Remembering the 90’s in Russia: Values and Attitudes of the Transition Generation

Results of an interview study conducted by the Sakharov Center Moscow as part of the international project „Transition Dialogue: Mapping a Generation“.

by Oksana Bocharova and Vlada Gekhtman

“We are, in a sense, some of the most fortunate. We saw the heyday of that time. Now we are witnessing the decline of an epoch. But we lived when in was in its full blossom. We had the strength to fight, to conquer a spot, to make a successful, acceptable living”

About the Research

The 90s in Russia were condemned and praised. It feels that the arguments about this time are always an argument not about the 90s – rather than an argument about different sets of values. Sometimes, the transition memories appear very raw, the transit itself is not discussed much in families and among friends.
For this research we talked with people who represent different backgrounds who experienced radical changes or emerged in the course of transition period: business people, entrepreneurs and self-employed (11 interviewees); further representatives from science and education (8) and those with a  media/creative occupation (9). Their common feature is that they have successfully adapted to the new reality, have managed to fit into it. Thus, the participants represent a metropolitan middle class – that is, the values and attitudes that dominated the 90s, and that, in fact, owe their existence to the transition period.

Read the full study here (pdf): Attitudes of the Transition Generation in Russia_Sakharov 2016

Background & Motivation

The 90s is the time we have already lived without Sakharov – he died on Dec, 14th 1989. But Sakharov’s hopes and fears, about a new world that is to come, still stay with us as challenges and questions unanswered. In our work as an institution, we try to acknowledge the 90s as a multidimensional epoch in the history of our country rather than a black and white narrative that diminishes its significance. This research, however, small still allows the reader to have a glimpse into this strange and exciting world of change.

Transition stories from Dnipro, Ukraine (Part II)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__M41DI8cs

Transition stories from Dnipro, Ukraine (Part I)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tzxIj9YWCQ

Transition story from Serhiy Oliferchuk, Kiev, Ukraine

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUaeT9mh108

Transition of Ukraine

https://vimeo.com/200006440

Jaroslav Belinskiy interview, Kyiv

As a child, Jaroslav won a trip to Switzerland in the Red Cross drawing competion, that was announced in the Pioneers Newspaper. But still in 1991 authorities tried to hide the victory from him in order not to let him travel… A story of change from Ukraine.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asIz0gqAXX0&feature=youtu.be

Germany: Chances of identification for communities

Vacancies – eyesores or/and (new) chances of identification for communities:  How to support initiatives of people and their voluntary work to successfully breath new life into unoccupied buildings

Mandy Schulze, Humboldt University of Berlin, Institute of Education, Germany

Abstract. Since 1990 the rural regions of East Germany experienced a great social and political transformation, followed by a process of deindustrialisation and a very high mobility of young people. This process left many empty public spaces and industrial buildings, vacencies, buildings which lost there social meanings and functions. A project in Saxony showed the potentials of people and initiatives engaged for this kind of apparently useless buildings and supported them with consulting and organized education settings. Attending to the project a qualitative research was done to learn about this voluntary work and to answer the question: What are the motives of the egaged people? Which kind of support they need? What are the factors of success? What kind of support for community learning can be given? Casestudies were analysed in order to know more about the motivation of voluntary works around vacencies. The article gives a glance into the variety of initiatives in order to answer the question: How to support the (re)creation of function and identifiaction of vacencies as a part of cummunity education?

Keywords: adult education, rural development, community learning, transformation

 1. Introduction

Community Education is described as an longterm and fundamental requirement to empower a sustainable soil for a Lifelong Learning culture (Chrisholm et al. 2009: 32ff). Emphaszied is especially the informal learning of the civil society at a regional level. The targets for a culture of Lifelong Learning culture should be reached by personal development, social, cultural and general education contents headlined with voluntary work in new learning environements with a high component of selflearning. Because of the longterm view of this strategy and the qualitative aspects the focus is on the practice and organisation of existing projects and initiatives (see Lassnigg 2013: 5ff). The following article is built up by such an evaluation.

In the last 25 years, the Upper Lusatia, a region on frontiers between Czec Republic and Poland, was facing a profound structural change. This process of economical and political transformation left many vacancies due to closed down plants and a declining population. The spectrum ranges from industrial buildings and historical half-timbered houses (Umgebindehäuser) to objects, which served the community as places of social life in a village or a town, such like guesthouses, pubs and theaters. Many of those were lingering over a sad fate for years or just became ruins. But spaces can always be read as texts. And so those empty buildings are connected with the collective experiences of the people. The perception of those spaces as eyesores changed slightly and some of those buildings received more attentation. It is to aknowledge that especially people from the community groups began to engage in activities around the vacancies. The extend of the dedicated people ranges from inhabitants to returnees and newcomers. The decisive factor is always if the local environment of the community administration and other players are supportive or repressive. In the last years in the region of Upper Lusatia many and very heterogeneous groups and initiatives around vacancies were formed. It is obvious that they are not very institutionalised concepts. The engines of the revival are idealism in a positive sense, local ties and commitment, civil voluntary work and personal learning.

