“It is not generations but values that matter”

The Day’s experts opine on the debate on the contributions of the “older” and “younger” generations and establish who did what for Ukraine

The well-known historian Yaroslav Hrytsak recently made a splash with his provocative statement that the generation of the 1980s and 1990s was “beautiful, noisy but impotent.” The full quote is as follows: “You do not like Viktor Yanukovych, and you go out onto the streets. But what comes after that? You disappear from Independence Square and go to Facebook. All protests of this generation were like that, including the Occupy events in the US, the Arab Spring, and the Russian Bolotnaya Square protest. And how does it all work out? With all the revolutions of this generation ending as failures. Because its way of doing things is beautiful, but hopeless. As long as you do not create political projects of your own, the old political class will keep ruling. It will ceaselessly promote its favored rules of the game and will change them only under strong pressure. This is what we are seeing now. For it has turned out – and is now understood by Petro Poroshenko and others – that you can be safely ignored. This generation, these 15 percent of Ukrainian society, for which values of self-expression are important, can be politically ignored. It is beautiful, noisy, but impotent. It is much ado about nothing.” (theinsider.ua)

Of course, it got a response, in particular from representatives of the younger generation. MP Mustafa Nayyem replied by accusing his predecessors of saddling the young with a corrupt country, because they had given it away to crooks, including former Komsomol members in particular. “Indeed, many people in our generation were a little naive and romantic. This is true... But I would like to say one thing in defense of this new generation. Hrytsak belongs to the generation that was of our age when independence came. They did not have to fight a war, they did not have situations when they were forced to create political parties in wartime. Who did they give the country to? To former Komsomol members. Why did not they create a party that would now pass on to us a clean, corruption-free Ukraine? Why did not I see examples in my life of people entering politics honestly and becoming presidents and prime ministers?” Nayyem said (fakty.ictv.ua).

Later, Hrytsak responded: “Our [the older generation’s. – Ed.] mission was to keep the nation independent, while the mission of the younger generation is to change the country, and we will not compete here.” In fact, such discussions have always been held. And one must understand that each generation has its own crooks and heroes, and each generation has miscalculations and achievements of its own. Still, the current situation is a special one.

Firstly, let us turn to the older generation. It did regain the independence of Ukraine, indeed, although there were also favorable objective circumstances, we mean the collapse of the Soviet Union. But then its patriotic part, or national democrats, as they call themselves, lost the struggle for further development of a real independent Ukraine. For example, according to Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of Ukraine, he offered the Popular Movement to form a coalition government in the early 1990s, but Viacheslav Chornovil refused. There were other very telling events at that time, but the fact remains that the end result was the former Communists, Komsomol members and criminals taking power into their own hands. Today it is called the “Kuchma system,” since its namesake served as prime minister in 1992-93, and as president of Ukraine in 1994-2004. “It was during his presidency that the oligarchy emerged, corruption took root, and people began to physically eliminate opponents in various spheres; in particular, one can mention the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze, and many other ‘delayed-action mines’ were laid down,” MP of the 2nd and 3rd convocations of the Verkhovna Rada Oleksandr Yeliashkevych commented for The Day. “It was against this system, as well as Leonid Kuchma himself, and then Yanukovych, that Maidan protests were held, but they could not break it. As a result, we got war, thousands of compatriots fallen and territories lost.”

The second part of the issue concerns the young generation. Each new generation is a continuation of the previous one, because such is the natural process. The old bring up the young. But in the Ukrainian political reality, this situation takes a special quality. Young people have to fight not just with the old rules, but with some of their peers as well, whom the Kuchma system managed to bring up. And when the fight ends not in their favor, it is because of the old injuries lingering from the Soviet time, since they spent a little time under that regime, but also due to new negative processes of independence years. To organize uprisings and drive some politicians out of office – yes, it is amazing, but it is not enough, we need an alternative. And the latter has not matured yet. Accordingly, following uprisings, it is old politicians who come to office again, only belonging to different cliques. “As for Nayyem, or his colleague Serhii Leshchenko, I can say that although they are young politicians, they have long demonstrated, to put it mildly, servile behavior, judging from their role in, say, the Gongadze-Podolsky case,” Yeliashkevych said. “It applies to their time with Ukrainska Pravda, which was founded by Gongadze, just as to their time in parliament, where they got on the ruling Petro Poroshenko Bloc’s list. Meanwhile, the fact that they are regular guests of events sponsored by Kuchma and Viktor Pinchuk is an especially shameful chapter. All this testifies to the fact that these young people are in fact part of the Kuchma system, they just mask their loyalties with reformist rhetoric.”


