“Now people have responsibility for what they are doing”

In the course of the Maidan revolution, the Ministry of Culture was occupied by cultural activists in order to develop a more progressive cultural policy for Ukraine. Yaroslav Belinsky belonged to the group of artists who occupied the Ministry and later created the Congress of Cultural Activists. But it’s not just about culture, but the role culture plays for society. The Congress’ claim says “We build a new country”.

Dörte Grimm from the Transition Dialogue-Team interviewed Yaroslav Belinsky, Designer, Member of the Congress of Cultural Activists, in April 2016 in Kiev.

Dörte: Yaroslav, how and when did you come to occupy the Ministry?

We came to occupy the Ministry right after Maidan: The shooting [when 100 protesters where killed] was on 18th, 20th Februar, we occupied the Ministry on the 24th, 25th. We went there for a month of hard and chaotic discussion on how to reform the ministry, how to work there. We were designers, musicians, sculptors – just art people who didn’t know how the ministry works.

So, we created separated groups for cinema, theatre, design, music… 15 groups all together. The main groups was for coordination. But after a month realised that it is not useful just to discuss, we wanted acting, we wanted to understand how culture works. So we left the Ministry and went out to the country, we gathered culture people from all over Ukraine. That was when the Congress of Cultural Activists was created.

Dörte: How did you become active during Maidan?

Yaroslav: I did not make Molotov Cocktails. I went there when it started, when it became a manifestation with million of people on Maidan just in a few weekends. Everyone was there. It was like a big family. Unknown people, but it felt like you knew them for years. That feeling was absolutely amazing. Something really, really new. It was a great impression. We try to cultivate this feeling and try to make it grow in the future.

Dörte: What has changed since the Maidan Revolution?

Yaroslav: The main difference is that now people have responsibility for what they are doing. That is new option for Ukraine. Before, we had the post soviet generation who was just responsible for nothing. As part of Congress we are present in all parts of Ukraine and talk to all kinds of people, not just from culture. And we understand, that they really want to be part of the change. We discuss with them cultural matters and why it is so important. What happened in the East of Ukraine and Crimea is also a reason of a lack of culture and of bad education. It wouldn’t have happened if the situation would have been a different one there.

Dörte: A day before, on a tour through the city, our guide said to us, the time before was unacceptable and unbearable, just years of frustration and total deadlock How did you experience the time before Maidan?

Yaroslav: For me, it was like you do something – but there is a concrete wall between you and what you want, between you and the environment you want to be part of.

Dörte: Because you couldn’t talk, your voice wasn’t heard?

Yaroslav: No, it was not like in the Soviet Union, not that something was restricted. Now it was just absolutely frozen, no development. Just as it is. You try to change something, but the authorities don’t want to. It was comfortable for them: they were just trying to get money from government budget. For instance, the Minister of Culture just kept on doing the same Soviet style events with the same people all the time. We call it Scharavaschena, old fashioned clothes from 400 years ago: That’s what they showed every year, the same costumes with the same dancing. That’s what they called culture. But some kind of new contemporary dance, visual arts – they didn’t understand that this could be part of culture. For them it was not culture, just non-understandable things.

Dörte: How will your next steps look like?

Yaroslav: We have a lot of cooperation with different NGO from Europe. I’m very optimistic for the development of the organisation. We want to found an Open Ukraine Design Center to support and discuss why and how design matters. To work in social, youth, business and government projects. We want to show that design can have a value for everything. And it can be a good packing for all kind of things developed in Ukraine. We have many good products, but they usually have a bad cover.

Dörte: What does transition mean to you?

Yaroslav: I was 11, 12 when the Soviet Union collapsed. It was not as hard for me as for my parents. My parents where in the military and I saw the Soviet Union that was absolutely bad equipped with a low level of support for the members and families. I remember packages with food from the Bundeswehr Army. It was a support from German to Ukraine Army. There was a time we survived just from those packages.

Dörte: But there is still transition going on…

Yaroslav: Yes, sure, we’re young, we have a flexible mind and can change our visions. But older people can’t. Partly it is very hard to speak to them. I can give you the example of a young girl and her grand mother. The young girl said to her grandmother, “how can you be sad that the Soviet time is gone? They killed millions of people in camps”. She answered, “yes, but we had ice cream for 3 Kopeks”. For our generation that is absolutely inappropriate. But for them it is o.k. Every second family I know in my environment has relatives who where shot in the 30s in the Soviet time, for instance my great grand parents. They were from Poland and lived in Ukraine, an intellectual family of teachers. They were shot not for their opinion or acting, just because they were Polish and educated. So Soviet time is nothing romantic for my generation.

