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[Ukrainian Statehood in the Twentieth Century: Historical and Political Analysis. Kyiv: Political Thought, 1996. pp. 71-81.]

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The Liberal Idea in Ukraine


Today it has become fashionable to cite Francis Fukuyama's dictum that liberalism as a world view and political concept is "doomed" to triumph. Given the great influence of liberalism in the world (especially, in the Western world and in the sphere of immediate US influence), as well as the fact that liberal ideas have of late been disseminated and popularized in postcommunist Ukraine, the above claim has been accepted almost as an axiom by many Ukrainian politicians and run of the mill scholars.

By liberal ideas we have in mind commitments to freedom, democracy, and humanism. Liberalism is based on the recognition of the priority of individual rights as a higher value than the collective, society, and the state. This world view considers private property sacred and inviolable, while guaranteeing individual rights and liberties.

Liberalism as a politico-economic concept adds to this the need for a separation of powers and economic organization which accords first place to individual freedom and capabiilities.

In order to better understand the contemporary ideas of liberalism and democracy it is worthwhile to distinguish between these notions. Of course, the terms liberalism and democracy are interrelated. This is apparent from the very phrase "liberal democracy." But today, when not only liberal but also conservative and social democratic concepts are reviving, greater precision is required. /72/

1. Dissemination of Liberal Ideas in Ukraine

History bears witness to the fact that the liberal idea in the Ukrainian political context was, far from Fukuyama's optimistic prognoses, doomed sooner to failure than success. When, starting in the second half of the nineteenth century, Ukrainian scholars and public and political figures only began to adapt liberal ideas to Ukrainian realities, liberal thought as such had already taken shape as a set of conceptual modifications, theoretical schools, and party ideologies.

In Ukrainian political thought, the liberal (democratic) idea was always subordinant to the social and national ideas. Attempts to formulate an essentially liberal model of Ukrainian state-building always ended in failure.

One can discern two attempts to adopt ideas of liberalism in Ukraine: the first was due to Mykhailo Drahomanov's efforts to transplant West European liberal concepts onto Ukrainian soil in the second half of the nineteenth century and to combine them with social and national ideas; the second derived from activities of representatives of the Russian liberal trend in Ukraine early in the twentieth century.

The first attempt failed largely because there was no organizational foundation for popularizing the idea. As for the twentieth century, the reasons are well-known: the rather powerful Party of Constitutional Democrats disappeared from the political scene after the Bolsheviks took power. Only certain members of the party, working in the system of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, remained for a time bearers of liberal ideas. At the same time, the liberal model has never assumed complete form in Ukraine.

Introduction of theoretical concepts of liberalism into Ukrainian political thinking is primarily connected with the forming of parties of liberal orientation. But inaccurate treatments of historical traditions of domestic liberalism are frequent.1 /73/

Ukrainian liberalism was formed by Mykhailo Drahomanov.2 Influenced by the Decembrists and representatives of English liberalism, Drahomanov elaborated a concept of society based on the idea of the association of harmoniously developed individuals. And the road to this, he believed, lay in federalism with maximum decentralization and self-government of local communities and regions. In his letter to Ivan Franko, Drahomanov presented his vision of a new Ukrainian state in these words: "The principles of modern world civilization most conducive to progress: liberalism in its most coherent form, federalism in state affairs, democracy in social life, with the firmest guarantee association in economics, and rationalism in literary and scientific matters."3 Drahomanov's approach emphasized the need to connect the Ukrainian national movement and its program with European liberal-democratic ideals. Some aspects of his approach had a conspicuously social-democratic coloring. In general, when analyzing the social and political life of the second half of the nineteenth century, one has to take into account the then fashionability of socialism.

Some of Drahomanov's ideas were later adopted by Mykhailo Pavlyk, Ivan Franko, and Bohdan Kistiakivsky. The late Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky wrote of young Ivan Franko: "In the first period, he was a socialist, but one of the bright Drahomanovian liberal and personalist type."4 From 1895 on, Franko's world view evolved, and already by 1905 he had formulated his own concept of Ukrainian democratic nationalism (national democracy).

The liberal doctrine was augmented and enriched with new insights in the period of the well-known debates during the Revolution of 1905, particularly in connection with the critique of the communist ideology in the Vekhi (Landmarks) anthology. Among the most remarkable Ukrainian public figures-liberal theoreticians, center stage is occupied by Bohdan Kistiakivsky, son of Oleksandr Kistiakivsky, who was a professor of law ar Kyiv University and an active member of the Old Hromada (Community) and frequent /74/ contributor to the journal Osnova (Foundation).

