Tutor in Theology and Public Thought, Spurgeon's College, London11223722 817238491727358 8848900050039607213 o

Round table: "Spritual formation of Christian and theological education in Ukraine"

Presentation: Philosophical thoughts about educational reform in Ukraine: Transition from Homo Soveticus to Homo Maidanus

Education is a spiritual process, which is concerned not only with the character formation of individuals, but also with the ethos of society as a whole. A radical reform of the education system is crucial to the wholesale transformation of post-Soviet Ukrainian society, according to the values of honesty, integrity, freedom, solidarity and compassion. Such a transformation is a precondition to the flourishing of an open and free society and a durable democratic government for Ukraine. In this connection, the Revolution of Dignity signals not only the “coming of age” of Ukrainian civil society, but also the birth of a new type of human being. Maidan has opened the door to irreversible social and anthropological metamorphoses that have long been in the making.

In order to clarify the frame of reference for future educational reform in Ukraine, I will invoke the contrast between two competing anthropological prototypes (homo sovieticus and homo maidanus). The presentation will conclude by emphasising the formation of homo maidanus as one of the most urgent tasks facing Ukraine’s educational reformers at the present time.

I would like to posit that the fundamental cause of the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian Crimea concerns two different visions of what it means to be human. At the risk of simplifying the issue, I would suggest that these competing visions can be elucidated by a comparison between two anthropological archetypes, which we may call, “homo sovieticus” and “homo maidanus”. The failure of previous political revolutions in Ukraine (in 1991 and 2004/5) to break decisively from the Soviet past can thus be explained by the persistence of the Soviet mentality, symbolized by the homo sovieticus prototype.

The burgeoning bureaucracy and the over–bearing communist ideology, which distinguished the 70-year period of Soviet rule, created a new type of human being, known as homo sovieticus, who was characterized by a degraded sense of self-worth, a distorted code of ethics and a deformed social conscience.[1] The Soviet mentality, epitomized by homo sovieticus, far outlived the Soviet Union as a political entity.[2] Patterns of socialization and the inculcation of Soviet values have survived and even flourished in some parts of post-Soviet Ukrainian society. Homo sovieticus is thus a product of Soviet society, representing the worldview and the attitudes and values of those brought up in the Soviet system.

For homo sovieticus freedom is not a blessing, but a curse, or a “fatal gift” (Berdyaev) that condemns him to perdition.[3] Democracy is perceived as a threat or as a “Western imposition.”[4] Homo sovieticus does not want democracy or accountability, but, instead, longs for a strong ruler, who will relieve him of the intolerable burden of freedom. Moreover, homo sovieticus,to the extent that he is capable of religious commitment,seeks from his religion not truth, freedom and enlightenment, but rather the Dostoevskian triad – offered by the Grand Inquisitor – of “miracle, mystery and authority.”

The revolutionary events in Ukraine in 2013–14 can now be understood as the painful labour pangs that presaged the birth of homo maidanus, which will eventually overcome homo sovieticus. At its best, the Revolution of Dignity signals a “transvaluation of values”[5] marked by a paradigm shift from homo sovieticus to homo maidanus, which echoes Nietzsche’s understanding of the “overman” (der Übermensch), who supplants the “last man” (der letzte Mensch).[6]

Despite the downfall of the USSR the system of education in former Soviet countries from kindergarten to university (and Ukraine is no exception) has remained under the influence of Soviet pedagogical theories and practices. Ever since the demise of the Soviet Union, the system of education in Ukraine continues to reproduce an atheistic matrix of consciousness and the conveyor belt of the post-Soviet education factory continues to churn out homo sovieticus.

But now a younger generation of Ukrainians (especially students, journalists and young professionals) has emerged in the post-Maidan era. This generation, having been born during the final disintegration of the USSR or even after the collapse of Soviet communism, is imbued with the spirit of homo maidanus. Although this anthropological prototype cherishes Western values of freedom, equality and democracy, it steers a middle course between “pan-Slavic exceptionalism” and “Western globalism.” Homo maidanus rejects both the false and discredited ideology of neo-Sovietism and the excesses of Western consumerist ideology and individualism (represented by the homo economicus prototype).[7] While cherishing individual liberty, homo maidanus retains an open communitarian identity, recognizing (per Hegel) that “we are what we are in virtue of participating in the larger life of our society.”[8] In simplified Hegelian terminology one could posit homo maidanus as a “synthesis” that results from the “thesis” (i.e. homo sovieticus) and its “antithesis” (i.e. homo economicus).[9] This emerging generation of homo maidanus is finally coming of age and making its presence felt on Ukrainian social and political life. For this reason I believe that Maidan has hammered a wooden stake into the heart of what was called the USSR, and has pushed out the shoots of a new life, which is unburdened by the curse of the Soviet past. Maidan was a vital first step away from the Soviet vices of corruption, cynicism, and irresponsibility, and marks a return to the values of freedom, compassion and solidarity.

This is the most hopeful outcome of the recent tumultuous events in Ukraine. It is a truism of political theory that democratic government can flourish only if it is nurtured and sustained by a vigorous civil society.[10] But the overcoming of the homo sovieticus prototype by its maidanus counterpart is itself a precondition for the emergence of a vigorous civil society and a robust and durable democracy in Ukraine.[11]

And here is the crucial point: The emergence of homo maidanus will depend on whether Ukraine’s education system can be reformed. Ukrainian educational institutions will stop producing homo sovieticus only when they have ceased to operate within the same axiological co-ordinates inherited from the defunct Soviet ideology.