Dörte: Do you think Ukraine is on a good way?

Yaroslav: Very slow, but I hope faster in the next year. And I hope that we as part of the change can help to make it better and be useful.

Dörte: Where do you get your motivation and energy from?

Yaroslav: We feel like a big family, the Congress team. When someone is depressed and loosing energy – which keeps happening – we do see that and support each other. It is very helpful to be part of that team.


Reanimation Package of Reforms: From Maidan to Policy Making

In 2014 the Maidan Revolution overthrew the government of president Yanukovich. Unlike after the Orange Revolution years before, many of the protesters decided that this time they would not go home and hope that things will change for the better – just because there is a new government. They had come to stay and help building a new country.

One of them is Artem Myrgorodskyi. After he had helped to evacuate wounded people in the Maidan Revolution, he founded REANIMATION PACKAGE OF REFORMS, an NGO that is working out a policy agenda for Ukraine. Since its establishment, the RPR was engaged in the adoption of 80 laws in Ukraine, says Mr. Myrgorodskyi.

Find Reanimation Package of Reform’s website here

Previous to working in the civic sector, Mr. Myrgorodskyi explained, he was a marketing manager in three different companies. His career changed when he participated at the Maidan1 movement, and helped evacuate 230 wounded people. In the chaos of the movement, he was the head of the initiative to help the wounded people, and soon after he formed an NGO which is still a functioning and prominent Ukrainian NGO. He decided to move on from marketing and work in the civic society because he found it to be necessary and required by the country that has to be changed in the nearest future.

The RPR is a coalition of 56 NGOs, mainly participants of the movement Maidan. While some of the Maidan participants went to practice politics, others decided to extend their activities to the civic sector and aim to coordinate activities and initiatives, tP1000920 (800x797)hus supporting the politicians, rather than taking part in the politics personally. That was why the Platform first started. The RPR was established in March 2013(???). It started with 30 people, and subsequently many more members joined later, growing to the number of 56 NGOs, in this way becoming the biggest Ukrainian organization of this type in the last 25 years. The main goal of the RPR is to influence and impact the politicians through many diverse activities :they discuss the agenda in the Government Office, advocate for different reforms, collaborating with over 70 MEPs from the Ukrainian Government. They have collaborated with the more progressive MEPs, the ones that are proactive, that are willing to cooperate, the ones that understand the reforms and its importance, and don’t only push the buttons, that are conscious (20%). Since its establishment, the RPR was engaged in the adoption of 80 laws in Ukraine.

The RPR does not communicate with the political parties, but rather finds personal contacts, mostly in the politicians who can impact the group from the inside. As for the Yanukovich, the opposition, the RPR’s attitude towards them is that they cannot cooperate with them because “they robbed the nation and killed the people”. However, they communicate with them, inform them about the agendas, but they are not invited to vote. It is important not to develop relationships with either parties or individual whose values do not match with the Maidan values. The RPR’s firm opinion is, that if they start developing the relationship with the enemies, the system could collapse.

The RPR’s governance model is a horizontal structure of various experts working in 23 groups concerning different civil society fields. The members are either the employees of the 56 NGOs or individual experts, presenting a core of top experts from the respective fields. They operate in a very well structured way. There is a procedure how to join the RPR, whose executive body is a council of 12 people that are yearly elected, mainly from the biggest NGOs. The Council appoints the managers and heads of departments; it makes decisions about accepting new members (the priorities are well-known organizations, especially from the fields the RPR lacks experts from). They proactively look for the partners and strive to build relationships with big companies and keep them informed. For example, when discussing an issue, the experts from within the RPR are called first. Consequently, after their draft proposal is approved, and if it’s a top priority, the second stage consists of open discussions with the different opponents of the reform, together with the MEPs. The expert groups work with the expert initiatives, white and green books, or policies. They work with hundreds of journalists, place news every day, communicate with the authorities, and write analytical notes that justify their efforts in pushing the reforms in a particular way. In their efforts, they communicate directly to around 70 more progressive MEPs. The same work happens on two different levels: at the organizations’ headquarters and at the cabinets of ministers. The RPR has an international communication department that was encouraged by the Brussels, Berlin and Washington institutions. They have good relationships with the three ambassadors, and pride in their good relations with some other influential institutions that easily and promptly get informed about any news, and are quick to react and help them if needed. They expanded to the Ukrainian regions where the civic sector is still somewhat underdeveloped. On this mission, the RPR visited 26 towns and promoted the idea of uniting efforts.

