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Interview with Vyacheslav Bryukhovetsky, president of Kyiv Mohyla Academy
The National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy (NUKMA) is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in eastern Europe. It celebrated its 390th anniversary in October 2005. NUKMA has become an upholder of spiritual traditions of the Ukrainian people, a centre of educating the Ukrainian intellectual elite, of fostering national ideas.
“The times change, but the Kyiv Mohyla Academy is eternal!”
Vyacheslav Bryukhovetsky, NUKMA president
NUKMA traces its history to a school, which was established, alongside with a monastery and a hospital, in 1615 at an estate of a rich woman from Kyiv, Halshka Hulevychivna, who bequeathed this estate to the local authorities expressly for this purpose. In 1632, Metropolitan of Kyiv Petro Mohyla issued a decree that merged two schools and created a new one, Kyivo-Bratska Kolehiya, which was to provide higher education with “Latin” principles, that is western European educational principles taken as a model. Later, the school was officially granted the status of a higher educational establishment and the right to be called “Academy.”
The Academy right from the start promoted the Ukrainian national orientation and it was not what the Russian imperial government wanted or appreciated. The Academy was closed down in 1817; somewhat later, the vacated premises were used for setting up a religious school there. A century later, the atheistic Bolshevik authorities, who came to power in the wake of the Russia Revolution of 1917, closed down the religious school.
After Ukraine regained her independence in 1991, the Kyiv Mohyla Academy was revived, largely thanks to the efforts of Vyacheslav Bryukhovetsky, Ph.D., who became its president. Professor Bryukhovetsky also doubles as a lecturer who delivers lectures both in Ukraine and abroad.
It is the third time that Marysya HOROBETS, a NUKMA post-graduate student, interviewed Prof. Bryukhovetsky for Welcome to Ukraine; the first time she did it was even before she became a NUKMA student.
You’ve been at the head of the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy for fifteen years now, since its revival back in 1991. Has the destiny been kind to you and to your Academy?
Yes, basically it has been kind to us, but it does not mean we did not have our share of trials and tribulations. In fact, we could never relax and take it easy. This period of fifteen years I would divide into two parts. During the first part, we did not have any support of the state and what we achieved then was in spite of the government rather than thanks to it. We were in opposition to the then regime and made no secret of it. Being in the political opposition taught us a lot and provided us with valuable experience of how to survive on our own without the government support. We can even say “Thank you” to Kuchma’s regime for not allowing us to slide into supine relaxation and atrophy. Now we have entered the second period of our existence during which, we hope, the new government will help us develop our potential to the full, so that students from Harvard, Sorbonne and other prestigious universities of the world will come to NUKMA for training. We are ambitious and we want to become one of the fifty best universities of the world in ten years time. I see quite well how we can achieve this in spite of doubts expressed by some. Fifteen years ago there were also quite a few sceptics who said that the revival of NUKMA was not possible. We have a plan how to achieve our goal, we have the right people, and we, hopefully, have the support of the government. This support has become vital and without it we won’t be able to carry through to the end what we’ve started. I’m not quite happy with everything the new government and President do but I know I can be straightforward and express myself freely. A process of the structuralization of the new power is under way, and it’s quite a normal phenomenon.
Which issues for you, as NUKMA president, are of a particular urgency?
I find it’s a shame that NUKMA is not yet among the best universities of the world, in spite of the fact that NUKMA is recognized as a leading educational establishment both in Ukraine and beyond its borders. Why we have not yet made it to the top fifty has been analyzed by me and by other experts, and we have come to the conclusion that though NUKMA has well-balanced curricula that meet modern requirements, and excellent faculties and aspiring students, there are two basic things which NUKMA still lacks — research carried out on a large scale and in-depth (incidentally, there is no such research carried out in any university of Ukraine), and a well-developed infrastructure without which no university can call itself a university — we do not have enough accommodation facilities at our dormitories, we do not have our own stadium or gym or swimming pool. A university is not just so many faculty members for so many students — a lot more should be there to make an educational establishment a full-fledged university. We have developed a new concept of what NUKMA should be — we want it to be a research and education establishment rather than an education and research one, with the emphasis on research. We’ve already started implementing it.
The revived Academy is fifteen years old, and the independent Ukraine is also fifteen years old. Both the Academy and Ukraine are facing problems and challenges. You’ve just explained what the Academy lacks to be among the best. Do you know what Ukraine lacks to be among the most developed countries of the world?
