration became associated with the opportunity to break away from the Soviet past.

At the same time, while many Ukrainians share close historical and family ties with Russia, Putin’s regime came to symbolize many things that Ukrainians could not tolerate anymore: a high level of corruption, authoritarianism, lack of media freedom and continuous lies by government officials to its people – traits that for many reminded of those exhibited by Soviet governments.

Nov 18 EPSS_JerzyThe role of culture is important in the emergence and reconciliation of the conflict as it touches on people’s emotional feelings and rational thoughts and perceptions of reality. Culture can be a uniting and dividing tool, connecting different generations and people living in different parts of Ukraine regardless of the languages spoken. The real battle in Ukraine (but also in Russia) is happening in people hearts and minds, as they reflect on the European values and what it can mean for them. It is important to analyze the conflict within the larger context, including the contest of values. Culture has the ability to weave the social fabric in a way that could also address corruption problems by encouraging young and old to reflect on the distorted governance and corruption habits that grappled Ukraine for many years.”

Nov 18 EPSS_OlgaAll of the speakers discussed many aspects of the culture, including political culture, and the opportunities for the dialogue and ways to create a new social contract inside Ukraine and in the relationship between Ukraine and Russia. Having such a contract could pave the way for building a common vision of the future and ways to reconcile the past. Grappling with different historical interpretations and current political situation will not be easy, but will be important for reconciliation. Beginning with local communities and focusing on the youth were some of the starting points discussed at the event. Other recommendations included increasing internal mobility, fostering a democratic media culture, supporting projects that tend to unite (rather than divide) people, dealing with the issues of self-identification. It is also essential to consider what needs to be done in the post-war Ukraine, how to heal the societal wounds that can unite as well as divide communities.