The RPR understood the need of a fixed structure and donations, so they made efforts to find donors and partners throughout the national and international structures in Ukraine. They found agreements with the EU Commission office, USAID, Swedish and German Embassy, Soros, SIDA, etc. Since they were successful, they got the contract for the next 2 years (about 1 mil euros).

As for sustainability, the RPR invests in the youth potential of their members. What is more, they see as the source of the future politicians – they support the young people informally and formally, through an initiative called the University of Reforms. The initiative relies on lectures held by some of the top experts which share their knowledge on different spheres, mostly concerning the reforms. This initiative is an addition to the formal University, and is supported by the Swedish SIDA. The RPR sees this initiative as good grounds for forming the future unbiased and capable politicians. On the other hand, when it comes to any sort of bias, the RPR has a strict policy against it, and therefore it is forbidden for the politicians to be in the RPR. Furthermore, concerning the youth initiatives, there are many praiseworthy efforts of the RPR to include the youth in the reform process, one of them being a group that is reforming youth policies, presenting the Eastern Partnership Working Group Forum. The Forum aims to use culture to prevent and resolve conflicts, and works on youth immigration from the Eastern Partnership. One of the main issues they deal with is how to keep the youth in their countries of origin and, more importantly, how to help them develop the respective countries.

The secret of RPR’s success lies primarily in rules and values. Their main policy is assessment of how the values link to priorities. Moreover, there are 7 priorities chosen by the main RPR body, the Assembly of the NGOs, each year. However, this does not mean that the other sectors are being deprived of any sort of development, but their issues are addressed only after the priorities have been dealt with. The RPR strategy changes once a year, together with the priorities. 85% of the resources are always used to fight corruption, and to reform the Prosecutors’ Office (that is still heavily on the basis of the previous Yanukovich government, with most professional and skilled people, but very corrupt). However, whatever the priorities are, they always try to accentuate that in the core of the State problems there is a cultural problem (values, what is wrong, what is permitted), and thus they highly support the cultural activists.

Looking back, one of the biggest lessons that the RPR activists have learned is that the people who work free of charge (300 people) can be more proactive than the paid ones. They have realized the importance of synergy, and see immense potential in mutual support. The RPR is highly aware of the fact that the reanimation should be done fast, but they see the great importance that is put on the balance of opinions and general inclusion. With that, the biggest aim of the RPR platform is to change the way of forming the legislative initiatives: right now, 80% of the executive power still belongs to the Parliament, and the RPR’s goal is to change it and share the agenda of starting from scratch in each policy making, including all sorts of experts, and only after the thorough investigation and discussion, drafting the law.

The way of functioning that the RPR has is convenient. There is a clear obligation to act on the demand of the society. The RPR is understood as a face of the society, and are contacted mainly when the politicians what to communicate with the society. It’s a very well placed position. The politicians understand that the society is very different and demanding, and it is of extreme importance not to be dismissed by it. It is for this reason that the RPR has the positive response from the side of the authorities. To change the country, the patriotism is not enough, but it is certainly a good starting point.

Author’s note: The members of the “Generation in Transition” met with Mr. Artem Myrgorodskyi, the Head of Secretariat of the Reanimation Package of Reforms (RPR) in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 18th 2016 to hear more about the RPR and to present their organizations. Article by Rafaela Tripalo.

1 A wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine, which began on the night of 21 November 2013 with public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kiev, demanding closer European integration. The scope of the protests expanded, with many calls for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych and his government. The protests led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Many protesters joined because of the violent dispersal of protesters on 30 November and “a will to change life in Ukraine.”By 25 January 2014, the protests had been fueled by the perception of “widespread government corruption,” “abuse of power,” and “violation of human rights in Ukraine.” Protests climaxed in mid-February. Police and protesters fired live and rubber ammunition across multiple locations in Kiev. Riot police advanced towards Maidan and clashed with protesters but did not fully occupy it. Fighting continued the following days which saw the vast majority of casualties. In connection with the events of February 18–20, Yanukovych was forced to make concessions to the opposition to end the bloodshed in Kiev and end the crisis. The Agreement on settlement of political crisis in Ukraine was signed by Vitaly Klitschko, Arseny Yatsenyuk, Oleh Tyahnybok. The signing was witnessed by the Foreign Ministers of Germany and Poland, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Radosław Sikorski, respectively, and the Director of the Continental Europe Department of the French Foreign Ministry, Eric Fournier. Vladimir Lukin, representing Russia, refused to sign the agreement. In late February 2014, Yanukovych and many other high government officials fled the country. Protesters gained control of the presidential administration and Yanukovych’s private estate. Subsequently, the parliament removed Yanukovych from office, replaced the government with a pro-European one, and ordered that former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko be released from prison.

