Ye. Bystrytsky. Protodemocracy and Culturepolicy Transformations in Ukraine // Political Thought. 1994. N. 4. P. 119-124.

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Culture as a Political Phenomenon of Postcommunism

Culture as a political problem is a true historic discovery of the period of perestroika and postcommunist social transformations.

In their time, Soviet ideologists often abused the notion of culture which still remained, in fact, completely alien to people and everyday practice. "The Marxist ideological paradigm made them accustomed to understanding culture as a domain and a specific creative affair of the intellectual, artistic and power elites, as a spiritual, isolated from drab routine, field of "lofty" models of the "dignified life." This is also true of the supervized cultivation of models of Ukrainian ethnonational culture (poetry, belles lettres, arts, music, and language as well) and, of course, the national 'artistic and humanitarian elite. Nowadays the problem of culture is virtually everybody's at the level of the everyday self-affirmation of the individual a Ukrainian from central Ukraine or a Russian-speaking native of eastern Ukraine who feel their difference from the western Ukrainian of Galicia who is most confident in his authenticity and in his right to be a national culture leader. Perhaps it is just these geocultural differences, this cultural regionalism, that are most often exploited to their own advantage in present-day politics by politicians. During the first years of Ukraine's independence, national culture and ethnocultural differences have taken on a far greater socio-political significance than economic issues. The slogan of national culture policy-making in the post-communist period is being chanted along with the slogans of democratizing society, liberalizing it, and introducing market economy structures. This is no accident. Indeed, the sense of culture and the rationale of society's democratic organization have many points in common, but at the same time, they also differ greatly. If the points in common are avidly used by the postcommunist power and current nouveau politicians, the differences are either simply ignored or fail to be noticed in time.

The Idea of Democracy and Protodemocracy

Aristotle gave the first general and simple definition of democracy. He understood democracy as self-government by free and equal peopled), i.e., that social procedure is meant when people freely and jointly determine what leadership they should elect and exactly what kind of power they want to give them. On what basis do they come to such an accord in selecting their rulers? For Aristotle, this problem is not one to be pondered over. For the "first democracies" such a consensus was ensured by common tradition and ethos,(2) i.e., generally accepted norms of life, the self-evident nature of cultural coexistence, etc.

However, for the modern forms of developed democratic systems the issue of social accord and the problem of civic consensus gain overriding importance. In other words, this is a question of on the basis of which program different but simultaneously politically equal people can come to social agreement. It is also a question of power legitimation, i.e., the free recognition of the "leadership" by the majority of citizens on the basis of accord.

The sense and experience of most Ukrainian citizens that they differed existentially and culturally from other great communities of the former USSR led to them to opt for Ukrainian independence in a referendum three years ago. Not least important was the awareness of their own national-cultural differences (not to be confused with ethnocultural identity) acquired legitimizing significance for a free recognition of their own Ukrainian state and the need for an independent policy in the referendum of December 1, 1991 (3). Ukraine's independent policy, political order, and independent state can generally rise and fall along with, respectively, recognition and forgetting of its national-cultural solidarity and community. The awareness of national, cultural, or if you wish geocultural community had acquired the quality of a protoconsensus necessary for Ukraine's protodemocratic self-determination as a full-fledged political entity on the map of the modern world.

The simplest and most general concept of culture is one of a phenomenon which unites us all into a single national and further, human world. An ethnonational community is a network of relationships, social ties, and cultural "consensus" granted to us by history and cultural tradition. Nationalistic Ukrainian publicist and thinker Dmytro Dontsov provides a more accurate term in this connection: a unity of the will of Ukrainian society, the unity of its volition for self-affirmation. But and this is our most important point an ethnonational community today, in the developed European world, present day economic ties, and personal mobility, and the great variety of information impacting upon it, etc. is far from ensured by tradition. At present, an ethnonational community cannot serve as the sole basis for the democratic consensus, for which many of our current politicians hope. The cultural regionalism of Ukraine is conclusive evidence of this undoubted fact.

The current stage of Ukraine's social development gives every reason to define the situation as a protodemocratic one, as only the first step toward realization of the idea of democracy.

In its origin, the idea of the democratic organization of society is inalienably linked with its prospects for overcoming national narrowness and interethnic conflict. The outstanding theoretician of civil society, secular ethics, and law, Immanuel Kant perceived "the general universal state as a prenatal chamber in which all elemental potentialities of the human race gradually become full-blown."(4) Indeed, the idea of democracy, just like the idea ofjustice, even with its appeal to the free accord of equal people, cannot in principle be limited by the slogan "democracy only for one separate community among other communities."