Ukraine lacks what may be called the national elite. For centuries, the Ukrainian national elite was being methodically exterminated. Without leaders no nation can develop successfully. But I am happy to claim — and do it with conviction — that the Ukrainian national elite is being born, or rather that it already exists. It is made up mostly of young people but the general situation is still such that if they proclaim themselves the elite they can do it at their peril. Such situation is fraught with danger. But I have no doubt whatsoever that this elite does exist, and there are at least four thousand NUKMA graduates among them. It will take about ten years for them to become a full-fledged elite… I also believe that the Ukrainian nation is one of the best educated and most industrious nations of the world, and I am proud to be a Ukrainian. I think that many other nations, had they been put under such pressure as Ukraine was, or had they faced such challenges, would have succumbed.
Do you see any noticeable differences between the young people of today and the young people of the previous generation?
I am of the opinion that the young people of all times and of all epochs were and are about the same. Physiological and psychological characteristics remain more or less the same — it is the conditions under which they grow up that change, and consequently the development of personality in each individual case was different. But if you take, say the young people of my generation and the young people of today, then the main difference lies in the fact that the young people of today are living in a sovereign state with all of its gains, new priorities, new symbols and challenges. Every generation has its own share of scamps and geniuses. This generation is no different in this respect. In general, I find them to be wonderful young people.
Among the prominent graduates of the Academy there were quite a few people who distinguished themselves in public life, literature, science or philosophy — the poet Petro Hulak-Artemovsky, the scientist Mykhailo Lomonosov, the Hetman Pylyp Orlyk, the philosopher Hryhory Skovoroda — are there, among the NUKMA students, future Orlyks, Lomonosovs or Skovorodas? Also — do you know where the NUKMA graduates work? What have they achieved?
I’m sure that among the NUKMA students there are people with great potential but whether they will develop into great personalities, only time will tell. I know that many of our graduates have already achieved conspicuous success — take, for example, my interviewer who has become an accomplished journalist and a very successful model into the bargain. The deputy justice minister of Ukraine is a NUKMA graduate — he graduated only three years ago. The list of successful NUKMA graduates is a long one, indeed… NUKMA is an institution that not only trains and educates students — it also fosters Ukrainian patriotism in them. I believe all our students are proud to belong to NUKMA. Among our graduates are writers, scientists, business people — you name it. Some of them are now continuing their studies abroad. Some have made it to government bodies, others to the staff of prosperous companies. Recently, President Yushchenko admitted that among the new members of the President’s Secretariat, and of the new government there are forty percent of NUKMA graduates, and of course, I was very happy to hear that. And not so much because these people are graduates of the Academy, but because they are experts of very good education, of lofty patriotic feelings and, at last, such people are in demand. Incidentally, all the governments under President Kuchma refused to hire any of NUKMA graduates. But now I’m sure Ukraine will greatly benefit from good work of so many of NUKMA graduates in the highest echelons of power.
NUKMA has been growing not only numerically but also in having new branches opened. Any new plans along these lines?
We have three thousand students studying in the Academy in Kyiv — plus our branches in the cities of Mykolayiv and Ostroh have obtained the status of fully-fledged educational establishments. Now they are officially called Ostroh National University and Mykolayiv State University named after Petro Mohyla. For some people it’s hard to understand why someone creates branches of a school and then, instead of controlling these branches, encourages them to become separate educational bodies. My main idea was to create new centres of education and culture, and it is much more important than to control them. We go on working at creating new branches and our next branch to be opened will be in Bakhchysaray in the Crimea. The Tartar University will have three languages of tuition — Ukrainian, Tartar and English. We have worked out plans for new branches in Sevastopol, Zaporizhzhya and Horlivka, and we are planning a branch in Kharkiv. We are also running twelve educational establishments in different cities of Ukraine which we call kolehiums, or secondary schools of advanced learning. We have one such kolehium in Tbilisi, Georgia, with tuition in Georgian and Ukrainian. NUKMA is a co-founder of the European Collegium of Polish and Ukrainian Universities in the city of Lublin. NUKMA runs a prep school which prepares students for entering NUKMA.
Who provides the financial backing? Are there rich or influential philanthropists, patrons of art and education in Ukraine now as there used to be in the past, people like Metropolitan Petro Mohyla, Hetman Petro Sahaydachny, rich industrialists like Tereshchenko?