I believe that the Christian community of Ukraine will play a vital role in this process and that all churches should work together to reform Ukraine’s education system. If civil society is the realm in which human values are developed for the common good of the whole public realm, then the church in the post-Soviet space is called upon to humanize society in the name of the Kingdom of God. Society can rightfully expect the church to demonstrate (rather than merely preach about) the cardinal Christian virtues of faith, hope, love and solidarity. In Ukraine, as in other post-Soviet states that lack developed civil societies, only the church possesses the necessary intellectual, spiritual and creative resources to facilitate a progressive reform of the education system that will be more attuned to the formation of the homo maidanus prototype. The church is called to become a humanizing force in society. This requires the church to recognize that it is an integral part of civil society and is responsible for the education of all its citizens.

History and current experience teach us that the best way for the church to incarnate Christian values into the fabric of social relations is by instilling Christian values through education. To determine the extent to which Christian values pervade Ukrainian society, one should not look to external attributes, such as the number of church buildings or church attendance statistics. Rather if you want to know whether or not Ukraine is a “Christian country”, go and visit one of Ukraine’s public institutions – whether it be a hospital, a post office, a passport centre or a church – and see if you are treated with respect and courtesy. On this topic, the Vice Rector of Ukrainian Catholic University, Prof. Miroslav Marynovich, spoke eloquently: “We believe that in the West, faith is in decline, and it is with horror we say that churches are being closed, because for us the most important are the external attributes. However, unlike us, in Western Europe we see ‘inculturated Christianity’ embedded in human relations.”

It is high time that the church took seriously its social responsibility to be salt and light and to play its part in building up civil society. The best way to do this is to be involved in the reform of Ukraine’s education system and to infuse it with Christian content, based on the finest principles of biblical teaching, church tradition and Christian ethics. This will gradually have a leavening effect on the whole society as a new generation of homo maidanus comes of age and supersedes the old generation of homo sovieticus that dominated Ukraine’s public sphere during the Soviet era and the post-Soviet transition. Although homo maidanus is an anthropological archetype that transcends particular generations, the focus of Ukraine’s reforms needs to be on the young, on the emerging generation. As the biblical Proverb puts it: “Train up a child in the way he should go; And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Pedagogical wisdom begins with the recognition that all education is a spiritual process. The transition from homo sovieticus to homo maidanus is not just a pragmatic or technical issue concerning teaching methods or even the content of school curricula; it also involves a spiritual transfiguration of the collective national consciousness. Such transformations involve not a hasty passing of legislation, but a long and difficult work of church and civil society working in solidarity to form its people in the spiritual values of humanity, integrity, tolerance, courtesy and compassion.

Here I will not address the practical issue of how such values can be instilled within the education systems of Ukraine today. This is a task to be implemented only by the people of Ukraine and those who understand the complexities of Ukraine’s education structures and the needs of school children and university students much better than I do. But I am very encouraged by the fact that the organizers of this consultation already recognize that, “Ukraine needs a systemic reform of education, which should be the subject of public consensus, understanding that education is one of the main levers of civilization progress and economic development.”

Ukraine now has a historic opportunity to break decisively from the baleful legacy of Soviet communism by consolidating its foundations for civil society. The recent crises in the spheres of politics, society and education betoken a new epoch in the history not just of Ukraine, but of the entire region—an epoch that has passed through the post–Soviet transition and which will be determined not by the servile homo sovieticus, but by the freedom–loving homo maidanus prototype. The post-Soviet period is finally drawing to a close. The light at the end of the long and dismal post-Soviet tunnel is finally visible and the way has now been paved for Ukraine’s full integration into the European commonwealth of nations.

Щиро дякую вам, дорогі друзі і колеги.

Joshua T. Searle

Spurgeon’s College, London


[1] Oleh Turij, “Kirchen in der Ukraine. Zwischen gesellschaftlicher Wende und verwundeter Gesellschaft,” in J. Marte, V. Rajsp, K. Schwarz and M. Polzer (eds.), Religion und Wende in Ostmittel– und Südosteuropa, 1989–2009 (Vienna: Tyrolia, 2010), 196–217.

[2] Joshua T. Searle, “Learning from the Past to Reimagine the Future: Theological Education in the (Former) Soviet Union”, in Keston Newsletter 19(Winter 2014), 10.

[3] Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1937), 32.

[4] Edward Lucas. The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces both Russia and the West (London: Bloomsbury, 2009).

[5] This is a translation from the German, “Umwertung aller Werte,” which Nietzsche used in his Also Sprach Zarathustra (1883-1885).

[6] Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1968).

[7] Joseph Persky, “Retrospectives: The Ethology of Homo Economicus,” in The Journal of Economic Perspectives 9 (Spring, 1995), 221-31.

[8] Charles Taylor, Hegel and Modern Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 88.

[9] However, it should be noted that more recent scholarship on Hegel has tended to refute the notion that the categories of thesis–antithesis–synthesis are intrinsic to Hegel’s thought. See, Gustav E. Mueller, “The Hegel Legend of ‘Thesis–Antithesis–Synthesis’” in Jon Stewart (ed.), Hegel Myths and Legends (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1996), 301–305.

[10] See, for example, Peter J. Burnell and Peter Calvert (eds.), Civil Society in Democratization (London: Frank Cass, 2004).

[11] Alexander Motyl, “State, Nation and Elites in Independent Ukraine,” in Taras Kuzio (ed.), Contemporary Ukraine: Dynamics of Post-Soviet Transformation (New York: M.E. Sharp, 1998), 3–16; see also, Jack Lively and Andrew Reeve, “The Emergence of the Idea of Civil Society: The Artificial Political Orders and the Natural Social Orders”, in Robert Fine and Shirin Rai (eds.), Civil Society: Democratic Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2013), 63–75.