Historian Snyder on Language, Zelenskyy and Vakarchuk
7 July, 2019
American historian specializing in Eastern Europe argues that Ukraine should embrace and regulate Russian language and actually use it as a weapon against the Russian propaganda.

Timothy Snyder, who is the author of “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” and professor of history at Yale University spoke to Hromadske about his ambitious idea of founding a Russian Language Institute in Ukraine whose task would be to standardize the Russian language spoken in Ukraine and create rules that distinguish the language from the one spoken in Russia and elsewhere. 

READ MORE: Displaced People Break Myths About Russian Language In Ukraine

The historian’s approach is unusual to Ukraine which is accustomed to polar opinions from both Ukrainian and Russian speakers. Snyder accepts the fact that the Russian language will remain in use over at least a few decades, which renders it necessary to be regulated. At the same time, he is in favor of Ukrainization of public life and the wider use of Ukrainian in the private sphere. 

You recently mentioned while you were in Kyiv the idea of Ukraine having its own version of Russian or even having its own institute which codified the language. So why do you think it matters? And how did you come up with this idea?

First of all I want to be clear about what I think about the Ukrainian language before I talk about Russian. I’m in favor of Ukrainization. I think Ukraine should have a language of high culture in politics and that language should be Ukrainian. If it were up to me Ukrainian diplomats would speak Ukrainian to one another in private and not Russian. If it were up to me, Ukrainian school teachers would speak Ukrainian to one another between classes and not Russian. If it were up to me, politicians would speak Ukrainian to one another. If it were up to me, the President would speak Ukrainian when he met with Ukrainian businessmen. If it were up to me there would be more Ukrainian in Ukrainian public life. I’m in favor of Ukrainization. But I think it’s very important when you do have an important second language in your country to realize that you’re not alone this second language, because the world is the way it is, has to be made your own. So the situation that Ukraine has is actually very unusual. It’s not normal to have an important second language and not standardize it. It’s not normal to have an important second language in your country and have another country tell you what to do with it. So the international norm is: if you have a language - you write your own dictionaries, you write your own textbooks, you choose spelling rules that are your own, you choose grammar that’s your own. The language I’m speaking is American English. I can immediately, at a glance tell if a text is in British English or American English and that’s the way I think it should be. What I’m proposing is actually not some strange idea. What I’m proposing is the way the rest of the world actually does things. Or to put it a different way Ukraine is giving Russia a completely unnatural advantage by not standardizing the Russian language. What it means is that Ukrainians can’t tell whether Russian is coming from Russia or if it is coming from Ukraine. If you had your own version of the language with your own dictionary than you could allow people to tell whether a newspaper was from Russia or whether it was from Ukraine. And also, it would allow Ukrainians to express themselves in Russian in a way that was nevertheless not the same way as people speak in the Russian Federation. So you would allow Ukrainian journalists, Ukrainian students, who are writing papers, to write in a way that is Ukrainian. Again, look, I’m an American from a big important country, but look, I grew up with a certain version of my language, I grew up learning to put commas in a certain place, and I learned that a "truck" is a "truck" and not a "lorry". And then when I went to England, there was a whole lot of things that were different, that’s normal, that’s the way it should be. And this means that England can protect itself from America, and that America can protect itself from England because you can always tell where something is coming from. So when I had this idea - I’ve actually had this idea for years and years - I was actually talking about it in 2014 when I organized a conference, during, or right after the Maidan. And the reason why it’s important to me is not that the Russian language is important to me, the reason it is important for me is because Ukraine is important for me. The reason that Ukraine has institutions that allow language and culture and so on to develop normally. But there is one other aspect about this that is worth mentioning, that is that it’s an offensive weapon. It’s not just defense. If you standardize the Russian language inside Ukraine, then you're defending yourself against Russia, but you’re also creating the possibility of offensive political work against Russia. Right now the Russians that will tell anyone that will listen that Ukraine is a terribly oppressive country. If you officially had your own Ukrainian version of the Russian language that would be a very powerful argument against the Russian propaganda. You could say: no, actually, we are supporting the Russian language and you can make the following point, which is true: In Russia, there’s no freedom of speech which means someone else has to take care of the Russian language. So we have freedom of speech, therefore, we are going to take care of the Russian language. Which would not only be true but it would be an excellent point to make to Westerners who don’t quite know exactly how to understand the situation in Ukraine, so if there would be such an institute for me it would have three parts: the first part would be you standardize the language, you print dictionaries, you create schoolbooks. The second part would be, you give refuge to writers who come from Russian-speaking parts of the world whether it’s Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan or Russia itself. And the third is you have reporting about Russia, I see this also as a way for Ukraine to turn the tables. I mean the fact that you have Russian inside Ukraine is an advantage rather than a disadvantage and up to now, it has not been exploited.

