"Yushchenko has given hope for the recognition of theology"
INTERVIEW with the Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Fr. Borys GUDZIAK.
Correspondent. – Lviv is big with rumors about some extraordinary events associated with the meeting of President Yushchenko with the academic community in the Hall of Mirrors of Ivan Franko National University in Lviv [LNU] on 16 February. What was special about this meeting for you?
Fr. B.G. – The president embraced a theology student… This is a remarkable day not only for UCU [the Ukrainian Catholic University] but also for everyone who cares about the spiritual component of our life, because Ukraine as a state was persistently reluctant to do so. But President Yushchenko did it spontaneously and cordially….
The meeting could have become a formal one, as often happens, but it did not, thanks to the exhortations of Rector Ivan Vakarchuk of LNU and Vice-rector Maria Zubrytska. Rector Vakarchuk laid the primary stress on the need to rescue village schools, which always provided fresh and pure potential for Ukraine, and which are now under threat. He also spoke about the needs of the LNU Library and closed with a bold strategic proposal: Ukraine can join Europe only with a proper level of education, which requires immediate elaboration of methods to bring the Ukrainian system of education closer to the European one. He proposed that the National University of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ivan Franko National University in Lviv, and the Ukrainian Catholic University (and perhaps also others) should become a kind of a laboratory of university autonomy, where freedom of experiments will reign.
Cor. – And what is behind the word “autonomy”?
Fr. B.G. – A university is first of all a community of professors and students. Professors should be such good specialists that they can create educational programs themselves. It is paradoxical that, for instance, at 3 p.m. on Tuesday there is to be the same lecture on the History of Ukraine, and with the same title, for second-year students virtually all over Ukraine. It is equivalent to a manufacturer (I explained it this way to Poroshenko [a national deputy recently named head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council]) being told to make these sweets on Mondays at 3 p.m. and wrap them in this paper and sell them in this way. It is unthinkable to tie the hands of powerful communities of intellectuals and spiritual leaders like that.
Secondly, scholarly degrees are defended in universities. A scholarly council consisting of more than ten doctors of sciences hears the defense of a certain topic. But later everything is approved in a bureaucratic structure called the Higher Commission for Attestation [HCA] in Kyiv, where non-specialists very often decide if a defense is appropriate. We know that the HCA approved thousands of doctoral theses of high ranking officials (for instance in Economics, which theses were apparently not written by the officials), yet at the same time blocked works of other scholars for political reasons. Universities should award scholarly degrees independently. A doctor is “doctus,” a taught person able to teach others. If a university cannot determine the level of a scholar independently, that institution is not worthy of its name.
Cor. – I think both the HCA and the details of the educational system were introduced in response to the decline in the level of education. Perhaps due to the number of universities which grew in Ukraine as mushrooms after a rain, there is a fear that they will not produce appropriate doctors or programs.
Fr. B.G. – The system which we have is a relic of Soviet times, when the basic rules of the game were central planning and ideological and tactical control. It is obvious that today, when a certain commercialization of educational institutions is taking place, the mentioned fear is legitimate. Therefore, one must not let the whole educational system run itself. That is where specific sites are needed, which have already showed their potential with respect to innovative work in the European vector. It is necessary to let them conduct the experiment for, let’s say, 3 to 5 years. President Yushchenko received such a written proposal from rectors Vakarchuk, Briukhovetskyi and Gudziak.
Cor. – An interesting play on words: there is a need for experimental sites [word for word: little squares] as small “Independence Squares,” where the transformation of society takes place. [Note: Independence Square in Kyiv was the main site of the Orange Revolution of 2004.]
Fr. B.G. – In fact, a classical university was and should be an intellectual square, where discussions are held to refine arguments and search for the truth. But when everything comes down in articles from some central body, it kills natural human initiative.
Cor. – You presented the needs of the Ukrainian Catholic University to the president in a rather unusual way: not as a list of some problems, but using the example of two students. What is that, a tactical intention or pastoral method?
