Civil society, trust and cooperation and, of course, George Soros: if you are interested to find out more about those topics, read Gromadsky Prostir’s interview with CEO of the International Renaissance Foundation Oleksandr Sushko.
Founded by philanthropist George Soros, the International Renaissance Foundation has been working to build an open society in Ukraine since 1990. This year, the Foundation will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary.
The Foundation in Figures:
• During the Foundation’s 30 years, we invested more than $ 230 million in building democracy in Ukraine
• Supported more than 9,000 major civic projects and initiatives.
• In the last decade, the Foundation has been supporting 400 projects annually.
Watch the Highlights of this Interview:
Since Ukraine’s independence was proclaimed, the Foundation has been closely watching the country’s progess. Our Foundation has been one of the pillars of Ukraine’s civil society development. Has the sector itself changed since then? Has the Foundation’s focus shifted? What are George Soros’s plans for Ukraine? What key trends are observed in the civil society at the onset of a new decade?
My Involvement with the Foundation Began Over 10 Years Ago
Gromadsky Prostir: When did the ‘civil society chapter’ begin for you? When did you realize that you would not go out of this orbit?
Oleksandr Sushko: I started my career as a political scientist majoring in international relations. In mid-90ies, I went to post graduate school and began working on my thesis. I studied the then global political landscape, focusing on the West, Europe and America, in particular. I realized that Western societies possess particular features that are not limited purely to democracy in a sense of voting, the right to vote or be elected. I saw those properties are about attitudes, qualities, and skills of citizens. Indeed, behavior of citizens in a democracy is different from that in the rest of the world, in particular, in post-Soviet countries, where we were taking our root.
In fact, I was fascinated by my discoveries. I became an expert in European integration. Since the late 1990s, I have been involved with European issues. I researched and contributed to the development of the pro-European policy of Ukraine. At that time I worked at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation. We stood at the origins of the idea to foster an Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, before it even appeared on the agenda. In those days, we developed concepts and a course of actions for the European integration, which has become a significant part of what we devote our lives to.
We are very happy that our ideas have greatly helped both Ukraine and the European Union to find the path that has ultimately taken us to the entirely different level of integration: free trade zone, visa-free regime, and the Association Agreement. In short, those are the things that were taking their root in civil society organizations twenty years ago. And I am so glad I was part of that process.
Down this route, I crossed paths with the International Renaissance Foundation. The Foundation supported this sector, including nongovernmental organizations and independent experts, who promoted those ideas at that time, when it was impossible to obtain funding elsewhere. I was one of those who, thanks to the Foundation, could visit European capitals and speak there publicly, promote Ukrainian ideas, find partners, write books, and promote our ideas across the European institutions. Coming back to Ukraine, I could then explain to Ukrainian citizens, politicians and other stakeholders what we can expect from Europe and major countries. All the above was instrumental in helping our politicians to understand what we can expect out there. That was my job for 15 years.
As regards my role in the Foundation, I was first invited to join it as a Board member. Then I became the Board Chairman. In 2018, I was appointed the Foundation’s CEO. Although it was not such a long time ago, my involvement with the Foundation had actually begun more than 10 years ago.
George Soros is Very Keen to See How Things are Evolving in This Part of the World
Gromadsky Prostir: Recently, the management of the Foundation has had a meeting with George Soros in Davos. Can you please tell us about this meeting?
Oleksander Sushko: Thank you for your interest. Our founder, George Soros, is taking a deep interest in what is happening in this part of the world. In fact, this is a testing ground for those seeking to find an answer to the question: is modern democracy sustainable? Is modern civil society viable? Or are they going to yield to other forces seeking to curb freedom and civil society? We see many examples around us: in many countries the free, public space is constantly shrinking. A classical example for us is Russia with its opposing, different model, where the state has “suppressed” the vibrant community, active people, depriving them of the freedom to express themselves and fulfill their needs. In Russia, there are no liberties for civil society organizations that are common for a democracy. In some other countries around us, there are similar things, but the example of Russia is more understandable for us, because we get to realize who we oppose and why. It is not just a geopolitical confrontation with the military aggressor. As far as the internal organization of the state is concerned, this is a clash of opposing value systems.
Ukraine is a true leader in defending interests of free world, and the value system of a free, democratic society. That is why our struggle is so important for those around the world who uphold democratic values. At the meeting we had with George Soros, a philanthropist who has been working for many decades to support this value system in an open society, he reaffirmed to us his continued interest in Ukraine.