The project “Zukunftsprojektor” had the issue to find, show and support voluntary initiatives by offering educational support. The focus was on groups and their voluntary work for the preservation of the vacancies and the collective use in the region of Upper Lusatia. The project was financed from the program “Neulandgewinner” by the “Robert-Bosch-Stiftung” and guided by the “Zukunftsbündnis Upper Lusatia.”. The academic evaluation was accompanying the whole project for two years and focussing on the following questions:

  • – What are the motives and challenges of this kind of initiatives around vacancies?
  • – And which role takes the buildings and their potential use for the voluntary work?
  • – What kind of function takes the initiatives in terms of community learning?
  • – What are best practices of supporting this kind of building-voluntary work in rural regions?

2. Methodological background

As a qualitative approach the study had not the issues to test theoretically hypotheses within an empirical context. Because of the exploring character of the program and the project itself an inductive methodology was preferred. Attending the approach of the American pragmatism (see Joas 1996) and especially in the context of very innovative and creative contexts of development. The practice as doing is the first step. The second step is than the theoretical reflection on the base of empirical experiences.

This pragmatic understanding of innovative development doesn´t claim that there are already theories of how to do the right things right and how to support engaged groups around vacancies in the perfect way so that community learning is happening and everybody can participate. In this theoretical approach the focus is not on a normative controlling if community learning is happening while some people want to change the ruin within the centre of their community. But the focus is open to question which kind of goals were reached in the empirical practice and to formulate them together. In this thinking the goal of the voluntary work developed in a retrospective perspective not in a prospective (see Weick 1985: 33f; 278f; 340f). Everybody involved in the project is looking from a special perspective to the common process and is so adding this perspective to a development which is generating a theory (Schäffter 2008), here a theory of how to support voluntary work for vacancies in order to support this as a sort of community learning. The two steps empirical method is reflecting this inductive approach.

The Research objects were: First to describe the history of the initiatives for the unoccupied buildings and their needs. Second to gather success factors for the support and to argue with the impact of this groups for the revitalization of community life. The results were organized into: Motives and history of commitment, challenges, support needs and success factors of commitment. The resaerch results are providing the opportunity to bring attention to issues of community learning to support local development in the regions of Eastern Germany. Learning is seen as a social proccess and associated with personal and social issues. In this perspective adult education as Lifelong Learning is to reflect historical and social transformation as a ‘searching process’ to find innovative and individual solutions in a transformation society. “People are learning because they want to contribute to the common goal, sharing the responsibility for achieving change or perhaps just keeping something going“ (Gilchrist 2013: 02-2).

This contribution provids the perspective of how vacancies in rural communities can give an opportunity of new identification with people and their practical engagement. And different examples for the way to breath new life into unoccupied buildings.

3. Casestudies – A glance into the practice of the voluntary work for vacancies

3.1 Der Kretscham – The public house

Kretscham is an old word for a public tavern in the middle of the village. Very often with a ballroom inside to dance and to celebrate. An association of 15 members keeps one of these old buildings in a village of 5.500 inhabitants up. Their issue since more than 12 years is, to open this building for the public as the cultural centre of the community. The starting point of the voluntary work of the young people was very practical. While looking for a space for shared house, which is not easy to find in a village, the youngsters found the former public house and started to rent the old hotel level up the former ballroom. From the beginning the young residents were confronted with the meaning of the building for the community of the village: “When we came the first time to the works on the house, we realized, that very day, it was unbelievable, plenty of people stoped in front of the house and asked us to be allowed to come in and to take a look inside. That was the moment when we realized what an importance this house has in the heads of the generation of my mother and grandmother.”

Many personal memories and a very high public interest is besoming the reason for the first public event. Planed as a small barbacue party with a DJ, this party becomes a hit with over 800 guests. The reason for this resonanz is the local identification with this house: “Very old couples, more than seventy years old, came up the stairs and where sitting on the gallery, holding hands and just looking into the ballroom. Onetousand people were telling onetausand stories, apparently in this house half of the village must have been married, fathered or something like this.”