Fr. B.G. – First of all, I would like to thank the president for reviving the hope of young Ukrainians, especially students. We, the rectors, teachers, I would say, even pastors, were not able to achieve by our programs or some pedagogical approaches what he achieved by great personal sacrifices. During those “orange” days, Ukrainian youth were ready to lay down their lives for Ukraine and for him, because he showed that he was ready to lay down his life for Ukraine.
There were apparently many such students in various institutions, but I presented a third-year student of the Theology Department of UCU, Andrii Andrushkiv. On 21 November  at 10 p.m., after the voting station in a small village of the Odessa region was closed, where the young man was an election observer representing [then] presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, he threw himself under [the wheels of] a vehicle, the driver of which was attempting to transport an illegitimate ballot box for obvious falsification of the calculation of votes. It was at night, he was alone, and the danger for his life was real.
Having heard about this spontaneous act of the young man, the president stood up and hugged the student with tears in his eyes. And then I told him that Andrii, who proved his faithfulness to Ukraine, receives a “no” answer from her daily. Each day when he gets on a street car, he is refused a reduction of travel fare. The same happens when he buys train tickets. The same applies to his wish to be entitled to student medical care. To cut it short, all social preferences to which students are entitled do not apply to theology student Andrii Andrushkiv, because he is not a student in the eyes of the Ukrainian state, as he studies a specialty which “does not exist” and is “a private liking” or “hobby.” Despite our 10 years of efforts, the Ministry of Education of Ukraine does not license or accredit either the Theology Department of UCU or other theological programs of various denominations of Ukraine.
Cor. – What was the president’s reaction?
Fr. B.G. – He threw up his hands and turned to his team with a silent question…
Then I introduced to the president Olia Bosak, who graduated from UCU last year and is also a fourth-year student of the Economics Department of LNU and who was the coordinator of the recent event “Christmas Together.” Everyone who saw the girl in those days could see how sacrificially she worked. On Christmas Eve, we had to send her home as she was green with fatigue. At the same time, we saw the fruits of the work of Olia and her friends, who helped the president to repair the division in Ukraine. Two thousand young people from the east deeply experienced Christmas in Lviv, and we, in our turn, experienced the richness of communication with them. It would not be possible without the sacrifice of this student, whose theological education is not recognized, either. Olia represents the cohort of Ukrainian women who received the diploma of theologians in the Ukrainian land for the first time in a thousand years of Christianity. And we need women’s voices in theology…
The reaction of the president after he heard what we had to say was also spontaneous: he kissed the girl’s hand and offered Andrii and Olia jobs in the new secretariat, as Oleksandr Zinchenko is now recruiting 50 new workers. Zinchenko, who was present at the meeting, said that his structure will employ graduates of Sorbonne and Harvard, whose diplomas are also not recognized in Ukraine. Why then cannot people with solid humanities and theological education, whose diplomas are not recognized yet, work there?
Cor. – What in your opinion does the meeting with the president and his offer mean for the students themselves?
Fr. B.G. – Imagine yourself to be a social outcast separated from society… As if you are normal, you study, but you are still not like other students. Constant refusals of the ministry to recognize the education of these young people are constant blows on their dignity as persons. The president worked on the task of raising Ukraine from its knees. Even though these students were not on their knees, they still could not spread their wings. I wish the president could solve this matter, having looked in these people’s eyes, and officially present state diplomas in theology to UCU graduates on 18 June.
Cor. – There is an interesting paradox. The new Minister of Education, Nikolaienko, says that the law of separation of church from state prevents religious education from being legitimate in Ukraine. Yet, on the other hand, the result of this religious upbringing and theological education in the eyes of the president is deserving of employment of a person at the secretariat of the whole country.
Fr. B.G. – The contradiction is obvious and should be resolved. Both in Russia and even in Belarus (not to mention Poland, Austria, Germany, and other countries in different continents, where there is no totalitarian system) theological education is officially recognized. The separation of church from state does not mean the separation of spirituality from society, the separation of religious and intellectual life from social and political life. What is important is to prevent the new legislation from being interpreted according to the old atheistic or materialistic approaches. Otherwise, the president should not have the right to cross himself and speak about some religious values in public. But we see how much the recent religious rise was integrally connected with the social rise of Ukraine. Ukrainians who are Christians of various denominations should be given a chance to realize the basic core of their identity.
