A Word from the Ukrainian Barricades

Published December 16, 2013

National Review Online

The resolution of the current drama of Ukraine will touch both the moral and cultural future of the European project and the global strategic issue of whether something resembling the old Soviet Union will be de facto established by the Russian government of Vladimir Putin using bribes and coercion. In that unfolding drama, often referred to as EuroMaidan (a neologism that combines the aspirations of Ukraine’s democratic dissidents and the informal name of the square in Kiev where mass demonstrations continue), a leading role in the effort to reform a corrupt, post-Communist Ukraine is being played by the faculty and students of the Ukrainian Catholic University.

UCU is itself something of a miracle, having been born from beneath the rubble of Soviet-era religious persecution, during which the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was forcibly suppressed and was, for more than four decades, the world’s largest underground religious body. Today, UCU is providing an impressive and unique model of higher learning in the “former Soviet space,” emphasizing the development of personal character and public moral culture as well as intellectual and professional competence, to meet the challenges of a society wrecked by the hammer blows of Soviet totalitarianism. UCU has paid a price for its commitment to intellectual and moal truth, suffering continuing harassment from the government and security services of the Yanukovych regime in Ukraine. Yet the people of UCU remain unbowed, and both faculty and students have been active participants in the EuroMaidan demonstrations and in similar protests in Lviv, where the university is located.

The following two documents, recently sent to me from Lviv, usefully illustrate the dynamics of today’s Ukrainian drama. The first may help Western readers understand just how a corrupt, thuggish, post-Communist regime operates. The second gives a flavor of the witness that students whose teachers care about both intellectual and moral formation can offer Ukrainian society. It is instructive to note that much of the EuroMaidan protest has been led by young people who have grown up since Ukraine achieved its independence in 1991; they have no memory of the Communist regime, and they want a normal, European future, which they associate not with MTV, but with democracy, solidarity, and respect for human dignity.

The texts have been lightly edited for readability.

(1) Memorandum

On complications in the relations between the Ukrainian Catholic University and Ukrainian government in 2010–2013


The Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), located in Lviv, Ukraine, was established in 1994 by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). The largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches, the UGCC was “dissolved” after World War II, and those who defied this ban were violently persecuted by the Soviet state. The UGCC emerged from the underground in 1989 and has rebuilt its ecclesiastical structures. According to its mission statement, UCU is an open academic community, forming leaders to serve with professional excellence in Ukraine and internationally — for the glory of God, the common good, and the dignity of the human person.

UCU is the only Catholic university in the territory of the former Soviet Union. UCU is a model for educational reform in post-Soviet higher education, and a living example of a corruption-free environment. It played a historical role in the state recognition of theology and in establishing high standards of theological education in Ukraine. UCU offers a quality education in theology and church history, sacred art and ecumenical studies, humanities, social sciences, bioethics, social work, journalism and social communication, innovation and nonprofit management, and business education, introducing the best approaches and methods of western European and North American universities. Fostering intercultural, cross-institutional, and interdisciplinary cooperation is both a goal and a conscious method at UCU.

As a non-governmental higher-education institution, UCU established the model of the independent, self-supporting university in a post-Communist setting which suffers from the Communist destruction of the culture of philanthropy; thus UCU aims to institute and enhance efficient and transparent relationships with its local and global stakeholders and donors. UCU is known for its independent public position, the scope of its international outreach, its commitment to the issues of social responsibility, and its concern for promoting a culture of academic excellence and honesty nationwide. Developing the spirit of community and service, inherited from the underground Church, is a priority in UCU’s institutional and educational strategy.

The harassment of the Ukrainian Catholic University by the Security Service of Ukraine, May–June 2010

On May 18, 2010, an agent of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) paid an unwanted visit to Father Borys Gudziak, the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, to warn him of the possible repercussions of student participation in protest activity against growing state authoritarianism. The agent gave the rector a letter from SBU authorities and asked him to read and sign the letter, thereby acknowledging the letter’s contents. The agent stipulated that the rector could not keep nor make a copy of this letter even though it was addressed to him. Under such conditions Rector Gudziak refused to sign or even read the letter and published a memorandum about the incident.

On June 2, 2010, Philip J. Crowley, U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs made a statement on the Ukrainian Catholic University and the Security Service of Ukraine concerning issues related to freedom of speech and association in Ukraine. He expressed concern about actions that could be interpreted as restricting basic freedoms.