We Block Attempts to Build a Closed, Isolated, and Corrupt System
Gromadsky Prostir: You posted a photo on Facebook with a caption“Soros and his true agents.” In social media, many activists and celebrities post photos with them wearing T-shirts with the inscription “I am from Soros”, and the like. Please tell us what it means for you to be a “Soros offspring”. Is that such a subtle way to respond to criticism and allegations directed at the Foundation, people around it and the “third sector” in general?
Oleksandr Sushko: Well, this is a little word game. We understand that we and our partners may disturb some people. We obstruct those who are plundering our country, using the public resources as a way for their personal enrichment. We block those who want to build a closed, isolated system in our country. We hinder those who wish to restore Russian rule here. For this reason, objectively, we might have a lot of different opponents, and often their interests may coincide. In such cases we would see a lot of information attacks against the Foundation and our partners. We hear rhetoric about “external management”, “grant-eaters / Soros offsprings”, “foreign agents” and the like.
In addition, we see a lot of overt manipulations, because there are large groups of people who have nothing to do with the Foundation or our grantees and partners. Yet, they are also being referred to as “Soros’s offsprings”. There is a very wide range of people who try to discredit us in some way, although we neither have, nor have ever had, any practical relationship with them.
Why is this happening? Because we see a new stratum of people, mostly young people, who were brought up in the independent Ukraine, in line with democratic values. These young people are increasingly gaining influence in this country. In particular, those are the people who received Western education and returned to Ukraine; people who have had a successful career abroad, rather than only in Ukraine, with its tycoons’ dominated economy; people who have worked in international projects, international companies… Now they are quite influential in our country. Some people may hate it, because they are accustomed to a completely different style of management thriving on corrupt connections, whereas those new people bring different skills, an alternative style of leadership, and a contrasting behavior.
This does not mean the new young leaders are nothing but brilliant and impeccable. Instead, they are making a lot of mistakes, too, however, they uphold different values, and a distinctive style, contrary to post-Soviet style. And so it happened that despite the fact that most of those people have nothing to do with us, yet, they are being referred to as “Soros’s offsprings”, precisely because they belong to this cohort of pro-European Ukrainian intellectuals who have proven competitive on both Ukrainian and global labor market owing to their international work experience.
Definitely, there are old style forces thriving on past oligarchic tradition of corruption, which prevailed in Ukraine over the last decades. They would be eager to oust this new generation from Ukraine. Actually for this reason we are seeing an ongoing information campaign aiming to discredit them as a ‘class’ by bringing to the fore their ‘mistakes’, whether real or supposed, and certain, perhaps not always perfect, political or career decisions and statements.
Needless to say that this struggle will be a long lasting one, because, in fact, this is the struggle between the old and new Ukraine. This means that we shall be ready to stay amidst this ongoing controversy, under the constant information pressure, as we get engaged in a debate with our opponents, which seek to not only outperform us by argumentation but to also destroy and displace us. This is going to be an unfair game on their part as they are trying to incriminate us in sins we have nothing to do with. For instance, they unreasonably claim we shall be held responsible for drafting government decisions, whereas we may have nothing to do with them at all.
A classical case is the issue of the land market. Our Foundation has never taken care of the land market: we are neither pro or against it and we have never been taking any sides in this issue. In fact, we just do not deal with this cause, as we do not have relevant expertise and we have never provided grants on this topic. Nevertheless, efforts are made to spin out a fake message that “Soros’s offsprings” (that is to say, us) are clandestinely pulling through the land market, because Soros is going to ultimately buy out this land. This is an absolute nonsense.
Apparently, we have to live with the fact that, on the one hand, there is a genuine reality of George Soros, his Foundation, and his partners, whereas on the other hand, there is an artificial, imaginary ‘reality’ that has been invented to make us a convenient target, or ‘scapegoats’ for all the troubles of our life resulting from the decades of oligarchic rule. This is a part of a broader political strategy imposed by certain players, or a clash of different philosophies. We are ready for such a clash, as we understand nothing good will emerge without us having to fight for it.
We Need Visionary People like George Soros on the Bright Side
Gromadsky Prostir: George Soros was recently named Philanthropist of the Year 2019. Can you tell us what you think of him? I do not know how often you meet, but what would be your impressions after such a meeting?