Cor. – Do the managers of secular educational institutions share your views?
Fr. B.G. – I think that when the history of this period of the recognition of theology in Ukraine is written, a special place in it will be taken by such institutions as LNU, the National University of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and their managers: Rector Ivan Vakarchuk, Vice-rector Maria Zubrytska, President Viacheslav Briukhovetskyi. Many students of Ukraine were worthy carriers of orange colors, but the mentioned institutions were in the vanguard of the liberation movement; and it is their managers who think that the legitimation of theological education is one of the preconditions for the reform of education and bringing it nearer to the European style and standard. The Council of Rectors of the Lviv Region supported these efforts and all theologians are grateful to them for that.
Cor. – Is the new president’s team ready for such a reform?
Fr. B.G. – Time will tell. All of us sincerely accepted the president’s call not to be afraid of difficult questions and enter a dialogue with him. Therefore, I asked him another concrete question which is going to be a litmus test with respect to the new policy. The president mentioned more than once the need for new faces in the new government and non-admittance of persons who were in the camp hostile to the “orange” movement. Therefore, students, teachers and rectors who were on the Square (and I think the whole general public also) were simply shocked by the appointment of former minister of education Kremin as assistant to Secretary of State Zinchenko.
I expressed to the president my appreciation of various virtues and the experience of the former minister of education, but recalled that Kremin was silent when they beat students in the Sumy region, when young fighters for truth were called terrorists and explosives were planted on them. That official did not react in any way to the terrible death of Rector Slyvka of Uzhhorod University last summer, when it was called suicide, despite the fact there were stab wounds on the body. Kremin was silent when teachers were made to stand by ballot boxes in precincts and see to it that students voted for the pro-regime candidate. The minister of education did not defend his subordinates when moral and academic values were being totally destroyed in higher educational institutions. And when Ukraine finally began to prepare for the New Year’s celebration, Kremin signed a several-year contract with the deeply compromised Kivalov, who was recognized to be a falsifier by the Supreme Court, a contract for rectorship in the Law (!) Academy in Odesa. It simply cannot be understood from the point of view of common sense. Perhaps there exist some factors unknown to the public. Undoubtedly, politics is the art of what is possible. But this appointment is totally incomprehensible to students, the educational sector in general, intellectuals and the Lviv Public Forum, which responded to it in an open letter to the president.
Cor. - And what was the reaction of the president?
Fr. B.G. – After a pause, he asked: “Do you want a sincere answer?” The hall buzzed: “Exactly!” Then he said: “Let me think. When I approved this appointment, I was presented one argument, and now, having listened to you, I see there are other reasonings which should be considered.”
Cor. – By the standards of the age of Kuchma, such a bold step of yours would automatically mean punitive measures against the Ukrainian Catholic University. Is it also a test for the new regime?
Fr. B.G. – Students, teachers and the university administration are not afraid of punitive sanctions. Our university has a veteran of struggle against the Soviet punitive system, Myroslav Marynovych, who constantly inspires us and gives orderliness to our civic posture. We have experience of living under various sanctions for 11 years. And we have a task entrusted to us by our great predecessors: to witness about moral values and go where others cannot go. We cannot replace the functions performed by such large and solid educational institutions as the Lviv National University, Lviv Politechnic, Lviv Medical University and other distinguished higher education institutions of the Lviv region and Ukraine, but, in certain situations, we can say a word that has to be heard by the regime.
Cor. – Finally, I wish to congratulate you on being presented the order “For merit” of the 3rd degree by the president for your substantial personal contribution to the defense of democracy and active civic position.
Fr. B.G. – Thank you. I must admit that I still cannot get rid of certain scepticism with respect to the “order-bearers” of the past… But it is moving and honorable to receive an award personally from the new president as a recognition of the merits of the whole of our university. And it is significant that Mr. Yushchenko expressed this recognition after I had expressed my criticism. It all indicates that it is easy and honorable to follow such a president.
Ukrainian original posted on the website of the Ukrainian Catholic University (www.ucu.edu.ua) on 24 February, 2005