Since what we talked would be particularly of interest to our audience. But probably you would understand what this would mean for Ukraine. Because we have fighters for the Ukrainian Language and they’re very concerned that still the Russian language has such a powerful stance in Ukraine and anytime you would like to promote it that might be a danger for the Ukrainian because it’s still in this very weak position because it’s not really spoken by most of the Ukrainians and not even by the majority if you really look at it. even the printed press not really television, but the printed press is still printed in Russian, so there is this dealing of threat that if you give them this that could be used in order to say, “I don’t need Ukrainian.” That is the usual argument in this discussion.

I mean I would say that I’m sympathetic to that. I do think that Ukrainization should continue. Look, I have only ever spoken Ukrainian in Ukraine, which is a totally artificial position, I know no Ukrainian that could say that. Although I understand Russian and I spend a lot of time reading Russian, I only speak Ukrainian in Ukraine. So that means that I’ve noticed how things have changed over the last 25 years and how Ukrainians react to foreigners has changed quite a lot from my point of view in a good direction and I think in the next 25 years things should continue in that direction. And I’m very sympathetic to people that say our language is threatened by globalization or our language is threatened by a powerful nation, I’m sympathetic to people that speak French in Canada who are surrounded not only by Canada but also the United States of America and I’m glad that French has survived in Canada and I’m glad that French is doing well. But, I don’t see this at all as a competition between Ukrainian and Russian, on the contrary, I think if there’s going to be so much use of Russian it makes sense to make it your own Russian. Because you’re going to be speaking it for next several decades. I remember in the late 90s late, I was at Harvard, and a professor of Ukrainian history, Roman Szporiuk, said in a seminar: Russian is going to be a natural language in Ukraine for the next several decades, and it surprised me that he said that because professor Szporiuk was from Poland, he was from the far west of Ukrainian-speaking language area. He had to learn Russian and his Russian is actually not very good and he can’t speak Russian very well, but it surprised me that he said that and I realized that, yes that’s true. I think it’s still true I think Russian is going to be a natural language in Ukraine for some time and so the question is what do you do with it? Are you just ashamed by it? Because the problem of the current situation is that lots of people speak Russian and then they’re influenced by the Russian internet and lots of people speak Russian and then they’re influenced by things that come from the rest of the world. I think it would be better if there was a Ukrainian version of Russian where you could tell, oh this page is written by Russians because they’re observing these language rules, or this book was published in Ukraine because look it’s in Russian but it’s following these language rules and not other language rules. But there’s no competition. I think of it in my own mind as "Ukrainian State Institute of Russian Language and Culture", if there was such a thing and we are talking about a thing that would cost a few million euros a year, we are talking about a building or two buildings or three buildings maybe, we are not talking about competing on the whole are of the country were talking about doing a very technical operation, which is standardizing a language that millions of people use. I don’t think it’s in competition with Ukrainian at all, I should say this is for Ukrainians to decide, I’m not trying to tell Ukrainians what to do. I just do think there’s something very strange about tens of millions of people using the language which their state does not standardize. I’m not just saying that: that is a very unusual situation. You will not find that in Switzerland or anywhere else. 

Well, start with that but maybe we will go globally with it. What are other situations like that, do you mean Switzerland or Brazil, or Taiwanese, what examples do you give? What makes Russian so unique? 

Your situation seems normal to you but your situation is actually exceptional. When the United States became an independent country, it wasn’t clear what language we’re going to speak, there was still a lot of German speakers and speakers of other languages. And eventually English won out but what English won out? The English that Americans standardized themselves. One of the very first things that Americans did was write dictionaries, which might seem very strange but the whole point was to show that you were a different country from England and that you had a different English. Likewise, Quebec is different from Canada and from the United States but Quebec French is a different French than the French that is spoken in France. And it’s codifying differently it’s not just that people speak it differently but there are different official uses. And if you learn French in Canada you will be using a few different things than if you learn the French language in France. And you mentioned Brazil, it’s the same result. Brazilian Portuguese is different. Spanish is spoken all around the world but there’s not a single Spanish-speaking country which lets Spain tell them how to speak Spanish. Not one. They all do it their own way. So you’re in a weird situation because you’re basically allowing Russia to tell you how to speak Russian or how to read Russian. Or how to write Russian that’s not normal. 