Other events like public parties and exhibitions followed the first event as well as continuing constractions on the almost dilapidated building. The association was founded and the voluntary worked professionalized. In the first years the construction of toilets and fire protection the most important projects. Now the organization of the parties and events is professional and the house three times a year open for the public. The biggest cahllenges for the initiative are financial sorrows and the difficulty of the private ownership of the house. With a private owner communal financial support is not possible. Support is required both in providing legal advice as well as to network with other vacancies initiatives. After all, the key question in such a long-term voluntary work is, how can the people, who cover the costs of the association, open the facility three times a year and organize and carry out voluntary events in the future?

3.2 The water tower

The association LEBENs(T)RÄUME e.V. (registered association) was founded in 2012. It consists of approx. 35 active members with a mixed-age structure. Its goal is to make the shrinking region more livable with offers for nature experience and environmental education. At first the project Stadthonig (honey from town) started off. An old industrial wasteland was converted into a bee pasture and so honey is produced and sold locally for several years now. The association connects its approach of environmental education with the preservation and analysis of the historic industrial heritage of the region. The association has drawn wide acclaim among the locals in a short time through the work with the bees and the production of honey. Due to the high publicity of the assocation in the small town, the dedicated members were offered another vacant property for sponsoring and thus for “revival”. The historic water tower is part of the former company premises LAUTEX where more than 40,000 people were employed until the early / mid-90s. The tower borders the former fire station equipment store of the company’s fire department, which the association manages as a user. The water tower is “one of the few buildings that has been preserved from the whole complex” of the company LAUTEX. All other buildings were demolished as part of urban development. Since the acquisition of the building the issue of sustainable use is top priority. Due to the historical significance of the building, the memory work plays an important role:

There are many elderly people who love to see how it has developed, what has become of it, how it will continue to be used and are very grateful that it has been preserved as one of the few buildings and that their memories can live here. Every two weeks we have a narrative café for seniors, where many of these former employees can really reminisce, and so old stories come back to light and that is nice to see. And it’s also important for us that we get information that we can look back on and reappraise to keep the history alive. This approach goes hand in hand with the question of what the historic building is supposed to become. There is a need for sustainable search for ideas with the local community. In addition to the collective development of ideas the question arises how the implementation and the development of the association’s work is going to be managed and this is drafted as a demand for advice. Although the association’s work is on a voluntary basis, future profitability and the creation of a permanent position is aspired.

3.3 Wächterhaus and Fleischbänke

The Fleischbänke (stalls for meat sales) were first mentioned in 1361 as a location in Zittau for slaughter and sale of meat and were built in 1759 at its present location. It was used until the 19th century followed by vacancy. And the Wächterhaus Zittau is a historic inner-city building from the 16th century with an eventful history, among other things as Jewish prayer room and department store and has been empty since 1990. A ‚Wächterhaus’ is an utilization concept for vacant properties. Initiatives were founded for both buildings in 2011 with the help of the Stadtforum (a city board) to establish a revival by temporary use. Partly the same people work for both initiatives, the Wächterhaus and the Fleischbänke, and take that voluntary work forward. The use and but not the purchase of the buildings is in the foreground, in order to protect them from demolishing: “We are only interested in, that the building, so that we can use it temporarily, so to speak, in order to draw attention to the building and if someone comes who buys it, then we make way or use it as long as it’s possible and attention is useful.

Attention and public interest is achieved by using the facilities by artists, the granting of access for everyone and the implementation of various public events: “There is a license agreement, which lasts about, in our case, ten years, and the time, we can spend it in here without making major structural changes, we can use the building for our purpose” Especially the historical reference and the provision of access to the building is a crucial factor for the revival. The entire local community is invited to visit the building and to get acquainted with the temporary use and the space it provides for everyone. This openness is also one reason for his personal engagement in the voluntary work: “The events themselves were a good step forward, so also for the town, because they, could all come, there wasn’t anything unpleasant in here, but all came in, looked at it, oh, beautiful old building, and I have been here once as a child and I remember it as a big department store. So many older people who showed interest in it and don’t say uhä what you are doing now, but through the connection with art it has been open and has been accepted and is still accepted. And that’s something I found very inspiring, to participate in things, to integrate myself.

The starting point for the selection of the buildings for temporary use is their present inner-town location and the interest of direct interaction with the history: “The Fleischbänke is an independent initiative whose, primary purpose was to find a few people who said: ‘Man I walk here often, passing this meat market, I think it’s such a pity that this is lying bare’.” The stories and the identification of the people is made a subject of discussion in the events and made accessible through an open door: “The fact that this is now just within the town, which is, still something supporting, that they searched for something in the inner-town, even next to such a road, which is highly traditional.”The community from the very beginning supports both initiatives. The Urban Development Company is interested in the voluntary work and therefore establishes communication to owners. The organization level of the Meat Market might be relatively low, but for the implementation of large-scale events such as a Christmas markets all local citizens and stores etc. worked closely together. Existing networks with urban actors and direct approaches played a major role in order to get attention and support. The takeover by an investor is scheduled for the voluntary work and cooperation is aspired and has already been successfully implemented for the Fleischbänke initiative. The work is rewarded with public attention and personal feedback of the community at the events. The work is voluntary but the commitment is remunerated with a greater say in urban development.