While studying ar Kyiv University, Bohdan Kistiakivsky was greatly influenced by Drahomanov's ideas. A considerable portion of his scholarship was devoted to editing and publishing Drahomanov's multi-volume Political Works. Also prominent in Kistiakivsky's work was the problem of correlating of social and liberal ideas. In 1902 he published his article "The Russian Sociological School and the Category of Possibility," which marked his adoption of liberalism. Mykola Vasylenko characterized this change in Kistiakivsky's world view as a decisive turning point, for he discarded Marxism in favor of idealism.5 Kistiakivsky's The Law-Governed and Socialist State (1906) emphasized the need to merge social and liberal ideas. He analyzed law within the framework of the social sciences and formulated the principles of a law-governed state. Mykhailo TuhanBaranovsky and Maxym Slavynsky also expounded their versions of the liberal idea.

Founders of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences Volodymyr Vernadsky, Bohdan Kistiakivsky, Mykhailo Tuhan-Baranovsky, and Ahatanhel Krymsky contributed substantially to the shaping of the liberal idea in Ukraine. For instance, one of Tuhan-Baranovsky's important ideas was the centralpostulate of liberalism that science is capable of resolving social problems (c/ his brochure The Impact of Ideas of Political Economy Ideas on the Natural Sciences and Philosophy, Kyiv, 1922).

At the same time, rather conclusive were arguments for an important role of private property in the system of economic relations. Mykhailo Tuhan-Baranovsky's position on this issue also differed from socialist approaches of various kind. "Modern mankind," he noted in this respect, "cannot do without this stimulus of economic energy... Thus a complete cessation of the functioning of the economic system based on private property would be tantamount to economic, cultural and, in general, social degradation."6 Tuhan-Baranovsky made an attempt to analyze the problem of the /75/ individual's role in the context of political economy.

"It is true," he writes, "that interests of various social classes are different, and, on taking the position of each of these social interests, one must bring to the to fore different tasks of theoretical investigation. But it is possible to rise above the differences in interests and to find a perspective from which the practical conclusions of science would become obligatory for all social groups, no matter what their private interest might be."

The scholar argued that the individual was that determining factor. "The central idea of modern mind," he maintained, "is the idea of supreme value formulated by Immanuel Kant and, as a corollary, that of the equal value of each human personality. Any personality is the supreme goal per se, and this is why all people are equal as bearers of the sacred human personality. It is this that determines the supreme practical interest, from the viewpoint of which a single political economy can be construed: the interest of man in general rather than that of a worker, capitalist, or landowner, irrespective of their class affiliation."7

2. The Priority of Individual Rights

Following classical liberalism, the Ukrainian liberal concept emphasizes the supremacy of individual rights. In his Draft Constitution entitled "A Free Union", Drahomanov put in first place the idea of building the state on the basis of political freedom, interpreting it as a system of the rights of man and citizen, including the inviolability of the individual, life, private correspondence, and nationality (language); as freedom of conscience, publishing, association, bearing arms, choosing one's place of residence and profession, as well as the right to lodge a civil suit against an official or state body and to resist the illegal actions of bureaucrats. Drahomanov believed that the equality of all in their civil rights and duties must not be abrogated by legislative enact-/76/ment, except in case of the imposition of martial law in a national emergency.8

The idea of supremacy of the civil (personal) in the trio, citizen-society-state, was always present in all of Drahomanov's political writings. It is no accident that in order to affirm this principle he made extensive use of the experience of democratic nations (see especially* his Swiss Confederation).

3. The Priority of Law

Bohdan Kistiakivsky, arguing uncompromisingly for the equal rights of all citizens and supremacy of individual rights, maintained that only these arc a prerequisite of firm and sound law and order. In his article In Defense of Law he wrote: "The prime and most essential principle of law is liberty." Certainly, this is an external and relative freedom determined by the social environment. But an inner, less relative, spiritual freedom is only possible when there is an external freedom, the latter being the best possible school for the former.9 In addition, in analyzing the Russian situation, the Ukrainian jurist noted: "The Russian intelligentsia has never respected law, has never seen in it an enduring value, and of all the values of culture it has depreciated law the most."10

State power should change from a power of coercion into a power of law; in this sense, judicial power, especially civil law, takes on great importance. Kistiakivsky formulated these ideas in a virtually complete model of a law-governed state. In his work The Social Science and the Law, he noted that the legal system is a sophisticated machinery where certain forces act absolutely mechanically. However, setting it in motion and its proper functioning require the uninterrupted spiritual and mental activity of all members of society. Each has to work constantly to make the law work. An extremely pressing and important problem of a society in transition, where supposedly the rights and freedoms can be /77/ limited, was resolved by citizen Kistiakivsky, who argued conclusively the tragic consequences and impermissibility of such expedients.

