Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University


Academic conference: “The Ukrainian cooperative movement”


June, 12



The drama of thetwentieth century, a history of terror and suffering, is a significant factor influencing contemporary Ukrainian societal and religious interconfessional life. In Ukraine, according to rough estimates, over the course of the 20th century approximately 17 million people died a violent or unnatural death. From 1914 to 1945, every other man and every fourth woman was killed or died unnaturally.

Ukraine was one of the main battlegrounds of both World Wars with their combat losses and violence towards the civilian population. The Ukrainian people endured the devastation of the Leninist revolution, the famine after World War I, and a planned genocide – the cruel manmade famine of 1933, well-known as the “Holodomor” (which took the lives of 6-7 million people) – as well as the Holocaust, which took the lives of 90% of Galician Jews.

The human losses of Ukraine make up almost one-tenth of the approximately 180 million casualties of war and the homicidal policies of various totalitarian regimes throughout the world over the course of the previous century. The brutality and bloodshed of this most modern century affected the personal history of every Ukrainian. Among European peoples, not a single other nation, with the exception of the Jews, experienced human losses in such high proportions.

The systematic Stalinist purges of Communist Party workers, the intelligentsia, political and religious leaders, and military officers which began in the 1920s and continued up to World War II, and also the ethnic cleansing of the Jews and the forced deportation of the post-war years, the effects of which were felt by every tenth western Ukrainian; the impoverishment of the Ukrainian village, which fell into the serfdom of the collective farm; the devaluation of Ukrainian provinces through urbanization; emigration to Western Europe and North and South America – all of this was on top of the shocking human losses and human suffering.

The city of Lviv is a good example of how the political cataclysms of the 20th century affected the fate of the people that lived in it. The ancient walls of the city attest to its more than 750-year tradition. Violence, deportations, and forced migrations, however, caused the interruption and ruin of the biological and anthropological legacy of the native residents of the city. Thus, only approximately 10% of the residents of Lviv can name two generations of relatives that have lived in the city.

Today’s residents of Lviv make up a very young community with a very short common history. It has limited experience in creating and consolidating an urban community. At the same time it is encountering new societal challenges, for example the massive emigration of Ukrainians to look for work abroad.

A community is not only a group of people which through force of circumstance lives in a given geographical territory; it is also the form and method of living in proximity in which every one of its members nurtures a sense of responsibility for the good of all citizens. It is obvious that, to achieve such a consciousness, as broad a group of representatives of that community as possible must be drawn to joint work. The First Ecumenical Social Week, which is being organized by the Institute of Ecumenical Studies of the Ukrainian Catholic University, is an attempt to actively provide an answer to contemporary social challenges. It aims not only at presenting direct experience and receiving information about the work and accomplishments of other Christian, Jewish, and unaffiliated social organizations, but also at seeking opportunities and methods of cooperation between them for the strengthening of the social body.


The Ukrainian Cooperative Movement

The Ukrainian cooperative movement, which was founded in the second half of the nineteenth century, can be considered a concrete type of answer to the social and political position of Ukrainians of that time. Ukrainian cooperatives were without a doubt an important economic factor. The movement’s initiators and activists strived to unite social strata and encourage them to support each other materially. They also, however, strived to find answers to greater issues, specifically to nurture the ideas of respect for one’s neighbor and mutual assistance, being guided in this by Christian principles. Also important were their educational activities, which consisted in improving the educational level of Ukrainians, the formation of a strong middle class, raising the level of the village, and organizing Ukrainians politically and culturally in order to achieve higher national goals. Two examples illustrate the success of the cooperative movement:

1. Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (1865-1944), working for the economic development of Galicia, actively fostered the development of the cooperative movement among Ukrainians of Eastern Galicia. Many of his works reflected the social problems of that time. Using the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) “Rerum novarum” (1891) and general Christian principles as a guide, the Metropolitan strove to give practical advice about the social sphere. Sheptytsky dedicated significant resources to helping cooperative organizations, supported painters and carvers, and founded the National Museum in Lviv. At the same time, he encouraged the Greek Catholic clergy to take an active role in the growth of cooperative organizations. As a result, many Greek Catholic priests became leading members of cooperative unions, organized reading rooms, and participated enthusiastically in social activity.