By arguing the universality of the democratic idea, Kant certainly did not foresee, for example, the specifics of the "denationalization" of, say, the Germans of East Prussia, but rather saw in civil society a necessary condition for achieving interethnic peace. Likewise, the goal of politically consolidating democracy today does not supplant other urgent issues of national-cultural revival. The issue is one of its modern contextual interpretation. A developed understanding of democracy goes much deeper than the simple inarticulate unity of a given ethnic stock.

"The inarticulate unity of ethnic stock" which at perestroika rallies allegedly gave democratic consent to the expression of a common national will can no longer serve today, when it is necessary to go further in developing our model of political behavior. It can only serve, and now serves, as a basis for the "new" nomenklatura, which came to power using slogans of "culture-making" to impose its partial, imperfect, narrow partisan vision of social and cultural phenomena. Thus, one part of the all-Ukrainian community, heterogeneous in its cultural and ethnocultural features, opposes other parts.

All theories of developed democracy maintain that it is based not only on natural ethnic unity. The basis of democracy lies in a developed public dialog (communication) of representatives of various political orientations. Such communicative acts can in no case be limited to a blind and dumb national-cultural identity. True national identity itself is merely a developed outcome of historical connections, a result of rational argumentative communication (5) among representatives of a single nation which can be composed of various subcultures.

The loudest appeals to the idea of democracy in postcommunist Ukraine can often be heard from politicians who view the social significance of their parties and movements from the "national-democratic" perspective. However, both practical abidance by that self-designation and political understanding of social goal in the notion of "national democracy" are fraught with a real threat of an "eternal coming back to the same" (Nietzsche): an incessant admiration for protodemocratic features of Ukrainian community and, hence, political narcissism and constant repetition of outdated romantic slogans taken from the period of miraculous national liberation.

Cultural-Political Models of Social Development

Socio-political prognostication in present-day Ukraine is usually based on forecasts and considerations of an essentially economic or political nature. Economism in modelling possible paths of development naturally makes sense in the context of the practically hopeless economic collapse of the country. At the same time, the political struggle of small but numerous parties is marked today with juridical-legal accents. Therefore, the previous interparty contests the romanticism of the first years of national independence and cultural sovereignty drifted to the juridical-legal side: a case in point is, first of all, the necessity of making and passing new rules of the political game under new circumstances (namely, adopting a new Constitution or a proposed law on power offered by President Kuchma, etc.). In other words, in the political projections of both the present establishment and leaders of new political formations primary attention is attached to matters of national, and particularly economic survival, and hence, to the preservation of their political status and the consolidation of their political influence. All this is in sharp contrast to the first years of independence, and their chanting slogans of mainly cultural, ideological bent.

However, a certain neglect of the cultural policy aspect in charting the future of Ukraine is far from an indicator of its unimportance for prognostication. But here one should not confuse a true culture policy (we use the term to denote a true political analysis and understanding of the practical significance of national-cultural, ethnocultural and civilization-related {general cultural} factors far a state's political guidance) given the earlier period's national liberation slogans which were easily transformed into authoritarian nationalistic dogmas. Such an assessment makes it possible to grasp the whole importance of culture-political thinking and practices in the postcommunist period. It is difficult to overestimate the field of cultural-political ideas, orientations, political motives, and actions for understanding the social basis of postcommunist transformations. This field is sometimes spoken of in everyday conversation as a common striving, social upsurge (of will, volition) which are projected into the future for the purpose of creating the new and modernizing transformation of the presently available. Something similar to this can be seen from examples of the ambivalent period of Ukrainization in the 1920s, which was effected parallel (and not accidentally) to the violent process of industrialization and mass collectivization of farmers in Ukraine.

A recognition of the fundamental significance of the Protestant world outlook for civilized forms of capitalist relations being established is now a commonplace in modern sociology and culture studies.(6) So what else can we hope for in Ukraine?

Modelling Ukraine's possible paths of development is directly dependent on answering the question of the preconditions of the all-Ukrainian cultural-political unification and the corresponding real culture policy of present or future authorities. At the same time, a choice between various political versions of such unification is also a selection of one or another model of economic modernization. Cultural choice and political and economic transformations are inseparable.

Based on the cultural-political attitude which is present in the political consciousness one can simplifying greatly, of course find such basic models of, if not development, then at least regular progress into the future.