There will be some people who claim that bilingualism in Ukraine maybe isn’t really the way. Look for instance at Estonians and Georgians: finally, they have the generation which doesn't know Russian, and the country lives with that. And we can discuss whether bilingualism is a good thing. I have an opinion on that, of course, but, generally, how would you argue with that? Some people still think a language helps build the country. Or is it an outdated concept? 

I would answer that at a different level. I've spent enough time in Ukraine and I have a notion of what people actually speak. I have a fairly realistic notion of what people speak in the subway in Kyiv, not to mention how they speak on the street in Dnipro or Kharkiv. I have a fairly realistic notion of not just how many people speak Russian, but when and how and in what circumstances Ukrainian speakers switch to Russian. The last time I was at the cafe where we are sitting right now, at the table right over there, there were two young Ukrainian women and they were speaking Ukrainian and switching back and forth to Russian in a very characteristic way. So what I think is, if it would be better in Ukraine if there was a little bit less mixing around, a little bit more clarity for when one is speaking Ukrainian and when one is speaking Russian, and I think it would help if Russian would be owned by Ukraine. Because now there's an element of shame. A lot of people claim in public that they speak more Ukrainian than they actually do, because that could be today accepting. That it's not would give an argument that there are more Russian speakers than people think. But now, moving onto your question, this whole category of Ukrainian speaker and Russian speaker, it means nothing to me. I mean for me, and not just talking about Ukraine, I’m talking about the history of the nation. In the history of the nation, language is an aspiration. So that people, like people who created the Czech nation were german speakers. The people who created the Ukrainian nation in the 19th century, [Mykhaylo] Hrushevskyi, his parents languages Russian and Polish. The language is a political aspiration. You say part of creating this nation is that we're going to have a language, but it's not a reality. It's not that people speak the language and then create the language, it's part of what you create. So the people who created the Slovak nation, they spoke Hungarian and German, even the Poles, they had to work really hard to turn German, high German and high Russian into a Polish vocabulary. It’s true pretty much for everybody. You have to create the language along with everything else that's normal, right. And the best patriots are not necessarily the people who speak the language of the nation. People that speak the language of the nation can also be scoundrels, just like anyone else, and the best patriots can be people that don't speak that language or who speak another language better. That's actually historically normal. I mean pretty much every East European nation was created by people who spoke a bunch of languages, not by people who spoke one language. So the Ukrainian situation is actually normal. It's totally normal, it’s normal that you have Russian speakers who are patriots, it’s normal you have Ukrainian speakers who are patriots, it’s normal that you have people who speak two languages or three languages who are patriots, that's totally normal. Historically speaking there's nothing to be said against that. I just think I'm in favor of Ukrainization I just think that the public language could be a little more clear and I think part of making the public language clearer is being clear about what Russian is and, Russian is a language, this is how we speak it, this is how we write it, we don't always switch back and forth.

It's not the language they speak in Russia. 

Right, look Russian is ours. It's like Russian is something Ukrainians own but they don't admit that they own it. And that's a very awkward situation, and it gives Russia huge amounts of power that it should have if Ukrainians would say, okay, Ukrainian is the most important language, it's the main language, we’re going to keep Ukrainizing, our children are going to keep learning Ukrainian in school that's all good, but we also own Russian and we write books in Russian and we can say what we think in Russian I think that's an argument that should be made over and over again. If you want to say what you want to say in Russian, you have to go to Ukraine. You can't do it in Belarus, you can't do it in Kazakhstan, you can't do it in Russia. If you want to say what you want in Russian, you have to go to Brooklyn or you have to go to Israel or you have to go to Ukraine. But Ukraine is the largest country in the world, and probably the largest country in the history of the world now that I think about it, that people can say what they want in Russian. That's not a normal situation. I think Ukrainians would do a lot of good for themselves if they said, you know we own this language belongs to us not only to us, but, it doesn't just belong to our northern neighbor, it belongs to us as well. 