Oleksandr Sushko: We do meet on a regular basis. In my capacity as the Foundation’s CEO and the Board Chairman earlier, I have had regular meetings with George Soros. I have to say he remains committed to his ideas of philanthropy, in other words, supporting the ‘bright side’ of the human spirit, together with the desire for freedom, independence and human dignity. That’s why he bequeathed most of his assets to charity two year ago. Two thirds of the money he earned as businessman has been donated to charity, making it perhaps the largest private investment in charity over the last decade.
With that said, all of the foregoing helps to portray him as a person who thinks outside the categories of his personal benefit. Apparently, for a person in his age this is not about personal benefits, this is about decisions that will have a far-reaching impact on the life of people for decades to come. Besides, this is not a question to determine precisely who is going to spend this money and for what specific purposes, because he created a global charity with such an elaborate decision-making system so as to ensure the money is spent in response to the most burning problems humanity will face at different times, with the primary focus being the protection of human dignity, freedom and the ability of a human being to exercise their fundamental, natural rights in any part of the world, whether in a democratic, or in a non-democratic state. Nevertheless, the reality of today is such that even in democratic societies, people very often have to go back to the roots of democracy and stand up for basic things along with their rights and freedoms.
Human history is nonlinear. Forty years ago, when George Soros founded his charity, it might have seemed that the trajectory of the world movement was more or less linear, fostering the vector of societal movement in the direction from ‘closed’ to ‘open’, i.e. ‘democratic’. However, today we see that the situation is not so simple. In the world, there are many examples of the reverse movement: instead of becoming more open, societies are locking up. All the above suggests that the goals we set become even more important, because they embody the perpetual struggle between the ‘open’ and ‘closed’, dignity and suppression. It is important for us to have visionary people like George Soros on the ‘bright side’.
Ukrainian Civil Society is a Very Tangible Factor
Gromadsky Prostir: It means no time for you to relax… This year, the Foundation will mark its thirtieth anniversary. This is a milestone anniversary. It goes without saying the Foundation has been one of the pillars of Ukraine’s civil society development since Ukraine’s independence was proclaimed. Has the third sector changed since then? What milestones has the civil society overcome since then? What trends are observed in the civil society now?
Oleksandr Sushko: Indeed, back in 1990, when George Soros together with the like-minded Ukrainian intellectuals, Ivan Dzyuba, Yuriy Shcherbak, Bohdan Havrylushyn, established the Renaissance Foundation, it was still before the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time I was a high school student. So this story is already long enough. Needless to say that in Ukraine it is already several generations who have worked with or were beneficiaries of Soros’s philanthropy. Indeed, this is quite a long time, because thirty years of history make the Foundation one of the oldest international charities in Ukraine.
From the very onset, the key target audience in the Foundation’s activity was the Ukrainian civil society. Unlike other international donors, who primarily help the government authorities, the Renaissance Foundation from the very beginning cooperated with nongovernmental organizations and people who have a considerable intellectual potential: academics, cultural activists, public opinion influencers. The Foundation has been helping them to deliver their intellectual products to the wider social groups.
In the 1990s, a huge impact was made by the Foundation’s publishing program, which published more than 700 various books: translated literature, classical works of scholars and fiction authors, which were never published in Ukrainian before; a huge number of books by Ukrainian authors, both fiction writers and academics, who otherwise were unable to deliver their intellectual products to the larger Ukrainian public.
At that time, it was really such a rising moment, when Ukrainian science, the Ukrainian intellectual elite, and civil society were just emerging. At that time there was a popular joke that the number of community leaders was so scarce that they could be counted on fingers of one hand. In those days, civil society was a narrow stratum where everyone knew each other, so it was completely different from the reality of today.
As time has passed, a lot of things changed. Today, we won’t say that the Ukrainian civil society is a sector of a few dozen people. At present, this is a large mass of citizens involved in various forms of social activism. We still complain that the majority of the society is still passive, as only 7-8% of citizens say they are regularly involved in civic engagement activities. However, 7-8% of the public is already a lot, as they are the people who are driving the society forward, determining its vector of development. As the history of Ukraine in the last thirty years has shown, that active minority is, in fact, a real civil society that may play a decisive role in exceptional moments.
