Kyiv, May, 16th, 2014 – Today’s Ukraine is not only protecting its identity and building a new state, but it has put the entire world in front of the inevitable choices of democracy, pluralism and the future in general. This was the common theme of a press briefing with Timothy Snyder, professor at Yale University; Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic; and Jerzy Pomianowski, Executive Director of the European Endowment for Democracy that kicked-off the international conference “Ukraine: Thinking Together”. The briefing was hosted by the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center.
“The problems of Ukraine are universal,” Snyder said. “These are the issues of pluralism and integrity, the possibility of integration into larger European institutions. Ukrainians did something that we hadn’t done before. Events in Ukraine are the chance of renewal of not only Ukrainian life, but European and trans-Atlantic intellectual life since we are trying to see common intellectual, cultural, political predicaments to establish some other relationships that would be helpful in the years to come, whether it is Kyiv, Berlin or Washington.”
Wieseltier added: “What is happening in Ukraine, I regard it as one of the primary moments in the history of the 21st century for many reasons. Ukraine, Kyiv, Maidan are among primary sites of the most fundamental struggles in the world today, which is the struggle for democracy and pluralism. We follow you struggle offering support. We share your values. We are inspired with what you are doing to win.”
The experts agreed that it is extremely difficult to unify and modernize Ukraine with annexed territories and foreign military forces on its territory. It is, however, the right time to do it.
“We do know from history that you can modernize under difficult conditions,” Snyder said. “Poland can be an example since a lot of modernization there was made when it was under occupation. The most impressive Polish thinkers were educated in Russian or Austrian Universities. This is a part of the historical situation in the Eastern Europe.”
Pomianowski added: “Modernization, reforms and building of the democratic platform are possible and needed. There should be no excuses, using the arguments that we are not ready. You are ready and you have already proven this,”
The speakers were unanimous in their conception of Russia’s actions towards Ukraine.
“I believe that (Russian president Vladimir) Putin’s propaganda and the way of communication is like a drug to its own people, and sooner or later they will wake up,” said Pomianowski. “Democracy is about living without drugs, but it is about the ability to speak, understand and protect your own life in a way you wish to, as well as be respected. There is no single model, each country has to build democracy in its own way, but avoid caricature. Every phenomenon has its caricature as Putin is caricature of democracy. I believe we should fight all kind of caricatures of the solidarity on the face when armed men are sent to the east of Ukraine from Russia”.
Timothy Snyder, born 1969, is the Bird White Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a Permanent Fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna. He has written extensively on Central and Eastern Europe, including Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. The book received numerous awards and was translated into 20 languages and became a bestseller in four. Snyder has just completed a history of the Holocaust under the title Black Earth. He has studied at Brown University and Oxford University, and has won a number of awards, including the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding 2012 and the Hannah Arendt Prize 2013. Snyder has written numerous articles about the Ukraine crisis for, among other publications, the Financial Times, The New York Review of Books, the London Evening Standard, CNN, The New Republic, the Kyiv Post, The New York Times, and Foreign Policy, and has discussed it on NPR and for Democracy Now.
Leon Wieseltier, born 1952, writer, has been the Literary Editor of The New Republic since 1983. He is the author of Kaddish, as well as other books. His writings on culture and politics, foreign policy and human rights, Israel and Jewish history, have appeared in many journals. He was educated at Columbia, Balliol College at Oxford University, and Harvard, where he was a member of the Society of Fellows. Last year he was awarded the Dan David Prize. He has written about the Ukraine crisis for The New Republic.
Jerzy Pomianowski is Executive Director of the European Endowment for Democracy, a professional diplomat (holding the rank of Ambassador) and has been on the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland Republic since 1991. In particular, he hold a position of the Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His primary responsibilities include non-European policy and democratization agenda. In the years 2008–2011, he worked at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as Director of the Partnership for Democratic Governance, an international initiative (OECD/UNDP) aimed at supporting public administrations in countries destabilized by armed conflict or natural disasters. He graduated from the University of Warsaw, majoring in sociology. From 1980 to 1989, he was an active member of the democratic opposition in Poland. He was awarded a number of state distinctions, including the Order of the Rising Sun, the Gold and Silver Star (Japan) and the Award for Merit in Sport (Minister of Sport and Tourism of Poland).