National Deputy of Ukraine

Head of the Christian-Democratic Union


Academic conference: “The Ukrainian cooperative movement”

Opening: “Perspectives of cooperative movement in Ukraine in terms of public policy”

June, 13


The Ukrainian Cooperative Movement: Lessons for Modern Times

(A Christian-Democratic Outlook)


In different circumstances in the 1920s and 1930s the cooperative movement in Western Ukraine was in progress. In 1920 the Polish Sejm passed a cooperative law which promoted the development of cooperation and guaranteed basic democratic principles. It created conditions for the revival and development of the Ukrainian cooperative movement in Poland, its transformation into a national economic movement, a means of self-defense for people in the face of economic, social and national persecution.


The cooperative movement was supported by the leading Ukrainian political forces of the region, first of all the Ukrainian National Democratic Union and the Ukrainian Social Radical Party. Their leaders headed the central and local cooperative establishments. The significant role of the clergy in social and economic life was stressed by the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. In his pastoral letter “On Social Questions,” the Metropolitan charged priests to participate in organizing cooperative unions and heading them in cities and villages. Due to the active cooperative and educational mission of the clergy, the authority and spiritual influence of the Church increased with all social structures and the religious consciousness and spiritual culture of the peasants intensified.


In the 1920s and 1930s the cooperative played a definitive role in the economic life of Western Ukraine. In the overall structure of cooperatives, generic rural, economic and consumption as well as purchase and distribution cooperatives predominated. They purchased implements, seed, consumers’ products, domestic goods for a village, developed conditions for becoming independent from the foreign supply of goods which could be manufactured from local raw materials and resources, and, all the more important, created new workplaces. At the same time, such unions stored and distributed agricultural products.


Cooperative companies dealt with the distribution of agricultural knowledge and the best practices of administration. Rural purchase and distribution cooperatives in the 1930s spent significant funds for agriculture development. Nearly 700 machine units and several machine cooperatives existed at rural economic and consumers’ cooperatives. At milk plants a fund for the veterinary care of cows’ health, control points for the milk capacity of cows, and other establishments promoting the development of the livestock sector were established. The milk union Maslosoyuz (Butter Union) founded schools and courses and published the periodical “Cooperative dairy industry,” promoting the development of the rural economy. It is worth noting that the union exported its butter to Austria, Great Britain, Denmark, Germany, Palestine, France, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and other countries.


The publications of the Village Master cooperative union (the magazine of the same name with enclosures “Ukrainian Woman,” as well as “Ukrainian Calendar,” “Beekeeper’s Friend,” “Silkworm Breeding,” “Ukrainian Beekeeper,” “Farming Youth,” “Garden and Kitchen Garden,” “Practical Gardening,” “Agricultural Training of Youth”) were an all-national tribune for propaganda of not only practical knowledge, economy and the production culture, but also a national educational school. Due to the union’s efforts, in 1934 a Ukrainian-speaking agricultural lyceum opened.


While in 1921 in Galicia there were nearly 580 Ukrainian cooperatives, in 1939 their number was close to 4,000. The overall number of cooperative members right before World War II was almost 700,000 persons.


The low share amount, easy registration procedure, and propagation of conservative ideas gave significant results. The cooperatives, acting on a public basis, played an ever more important economic, public and cultural role in rural areas, spoke for the protection of the interests of the Ukrainian peasantry, and put the slogans “A friend to a friend for his own” and “Rely on your own forces!,” being an expression of Ukrainian national solidarity in Poland, into practice.


In the face of discriminatory Polish governmental policy towards Ukrainians, in particular towards the Ukrainian cooperative movement, the Ukrainian community nourished ideas which reflected a longing for a specific autarchy and protection of national interest by all possible means. The slogan “A friend to a friend for his own” became popular and encouraging. “Either the Ukrainian people realize that each kopeck given by them into common hands is for the benefit of their own existence and then we’ll develop our economic life, or we’ll be indifferent to those important affairs, as ever before, and we’ll remain the patient subjects of unheard of economic exploitation,” wrote the “Batkivshchyna” (Fatherland) weekly magazine in 1935.


Cooperation became the material and organizational basis for the functioning of educational and cultural establishments. The development of cultural and educational activity was also promoted by the ideological doctrines of the cooperative movement, which provided for the establishment of conditions for the satisfaction of human spiritual needs with the help of cooperation. The cultural and educational activity of cooperation was aimed at maintaining existing educational and cultural establishments, and establishing new ones, as well as developing a cooperative educational system conditioned by the need of cooperative establishments for qualified personnel. The cooperative played a prominent role in the preservation of the cultural and educational sector of the country in an environment of tense social and political struggle, the promotion of the growth of the national consciousness of people, raising its social and cultural level as well as forming the national elite of Ukrainian society.


The cooperative movement became a means of self-government and economic self-defense, a school in which people learned to become the masters of their own land; it promoted the national and patriotic feelings of Ukrainians and sped up social mobilization. It is important to realize that the political struggle of Ukrainians for their own interests, which unfolded both in legal and illegal forms, could not have succeeded without the organization of public economic self-assistance.


The Ukrainian cooperative movement asserted high ideals of freedom. The organizers and adherers of the Ukrainian cooperative movement always treated it as a democratic form of social and economic activity which promotes the realization of personal equality in rights and obligations, freedom of work and earning. The cooperative movement also promoted the popularization of a healthy lifestyle in society. The ideals of cooperation corresponded to the national character, and that’s why they enjoyed almost all-national support.