Another thing is that in Ukraine, the civic activism typically comes in big waves. In other words, there may be a momentum when people mobilize for a purpose: usually it is in the face of threat or common enemy, when people rise up, unite, and prove their ability to self-organize. But usually this would not last long. Very soon people would go home, and the wave of activism would subside, and then we would see paternalistic sentiments rising again. This is our reality, our puzzle. This is how our history moves, twitching back and forth, going in cycles. On the one hand, at certain crucial moments in history, the active part of the society sets the vector, sets the tone. On the other hand, later on we see again and again that our problem remains how to get a large mass of people to practice the skills of civic participation on a regular basis. In doing so we have to keep in mind that there may be many factors working against the civic participation, deterring people from being involved in social life, politics and other sectors of activities.
That’s why the trajectory of our movement is like that, and that’s why we, in fact, are not satisfied with the situation in which the Ukrainian civil society finds itself. However, if we compare the modern Ukrainian civil society with that of two or three decades ago, we would see such a big difference, it’s like heaven and earth We see that today there is a fairly extensive network of civic initiatives, organizations, various forms of civic activism, including ideologically diverse vectors of citizen engagement. It is no longer possible to say that civil society groups get united around a common cause: on the contrary, very often conflicts arise within the civil society itself. The wider it becomes, the less homogeneous it gets. Hence, no one today can claim to have a control, or to speak on behalf of, the civil society. No one has a monopoly and cannot control it …
Gromadsky Prostir: Even Soros? (joking – ed.)
Oleksandr Sushko: No. Can you imagine? (smiling – ed.). Because civil society will never be homogenous again. This is something we have to get used to. This is a normal state of affairs.
Another thing that is very important for us to stress is that the dominant role in civil society is played by people and organizations that are geared towards values of freedom, rule of law, open society. People who are ready to take the views of others into account; people who realize that the world is so diverse that it is impossible to expect for any group to be able to impose their ‘compulsory’ beliefs or values on others.
Therefore, this is a perpetual dilemma: on the one hand, the active part of the society should provide leadership and lead by offering certain values, certain unifying tasks for the society, and, on the other hand, how can they do that while ensuring respect for diversity and understanding that no one will ‘march in rows’ and ‘take commands’ ever again? There is also a problem of growth and maturity in the civil society.
Today, in Ukraine, the civil society is a very tangible factor. No political decisions, no strategic changes can take place in Ukraine without the involvement of civil society. And this is the reality that everyone has to reckon with. Another thing is that there may be not enough discipline, not always enough consistency and energy to keep something in focus for a long time. That’s why it is coming in waves, as we said, that’s why, from time to time, enthusiasm would be replaced by apathy, and then round and round again. We see that civil society activists are human beings who might be sometimes frustrated, tired, exhausted or lacking energy for the ongoing, nonstop work. That is why it is very important to pave the way for a new generation to come in, bringing new energy, rethinking goals and objectives and making sure people are eager to cooperate. That is the most important thing.
If asked, “What is the main problem in civil society?”, I would say that it is precisely the ability and readiness of large groups of people to be engaged in horizontal cooperation. We are, however, accustomed to self-locking in comfortable environments, so very often we lose touch with reality, and society is so complex… While the degree of distrust in our society is high enough, it narrows down our ability to interact with other citizens, as we are trying to advance our agenda. This is something that sets us apart from other countries with established democratic traditions and robust civil societies.
Facilitate Contacts Between People from Different ‘Bubbles’
Gromadsky Prostir: We want to follow up a bit on the idea of ‘comfortable environment’…A discussion was held at the Forum for Organizational Development, which then migrated to social media. One of the ideas discussed was ‘bubbling’ of the third sector. What can you say to that?
Oleksandr Sushko: On the one hand, we have to recognize that people, by nature, tend to unite with their peers. There is nothing unusual about that. People, as a rule, look for comfort, not for truth. ‘Public comfort’ is to be together with the people who think alike. On the one hand, this is understandable, on the other hand, if degree of insularity increases, basically, the society might get entrapped in several capsules, where your field of vision is confined by your own ‘bubble’. Then, when the time comes for elections, their results suddenly contrast with the expectations of the people staying inside a certain compact, because they are convinced that the society thinks the same way as their peers, people they talk to. Instead, the reality turns out to be a completely different thing. This would surprise people even more and lead to frustration, disappointment and even resentment towards the rest of the society. And this indicates that at a certain stage people might lose the ability to feel very clearly the ‘pulse’ of society, what it is up to. They seem to be unable to understand why people make certain decisions.