On June 25, 2010, Mr. Khoroshkovsky, SBU Head, and Mrs. Herman, President Yanukovych’s spokesman, came to UCU. A non-confrontational encounter occurred during which the visitors had an opportunity to see the various aspects of UCU’s research, teaching, and social-outreach activity. Father Gudziak and Father Bohdan Prach, vice-rector for external affairs, aired the concerns of the university and its desire to work normally for a normal future of Ukraine as it emerges from a devastating totalitarian past. On July 2, 2010, Mrs. Herman made a public statement that Mr. Khoroshkovsky had issued an apology regarding the May 18th incident

An attempt of the Ministry for Education, Science, Youth, and Sports of Ukraine to revoke UCU’s accreditation, December 2011–November 2012

Over the past years, the Ukrainian Catholic University continued to develop dynamically. In response, the Ministry for Education, Science, Youth, and Sports (MESYS) of Ukraine attempted to arrest that development through unfair and academically unjustified revocation of state accreditation for the University, based not on quality or efficiency criteria, but on purely formal, bureaucratic reasons. Its complaints with regard to UCU were the foreign citizenship of its rector and the staffing of teaching positions with faculty with international academic degrees.

During December 2011 through November 2012, MESYS tried to discipline UCU through its attempt to revoke UCU’s state licenses and accreditation for its programs. UCU has faced numerous difficulties in re-accrediting its existing programs and getting a license for its new programs. . . .

During one year UCU was rigorously inspected twice by an extraordinary Committee of the State Inspection of Higher Educational Institutions of Ukraine on its compliance with license requirements in the provision of educational services in the area of higher education, and on the quality of student education at UCU. Both times the Committee’s conclusion on UCU’s compliance with the licensing regulations was positive. Nevertheless, on the grounds that UCU rector Father Borys Gudziak (who holds a doctorate from Harvard) is not a Ukrainian citizen, and that a number of the theology faculty with doctoral degrees granted by leading Western universities did not have their Ph.D. degrees formally recognized in Ukraine (because of the lack of legal possibility to attain such a recognition for degrees in theology), MESYS tried to deny accreditation to UCU’s programs.

To respond to the threat of revoking accreditation, UCU professors with Ph.D.s in theology from world-renowned universities outside Ukraine were forced to get their degrees recognized in other specialties rather than theology: religious studies, philosophy, history, etc. It is scandalous that MESYS did nothing to create conditions for full recognition of theology in Ukraine and then used that failure as an instrument of discrimination against people with internationally recognized academic degrees in theology.

Following the intervention of the head of Lviv Region State Administration and other Ukrainian high officials who were familiar with UCU, the involvement of U.S. ambassador John Tefft, and the dedicated work of UCU administration, MESYS finally drew back and granted the accreditation to UCU programs in late 2012 and early 2013.

Opening of the new master program in social pedagogy, April–June 2012

In April 2012, UCU submitted to MESYS an application and request to issue a license for opening the new master program in social pedagogy. According to the procedure, DSWL appointed an expert committee, which visited UCU at the end of May to check the situation at the university and our compliance with the regulations for opening the new program. The final conclusion of the expert committee was completely positive.

But a MESYS expert, while transmitting our issue to the State Accreditation Committee, wrote a cover letter arguing that the positive conclusion of the expert committee is invalid. She appealed to the fact that the head of the department holds a Doctor of Sciences degree in general pedagogy and not in social pedagogy, which was, in her opinion, a violation of one of the licensing regulations. Given the fact that there is a general practice in Ukraine that people work in adjacent fields and are counted as fulfilling the license criteria, her reproach was outrageous, since our professor wrote a monograph and more than 40 articles in social pedagogy. Our department head was a director of one successful dissertation in social pedagogy, and she holds an official academic title of professor of social work issued by MESYS. All of this unmistakably testified to her qualifications in social pedagogy. And all of this was ignored by the MESYS expert. It took a great deal of work and argument with MESYS to finally convince the State Accreditation Committee to grant the license for opening a new UCU program.

EuroMaidan, November–December 2013

The Ukrainian government, led by President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, is facing mass nationwide protests and demonstrations, initially sparked by the president’s decision not to sign an association agreement with the European Union, that had been scheduled to take place November 29. The rallies have rapidly grown in scope because of the brutality of the special police forces, which violently attacked peaceful protesters and journalists in Kiev November 30 and again December 1. UCU issued a number of statements on the present situation, appealing to its students and faculty,  and the academic community in Ukraine at large, to stand in solidarity with the non-violent public defense of their values, their civic rights, and their vision of Ukraine as a strong, prosperous, and moral nation.