Therefore, at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries the Ukrainian cooperative movement, despite grave difficulties and obstacles, became rather wide-spread. It became an important factor in the economic, cultural and spiritual raising of the Ukrainian people.


The idea of the cooperative movement is very close to us Christian Democrats. It is to a great extent related to the ideological maxims supported by us.


The central point of our ideology is the human being – the highest earthly being, created in the image of God. Being the image of God means, in particular, being a free creative personality. Only a free man, inspired by love for God and his fellow man, can set his will and mind to oppose his own and society’s misfortunes, and with God’s blessing assert a social order. The human being is responsible both for his own well-being and the well-being of all society. The human being is the creator of his own life and community, of which he is an integral part, and the state in which he lives. This becomes possible in the course of spiritual, intellectual or physical work for the benefit of fellow men and society. Work corresponding to God’s vocation and the natural talents of man is a part of personal self-realization, a prerequisite of the inner harmony and happiness of man, who has an inalienable right to a worthy life. It is work that makes individual and public well-being possible, based on the well-being of each citizen. The individual well-being of a man is his own doing. That’s why the man endowed with talent and health shouldn’t wait for welfare from the state, but should attain it by his own work. Such a person bears responsibility for those weak and poor who are prevented from equal participation in social life by their various limitations.


In turn, the state should provide citizens with a right to work corresponding to their capacities and education, a right to equal working conditions, and a right to due remuneration maintaining a man’s worthy life.


Such an outlook is close to the position of the renowned Christian thinker Emmanuel Munier, who thought of the social ideal as of such a level of civilization development, the spirit and order of which is oriented towards providing opportunity to each man for personal self-realization.


According to Maritain, we think that the aim of social development consists in improving the conditions of human life or providing general well-being for the majority in such a way that each person has an opportunity to realize his/her independence, which is provided by economic guarantees of employment and property, political rights and personal development.


The theory of Christian democracy, unlike communism, socialism and social democracy, refutes all forms of collectivism standing for the strengthening of the state’s role at the expense of weakening the right of the human being and social groups. As Ludwig Erchard, one of the prominent politicians of Christian democracy, noted, collectivist tendencies should be refuted and “the free development of the person should be accentuated and encouraged in all possible ways.” Being dependent on the collective and state, the human being does not find safety; on the contrary, he/she loses it. We’ll be able to regain freedom and safety only when the last cry to the state for material assistance stops. The principle according to which every working person shall be able to provide for his personal material well-being and lay the foundations of his/her future due to his/her own forces and knowledge should be restored.


The aforementioned is expressed, in particular, in the subsidiary principle maintained by us, stressing the independence of separate fellowships. Let’s note that this principle is in full compliance with the idea of cooperation as a form of the social and economic self-organization of citizens.


According to this principle, what can be solved in the family, among neighbors and in other communities of citizens, shouldn’t be solved by the state, diverting its attention away from global issues. To this end citizens’ forms of self-organization should have the maximum authority to settle their issues and assist their members. This principle opposes the totalitarian state and excessive accumulation of authority. At the same time, it implies a strong state concentrated on performance of tasks relevant to its nature and does not waste its efforts solving an endless number of issues which shouldn’t be included in its competence. The subsidiary principle also means that the individual is capable of solving his challenges in a better way than the state or other, bigger communities would do. Society should operate in a subsidiary way only, i.e., provide assistance only to the one who tries to do something by himself/herself. Therefore, this principle promotes the nurturing of social responsibility of citizens, their responsibility for themselves, their families, surroundings and, finally, for the whole society.


The government shouldn’t promote but rather prevent the approach of total public social provision, which sooner or later will destroy well-being, and instead it should promote the taking of individual initiatives, providing direct assistance in the form of initial capital only for the subsequent taking of initiative by citizens or for those who objectively, due to their physical imperfections, can’t help themselves without such assistance.


The social policy of the state should be aimed at realizing the principles of solidarity, the subsidiary approach, social justice and mutual assistance, the creation of equal starting opportunities for citizens, the provision of worthy working and living conditions for citizens, assistance to the socially unprotected strata of population and promotion of directing consumers of public social assistance to a life independent of the economic support of the state.


That’s why an important trend in party activity is promoting the spread of mutual assistance funds, as well as the development of independent trade unions and organizations which all over the world perform the function of the main protector of employee interests and develop social activity and the solidarity of workers.


We stand for the development of rural industries which do not require significant investments and can be developed through cooperation and the joint efforts of peasants, being rather profitable. For example, this can be bee-keeping, the organization of “green tourism,” the growing of rape-seed, and so on. Both Ukrainian and European experience, e.g. the experience of the now world-known Raiffaisen Bank testifies to the high competitiveness of such unions and their wide prospects. It is obvious that their development requires a favorable legislative basis.


In modern conditions, when after the communist genocide Ukraine has become a victim of “wild capitalism,” when a gang of oligarchs have captured all the factors of influence of legislative, executive and court authority and military units, as well as economic violence through the tax authorities and corrupted government officials, when the state of Ukraine is almost removed from the administration of global issues of the economic growth of the country, having turned into an instrument serving the interests of the oligarch clans, it is then high time for Ukrainians to return to the ideology of cooperation and original social relations of cooperation, which did not have narrow and egoistic class interests, but longed for self-protection of the social, economic, national, cultural, spiritual and moral interests of Ukrainian society, complied with the national, moral, and outlook ideals of the Ukrainian nation, its belief in tomorrow, as well as promoted the solidarity of the wide labor strata of Ukrainian society.