Whereby the committed people are aware of the problem of property relations and available municipal capital, “because on the one hand you can of course tear down buildings and build something new, but on the other hand, there are a lot of buildings that are just empty because there is some sort of problem there. The initiatives address this gap of urban incapacity and advertise their town and a broad attention: “That is a possibility, with such a Wächterhaus, as well as with a project like Fleischbänke, to campaign for an object, where you think that is worth it to take it further into the interests of the urban public, and sometimes that is enough, that is of course marketing, i.e., to market buildings and real estate property, perhaps encourage people to purchase a property, you just have to put in a lot of energy, or perhaps distribute the energy to several people, simply to present various projects und yes, make people curious .

The challenge in addition to the architectural barriers is that the requirements for temporary use have to correspond with the existing building stock and the inner-town location. In addition to the structural requirements the greatest need for support may well lie in the ensurance of a continuous project work. A project which lasts longer than the first start-up and the first success and which presents the initiatives permanently, even if the buildings are different. The respondent clarified a direct need for consultation, to not overexert themselves especially in larger user groups and thus put the whole project at risk. It is important to address both individual motives of those involved, as well as to convey the social aspect of the common activity: The success is supported by a vision beyond individual and social objectives. The secret recipe is in addition to the search of like-minded people, the reinterpretation of vacant properties into opportunities for a new use. The regional networking plays a central role as a counterweight to structural weakness.

3.4 The Volkshaus (formerly used meeting house for trade unions)

The Volkshaus was built in 1928 as a union house with bonds at the Bauhaus style and Expressionism and funded by the unions. The house was used as a multifunctional cultural and educational center. The house, which is owned by the town Weißwasser, is vacant since 2005. For two years now an initiative establishes to take care of the preservation of the house. A two-member team of the project “Zukunftsprojektors” accompanied the foundation of the association and the project development closely. The active group consists of about 15 people who attend the regular meetings. The objective of the voluntary work is to conserve the inner-town historical monument: “It is important that the monument remains. And that’s why I have decided to take part.” The Volkshaus is a particularly striking example for a former cultural center in the town center. On the one hand, it is still very present in the minds of the people on the other hand this cultural center hasn’t been replaced yet by any other similar locality. In addition to the preservation of that listed and historical building, the Volkshaus needs to be revived as a center for cultural and eventful activities. In this town doesn’t exist any entertainment facility like this meeting house. However, before the use of the building can be contemplated specifically, essential steps should be taken care of. Based on the initiative of the City Council, who initiated a petition to save the Volkshaus and discussed the handling with vacant inner-town monuments in meetings, an initiative group emerged due to a call in the newspaper. Rejection of funding opportunities triggered the foundation of the association. There is a great need for support in terms of the cooperation with the local administration. It is primarily not about the issue of funding commitments, but about the support of the voluntary works by permits. This is where the volunteer structure of the initiative meets bureaucratic structures. The strength of the support team lay not at least in the trans-regional importance, and was of benefit to the initiative due to project attention in general. In particular, the persistence of the participants is one of the success factors for the new initiative. But the cooperation with the town as the owner remains a requirement for further voluntary work:

 4.  Motives, challenges and potential

Accompanying the four initiatives and groups who support the work on vacant properties in rural areas, the following overall results can be outlined: The trigger for this type of voluntary work is diverse. Nevertheless, we can resume four points:

1.     The vacant properties are mostly historical buildings, allowing the population to combine a part of their own history and the history of the community. In these buildings people lived, loved, worked, and danced. Often the buildings are still remains of already demolished complexes.

2.     The vacant objects are perceived by the people as “eyesores” and thus are contrary to the personal connection. This contradiction often leads to initiation of voluntary work.

3.     The vacant objects offer the voluntary work a directly experiencable space. This concrete and immediately available space is one of the main triggers for common action.

4.     It is seen as an opportunity to jointly make a difference, either as a group, an association, or cooperation with the local administration.

Just as diverse are the challenges and difficult to generalize because of the different ages and level of maturity of the six accompanying initiatives. Three different stages of maturity can be determined for all of the initiatives.