The situation is quite likely to be recognized when a model of ethnocultural political collectivity comes forward as a result of a socio-political choice, i.e., a cultural-political model of state and nation-building based on a radical nationalist understanding of the people's existential unity in Ukraine. If such a cultural-political orientation is chosen, its inadvertent result might well be a cultural, and hence, political distrust among various regions of Ukraine, its federalization, either official or unofficial but defacto; political conflicts, aggravation of political tensions, and confrontation. For there are essential differences in how Ukrainians from various regions of Ukraine experience their Ukrainian identity. If this does not result in civil conflict, then in a somewhat less grave version it will have to be dealt with as an unproductive situation which may persist for years. In this model, everything in Ukraine might be headed for a blind alley. In addition, the model of ethnocultural political unity, consciously or unconsciously for its supporters, is genetically related to the traditionalist world view, i.e., conservatism in respect to cultural-value orientations and political conservatism. That is why the disposition of mind toward modernization loses for this model any specific meaning along with all other urgent issues of possible economic modernization.

If in the situation of the rapid aggravation of the socio-economic crisis and utter impoverishment of the population people happen to incline toward the social model of political unity (and it is couched in "socialist-communist terms" of economic equality, as a matter of secondary importance of national-cultural ways of life), chances that the striving for independent state existence, Ukraine's own system of economic management, and national activism will fade away altogether.

The future of the "social" model is quite obvious. It is the establishment of a new form of Ukraine's dependence, primarily on Russia, of stagnation and cultural-political marginalization. In such a case modernization is possible only as a replication of what is produced by others. Starting with the formation of economic relationships with Ukraine's own cultural specifics and ending with inventions of up-to-date industrial, social and commercial technologies in all these extremely important domains of human activity the self-regulation of people's lives vanishes.

The contradictory cultural-political experience of the past three years makes it essential to prefer a model of state and societal organization which presupposes a socially and politically stratified society with developed democratic institutions. This, however, does not imply a dominant role for national-cultural cosmopolitanism.

Thus, the important point is to create on the basis of the protodemocratic core of ethnonational cultural networks a common way of life, language, customs, and traditions a modern state-organited civil community a political nation. Only proceeding from such cultural-political model is it possible to mold a maximally formalized, i.e., a non-violent national political community in the judiciary openness of which all creative novelties, including economic modernization will find social legitimation.

Postcommunist Mass Media

The level of progress toward "real democracy" is more often than not judged only according to the criterion of the so-called openness of the mass media the absence of external censorship, the diversity of themes, the plurality of publications, etc. This is merely the slogan of glasnost which stimulated the widespread use of the term democracy to denote post-Soviet phenomena which could hardly be considered democratic. However, in determining the "level of democracy" in a society, mass media actually is a prime indicator, criterion, or a certain measuring scale.

The point is that mass media by its essence is the best indicator of a democratically organized society. In its methods of operation mass media is but a concentrated expression of the idea of open public discourse, a social institution organizing interpersonal dialog, and civil consensus. Naturally, we must also bear in mind its destructive potential (possible ideological brainwashing of the population, indoctrination of ideas and views in the regime's interest). Thus, in order to verify the idea of democracy in Ukraine and to better understand its prospects for the immediate and medium-term future, it is worth looking more carefbily into how the Ukrainian mass media operates.

To return to the essence of what is nowadays called mass information media, one can see from this designation itself that the point at issue is modes of information distribution which serve as mediators of human communication in modern society. Traditionally, they are defined as means of conveying information flow from one person to another or from one group or community to another. In this case mass media are said to give information, i.e., to "form internally" our consciousness. This is only half true.

The problem is that mass media itself mediates between people and actually forms the reality in which they live. Since the socio-political fabric of life is woven from human relationships, mass media touches the context of life with a certain additional awareness, of "trendiness," i.e., it makes an impact on the organization and modes of human relationships. The very fact of mass media news coverage, its choice of themes and interpretations all make mass media a reality to be reckoned with.

Moreover, information has another important quality: it is never neutral, unbiased, inert with respect to people, no matter how eloquently one might argue the opposite. In mass media, information is always language, an act of speech, even if in written form. When a man speaks and fixes his attention on an event or a person, in so doing, in this seemingly innocent act of mass informing, he generally affirms his understanding, his vision, his will to power. This is precisely what mass media is: simultaneously a means to mass affirmation of an intent to power, desires, expectations, volitions. In this sense, the mass media is perceived as power, as the "fourth estate." Having information at one's disposal and controlling its dissemination is very close to having power and molding coercively people's consciousness and existence. This was not mentioned during the total domination of communist ideology and the Communist Party press. There was only one power, one ideology, and one self-affirming will. Such homogeneity and reductionism in informing and interpreting information produced an impression of an enlightening role of mass media. It seemed to fulfil an enlightening or information-providing function and supposedly was not an instrument of total control.

