Rich Myers: Alexander, Co-Coordinator of the Open University of Maidan
February 16, 2014
Within Kyiv’s Ukrainian House, the massive and old building occupied by Euromaidan demonstrators in late January, activity doesn’t stop. At any point the place could house hundreds of people watching movies, reading books at the makeshift library or listening in their seats as a lecture is given. These lectures are coordinated by Euromaidan’s “Open University”. Today I spoke to Alexander, one of the four coordinators of the project.
What function does the open university perform at Maidan?
Education and literacy.
What role do you fulfill within the open university?
I am the co-coordinator. We have four co-coordinators here – we don’t have any head or chief or boss. We are absolutely equal, and I am one of them.
Are you in charge of the library here in Ukrainian House?
No, they are separate from us but we have some of the same speakers, so we share some speakers with them. The book center was started in our open university in Maidan when we have our own stage when it was near the gate, when it was on the Maidan physically.
Where is it now?
We deconstructed it and moved it away.
And now it is here in Ukrainian House?
Yes, now we share the space here with other activities, for example: the student assembly, library, and the culture team so there are a lot of activities here right now.
Do you teach classes?
Usually there are lectures here, and we invite the best speakers. This initiative was started with graduates from Ukrainian business schools – we sat down and thought about what we can do for Maidan, to cut bread or wave flags – this is not very interesting. We speak to our teachers, the people who taught us. If they are ready to speak from the stage for free and show everybody there their civil attitude.
What sort of subjects are discussed by the speakers, typically?
Actually we try to cover three directions. The first one is our political and economic development – what will we do after the victory of Maidan? When we receive this country, it will probably not be in good shape, and what should we do? The second direction is civil society, and how do we develop it? The third one is absolutely practical, usable skills here on Maidan. For example, if a journalist comes to you and gives you a microphone and asks something – what should you do? Communication skills, presentation skills, protection skills, for example – first aid.
And self defense?
Actually, self-defense isn’t our core competence.
You just speak about it?
Yeah. These are the three main directions in our university. Actually, there were some lectures about the history of Ukraine, very interesting topics not connected to these three directions which are nevertheless interesting.
Do you every approach politics in these lectures or do you try to stay neutral?
We try to stay neutral. There was only one case, when Oleh Rybachuk, the former head of president Yushchenko’s administration came to us, but he spoke absolutely about civil society – about Ukraine, our values and civil society. So, he wasn’t political here.
And all of these speeches you’re talking to people about what to do after Maidan is successful – do you ever approach how to act if Maidan does not succeed?
Actually, we believe in the best variant. No. We are thinking about it, but we are not discussing that here. For what purpose?
Why is your open university important to Maidan?
A lot of people here in Ukraine need some education in my opinion . They are very proactive but they honestly don’t know what to do and some education could be helpful to widen their picture. This is very important.
Attendance has been good?
Of course, this is it right now, have a look (points to the full room of Ukrainian house – I had not realized a lecture was ongoing). Speaking now is one of the best marketing specialists in Ukraine – he is speaking about values and the future of Ukraine – why Ukraine can be interesting to the other world.
For – the United States, Europe?
Yeah, for the other world, for the West, for the East, maybe for Russia as well.
That is a very neutral attitude, considering Russia has few fans here at Maidan.
I am from Karkhiv, 40 KM from Russian border.
Yes, when I first arrived I met with a man from Karkhiv who showed me around and translated for me for a day or two.
Yes, we are here as well.
There’s a tent full of people from Karkhiv under the Monument to Berehynia. I met them inside their tent a few days ago.
Actually, I have been living in Kyiv for 13 years now, but I was born in Karkhiv and my parents are there – my friends, my schoolmates – a lot of people from Karkhiv I know, and believe me, I make it a huge priority to explain to them what is happening here.
How do you feel things are going here?
We need strategy.|
How do you feel about Maidan giving up city hall on Friday?
Because – do you know about Gene Sharpe and his famous work about peaceful protest? From Dictatorship to Democracy – very interesting, 84 pages, very big letters – but this is a classic book about revolution. His main idea is that you shouldn’t negotiate with dictators. It’s senseless. You need to do two things – the first one, peaceful protest. Ignore the initiatives, ignore the laws, ignore them. The second thing you should set up is a parallel power – parallel ministries, the institutes where you can coordinate your protests which can take the power from today’s ministries. I believe this strategy is the best, and most effective. This requires strategy – you see here a lot of initiatives on Maidan, and all of them are doing something but they’re not coordinating.
They are not coordinating with each other?
No, unfortunately. What should we do? We should create a coordination center where this can occur.
This doesn’t exist yet?
There were some attempts. For example, I am a member of a council of Maidan from civil organizations, but it’s not effective.
There is an old Ukrainian proverb – that for every two Ukrainians, there are three kings. This is true. This proverb teaches that every Ukrainian knows for sure what to do and tries to persuade others. This is not the correct approach.
Will it be easy to coordinate people who have different ideas – members of Pravy Sektor, Svoboda, UDAR, various collections of people who don’t see things in the same way?
We need professional facilitators, and we have them here in Ukraine. And these people can establish meetings where people can hear and understand each other and work out their own decisions together. This is the main idea.
So you’re trying to talk to people about what happens afterwards?
Yes, but before that, we should talk about our current strategy.
These will be big challenges.
Yeah, but we’ve been here on Maidan for three months and I think finally, we will negotiate with each other and that we can find a common solution.
Is Euromaidan still about the EU, or more about Ukraine at this point?
No, it’s about our civil rights right now. Previously, it was about the EU. This was a previous concern.
In your opinion, is this a protest movement or a revolution?
What’s the difference?
I guess the difference would be that a revolution is more proactive in taking power, and a demonstration doesn’t take power directly.
If revolution can be peaceful, this is a revolution. It depends on your personal approach, how one understands the process. I understand that Pravy Sektor are very proactive guys, but they don’t have their strategy.
Are you glad the Euromaidan has a couple of thousand bodies willing to wear weapons and shields and march out of the camp?
No. I’m absolutely peaceful. I like Gene Sharpe very much. I am a follower of his idea of peaceful protest.
What do you want Americans, or people who don’t follow news in Ukraine generally, to understand what is happening here on the Maidan?
My advice for them is to follow what is happening. Here in Ukraine we can create an absolutely new type of civil society – America has this corporate world, and here – people here are not oriented in a corporate way, people without any bosses or chiefs can build a barricade within a half hour. There is no bureaucracy, no plan, this is absolutely a new type of society. So for all Americans, and especially for American scientists this can be very interesting.
Your saying there is no business, no profit motive behind activities here at Euromaidan?
Right. I come from business as well, and a lot of my colleagues are on duty at night, they are very active participants, so a lot of people who have money, who have their own very successful life – they are here for Maidan, for their civil rights.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Pay attention to Ukraine, everybody! There are very interesting things happening here now.