NECE Congress “Us” and “them” Greece, October 22-24, 2015

Workshop I

What motivates people to become a driver of change in a time of transition?

Results from a Workshop at the 2015 NECE Conference in Thessaloniki, 22nd October 2015

Why we are asking this question

“Transition ends when we have disenchantment,” we learned in our first meeting in Sofia. But when transition ends due to disenchantment, it does not mean, that everything is ‘done’. Rather, people have become frustrated about the transition process, they do not believe in their possibility to bring about change. As activists, teachers, researchers in the wide field of civil society and citizenship education one of our main concerns is how to empower people. How to encourage them to be the change the want to see happen? In this brief workshop we presented best practice and learnings from our own work and asked participants to share their experience.

The workshop was held by Many Schulze (Perspektive³, Berlin), Olena Pravilo (Congress of Cultural Activists, Kiev) and Christine Wetzel (German-Russian-Exchange, Berlin). Documented on film by Dörte Grimm (Perspective³).

The workshops participants joined us from Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Croatia and Germany.

Olena’s Case on Driving Change: Establishing a Cultural Management in the community of Zaporizhzhya (Ukraine)

It all started with the occupation of the Ukraine Ministry of Education. The idea was spread on Facebook by artists and cultural managers after the end of the Janukovich government. It was not to destroy anything symbolically, but actually to do better, and to run the ministry with a lot more passion and expertise.

The problems of Ukraine’s cultural administration were, according to Olena, lacking concepts for cultural development, overall bad administration of policies, and no openness towards other sectors as education or economy. The idea of self-made cultural policy spread to other cities, Assemblies of Culture were set up and registered as NGOs – as in the community of Zaporizhzhya.

Olena explained, what drove the activists to take this great challenge was not to accept excuses: “We in Ukraine can always look at other countries and find reasons why things can not be changed here: Because we have less money than Germany, because we are not so small like Estonia, and so on. But we said, we can do it. We just start, see what works elsewhere and try to do it here.”

Therefore, the activists in Zaporizhzhya invited experts from all over the Ukraine to share their experiences and best practice from other communities. There was no big funding for this event, everybody traveled on her or his own expanses, local activists all provided their bit to make the event happen. It was a kick-off for cultural self-management in the Zaporizhzhya. By now, the activities have resulted in the initiating of a cultural strategy for the community, and the developing of a cooperation with the Economic University. A book fair was established and diverse cultural projects created.

“We need examples, we need to repeat them, spread them, show others what works,” Olena stressed, and, as simple as crucial: “Ask people to do something! Encourage them, give them examples of what they can actually achieve. Do you have a telescope, do you know something about the space? Why don’t you show children the starts and the universe?”

Mandy’s Case on Driving Change: How young people looking for place to live accidentally opened a social space and investigated local history (Germany)

Mandy’s story of change had to starting points. One was a typical ‘lost place’, like you can find plenty of it all over the former communist countries in every community: empty town halls, factories, schools, hotels ect.

One the other side there were five young people looking for a place to live and work. They found an empty, run down public house in the town of Niederoderwitz to settle.

“The five had nothing in mind with community issues or civic empowerment,” says Mandy. “But From the moment they had started to work ob the house, they got confronted with locals who stopped by and asked to come in and have look. They became aware of the enormous meaning the house has for the people in the village.” For decades all festivities had been celebrated here; birth, birthdays, carnival, thanksgiving… With closure off the hotel the village had lost it’s social heart, the place were people would meet.

So, they opened the house for a first garden party – and 800 out of 1.500 villagers came. Consequently, the house was opened regular and became the new community center. The group of 5 people grew to 25. They were confronted with new issues of management; dealing with the administration, finding supporters and funding, investigating the local history. They invited chronologists and historians. They established themselves in the village, got children and had to deal with related issues, like Infrastructure for young families.