During the initial phase the first step is, in addition to group building, to gain support from the community. The reflection of the history of the building is an invaluable contribution. Another challenge is the support from public administration and authorities. Once again the support from the community and a possible impact of the project, for example as part of town marketing, makes a contribution. An important factor especially to gain new commited members is public relations work. The team of the “Zukunftprojektor” achieved great things and made the importance for the local community be seen especially trough the attention in trans-regional networks.

During the professionalisation phase the work load in terms of project development and administration rises. In this phase it’s important to strengthen the idea of voluntary work and the experience to jointly work for a goal and uphold it. At this point it is necessary to hold on and withstand setbacks. Not all plans work out immediately and the first optimistic mood vanishes. At this stage it becomes apparent how important the approval of the people is to achieve long-term success. Therefore, it was particularly important to be present with the building for example at local festivals, days of the open monument or with a cultural highlight at Christmas. The community could be convinced, ideas of usage could be gathered and a great support was given. The building moved back in the minds of the community.

During the implementation phase many objectives had been achieved or adjusted to what is possible. In this case it is important to set new goals or convert the voluntary work in economic endeavours. During this stage the municipal coorperation is essential. Wether it is a long-term conversion in a cultural center or a handover to an new user, at this stage it is important to transfer or to handover the voluntary work. This process is like a generation change. The need for support of the voluntary work can be clearly defined from the described challenges.

The three success factors of the accompanied voluntary work are:

Voluntary work as door opener:

  1. Object-related: The object must be open and free for use and open for the general public. Voluntary work and learning within is literally a first door opener for the public.

Open door policy:

  1. In terms of voluntary work and community learning: The actions must be transparent for the public and the involvement must be solicited continually. This open door policy is crucial to gain new members and support from the municipal administration. Public campaigns have a favourable impact on this matter.

An sympathetic ear for members:

  1. Organization-related: It is extremly vital to gain companions for voluntary work and get them enthusiastic about common ideas. Regardless of the organisation level, working and getting along well together is essential for the voluntary work. The metapher of a sympatethic ear would be the thing to do.

5. Levels of supporting community learning within vacencies

Some of the requirements can be satisfied by short distances and consultation. Also the involvement in community activities such as local festivals or an interview with the official journal provide public recognition and awareness and promote discussion about vacant properties in the community. The more vacant building with their history and possibilites are visitied and not torn away the more people will take part in the discussion about future use. This calls for possibilites of public discussion about what will become of an old industrial plant, a district culture house or chimney.

The project “ZukunfsProjektor” provided assistance in form of networking, exchange between different regional and trans-regional projects and decision-makers as well as group-related presentation und mediation. On the whole, the issue of vacancy and the existing voluntary work in the region Upper Lusatia has been appreciated already in a long overdue manner and made visible beyond the individual communities. The awareness and appreciation of such voluntary work is still lacking in many areas. In the same time the reflection of the volountary work the learning on a personal and social level and in the community also was part of the suport work. The volunteers got more aware of their engagement in the community and there big issues in partiziaption. These levels of learning are listed in the follwing colum left side down below. The very general description of a program format is precisely shown in the right column towards the qualitative concept of the specific design from the project community space of learning (Lernort Gemeinde, see Schäffter 2009).

The example of the monitored objects within the famework of the project “Zukunfts-Projektor” in Upper Lusatia confirms the thesis that the self-organized groups and initiatives around vacancies become model examples, how to handle vacancy in rural areas, which challenges it brings and what value a supporting network has.

Buildings are not only material and substance; they are more like medium and reason for self-organised and self-empowered action. The processes that take place in this context, are teaching spaces in previous empty spaces. What do they teach us? They teach us that we experience in changing times the change of community voluntary work as well: In future times people will get involved in a non-binding, action-oriented manner. We will experience a mixture which joints common public interest and creation of value, meaning structures will be rebuilt and developed further. And community learning happens within this new structures. Following this line of argument, a process is taking place which the regions in transition like Upper Lusatia. A long time it’s been known as transformation regions. Considering transformation, then there are two pathes ahead: the path of imitation or the path of evolution. In Saxony the first path was taken over long distances. The interesting thing is now: With the newly outlined forms of community learning– here observed as an example for vacant properties – the second path applies here: the evolutionary. Because commited people find, due to “contraints” but driven by common goals, their own ways and recreate and “invent” themselves and solutions. For societies this is precisely the germ cell of social innovation – an invaluable asset for rural areas. The “vacancy” is the potential of rural areas. It creates a freedom for possibilities. This means that the empty space as free space becomes teaching space becomes pioneer space.