Frightened by the solidarity, commitment, and courage of millions of its citizens, as well as the demonstration of support it has inspired worldwide, the Ukrainian government has been taking an active offensive, not merely against the political opposition, activists, and journalists reporting on the events, but also against students — the initiators of this broad protest movement.

UCU is clearly high on the list of institutions the police and other authorities are pressuring. Police officers have already visited UCU and interrogated the Dean of the School of Humanities and a few of his colleagues in an attempt to collect information about the students who participated in the demonstrations. We have been informed that a few criminal cases have been opened against UCU students and professors. Some of our students are put under psychological pressure, getting phone calls attempting to interrogate them about their involvement with protests, and even warning them not to continue their participation in the demonstrations while insisting that they become “Internet silent.”

Meeting with the first deputy minister of the Ministry of Education and Science, Yevhen Sulima, December 2013

On December 11, 2013, UCU senior vice-rector Dr. Taras Dobko was invited to meet with the first deputy minister of the Ministry of Education and Science, Mr. Yevhen Sulima. During the meeting Mr. Sulima demanded that UCU comply with legal regulations about the requirements for a university rector. He cautioned that he will approve no UCU accreditation application unless UCU appoints as rector a person who fully complies with the legal requirements for the position holder. This includes the requirement about Ukrainian citizenship of the rector.

Father Bohdan Prach, the new rector of UCU, is a Ukrainian born in Poland, a Polish citizen, and a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest who has worked in Ukraine for more than 15 years and, legally speaking, is a permanent resident of Ukraine.

At the dawn of Ukraine’s independence, when the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church rose from underground life to resume legal existence, the Church’s structures needed to be rebuilt from scratch. The human and material resources of the Church had been fiercely attacked by the Soviet state and much was destroyed. It took an enormous effort of many dedicated people to restore the life of the Church. But still more time is needed to educate and train clergy of Ukrainian citizenship who could be able and legally acceptable to lead such an international institution of higher education as the Ukrainian Catholic University. The problem is that the government does not accept responsibility for the disruption of the UGCC development during Soviet time, and does not feel obliged to respond to its needs and challenges in a creative way. It is our conviction that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church should be allowed its full development without recourse to Soviet-like regulations that impinge both on common sense and the Church’s natural growth.

Thus, we will continue arguing with the Ukrainian government for the need to change the regulations on higher education or to approve of an exception for the Ukrainian Catholic University to permit Father Bohdan Prach to exercise fully his role as UCU rector, in spite of the ministry’s threats to block accreditation of the university’s programs.

(2) Appeal of Ukrainian Catholic University Students 

December 11, 2013

For three weeks now the eyes of the world have been on the events unfolding in Ukraine.

It is Ukrainian youth and Ukrainian students who have initiated this mass protest movement against the corrupt and secretive actions of their government. It is they who have taken to the squares in Kyiv, and other cities and towns of Ukraine, in hopes that the authorities would listen to the voice of the people. A million-strong wave of peaceful protesters has received significant international support, for which the Ukrainian people are extremely grateful. This support has helped us brave the cold and the attacks by the riot police.

Within hours of the new attack on the Maidan on December 11, the government opened a large number of court proceedings, and took steps to block the work of Ukrainian and international journalists, and introduce anxiety and fear into people’s hearts.

In spite of emphatic declarations of their peaceful intentions and desires to hear the voice of the people and participate in dialogue, the Ukrainian authorities went on the offensive, not merely against opposition forces and journalists reporting on the events, but against the nation’s students — the initiators of this broad protest movement.

Among the methods of pressure and bullying that our university has encountered in recent days are phone calls and visits from representatives of the police, talks with our deans and vice rectors, attempts to inspect our students’ attendance records, searches for particular student activists, summons to the state’s attorney’s office, and the opening of criminal cases against students and professors.

We are convinced that these and similar steps will only increase in magnitude. After the new nighttime crackdown on the Maidan, we have resolved along with our professors to withdraw our moral loyalty, as citizens of Ukraine, for Ukraine’s president and government.

Now, more than ever, we are in need of your solidarity and support. We appeal to you and ask that you disseminate information about the shameful state of affairs in Ukraine, the pressure on institutions of higher learning and their students, the violations of constitutional rights and democratic freedoms, and the mockery of the dignity of people who are only calling for the good and prosperity of their country, and for a dignified, honest, and democratic life.

Please help, support and protect the students of UCU and other Ukrainian universities who stand firm for their freedom, human rights, and dignity, and the freedom, human rights, and dignity of their fellow-citizens.

— Students of the Ukrainian Catholic University

George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center where he holds the William E. Simon chair in Catholic Studies. He is a member of the board of directors of the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.


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