Working for economic development in Galicia, in 1908 Sheptytsky was among the founders of the Ukrainian Land Mortgage Bank, becoming one of its two largest stockholders. In large part it was thanks to him that this institution soon became the only Ukrainian bank recognized internationally. Its checks could be cashed in all European banks. The network of correspondence for the Land Mortgage Bank included New York, Paris, Vienna, London, Winnipeg… The bank handled long-term financing for construction, and also helped Ukrainian cooperatives and merchants (for example, Maslosoyuz [Butter Union]) in the event of financial difficulties. As a result, in 1936 the trade turnover of Ukrainian milk production unions in Galicia almost doubled the proceeds of the same number of Polish cooperatives and reached 8.36 million Polish zloty. In 1939, Maslosoyuz included 57 stores, in which 70% of clients were not Ukrainians, and exported its products to consumers in Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, France, Switzerland, and other European countries.


2. The postwar wave of emigration to the United States of America reached a large scale after World War II. Ukrainian settlements were concentrated in those cities and areas of the country where industry and farming were well-developed. One of the largest Ukrainian communities settled around Chicago. It was there in 1951 that the first Ukrainian financial institution was established – the credit union Samopomich, Selfreliance. The credit cooperative became the most typical form that the cooperative movement took among the diaspora. Ukrainian credit cooperatives helped Ukrainians satisfy the real demands of that time, especially by helping members acquire their own housing. Based on the U.S. example, credit cooperatives were founded in other countries (Canada, Australia, and elsewhere). They helped Ukrainian immigrants get on their feet in the new conditions in a foreign country. In a short time the cooperative movement was able to organize larger regional centers and create a structure that received the name the World Ukrainian Cooperative Council. The Ukrainian cooperative system and the community spirit that was behind it helped Ukrainians not only to survive, but also to achieve a rather high standard of living. The cooperative movement, however, was not considered something isolated, but remained an integral part of general Ukrainian religious, cultural, societal, and political life, whose goal was to preserve Ukrainian identity.

As of 2007, the Ukrainian Self-Reliance credit unions (Samopomich) have 23,789 members. The overall sum of their assets is $ 464,557,308, of which $ 4,660,732 is net profit. It must be noted that in comparison to 2006, the assets of Samopomich grew by $31,434,031, the membership grew by 609 individuals, and financial contributions made to community organizations reached $1,130,732.


The above two examples, one from the past and one from the present, in the context of an independent Ukrainian state demonstrate how Ukrainians under rather difficult circumstances, not having their own state structure, were able by their tireless work to gather together tens of thousands of members, collect capital, and put it to work in the service of their native concerns.


The importance of the participation of representatives of various Christian confessions in the “Ecumenical Social Week”

When we speak of the contemporary ecumenical dialogue among Christian confessions, we have in mind above all its theological aspects, in which the Churches attempt to explain the basic theological and dogmatic obstacles on the path to full ecclesiastical and eucharistic unity. Without a doubt, ecumenical cooperation among Christians in contemporary Ukraine must be based on the common conviction that their faith in the saving work of God through Jesus Christ unites them more than it divides. However, it is important to direct efforts not only towards such a central goal as the search for further unity in faith and a life in service to God, but also towards common witness and service in the world. The First Ecumenical Social Week is a unique opportunity for Christians and people of other religions to commit jointly to addressing the real problems of our society. The social dimension of interchurch cooperation is not only necessary, but also constitutes today perhaps the most promising venue for ecumenical cooperation of the Churches. May this week, and especially today’s conference, become a good base for fruitful cooperation for the good of our nation.