6. References

Chisholm, Lynne/Lassnigg, Lorenz/Lehner, Martin/Lenz, Werner/Tippelt, Rudolf (2009): Wissen – Chancen – Kompetenzen. Strategie zur Umsetzung des lebensbegleitenden Lernens in Österreich. Retrieved from http://erwachsenenbildung.at/downloads/service/LLL-Strategie_ExpertInnenbericht.pdf

Gilchrist, Alison (2013): Community development as a learning process. Insights from the UK. In: Magazin erwachsenenbildung.at, No. 19, Retrieved from http://erwachsenenbildung.at/magazin/13-19/meb13-19.pdf

Joas, Hans (1996): Die Kreativität des Handelns. Frankfurt/Main.

Lassnigg, Loranz (2013): Community Education als Aktionslinie der nationalen Strategie zum lebensbegleitenden Lernen (LLL:2020). In: Magazin Erwachsenenbildung.at, No. 19, Retrieved from http://erwachsenenbildung.at/magazin/13-19/meb13-19.pdf

Schäffter, Ortfried (2009): Lernort Gemeinde – Ein Format Were entwickelnder Erwachsenenbildung. In: Mörchen, Annette/Tolksdorf, Markus (edt.): Lernort Gemeinde. Ein neues Format der Erwachsenenbildung. Bielefeld, pp. 21-40.

Schulze, Mandy/Enders, Judith (2014): Innovative Forms of Adult Education – Bringing people together for rural development in East Germany. In: Guimaraes, P./Cavaco, C./Marrocos, L./Paulos, C./Bruno, A./Rodrigues, S./Marques, M. (edt.): Local Change, Social Actions and Adult Learning: Challenges and Responses, Proceedings. pp. 122-131.

Weick, Karl, E. (1985): Der Prozess des Organisierens. Frankfurt/Main.

Deutschlandforschertagung 2016 – Children of Transition

“The good, the bad and the Eastern Europeans – refugees and the communist past.”

Under this headline, Iva Kopraleva and Rafaela Tripalo from Transition Dialogue Network presented research results from Bulgaria and Croatia at the conference “Deutschlandforschertagung 2016 – Children of Transition, Children of War” in November in Vienna. Together with Louisa Slavkova, they have exeamined the link between transition experience and today’s attitutes towards migrants.

The results are resented in the research paper.

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On the same conference, Olena Pravylo presented findings from inter-Generation Talks and Interviews with the “Children of Change” from Ukraine, Russia and Germany.

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The Changes since the 80s and the war in Eastern Ukraine

Transition Dialogue Panel on the Conflict in Eastern Ukraine

9. November 2016 at Böll-Foundation Berlin, DRA Autumn Talks on Conflict Resolution in the Donbass Region

The war in Eastern Ukraine widely disappeared from from press coverage and international notice. But the conflict goes on and the Minsk peace process is shaky. After discussing prospects for conflict resolution for two days, this panel tried to shed some light on the issue of transition experience as a factor in the conflict in the Donbass.

Indeed, thesis and sides taken by theherbstgesprache-1 panellists and audience happened to present the conflict setting in a nutshell. A heated discussion revealed the long shadows of the past.

Igor Semivolos from the Crisis Media Center Kiev argued there was a certain mind set of Donbass people that triggered this conflict: Firstly, because the Soviet culture was mainly a culture of violence with its emphasis on the eternal struggle of communism against its enemies. Secondly, the Donbass was suffering from a cultural poverty. People there preserve the “paternalist attitude that someone will do it better for them”, say Semivolos. Individual identity was not welcome here, there was still a culture of collectivism. In this region, that is the ‘most Russian one’ of all Ukraine regions, there were social tensions before the conflict broke out.

Valentina Cherevatenko, Union of the Don Women, lives in a Russian region close to the Ukraine boarder. Here, it happens that one part of the village is Russian and one part is Ukraine.

We had a clear picture from films of who is the enemy, she remembers her childhood in the Soviet Union. The problem is, that certain “buzzwords” proof to be longlasting and are reframed and reused in the current conflict – without reflecting what we are actually talking about. “If you told me, what you understand with fascism, I can tell you, if we have it or not”, says Cherevatenko.

“Everything we experience today is related to the way that history is presented to us.” We must talk to each other, we must understand what we mean with the words we use. “Future needs remembrance and remembrance needs future.” Valentina Cherevatenko

The audience of about 50 people was eager to contribute to the discussion, as for instance Valentina from Ukraine remembered, “When I was in the first grade my belief was that I would live in Communism forever. But then the Soviet Union collapsed.” Especially for history teachers the situation was difficult: history was rewritten and changed, and now herbstgesprache-4a completely different history was teached.

Then a competition of history startet with the election of Juschtschenko and goes on since then, she says. “In the region where I live, the situation after Maidan was not accepted, it was not just in the Donbass.” She remembered the summer of 2014 as a moment of breakdown of public infrastructure, that people could only manage because of mutual collective help organised by citizens.