The traditions of patronage of the arts and culture in general are being revived in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian laws of taxation do not encourage patronage in any way. But I do hope that some time soon we’ll get not only the new government, Ukrainian in spirit, but parliament as well which will take good care of Ukrainian interests. If that happens, then I’m sure bills on patronage of art and education will be passed and it will provide an incentive for much more active patronage… NUKMA’s financial situation leaves much to be desired — one third of our budget we get from the state; one third comes from different sponsors, philanthropists and Ukrainian diaspora, and one third from international grants that we earn. Recently I was approached by some representatives of Renat Akhmetov [Ukrainian billionaire — tr.] who told me that Mr Akhmetov had set up a philanthropic fund, Development of Ukraine, with an annual budget of eight to ten million dollars. I was offered to become a member of the Board of Directors of this fund. I asked them in my turn whether they knew that my political views were very much different from the views of those whom Mr Akhmetov supported. However I found the charter and programme of the fund interesting enough — the fund intends to support the development of Ukraine in many spheres, encourage the awareness of Ukraine in the world, promote investments into education, health care and culture… In fact, I always thought that tycoons must be clever people — in order to become super rich when so many are getting poorer and poorer, takes a special talent. The means they use for becoming rich is a separate subject, but some of them come to understand that they’ve taken so much from this country, have stolen so much or borrowed so much, and now comes time when they have to do something to help this country develop further. I’ve never met Mr Akhmetov personally but I’ve accepted the proposal. I believe that the clever rich people will sooner or later become philanthropists and patrons of art and support the state — and those who are not clever enough will flee abroad and live on the money they have earned illegally in Ukraine. That is why when people like Mr Akhmetov who does not seem to be an enthusiast of Ukrainian culture and who is ethnically not Ukrainian — Mr Akhmetov is of Tartar descent — start setting up such funds for support of Ukrainian culture, it means there are some positive changes occurring in our society.
Some time ago, in one of the interviews you gave, you said, I quote, “In reviving the Academy, I made myself head of it.” Would you care to comment on that statement?
Basically it was what really happened. When we started work on the revival of the Academy, I had had no previous experience of running a school. I had had a bit of teaching experience though — I had taught at Kyiv Shevchenko University, University of Culture in Kyiv, and at universities in the USA and Canada… When the preparatory work was over, and the Academy was more or less ready to take off the ground, I, as a person who was directly responsible for the NUKMA revival, issued my first ukase — “Hereby I appoint myself head of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy.” This document, signed and dated 11/15/91 is extant. Of course, it was not a legal procedure, but the next day I turned up at work and started doing what head of a university is supposed to be doing. Now I know that university presidents must be conservative. Education itself should be a conservative thing, and the education at Academy is to a certain extent conservative. We only seem to be radical enough to stage revolutions.
But weren’t you in the front ranks of the Orange Revolution in the fall and winter of 2004? NUKMA students, led by their president, were among the first to join the protest action. I remember those days so well…
I remember them well too. We had established a press centre of the Nasha Ukrayina bloc of parties that supported Viktor Yushchenko at NUKMA at an early stage of the presidential campaign… In the early hours of November 22, after the second round of the voting, it began to dawn upon us that the election had been rigged. A group of students came to my office and asked whether we should do something in protest. I told them to go back to class but also invited deans and other NUKMA officials to my office to discuss the situation. At 1:00 p.m., on November 22, we convened a general meeting of the students and the faculty. It was held in the open air. We passed a resolution condemning the election fraud and government officials involved in it, and announced that we go on strike. I told the students that joining the strike was voluntary, and that the time of class studies lost in striking would be made up for at the expense of vacations. I reiterated that no one among those who had views dissenting from the ones shared by the majority would be discriminated against in any way. The libraries and classrooms equipped with computers remained open, and the students who asked for consultations and tutorial advice from their professors got what they requested, strike or no strike… Those students who joined the strike called their action My ydemo (We are Coming!) which meant that they went around Kyiv, expressing in various ways their support for Yushchenko and the cause he stood for, and denouncing the fraudulent actions of the government. I was pleased to know that they were moving from place to place rather than standing at one and the same place — the movement helped them to keep warm. I was with them most of the time — we expected provocations and even violence. The very first place we went to was the Ministry of Education — we demanded the immediate resignation of the then minister of education for taking no action when the government had put hard pressure on the students for their political views and activities. As a result, the minister signed a decree that allowed the students to take part in strikes and freed them from persecution. Our next big stop was at the Russian embassy where we protested against Russia’s open support of the pro-government candidate… But we staged not only actions of protest. For example, we went to the offices of the TV station Channel 5 which was the only TV station at that time that dared to tell people the truth about what was actually happening, to thank the Channel 5 journalist for support of the Orange Revolution, for their resolution to stand firm and stick to their guns in spite of the enormous pressure that was being put on them, and in spite of the threats to close the station down. It turned out we were the first to do it — to express our gratitude that is — en masse. Also, we wrote down stories of many participants and witnesses of the Orange Revolution.