How would you see the Ukrainization? I know this is a particular idea about the Russian language but now we have a different discussion about what that should be like, quotas, different kinds of support. I won't say that there is one way to do that. Or that there is one civilized way to do that yet still there was a discussion with current president Zelenskyy. I'm not in favor of the quotas. I'm in favor, for instance, of lower taxes on the things created in Ukraine: the book publishers or the filmmakers who do things in Ukraine and Ukrainians would pay less taxes or things like that. Instead of putting this television idea, that we should have 10 percent, not more than 10 percent of the content in Russian. Maybe looking at the other countries, I know you are a historian, but still getting if you're considering these ideas about the language. what is language supporting the 21st century, it's not just about creating books and making it a manual and creating it in school, how do you do it in a globalized world, in the 21st century?

I think the higher the technology the more the state has to intervene. so if you wanted to standardize a language in the 19th century all you had to do was write the dictionary. I mean I keep talking about dictionaries but there's a reason for that. Everybody in the 19th century, who created languages, including Ukrainians, they wrote dictionaries. That's what you had to do, dictionaries, encyclopedias, reference books come to a consensus about what your own language looks like. But, you're right with television it's much more confusing. When I go on Ukrainian television, I was doing an interview with a Russian, who works in Ukraine, and he was asking me questions in Russian and I would answer them in Ukrainian. And then when I'm on these late-night talk shows, like some people generally speak Ukrainian but somebody might speak Russian, what do you do about that do you? Ban it? I don't think so. But, I do think you have to have rules with television. And the reason I think you have to have rules with television is there are bigger countries with much more mature industries, who otherwise wipe you out. When I lived in France, I was very sympathetic to the French and their quota system in trying to keep American culture out. Not because I hated Hollywood the way French intellectuals do. I don't hate Hollywood the way French intellectuals do but, I was sympathetic to the fact that they were at a kind of economic disadvantage. We could just produce thing after thing after thing after thing for a world market that they couldn’t do. And Ukraine is in that same situation vis-à-vis Russian. There's decades of Russian television material already available, you can't produce as much or as quickly as they can produce. You're very much at a disadvantage. So, I'm actually in favor of the state intervening and extending the clear rules. Then with the internet, I think you have to be even more careful because Americans spend about 10 hours a day in front of screens and I'm not sure Ukrainians are indeed better than we are. 

It's still a bigger average than in the European scene. 

I think with the internet one has to be very careful. It's very hard to control the whole internet, but you can make rules about the front pages of browsers, as much as possible the interface is going to be in Ukrainian before you move onto other stuff. So for me the higher tech it is, the more I am sympathetic to the attempts of the state. I think I probably disagree with president Zelenskyy about this, he said, even if there weren't quotas he would have shifted over to Ukrainian. I don't know maybe, maybe, I'm not so sure. I think it's important that people like him shifted to Ukrainian in public but I think in order to get there, there have to be both financial incentives as he said, but also there have to be certain rules. 

And if we're getting into that, you've been for so many years explaining Ukraine to the Western world and one of the things, of course, the Ukrainian past and the whole Russian propaganda thing about the Ukrainian nationalism and Fascism, so having a Russian-speaking president today, who tries to speak Ukrainian in official ways, but sometimes switches to Russian but of course, anything he speaks is public, in all circumstances, formal or informal, is public. I've heard quite a criticism like, “look he should be very strict, at the same time there's a message, he can find a way to the others". Were you also thinking this bilingualism can be in public life as well? Of course, its symbolic of course it's good, I mean we had this famous prime minister, [Mykola] Azarov, who tried to speak Ukrainian and everyone laughed at him, but he tried. 