Today, this situation becomes truly remarkable. It certainly prevents many active citizens from building the right strategy: what to do next. If we base ourselves on the idea that is formed inside the ‘bubble’, with our goals extending beyond it, we have to be prepared that we may fail. The goals we set while staying inside a closed ‘bubble’ may not work, and people might get disappointed again. That is why it is very important that people at least communicate with wider communities. By the way, this is something what we at the Foundation are fond of doing: facilitate contact between people from different ‘bubbles’.
I’m not talking about antagonistic, completely hostile environments, because we understand that there are contradictions that cannot be smoothed out, there are certain fundamental things, regarding which people will never be able to agree with each other. The classical example is the conflict with Russia, and our neighbor’s attitude to our territorial integrity and our sovereignty. For this reason, we do not set illusory goals that we can agree with the Kremlin and those who share their philosophy. We just simply can’t do that. However, in their society, of course, most citizens belong to a fairly sober-minded public, despite the fact that there are many paternalists, many people who expect miracles and vote according to those expectations (hoping for someone to solve their problems).
The most vibrant part of the society gets annoyed about it. But, again, without talking to members of the public who are paternalistic and expecting miracles, this active minority will not succeed either. After all, without extensive public participation, we cannot achieve success for the entire country. That’s why it’s important that people from different segments hear each other more often. I would say that this is part of a mega-task still to be accomplished: to achieve social harmony and integrity.
The question is what a Foundation like ours can do? This is our perpetual dilemma: to cultivate the most vibrant part of society, but be at risk of losing touch with wider community; or work with large social groups, but then having a risk of running out of resources? There is no single organization, neither a government authority, not a private institution, which could cover the entire society. Therefore, we’ve got to be always on the alert seeking for the right strategy and right balance.
Teach Organizations to Fundraise on Their Own
Gromadsky Prostir: There has been an ongoing debate whether we should apply any standards to nongovernmental organizations, to have them comply with certain rules, to work to ensure their sustainability, to have policies and procedures in place. Some NGOs say such things require resources that are not always available… What is your opinion about this idea? Do you consider providing institutional support to nongovernmental organizations?
Oleksandr Sushko: Clearly, even if we put together all donors and throw their resources in one basket, there won’t be enough money to support all NGOs that exist out there, even the most active ones. According to statistics, we have more than 70 thousand registered NGOs, whereas according to various estimates, only 10 thousand out of them are really active. I would like to tell you that there is no donor who can support all of them. So what can we do?
Solution number one: obviously, to help organizations, teach them to fundraise on their own, look for donors who might support them. You might find out very soon that in doing so, nongovernmental organizations will find themselves in an unequal situation. Why? Because some of them, working to implement certain projects that are already visible to the public, can more easily build rapport with people and get funded by them. A classic example is volunteer activity, or campaigns to fundraise for medical treatment of a sick person, or any other charitable project that would touch people emotionally and allow them to donate to NGOs through various electronic platforms. However, in order to be able to do so, you need to be working on a topic that would affect people emotionally. Not every public activity is like that.
A lot of work may be less visible to a wide range of people, or people may not even consider this work to be necessary. That might be the case of think tanks, where experts work to develop a policy or a vision for the future. Obviously, this is not something that people will bring money to. Even in developed democracies, such think tanks can never raise enough money from citizens to be able to survive. Therefore, there shall be another tool. Another tool is to encourage the government to spend part of its public financial resources to support civic activism. There are plenty of ways how you can do that, but they have not quite yet been implemented in Ukraine.
In other words, a solution may be to create a transparent mechanism for NGOs to access public resources via special programs or funds, for example, by presenting their projects and participating in a competition held on a regular basis. Projects that have the greatest public importance may be selected as winners to receive funding. This is the way donors work; however, donors simply cannot cover it all. Yet, the state can do so much more using the central government bodies and local authorities.
Over the last five to seven years, we have made a considerable progress both at a central and especially at a local level. We see that there are more and more opportunities to ‘sell’ and receive funds, in particular, from local authorities. However, as it often happens, the procedures are lacking clarity and transparency. Sometimes there may be suspicions of corruption, sometimes there may be hints that the funds are allocated to the people from their own circle. Citizens lack trust in those tools, in the ways how the funds are allocated. So all the above is still far from perfection. Nevertheless, we have witnessed some progress.