Last November marked the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution, to the victory of which NUKMA made a substantial contribution. Did the new government and President that came to power as a result of the Orange Revolution begin to provide real support for NUKMA?
Frankly, they have done very little so far. Some money has been allocated for setting up a museum of the Orange Revolution, and the repairs of the place which is supposed to house this museum have begun. But in fact, we did not expect the new government to take any significant steps in helping us. They faced too many problems they had to solve within a very short period of time. I did not want to remind the high-ranking officials of their promises in the first twelve months of their work, but the year has passed… At a meeting with the Kyiv mayor we informed him that the Academy badly needed dormitories, and that during the particularly cold days last winter the temperature indoors in one of the NUKMA buildings dropped to the unbearable 5 degrees Celsius. We also demanded, and in an urgent and unequivocal way, that the hospital that does not belong to NUKMA be moved from our campus.
There are some people who have become disappointed with the new government and disappointed of their expectations. What is your assessment of the new government’s work?
It is those who are habitually disappointed with everything that got disappointed in the results of the Orange Revolution. But it was the fraud and falsifications that we stood against rather than just for Yushchenko. Personally I’ve not been disappointed of my expectations, I’ve not been disappointed in the ideals the Orange Revolution put forward, but I’m dissatisfied with the way the new policies are being put into practice, particularly with the appointments the Presidents makes. On the other hand, I fully realize that it’s difficult to find the right people for the right places at the right time, and I don’t think anybody would have done any better in that situation. Many people wonder whether things have really changed for the better. Some say, “Look, I turn the TV on and whom do I see in the talk shows? Medvedchuk and others like him who have discredited themselves and who were ousted from high places by the Orange Revolution!” But it’s what democracy is all about! The right of free speech is for all — both the victors and the vanquished must enjoy it. I don’t like Medvedchuk and others of his ilk but the new regime does not prevent them in any way from expressing their thoughts and ideas publicly and openly. No previous regimes in this country allowed that. It’s a great positive change brought about by Yushchenko and his government — but some people say it’s his weakness rather than strength. Strategically he’s acting right. I’ve known him for fifteen years now. He’s changed a lot in these years, and even that horrible poisoning did not break him… It’s like tempering steel — Yushchenko’s ordeals and trials of political strength made him only stronger.
Once you said that the next president of Ukraine will be a graduate of NUKMA. Can it be a woman, not necessarily a man?
Back in 1995, a sociological survey was conducted among NUKMA students and 11.1 percent of them said that they had an ambition to become president of Ukraine. This result was so stunning that I requested that the survey be undertaken once again — and this result was confirmed. Such a high self-assessment is a very positive feature… As far as the gender of the future president of Ukraine is concerned, I’ll tell you this story. When Madeleine Albright, US State Secretary under Clinton, visited Kyiv and came to NUKMA, I, introducing her to the students, said, “Madam Secretary, please, look very carefully at this audience — one of these students is a future President of Ukraine.” She took a good look at the students and said, “Mister President, I did spot a future president of Ukraine. I did see her!”
You are a member of the Narodny Soyuz Nasha Ukrayina (People’s Union Our Ukraine) party; in fact as a member of this party’s presidium, you are one of the party’s leaders. Does it mean that you are planning to go into big politics and leave the Academy?
Fifteen years ago I was one of the organizers of the Narodny Rukh [People’s Movement of Ukraine — popular movement that made a great contribution to Ukraine’s regaining her independence — tr.] and thus I was very active in politics. But as the Academy project began taking shape, I decided I’d leave the political scene and devote myself entirely to the Academy. In the fifteen years that followed there were many attempts on the part of different political forces and parties to get me involved in politics again, but I always refused. I thought the Academy was more important for me than anything else, and the role NUKMA played making the Orange Revolution victorious showed that we could also be a political force. But the situation now is a very difficult one. The victory of the Orange Revolution is only the first step on the way to a general victory. The forthcoming parliamentary elections are of a vital importance, probably even more important than the presidential elections of 2004 — or at least of equal importance. If the make-up of the new parliament is not of the kind that the President would be able to rely on, then he would hardly be able to achieve the proclaimed goals. I was offered a high place on the list of Nasha Ukrayina parliament candidates but I thanked the party for the trust I was shown and refused to run for a place in parliament. It does not mean, of course, that I’m indifferent to the future make-up of Verkhovna Rada — I will do all I can to help bring into parliament those who share the ideals of the Orange Revolution. And I gave my consent to run for a place in the Kyiv City Council as a Nasha Ukrayina party member. If elected, I will be able to keep my position of NUKMA president and work at the same time in the City Council. It would be impossible if I were elected to parliament. As a member of the City Council, I’ll be able, I hope, to be useful in promoting NUKMA’s positive experience and gains among other universities of Kyiv. But, of course, one can look upon it as politics in disguise too.