President Zelenskyy is a very smart person and he's going to figure these things out for himself and I'm not here to dictate how Ukrainian political style should be, but I think there are different ways of being bilingual. For example, if you think about late April and the exchange with Mr. Putin about passports. So, in that case, Mr. Zelenskyy delivered a very powerful statement in Ukrainian, I can't really judge, but as far as I can tell, in perfect Ukrainian, then he delivered the same statement in Russian, and it was all very serious and very straight and ceremonial. That's one thing. And I actually think that's very smart, because I actually think that the use of Russian as an offensive weapon. Right, you're saying something in Russian because you're going to get the other side, you're trying to reach into their side of the conversation. When I read his interviews in Brussels or when I read them in foreign countries and he's being interviewed by Ukrainian journalist and he's trying to think of how he feels about [President of the European Commission Jean-Claude] Juncker, for example, and he uses the word muzhik, like he switches over to Russian. I have to say I think that's something different. Personally, again I'm not Ukrainian, I’m less comfortable with that. I think as the president of Ukraine, you should be able to express whatever thought he's expressing to a Ukrainian journalist in Ukrainian. I'd rather he not go all surzhyk (a mix of Ukrainian and Russian languages -ed.) every time he's trying to and sort of the danger is that when he does it, when he's trying to say something nice or clever, it's almost like the dearest things come out in Russian. That makes me a little bit uncomfortable, that version of bilingualism. I think he should try to stay in Ukrainian. I think he should try to stay in Ukrainian when he's speaking Ukrainian and then when he's speaking Russian do it for some clear political purpose, usually having to do with the Russian Federation. But then again he's his own person, he has his own style, he's going to do what he wants to do. But, that's how I reacted to it. 

One of the ideas, that's quite a discussion by this particular administration is to create Russian-language media for the occupied territories and Crimea. Somehow it's interesting. What I remember, after the Russian and Ukrainian war started, in particular in the Baltic states, there was so much discussion about creating a medium in Russian. Especially in Latvia where there are so many Russian speakers. In the end, it happened, that it was such an obvious idea that we needed to do something, but the Latvian parliament didn't really support it. They thought that it would give them more power and more space to speak, we are small, so the fact that it is said and there's this ambition doesn't mean that it would happen, because creating another channel in our time is quite a task. But to what extent do you find it significant?

I mean I think you should create Russian language media for Russia. Which would only secondarily be for the Donbas region. I think you should create Russian language media for Russia and you should try to get other people to help you pay for it. I think you should be much more ambitious, you shouldn't just be breaking the power of Russian language media in Ukraine, you should be, and by the way not propagandistic, but I think you should actually create good television journalism for the Russian Federation and secondarily for Crimea and for the Donbas, because if you could do something like that, which people actually trusted I mean it would be good. But that could really help the population of the Russian Federation. You're in a much better position to be Radio Free Europe than Radio Free Europe is, because it's owned by the Americans. But you know you actually understand that world much better than other people do, so then why not have Russian language media which is basically for the Russian Federation. I mean Canada should do the same thing, they should create English language news and beam it to America, it would help. 

Since we're getting to that, since this talk is about the language and the institute, that was our idea to make this talk. still coming back to Ukraine, it would be strange if I won't ask you. Your recent books were written more about politics, it wasn’t that much about history and the modern world, but in particular about authoritarian growing globally and in the US and of course populism. With the elections, many Ukrainians were also looking at the phenomenon of Zelenskyy's victory as something that comes together with all of this: Trump, social media, populism, a celebrity president, anti-establishment. How do you see that? Because you were speaking about liberalism, populism, all these terms. And all those terms are often describing current Ukrainian political change. What is there for you, liberal, non-liberal, populistic, non-populistic? And how do you see the whole phenomenon of Zelenskyy?

I guess there's one very general trend, which is the trend of an artist in politics. Like Mr. Trump is thought by many people to be a successful businessman, but he's not. He is someone who played it on television. In that way, he's very similar to Mr. Zelenskyy. Mr. Trump never played the president on television, but he played a powerful successful person on television. But, that made him a possible politician, not anything he did in the real world, because in the real world he's bankrupt in 6 countries and lost lots of money and has hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. But, on television he was successful. Naturally looking at Mr. Zelenskyy from an American point of view, there's this concern like, “oh, okay, here we have another television character.” That's not the same thing as populism though, it's more about the media, that we've reached a certain extreme that people can actually become president of a country without actually entering politics at all, except to run a presidential campaign, and even in the presidential campaign, and again, this is a similarity, you don't actually say much about what your policies will be. You stay in character like you're a character running for president. That doesn't have to end badly though. I mean I would say in the United States, this ended very badly. Because Mr. Trump is a very selfish man and has no other talents besides the talent of persuading people he has talent. But, that may not be true of Mr. Zelenskyy. Mr. Zelenskyy has already said more interesting things about policy in the first few weeks in office than Mr. Trump has ever said. And Mr. Zelenskyy, unlike Mr. Trump, has taken positions on things, positions that may be unexpected, which Mr. Trump never does. He doesn't take positions and when he does they are exactly the positions you expect 

What do you mean by that?