4. Self-Government

Self-government, Drahomanov held, is the basis of democratic society. Thus, the institution of self-government is not only a form of decentralizing the state, but also a mechanism of social-political system. Drahomanov held that a key place is allotted to the citizen and community. Further organization of power is built: from the bottom up where all institutions are self-governed and function according to the pattern: citizen community volost' povit oblast' national government (only the state bodies are not self-governed).

Thus, the underpinning of this pattern of local self-government was the so-called civic model, later to become the basis of the European Charter of Self-Government.

5. The National Idea

In his work "Rich Thoughts on the Ukrainian National Cause," Drahomanov confidently argued that the national idea cannot by itself lead mankind to universal freedom and truth. One must, seek something else the universally human, which would be above all the nationalities and harmonize them with one another. But this idea of cosmopolitanism and humanity does not at all contradict the idea of nationality; on the contrary, it raises it to a higher level.11 Bohdan Kistiakivsky, Volodymyr Vernadsky, and Ahatanhel Krymsky also took a similar approach, as we can see from their ideas on how Ukrainian science ought to be organized. In this connection, suffice it to quote Vernadsky's congratulatory letter to Krymsky on his seventieth birthday, written early in 1941 (within the context of certain accusations about a non-Ukrainian position of President of the Ukra-/78/inian Academy of Sciences Vernadsky): "My scientific work is everything for me, and, as a matter of fact, for you, too... it is top priority, but the culture in Ukrainian of the Ukrainian people, its scientific endeavors and thinking in this language have united us in the tragic period of history. You and I have chosen ... the right path in the critical moment of the history of Ukrainian scientific work."12

A particular place in Ukrainian liberals' thinking is occupied by issues of morality and the balance between means and ends. In particular, Drahomanov made a great contribution in popularizing the ethical foundations of political activity. His famous phrase that politics requires clean hands became the guiding principle for part of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. A draft Charter of Ukrainians' Brotherhood co-authored by Drahomanov, noted: "The murder of any person (a murder that contradicts one of the tenets of the rights of man and citizen) shall never be a task of either the "Free association" as a whole or any of its subdivisions..."13

6. Basic Characteristics of the Present-Day Ukrainian Liberalism

Summing up the review of main characteristics of Ukrainian liberalism, one can conclude that, due to historical circumstances, the ideological concept of liberalism failed to acquire clear-cut and stable political and economic forms. Some parties, active in the period of 1907-1917 the Ukrainian Democratic Party, the Ukrainian Republican Party, etc., were not representatives of the liberal program in its proper sense.

Later there were only few incidental proponents of liberal ideas, and the political climate in Ukraine was not favorable for setting up corresponding organizational structures. Among well-known figures, only Ivan Lysiak-Rudnitsky continued the traditions of the Ukrainian liberal idea in the modern period. His approach to Ukrainian history, political, and legal traditions included, alongside with a tra-/79/ditional account of nationalism and communism, an analysis of liberal ideas, which was made within the framework of universal human values.

A problem of Ukrainian liberalism in the past was that it underestimated the national element as part of the system of society's world view and the role of state in the system of sociopolitical institutions. At the same time, the central position was allotted to the conception of democracy, especially certain principles of direct democracy, in the organization of state power, and regional and local self-government. Liberal ideas seemed unrealistic and hardly the best option for Ukrainian lands under empires with a totalitarian political regime. Under such conditions, liberal ideas in Ukraine were perceived as something of a Utopia and consequently never enjoyed broad popular support.

In the current situation, liberalism is becoming a fashionable ideological and politico-economic concept in Ukraine. Today, around ten Ukrainian political organizations have added liberal ideas to their armory. However, the weakness of the present-day Ukrainian liberalism resides in its making use of the morally and politically outdated doctrines of classical liberalism, which have now come under severe criticism in the West. Characteristic of Ukraine and a number of other countries of the postcommunist world is a "syndrome of implanted political system." A certain segment of Ukraine's democratic forces, oriented toward Western liberal models, intentionally or unintentionally suggest that, these ideological foundations of donor-countries be transplanted in post-Soviet soil. The liberal literature, which are translated, published, and popularized in Ukraine, appear to be encyclopedic handbooks dating as far back as the early or mid-twentieth century.