Olena Pravylo from the Congress of Cultural Activists took a different stand: “As a person who was on the Maidan from the first day, I can say, that there are obviously different positions. But I don’t want to argue to about this.”

Instead she drew the attention on the research and interviews she did as part of the Transition Dialogue network. From the research, she understood that the different generations have a very different remembrance and perspective on history.

“My generation – in 1991 we were children. For us Tschernobyl meant vacation.” After the explosion, many people were moved to different regions to escape the radio-active pollution. “But the interviewed people born in the 70s and 60s said: We were born and went to school as Soviet Children. After the Soviet Union was just banditism. They say, the best time was only after 2000 when things finally stabilised”, she recalls from her research. Transition doesn’t end. “What we need is a transition generation dialogue, to discover how differently we understand history.”herbstgesprache-3

She referred to the resume from research done in Germany, suggesting a role swith between children (born in the 80s) and their parents. “The children understood new rules of the game. But the parents still live in the past, they did not manage to adjust to he changes and find their position.”

“The boarder of Soviet thinking is moving eastwards but it is still there”, says Olena Pravylo. “Through the Transition Dialogue network, I understand that there are many Russian people who want a dialogue, who want to question the patterns of thinking and overcome the conflict.”

“I am happy we have now changes in Ukraine after Maidan. Let’s see, were it leads. I liked the answer of a person I asked, how he would understand that transition ends: He said, ‘then clerks in public service will smile like normal people’.” Olena Pravylo

Aleksei Tokarev from MIGMO University switched the topic saying he wants to address the stereotypes. “I try to tear down this wall.” He said, he would not deny that Russian troops went to Ukraine twice. But “it’s the problem of Europe that they think, the problems lie only in Moscow.” He insisted the voice of people in the Donbass wasn’t heard. Far not everyone there would agree to the politics in Kiev.

Here the question, if the conflict in the Ukraine was a civil or international war was on the table again. “It has both elements”, says Igor Semyvolos. “It’s also a civil conflict.” After collapse of Soviet Union, people in the Donbass had not developed a new common identity like most people in Western Ukraine. As the conflict was triggered, they were in the midst, “forced to take side between Ukraine and Russia”.

Voices from the audience jumped back on the issue of transition: “The transition from communist time hasn’t finished, and that is the reason for this conflict”, one woman said. She quoted the artist Dragovic’s: ‘how to lead into conflict in three easy steps’: First; raise level of acceptance for violence in society – e.g. activists were confronted in a cruel way, that was to serve this purpose. Second, create stereotypes – first victim of war is truth.

Another women said, “we grew up having been teached, that Ukraine identity would not exist if it wasn’t defended with blood. It’s a culture of self-defence. But it is not one of tolerance. So you in Germany do not understand: How could you support a war? But that is why.”

“We need to ask ourselves who we are? We are children of Soviet union and live now 20 years without identification.” Statement from the audience

The discussion showed that issues of identity arising of the break up of Soviet Union and ongoing instability indeed contribute to the conflict setting in the Donbass. Mental lines of conflict run deep through the population within the Ukraine and and beyond, they are not only between regions but also generations.

Actually, narratives of the past long before the break up of the Soviet Union are framing and impacting on the attitude to the Ukraine state and the Donbass conflict now. Also in this discussion participants called on historical events and actors – like the 2. World War – to make their point. As stressed by panelists and audience, it would need a lot more dialogue to sharpen the senses for the fact that there are different perspectives on history and the current conflict in the Donbass. Indeed, when people find it hard to talk to each other, is is probably the clearest sign that they should talk.

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Breaking the Silence: Memories of the Times of Change

As different as the transition experience was among people in the same country (let alone among the three countries), most interviews reveal a similar crucial experience of lasting impact: loss of trust, rules or orientation // Findings from inter-Generation Talks and Interviews with the “Children of Change” from Ukraine, Russia and Germany

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As Transition Dialogue-Network, we are taking a narrative approach, looking on how people individually remember, how they reflect on the past, and the impact of transition on their life. We let people tell their story and try to map a vivid picture of transition experience in Eastern Europe in comparative perspective.  Activities include a series of interviews in Germany, Russia and Ukraine. A focus is on the “children of change” those who experienced transition from the late 1980s in childhood or teenage time.

The years of change turned out to be a lasting point of reference for people’s life and thinking. This frame of reference is a set of often unreflected narratives, reshaped memories, for younger people partly second hand. These narratives have a great impact on people’s self-image and attitude towards society. They must be revealed to understand what makes citizens become a driver of change – and what not. Also, civic education need to deal with how people actually perceive society and democracy, rather then solely teaching them about it.