Consequently, the debate continues, as does the struggle for building a normal nation. We turned to experts. How would you comment on this discussion? Are categorical approaches admissible here? What miscalculations and achievements would you ascribe to the older and younger generations? The discussion may continue, so you are welcome to join it.


Levko LUKIANENKO, a Ukrainian dissident, Soviet political prisoner, public figure:

“The problem of generations is a very complicated issue. It seems to each generation that it lives in difficult conditions, but everything was simple previously, so that previous period can easily be criticized. Were some people to live in the 1960s, it would be interesting to look at them in those conditions. There were ‘Sixtiers’ who were arrested in August 1965. Interestingly, how would some our contemporaries behave in their boots? Some abandoned the comfortable living conditions they were used to and moved to a prison cell to stay true to their beliefs, while others adapted. This is not an easy thing to do – to honestly tell yourself whether you are ready to go to jail for acting in defense of Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian language, and Ukrainians in general. I emphasize, they were jailed not for murder or robbery, but for delivering mere modest speeches. Therefore, blaming some individual generation for being daft is not worth it, for it reflects the accuser’s own shallow-mindedness and lack of understanding of history and how historical processes unfold.

“At present, many people blame the leadership of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, they call Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Volodymyr Vynnychenko, or Symon Petliura naive and foolish people, etc. Still, one first should give a thought to the conditions in which these people acted.

“If someone criticizes the younger generation, then one has to ask the question – why is it so feckless? Such an accusation must be substantiated. We still have not had a real nationalist president. We still have a transitional government, semi-pro-Moscow and semi-Ukrainian in its composition, that is, half-colonial and half-independent. As before 1991, we still do not have a Ukrainian national media space. It has begun to emerge only recently.

“So who brought up the youth? In universities, professors themselves grew up under the conditions of Communist occupation. These same professors who have not read Ukrainian philosophers, sociologists, nationalists, they teach students. They are unfamiliar with a huge literature that was created by Ukrainian scholars in exile. Therefore, the new generation partially inherits flaws from the old one, but one can ‘thank’ Vladimir Putin for his aggression which has been an eye-opener for most people. Putin’s war really showed Ukrainians what kind of a country Muscovy was and taught us the greatest lesson. Therefore, of course, Ukrainians are no longer what they were until 2013. The savage Muscovite barbarism began to educate people in a patriotic spirit. ‘It is better to die in battle than to return to the Muscovite colonial slavery,’ our soldiers say. Therefore, every generation must account for itself and think of the legacy it will leave the next one.”


Ihor LUTSENKO, MP, the Fatherland faction:

“The discussion between Hrytsak and Nayyem is not representative. In general, I believe that both of them are wrong on the issue. In my opinion, Hrytsak, unfortunately, has not realized what the new generation actually is like. He just looked at one part of the generation, which is made of liberal hipsters. Indeed, this part of the generation is somewhat impotent, infantile, noisy, and prominent in the media, but in fact sterile. But I am not ready to support Hrytsak in his assessment because he does what a historian should not do – he overlooks that part of the generation that made the Maidan protest work, went to war and has fought in it without much ado. Because it has not shouted about itself, it has not entered politics or the media environment. That is, it has not accumulated media skills in order to be noticed by Hrytsak. That is, there are completely different milieus in this generation. Our generation has a lion’s share of passionarity, unlike most of those from the 1960s and 1970s. The latter still suffer from residual conformism acquired due to the objective conditions in which they were brought up. Then it was necessary either to sacrifice one’s career or to adapt, and therefore, the majority simply could not be passionaries. Fortunately, the generations of the late 1980s and 1990s did not need to be passionary, because they developed already in conditions of relative freedom. We already have our own history, which allowed us to enter into its pages the heroism of our generation.”