As an example of the inadequacy of contemporary "liberal" structures and widely recognized liberal ideas in Ukraine, one can point to the newly formed liberal faction in the Ukrainian Parliament. Analyzing its documents, one can clearly see that most of its central notions have been /80/ borrowed from the ideology of social democracy and they all are very far from the ideas of liberalism par excellence. This ideological hybrid is all the more clearly mirrored in the leaders and members of this faction. Among the leaders are Volodymyr Lanovyi and ex-President Leonid Kravchuk. Whereas the former can be perceived as a political figure of pro-liberal orientation, Kravchuk is known primarily as a theoretician of quite the opposite, state-building as an end in itself and simultaneously as the embodiment of classical nomenklatura interests. Among the rank-and-file members of the "liberal" faction one can also see former members of the communist and socialist factions in Parliament.14

It is quite clear that this is a time-serving structure motivated by the current political situation and capitalizing on its own name (in order to resolve problems of financing the party with the help of domestic and foreign industrial and financial circles). Such a state of affairs can be observed in the case of other structures of liberal orientation. To take an example, the Liberal Party of Ukraine declared about its intention to change its name to Labor Liberal Party, and the leaders of the Party of Ukraine's Democratic Revival and the Labor Congress of Ukraine have accommodated liberalism in their name, People's Democratic Party.

The implantation of the liberal idea in the political and economic life of present-day Ukraine is in substantial measure encouraged by domestic state structures. The government economic program is really based on a unique "liberalism for donors." This is why, for example, Viktor Pynzenyk retains the post of Deputy Premier, although he has no real influence on official decisions, but is used primarily as a symbol of Ukrainian monetarism. This economist is retained in the government only in order to convince the IMF and World Bank of the liberal character of Ukrainian economic character.

Meanwhile, government actions in the economy are highly unsystematic, their consequences unforeseen, and give /81/ inadequate grounds to understand the logic of the program which the President has announced. The only thing obvious is that the overweening goal of economic reforms in Ukraine is not to raise people's living standards but to support the currency and control inflation in order to systematically receive Western economic aid.

The liberal phraseology of influential office-holders in contemporary Ukraine, along with the illusion of relative blamelessness and unfailingly monetarist approaches to economic reform, is merely for the consumption of international financial donor institutions, and in the absence of both a system of economic transformations and a tradition of economic liberalism can lead to serious and unforeseen results.

Thus, the immediate future of the liberal idea in Ukraine may well be largely connected with the national tradition and the chimeras of contemporary Ukrainian political life.

1 The historical traditions of Ukrainian liberalism are all too often wronly interpreted. For example, the Center of Socio-Economic Analysis of the Liberal Party of Ukraine refers to V. Antonovych, M. Hrushevsky and ideologues of the Cyril and Methodius Fraternity as outstanding representatives of the liberal trend. But these conclusions cannot be treated as scientifi-

cally correct (V.G. Voronkova, I.D. Yasir, The Birth and Evolution of Liberalism in Ukraine at the turn of the twentieth Century (Donetsk, 1993: in Russian) ).

2 It should be admitted that leaders of the Cyril and Methodius Fraternity and the narodniky did share some liberal ideas, but were not bearers of the liberal concept.

3 M. Drahomanov, Letters to Ivan Franko (Warsaw, 1937: in Ukrainian), I, p. 83.

4 I. Lysiak-Rudnytsky, "Ivan Franko and His German Writings," Between History and Politics, p. 130.

5 N.P. Vasylenko, "Bohdan Oleksandrovych Kistyakivsky," Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya, 1984, No 2, 4, 5 (in Russian).

6 L.P. Horkin, "Mykhailo Tuhan-Baranovsky: a Thinker, Scholar and Citizen," MJ. Tuhan-Baranovsky, Political Economy (Kyiv, 1994: in Ukrainian), p. 21.

7 Ibid.

8 M. Drahomanov, "A Free Union," A.G. Slyusarenko, M.V. Tomenko, A History of the Ukrainian Constitution (Kyiv, 1993: in Ukrainian), p. 53.

9 B. Kistyakivsky, "In Defense of Rights," Milestones. De Profundis (Moscow, 1991: in Russian), pp. 122, 123.

10 Ibid., p. 110.

11 M.P. Drahomanov, Selected Works (Kyiv, 1991: in Ukrainian), p. 469.

12 O. Pritsak, "A Word about Ahatanhel Krymsky," Vtsnyk Akademii Nauk Ukrainy, 1991, No 6.

13 See M. Tomenko, "The Political Views of Mykhailo Drahomanov and Dmytro Dontsov From the /401/ Viewpoint of Modern Ukrainian Statehood," Slovo, 1991, No 21 (in Ukrainian).

14 If in the West a defection from the communist to socialist camp is treated as a political treason, in Ukraine a defection from the communists to the liberals is becoming a norm.

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