Essentially, the hotel hall was not just a place to celebrate. A public space like this is simply crucial for the development of a sense of community in the first place. Without a place to gather, community life is disintegrating, emptying and frustration growing that there is ‘nothing here anymore’. The five young people had realized the potential of that place. How it matters to people, that they perceived it as an open wound in their village – and they are willing to change something about it, to give it new sense. By accident, they, just seeking affordable housing, became community activists, bringing public space and local citizen-driven self-organization (back) to live.

Thus, in terms of the workshop question, the case shows three things: Firstly, start small and local, the ‘home’ is a place everyone can emotionally connect to – and this is crucial.

Secondly, the people can create a political awareness starting from concerns for issues that are considered to be not political at all, like housing, some questions asked on the past.

And finally – despite all praise to the possibilities of virtual communication – the necessity to provide a physical space, a laboratory and hub for encounters and those who are willing to be drivers of change.

see more of this case on Facebook: www.facebook.com/KretschamNiederoderwitzEv/

In 2013 a network was founded supporting initiatives like that in Niederoderwitz reclaiming the public space. They are analysing and providing knowledge and support on issues like: What are triggers for civic engagement?
What are the challanges for those who want to engage? How can they be supported?  www.zukunft-oberlausitz.com

Open Discussion Results

We asked everyone to note down her and his answer to the workshop question and later share it with us. Here are insights the that were given by the participants from their experience:

  • Do not work on a group, you want to do something for, but work with them. Listen and develop approaches with them, that build on their needs, ideas and capacity.
  • Show people ‘the better live’ that is possible and provide them with examples how to get there.
  • You need a common issue if you want to keep people on board. This seems obvious, but often it is not the case when you look closer.
  • Education is an extremely powerful tool!
  • Ask people questions that make them start thinking.
  • Talk, talk, talk to people! Support encounters between different groups to share experience and examples, then develop programs to implement knowledge in practice.
  • We need to make ourselves visible, we need public spaces to unfold, grow and spread ideas.
  • Perform the best examples of your own, be the example, be the change – start local, then grow up the levels.
  • Support the people, who are willing to do something; empower them, build their confidence, if possible provide financial support.
  • Show them the consequences of their actions, show them what happens when the make changes – and what if not.
  • Networking and team-building: Make people feel that they are not alone!
  • You need to organize and structure the ideas, provide the ground to make ideas work
  • Lower administration burden!

The workshop holders suggest, that the examples given by the participant apply to all kind of civic engagement in different circumstances. We further suggest, all the points given link into each other and form a ‘Circle of Motivation‘:

The chart point to motivation and incentive structures on different levels; the individual (1) (2), but also organizational (3) (6) and institutional (4, also including funding) level, that are all relevant for people to drive change processes – though one can partly make up for the other. Bottom up activity should ideally meet a top down structure that facilitates engagement, e.g. with funding, providing spaces for meeting, give access to key actors. But this are not opposites: The Ukraine example shows the attempt of changing this very environment for activity.

The six elements build on each other and are linked, but they are not solely linear: E.g., sure, it helps to talk about and spread your cause at every stage of the circle. And, obviously, listen to those you want to address with your activity before you start is always a good idea! As it was stressed by a participant from Georgia early in the discussion, our attitude towards those who we want to work with is important. We should be facilitator, not the instructor who always knows better. For there is nothing less encouraging if you do not get the chance to follow your own ideas.

And finally: Do never forget about the social experience of engagement! Whatever you do; provide space for getting together also with agenda, celebrate results, tell others, honor activity and – say thanks.

Circle of Motivation

Driving Change Diagram

Thank you to all of you who joined this workshop and shared their experience!

 (Protocol by Christine Wetzel)

Workshop II

“Otherness” through the eyes of the generation of transition

The workshop explored the way the generation of transition understands the notion of “otherness” and how their current perception has been influenced by the process of transition towards democracy in the post-communist space. The participants presented the results of a small scale study on the topic, conducted in several countries from Eastern and Central Europe.

Olena Pravylo, Congress of Cultural Activists (Ukraine)

Rafaela Tripalo, “Stiftung Wissen am Werk” (Knowledge at Work Foundation, Croatia)

Iva Kopraleva, Sofia Platform (Bulgaria)

Louisa Slavkova, European Council on Foreign Relations/ Sofia Platform (Bulgaria)

@NECE Congress – “Us” and “them” – Citizenship education in an interdependent world, Thessaloniki, Greece, October 22-24 2015