It seems to me that the way tuition is organized in NUKMA could be an example to follow for other establishments of higher learning in Ukraine.
No, I don’t think our system could be applied at any other university. Even our attitude to the entrance examination can hardly be copied — simply because we choose applicants with broad knowledge and a wide general background, and it won’t work for many universities who have to deal with other categories of applicants whose general knowledge is much less extensive. But all establishments of higher learning should operate on some general principles common for all. And one idea should be paramount — a university must provide students with comprehensive knowledge which will, in its turn, foster in students the feeling of freedom, high self-assessment and patriotism. Since our students start their studies at NUKMA already possessing good knowledge, we are able to bring it to a much higher level so that those of them who stay to teach at NUKMA keep raising this level still further and further. Recently, for example, I read a thesis written by one of our postgraduate students and was very much impressed by its sophistication and insights. In my student days we did not have such a high level of scholarship.
I know that NUKMA initiated the creation of the Vseukrayinska ekspertna merezha (All-Ukraine Expert Network). Could you explain with which purpose in mind it was established and what its goals are?
Those in power are not too much inclined to listen to the advice given by intellectuals. And this reluctance is observed universally, not only in Ukraine. In those countries where civil society is more developed than in Ukraine, those in power are obliged to heed some of the advice since there are certain institutions which make it incumbent upon the powers that be to listen and not to take decisions without taking into consideration what society thinks of it. But we in Ukraine are in a situation when civil society is only at an early stage of its development, and the structure of relations between those in power and the intellectual elite is lagging behind modern requirements and is not conducive to the progressive development of society. The government lives its own life and the intellectuals live their own life, and these lives develop along parallel lines, never crossing. It leads to the failure on the part of many people to understand their role in society. The All-Ukraine Expert Network was set up with a purpose of helping realize the potential of the intellectual stratum of our society, of making those who are in power pay attention to what at least the most intellectually advanced people think of the steps the government takes now or will take in the future in dealing with problems and challenges. The government takes certain actions, issues, all kinds of decrees, ukases, submits all kinds of bills to parliament — but will it work? The All-Ukraine Expert Network was established following the decree of President Yushchenko, On Participation of the General Public in Forming and Carrying out New Policies, which was issued in the spring of 2005. Its aim is to involve those who are prepared to give in-depth critical analysis of the actions and initiatives of the legislative and executive branches of power and society’s reaction to them, and thus make the opinions of society known to the governing bodies. We’ve received a positive feedback from some members of parliament, the Nasha Ukrayina faction in parliament, in particular, from the mayor of Kyiv, and from the Kyiv City Council. Three seminars have already been held — they dealt with problems in the spheres of education, political activities and economics. Several other seminars are planned — they will deal with problems in the spheres of health care, agriculture, and the development of small businesses.
Was there a consensus of assessments and strategies offered at the seminars you’ve just mentioned?
No, there was no such consensus but we did not expect it anyway. The main idea was to bring together representatives of different political views and of different political parties and have a discussion going about the ways of further development. We fully realize that the experts who took part in the seminars represent only a small percentage of these who have expertise and knowledge and can contribute their thoughts and assessments, and we have built an Internet portal, www.experts.net.ua at which all those who have what to say can leave their messages. The government and all those in power do not have to heed the advice but we do hope they will lend a sympathetic ear. I’m sure the time will come when society will work out mechanisms of influencing the government, though it may take years. At the same time I do hope that several years of our concentrated efforts involving experts in all the spheres from all the parts of Ukraine will result in a situation in which the government will not be able to make a decision without consulting the strategies and assessments offered by these experts. I’m sure these ideas and assessments will be thoroughly grounded and well balanced and will be of considerable help.
Will NUKMA graduates and young researchers be involved in the work of these seminars and in working out strategies?
Many of our young researchers have already taken part in the work of these seminars and we shall continue our policies of involving young experts in practical and theoretical spheres. But at the moment we think in terms of NUKMA graduates rather than of NUKMA students who still have a lot to learn. There are four thousand NUKMA graduates to choose from! These young people constitute a great force, they are people of a new type of thinking and of new attitudes. We trust these young people — and not only NUKMA graduates — with modern views on the development of society, of the economy, of politics and culture, who will take part in working out new expert approaches to dealing with problems, and thus will make a worthy contribution to Ukraine’s progress.