By Serhiy UDOVYK
Ukraine is now facing an extremely acute dilemma: either to marshal all domestic reserves and break through into the group of developed countries or to finally remain in the group of the hopelessly backward.
This country’s main problem is absence of a government-sponsored geo-economic strategy of development.
Ukraine is losing momentum with each passing year, day, and hour, increasingly lagging behind the European countries not only in terms of its per capita gross domestic product but also in terms of economic organization, and management quality, especially in the upper echelons of power.
This has formed a prevalent opinion abroad that our country is incapable of any technological breakthrough and that being a raw-material appendage to Europe is its destiny.
What also enhances this image is our “ethnically-colored” elite which pictures the future Ukraine as nothing but a mustachioed Cossack wearing sharovary (traditional baggy pants — Ed.), although these people prefer riding, with embroidered shirts on, in Mercedeses rather than horse-drawn carts.
When this newspaper published Yevhen Marchuk’s article “Sociopolis as Model of a Future Society” (The Day, September 5, 2000), many looked on it as either a spin-control exercise or a utopian dream that has nothing to do with Ukrainian reality.
However, there is a social law: if society is mature enough to be changed, it is sufficient to present a new idea to set the crystallization process in motion.
While the first conference on sociopolises, held in November 2000, was participated in by 34 organizations, the second one, Sociopolis in Ukraine: the Technologies of Practical Construction (December 11-13, 2001), attracted about a hundred organizations, commercial facilities, banks, as well as mayors of a number of Ukrainian cities and foreign guests.
The idea of priority development, emphasis on breakthrough technologies, and the development of sociopoleis as a respective medium are the three crucial factors that can boost Ukraine’s well-being.
The conference showed that these ideas evoke a due response from Ukraine’s active population and progressive managerial elite, which follows from the experience of Illichivsk, where a creative and innovation-friendly medium was established.
Illichivsk Mayor V.Y. Khmelniuk told the audience about the striking changes that have occurred in a depression-ravaded small city of 60,000 in a short period of time since 1995. The city administration managed to keep state property from being squandered, create a business-friendly environment, and launch a number of businesses, with the only criterion being as follows: all products must meet European standards and have a chance to be exported to Europe.
Even the shoe factory they built is now Ukraine’s best, with its products being exported to Germany and Russia.
Over the past five years, the city has drastically increased its capital and implemented resource- saving technologies. In a city with no higher educational institutions until recently, there are now about 500 students at the local branches of three institutes, including an American one.
Another Ukrainian city, Reni, is also actively establishing a similar medium.
But what really stands out is the experience of Ovidiopol. This provincial town has made a technological breakthrough by connecting a 2MB Internet channel, organizing electronic trade and electronic document exchange, opening a supermarket...
Conversely, even in Kyiv’s executive bodies, including the Cabinet of Ministers, document exchange is being conducted by couriers, as it was when Queen Ann was alive. This makes it strange to hear from bureaucrats that Ukraine is striving to join Europe.
These are not isolated examples. Ukrainian firms have developed a wide range of high-tech software products for the purpose of electronic document exchange, business and trade; regional electronic public reception rooms; electronic teaching and distance medical care. Also in the making is an electronic government project.
But a sociopolis means not only technologies and innovations but also a proper intellectual and creative environment.
Unfortunately, as Ukraine’s ruling elite has always been distinguished for having no creative intentions, creative people have constantly been hounded out of Ukraine to other countries, where a more friendly environment helped them develop their talents. Now that we take pride in our compatriots we must ask ourselves: does it do us credit that they made a name for themselves not here but somewhere abroad? A brilliant destiny awaited Kostiantyn Malevych, Igor Sikorsky, Viktor Nekrasov, and Roman Viktiuk in an alien land. Ukrainian-born Selman Waksman, the discoverer of streptomycin and Nobel Prize winner, found his destiny in the US. Although our country begets a wealth of talents, the current atmosphere either suppresses or ousts them. As for the brain drain of, all kinds of professionals and talented youth, only Russia can perhaps outrun Ukraine only simply due to its size.
This is why the conference devoted a whole day to the problems of habitat and education.
The Illichivsk mayor pointed out that when the town began to grow and set up modern production facilities and quality educational institutions, the migration reversed: the city saw the inflow of active people, it became prestigious to live here, which is reflected in apartment prices now exceeding those in Odesa.
Education is Ukraine’s special problem. Even if education takes twelve years, as “on the other side,” or even twenty, we again see a formalistic approach, when all attention is focused on form, not the content. It is difficult to hope that teachers, who do socially important work but receive a salary far below the subsistence level, will provide a quality education. As a result, children see schooling as an ordeal of communicating with embittered and irritated teachers. Moreover, “reform” will only extend this ordeal by another two years. It is no accident that Ukraine is regarded abroad as a country of masochists.
V. M. Spivakovsky from Kyiv’s Grand Lyceum rightly noted that education is, above all, a technology, and parents should be clearly aware of what kind of child they will receive upon graduation from school: a zombie-like, easily manipulated and diligent workhorse stuffed with the bits and pieces of information or a creative personality capable of absorbing knowledge like a sponge and quickly adapting to a new situation. The education system of Ukraine upholds the Soviet tradition of training specialistsas cogs in some machine” required for industrial production.
It is now time for a different approach. Schools must have certificates of their relative ranking, while parents and children should be able to choose on their own the system of education and the subjects to be learned. To do so, money will perhaps have to be channeled to children’s current accounts, not to schools. Only then will we see qualitative changes. Ukrainian scientists have long been researching the development of a child’s intellect, starting from the period of birth. Genetic psychology is a major research area at the Ukrainian Institute of Psychology. The tremendous achievements of this research have been implemented only in a few elite schools in large cities. Western experts are also interested in these achievements. Why not extend these methods to all parts of Ukraine?
One more day was devoted to ethical problems. The conference participants came to a unanimous conclusion: a new economy is impossible without new ethics.
Great Ukrainian philosopher Serhiy Krymsky pointed out that ethics develops toward full individual responsibility for decisions made. How far this is from what we have in reality! Collective bodies hide their lack of professionalism behind collective decision-making. And as long as we are subject to collective rule, all decisions will remain irresponsible and people will be living in poverty and misery.
Yes, there is some grassroots initiative, not only among the conference participants. There are a wealth of growth point in Ukraine. Many people no longer count on governmental help: they only want the state not to stand in their way. Increasingly popular is becoming the Ukraine — XXI Century Foundation founded by Bohdan Hubsky. This foundation’s successes are all the more striking against the backdrop of contempt for the plight of our research on the part of bureaucrats. Despite the President’s persistent demands to increase research allocations to the lawful 1.7% of GDP, the budget still projects a negligible 0.29%.
Incidentally, the grassroots initiative, at the level of city mayors and private business, is breaking against the impregnable bureaucratic wall at the higher echelons of power.
All these examples show that this country possesses huge reserves. If only the state treated our people the way the governments of Japan, Germany, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or even Vietnam in the past few years did theirs, we would now be witnessing a Ukrainian miracle to rival the German one of the 1950s in deed, not in word. But this depends, above all, on us, for it is we who choose our destiny by electing legislative and executive bodies. And it depends on our wishes whether we will see this country turn into a Sociopolis. Ukraine has the people and resources for precisely this.