The next step would be a so-called ‘percentage philanthropy’. It would be necessary to pass a law to allow citizens to redistribute a small share (1-2%) of their taxes, which they already pay to the government, so that they can say: “This share of my money goes to this civic organization.” This principle works in Poland and in many other countries. A lot of organizations and experts are now working to make sure we have a similar law in Ukraine. In that case, it would represent another way for NGOs to better meet the criteria, which you mentioned in your question: how to be more sustainable, how to be able to pay their staff, how to depend less on foreign donors, because, unfortunately, that is still the case. So there is still room for improvement.
I think that in the coming years, both our partners and we will keep on advancing such tools to build rapport between civic organizations and citizens, the wider community. We need to make sure there are mechanisms in place to allow for redistribution of public resources in favor of the most valuable, most viable civic initiatives.
The Main Thing is not to Allow Society to Break into Isolated Segments
Gromadsky Prostir: Now that a new decade has begun, I understand that it is quite difficult to plan activities for the entire decade in the realities of today, because things are very dynamic now. However, if we talk about the near future, what would be the focus of civil society and, in particular, the focus of the Foundation? What is the most important for you at present? What should you pay attention to? In terms of trends, movements…
Oleksandr Sushko: I believe the main thing is not to let our society break into isolated segments, not to let people become distanced from each other instead of being cooperative. In the coming years, we will have to make a choice between a person who works well with others, or a person who is distancing himself or herself from others. As a matter of fact, the old system, the corrupt system thrives on people who do not trust anybody and who are passive. Those are the ‘voters’ of that old system. Ultimately, the vibrant part of the society will be naturally interested in the state becoming better, to make sure it provides decent services to its citizens. And all this can be achieved due to the activity of citizens, i.e. it cannot be exported as a ready-made product from more successful countries. Citizens need to not only mature and demand better services and greater opportunities, but to also be able to take advantage of those services or opportunities. This is the greatest challenge, I think.
In line with this, I would like to give you an example of the recent ongoing decentralization reform at a local level, when we see new local communities emerging with excellent projects being implemented under new, quite decent progressive legislation, which means a lot of opportunities on the ground. Yet, there are not enough people, who are able to use those opportunities. We see that a lot of those opportunities are, in fact, wasted, or insufficiently used. Hence, many people do not always benefit from those changes. That’s why people might say, “We don’t see the results of the reforms.” However, the problem is that most of those reforms become realized only if there are people who know how to use the opportunities that come along with them. It’s like computer literacy: it’s not enough to get a new computer with new software, you have to learn how to use it. The same thing can be said about those new reforms, the changes that are taking place: their success depends on the operational capacity of people, and their ability to learn new skills.
In my opinion, the key task for civil society and donors, such as Renaissance Foundation, is to give people the skills, to encourage people to acquire new knowledge, and to help them pass this knowledge around and through this shape this new culture of civic participation, involvement in a common cause, spreading the philosophy of this ‘common cause’, what is called a ‘republic’. In other words, the challenge is to form a new type of citizen: not the one who only comes to the polling station once per five years to vote, but the one who is ready to assume responsibility for the community where he or she lives on a daily basis. This is the mega task and I think that would be the key factor to determine the strategy of both NGOs and donors.
Work Harder to Bring People Together
Gromadsky Prostir: Finally, a key message to our audience, the most active part of society. Actually this is also the audience of the Foundation. What would you like to tell them? Perhaps, express your wishes?
Oleksandr Sushko: Now the entire world is polarizing. We are seeing that even in old democracies, internal tension and hostility within societies are growing among different groups. This is a dangerous trend, even for established democracies. For a young democracy like ours struggling to survive next to its imperial neighbor, such internal hostility can be incredibly dangerous. So this is probably my key message to our most determined and powerful citizens, the most active members of our society: let us work harder to bring people together.
In recent years, we got used to people expressing a lot of negativity as regards ‘other’ members of the society, who may understand the situation differently. We have to realize that with the human resource we all represent cumulatively, we can either achieve something meaningful, or fail. Therefore, it is very important for us to ease tensions, to reduce a degree of social antagonism in our society and try to work together, to build trust, no matter how different people may be. And we have had enough cases to demonstrate how certain ideological and political party differences can be overcome, if people are united around a common goal to build a harmonious society based on universal values. Without having an input of ‘other’ people, we will never build such a country. Therefore, what matters the most today is the human ability and desire to cooperate with each other.
Interviewed by Lyuba Yeremicheva
Photo, video by Vitaliy Nyshchymenko