We had dozens of guided interviews with participants of the Wendekinder (30-40 years old) and the parent generation (50-70 years old) old. In the German case also interviews between parents and their actual children.

This is what we learnt from the interviews in the differnet countries

UKRAINE

TRANSITION MOMENT The answers are split: Some named the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine independence in 1991 as starting point, others Gorbachov’s “Perestroika”.  Notably the Chernobyl tragedy 1986 is seen as a powerful symbol of erosion of the Soviet system, because people stopped trusting the government: they were not informed about explosion, though they experienced changes of their social and ecological environment. Chernobyl appeared crucial for people in Ukraine, as it is marked by great uncertainty, loose of trust and fear.
(NO) NOSTALGIA Mostly the generation born in the 70s  and earlier is more sceptical about changes, because they remember the good things in the Soviet Union. For them, the guarantees provided such as free health care service were appreciated as one of big pluses, that were lost during interview-stills-vienna-poster_2transformation. However, those born in 80s have no feelings of nostalgia: Even in a caring and loving family environment, due to the deficit of food, toys and clothes the Soviet time is remembered as difficult and hardship.
SOLIDARITY 70% agreed that nowadays solidarity is greater than in Soviet time, they experience a new wave of solidary and effective volunteering since the Maydan revolution. The remaining 30% insist that real solidarity was only in Soviet times, because society was based on the value of helping each other in everyday life – and that was gone today.

RUSSIA

TRANSITION MOMENT People remember transition starting in the late 80ies till the beginning of 2000ies. They experienced it as radical change from one social and economic system to a quite different, absolutely new society.
NO RULES One of the striking features of that time is the feeling of ‘no rules’: that most Soviet structures and values in economics and social life were destroyed. New ones needed to be explored and re-invented. Respondents remember this period as free, uncertain, full of hopes and opportunities, and wild.  The same experience, however, had a different impact on people’s life: While some got in a pure survival mode and absorbed by family issues and raising children, others seek business opportunities and enjoyed open borders.
SELF RELIENCE One of the main characteristics of transition is the feeling of becoming self-reliant and independent (in some degree). Respondents don’t trust the state, and try to ‘not to deal’ with the state.  They also understand their own rights, know when they are broken, and try to defend them. This is also seen by them as a ‘heritage of 90ies’. It is worth to know that the respondents take a critical stand towards the current politics and ideology situation in Russia.

GERMANY 

TRANSITION MOMENT Interviews revealed a role switch between children and parents in transition time, as children were able to adapt to the changing society more easily. Parents who were formerly well settled, had to re-orientate; needed to deal with new institutions, rules and values. At the same time, children had to make major decisions for their professional and future life in a dramatically changing educational system. The parents, however, were unable to deal with these issues.
GENERATION DIALOGUE The German case set a focus on dialogue and its effects for relations in the family and between generations. The authors observed three broad patterns of dialogue: 1. children and parents are able to reflect and rethink the past, 2. the dialogue between generation showed clear limits of issues that could be touched, and 3. the dialogue was impossible.
HYPOTHEK OF THE PAST Interviews show, how not talking about the past affects family and generation relations in contrast to those families, where the reflection is not denied. The authors conclude, this effects the overall capacity of a society to critically access the past and present social and political situation: Family members that did not come to terms with transition time privately, were not ready for a debate in a more public space either and less able to deal constructively with current social problems. Yet, many parents do not see a responsibility to speak about the past as a chance to develop future society or social relations. Instead it seems irrelevant to them to deal with something that is gone.

Conclusion

As different as the transition experience was among people in the same country (let alone among the three countries), most interviews reveal a similar crucial experience of lasting impact: loss of trust, rules or orientation. However, this is not only negative. Answers from all three countries suggest that these experiences can be interpreted as opportunities. Of course, this depends on the personal situation. But findings, e.g. from Ukraine, show that the interpretation of transition can be rewritten from negative to positive: While the perception of political institutions is still negative, the Maidan movement lead to a lasting attitude of “the more it is to us, to do something about society”.  Findings from Germany suggest that initiating dialogue and reflection can open spaces for such a reassessment.

Contributors/Interviews: Olena Pravylo (Congress of Cultural Activists, Ukraine), Polina Filipova, Vlada Gekhtman and Oksana Bocharova (Sakharov Center, Russia), Dr. Judith Enders, Dr. Mandy Schulze (Perspektive³, Germany) Christine Wetzel (DRA e.V., Germany).

This Research was Presented at
Deutschlandforschertagung ’16: Children of Transition, Children of War. The “Generation of Transformation” from a European Perspective by Olena Pravylo.