Oleksii STRUKEVYCH, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor, head of department at Vinnytsia Academy of Continuing Education:

“I would call the generation of the 1980s and 1990s not ‘impotent’ but lost, using the well-known term popularized by Ernest Hemingway. Not of its own free will, it found itself in the context of a social catastrophe, when morality and laws lost their power, and people stood in the face of disasters brought by an uncontrolled economy. Coming out of the totalitarian past, this generation, of course, historically could not self-organize, and this should be blamed on those strata of society which, while holding the state apparatus in their hands, failed to create the conditions for combating crime and building up civil society. But even in poverty, these people carried and are still carrying, despite many vicissitudes, the burden of preserving Ukraine, and it is they who are modern defenders of democracy and statehood.

“Were we to talk about flaws, the former and the latter groups share indecisiveness, unpreparedness to stand one’s ground and protect one’s interest in the economic, social, and cultural fields. We often concede. And although politics is called the art of compromise, a compromise is not a concession, because very often we have to make concessions of fundamental, defining nature, and we then suffer due to it. I would like to recall that in the 19th century, foreigners marveled at the fact that the Ukrainian peasant did not look down when in the presence of an elite European visitor. The Ukrainians, both poor and rich, were inherently full of self-esteem, which the Russian-Soviet totalitarian regime was constantly trying to destroy, forming that what Hrytsak described as ‘impotence.’ However, it was not possible to completely destroy the Ukrainian self-esteem. It was because there is a sociological pattern: in each subsequent generation, the social types that are peculiar to the nation revive, which include both our penchant for excessive tolerance and willingness to fight and shed blood for our state. Even though Ukrainians were violently attacked as a nation, subjected to famines, repressions and other state tools of human selection, the next generation, made up of chosen individuals’ progeny, still features full-fledged social types. This is especially noticeable now, when new Ukrainians begin to feel their European affiliation. And this is a logical historical process. We Slavs are farmers and peasants, part of European civilization, unlike the Finno-Ugric world which is made up of hunters and gatherers.”


Viktoria PODHORNA, a political scientist:

“The discussion fits the context that exists now in intellectual discussions in general. This is not the only discussion to, unfortunately, split the society to some extent and have a somewhat scandalous flavor. After the Euromaidan, the question arose immediately as to whether some individuals should enter politics relying on their own famous names during the formation of a new parliament in 2014, rather than through creating their own ideological parties. As a result, they went to parliament in separate columns in a few factions. I told The Day back then that it was not a sensible decision. Now there are only a few people who resist the system that is absorbing them. Thus, the reforms have lost. The system has taken revenge.

“I think that Hrytsak reacted to all this emotionally enough and accused the generation as a whole that it was responsible for its entries to government ending like this – with a failure of reforms and the new people’s transformation into a part of the old system, and not its replacement. In this sense, I do not agree with this formulation of the question. All those born in the 1980s and 1990s should not be held responsible for this. There are a lot of principled people among them. It is another matter altogether that we do not have a normal discussion in the environment that could lead to the formation of a political entity. And here, what matters is not generations or birth dates but values and approaches to what can be offered in terms of the concept of national development. This has not happened.

“I agree with Hrytsak that we are inclined to take quick, drastic steps instead of engaging in systematic struggle and qualitative changes. Unfortunately, strategic things are beyond capabilities not only of the current government, but also those who should have proposed an alternative in the form of a nation-building strategy. Although numerous strategies have been penned, what matters is not the documents themselves, but ways of their subsequent implementation and defense, so as not to compromise with the authorities when it should not be done. That is, they are inconsistent in standing up for their declared values. This problem afflicts the entire Ukrainian society, which is a post-genocidal society and has turned out to be sterile when it comes to well-directed strategic action. Ukraine was being made into a colony for a long time, and as a consequence, all strategic decision-making centers were removed from here. We were taught to be dependent, not autonomous. In Russia, they have such a strategic vision of themselves, while we are only just acquiring such an experience and forming our vision.”