The present-day changes in the former socialist countries, including Ukraine, are called postcommunist. Here we should differentiate between two meanings of the term "postcommunist mass media." First, postcommunism is perceived, quite naturally, if somewhat inaccurately, as something "after communism." But, second, to be more exact, "after communism" comes first the ruin of the communist regime and totalitarianism, i.e., the first thing which emerges is its criticisn, negation, the ideological banishment of old forms of consciousness and psychology; mass media helps "deconstruct the model." Under so-called glasnost there was much ado about freedom of information, pluralism, etc. But in fact, only one thing was meant an opportunity to deconstruct the "communist model." Still along with this laudable goal, the "half-born," "new" old mass media came to be deformed by the same agency.

Martin Heidegger once aptly remarked that he who pursues will follow. Or, to paraphrase, he who only ruins will himself be ruined. Lashing out at the "communist" or "nationalist" mindsets as a way of institutionalizing the new mass media as a precondition of their "postcommunist" existence indicates only the persistence of totalitarian thinking, understanding, and information manipulation. It is precisely for this reason that in Ukraine numerous newspapers, magazines, radio and TV programs appeared and attempted to transform iass informing into an instrument to mentally impregnate people with new political and ideological stereotypes, and hence, to impose a framework of human relations which this or that political regime finds desirable.

Undoubtedly, this is not yet a real democratization of the mass media. All this is but a primitive ruination of the recent past and, regrettably, ourselves, because by "postcommunism" one should understand not only a destruction of the old "model," not just a deformation of the information space and old forms of human relationships, but primarily the dissemination of different views directed above all at the creation of radically new social interconnections and relationships rather than toward destroying or forming anew, violently, i.e., in a neototalitarian way, some "new model."

A new positive role of mass media, according to which it can be considered a true mass mediator among people, is quite clearly reflected by the notion of a developed community. This can be defined as the openness of civil society, i.e., as the opportunity to make public all actions of the power structures and all acts of will directed against others. In such case theoreticians of open communication (Jurgen Habermas) mention a brilliant expression of Kant who designated such a state of civil society's openness with the term "resonant publicity." In this sense the social func-tion of mass media is not to form some new human being, say, a "real Ukrainian" instead of the notorious homo soveticus. For only under this condition can the mass media be transformed from an instrumentality of power, a means of communication for the ruling elite, into real mass mediators, i.e., mediators in society, into mass media as such. Only in this way can they "form," i.e., create such conditions, such a common reality of life that could claim significance for all: "reds" and "pinks," "greens" and "blacks," nationalists and communists, etc. Only on this basis can a real pluralism of ideas, views, speech, and texts be established and, hence, relatively equal and just conditions of the multiplicity of individual wills for domination be made possible.

Under such a system of open communication a new type of discourse can also be instituted a non-partisan, civic, civil one. This is why the situation under postcommunism is indeed a situation of not only and not so much one of multiparty politics and, consequently, of a supposedly pluralistic press. It is only one of the inception of a non-partisan and, hence, pluralist mass media. It is the beginning of the exuberant growth of the prospects for forming civil society.

* * *

Ukraine's path toward the development of democracy and national culture can lie only in the (state's and politicians') striving to create all possible conditions for constructing a modern foundation for national political consensus. This foundation is civil society, the relations among people in which differ from the "national-ethnic, cultural" sphere proper by developed private interests, their rational substantiation, and people's independence from the political structures. This is a matter for the future the organization of the institutions of future democracy and the uniting of the political nation around the national nucleus of our protodemocratic community. Then the unnatural connection of politics to culture made by politicians who abuse cultural feelings and experiences cannot, in their turn, do even a tiny bit of good for people and culture precisely because they are not able to see the difference between politics and culture at the present time, will be consigned to oblivion. To do this, both too much and too little is required to have a democratic vision for society, i.e., to be a democrat not just in words.


1. "Political rule is the self-government of free and equal people." Jurgen Habermas, Democracy, Reason, Morality: Lectures and Interviews (Russian: Moskow, 1992), pp. 31, 66.

2. lbid.

3. For greater detail about the national-cultural basis of legitimation of the first postcommunist power in Ukraine see: Political Thought, No. I, 1993, pp. 130-132.

4. I.Kant, The Idea of General History in the Universal-Civic Perspective in Immanuel Kant, Collected Works in 6 Volumes, (Russian: Moscow), vol. VI, p. 21.

5. The standard work on this issue is Jurgen Haber-mas. The Legitimization Problem in the Modern State, in: Habermas, Communication..., pp. 178-206. On the problems of establishing political discourse in Ukraine, Andriy Klepikov, "Zoon Politicon Learns to Speak: Political Discourse in Postcommunist Ukraine," Political Thought, 3,1994, pp. 141-147.

6. We refer the reader to the well-known work of Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.