Well in the case of Mr. Trump, you thought Mr. Trump would want to be Mr. Putin's best friend and he does want to be his best friend. He tells you every day he wants to be Mr. Putin's best friend, it's rather sad. Whereas the worry of Mr. Zelenskyy, among many of my Ukrainian friends, is that is he going to turn our foreign policy for Russia, etc. which he has not done. His response to Mr. Putin about the passport issue was extremely clear, couldn't have been clearer, and was very imaginative and intelligent. And his first visits were not to St. Petersburg or Moscow, they were to Brussels and to European capitals, and he has done things that were at least, not exactly what his critics expected. I mean every critic of Mr. Trump said, “yes, he's going to have a lot of quiet time with Mr. Putin.” True. Critics of Mr. Zelenskyy have said, he's going to try to move us towards Russia, that hasn't happened. There's another difference, in generations. I don't mean this in a negative way but he's old, and Mr. Zelenskyy is young, and this makes a huge difference. Because, Mr. Trump only thought, he has no reason to think about the future, and he never does unless he's thinking about a future in which he doesn't end up in prison. He doesn't think of the future at all. Whereas Mr. Zelenskyy, he’s what 41? He has children, he thinks about the future. He has to think about the future. He's going to be living in that future, I mean after he stops being president he still has decades more to live. And when Mr. Trump won, nobody who was young or very few people who were young thought, “aha this an opportunity for things to change.” A lot of people thought, “yeah we showed those elites, we showed the establishment that they don't control us,” But even the people who voted for Mr. Trump, they basically thought of it as an entirely negative gesture, “Okay, we're going to throw a bomb.” And I think a lot of the people who voted for Mr. Zelenskyy were actually voting against Mr. Poroshenko. But now that he's won, I do meet young people or talk to young people who think and say, “well, now this is an opportunity now this could actually change the political system in some good way.” Now Svyatoslav Vakarchuk has to decide whether he's going to get into politics, and he's going to. Which means you have two youngish figures in politics, this could actually change things it could open things up. When Mr. Trump won nobody said this could actually open things up. 

When talking about populism, I don’t think Ukraine has populism in the same way. You have populists, but they don't actually win very many votes in your country. I mean you have a completely different problem in your country, your problem is oligarchy, that's your problem. 

You mentioned another celebrity, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, who studied at Yale, when you were teaching there. How are you also looking at this transformation from a musician to a politician? His party is doing well, you can already see that, yet they aren't already in the parliament. But you can see that, yes he's a political player also, without having done anything in the politics 

I think it's a slightly different story, so I mean in the West people are very keen to say like, “oh this guy is an actor and this guy's a singer” but, I think they're pretty different stories. In the case we're talking about, [Svyatoslav] Vakarchuk, who has a Ph.D. in physics. There aren't that many Ph.D.s in Physics in national politics in Ukraine or in America or anywhere else. I'm hard-pressed to think about many other people who have Ph.D. in physics. So this is somebody who could have been a scientist but chose, instead, to be a musician. And I think that matters, I think a serious scientific education in a world of post-truth is a very big deal. The second thing that's interesting about him, going back to social media, he's a very responsible user of social media. He has millions of millions of followers, and he's always telling them things that are very sensible he's always calming people down trying to get the other side of the story, he's telling people to reconcile, he's telling people to be nice to one another, he's pointing things out. He has this sort of gentle style which is very interesting and unusual and mature. Most people at his level use social media, like others, for themselves or to make other people angry. Whereas he tends to do social media to help people get along or to do something in a nice gentle way, and for me, that is also interesting about him. The third thing that's interesting about him is that I get a little bit about Zelenskyy who didn't really talk about policy at all but, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk talks about policy all the time like he's been talking about policy nonstop for the past three years. He went to Stanford, he went to Yale, he reads books all the time. He's constantly, his midlife crisis is that he's become like a policy geek. He talks about policy all the time. He's trying to figure out what to do about this and that. and I mean that's good, I think that's good. So what would I think about it? I’m happy that he's started a political party because Ukrainians need political parties. I mean you've had democracy for 25 years, but the political parties are usually just oligarchy or personal creations, whereas with Golos there's a chance that this could be a party which actually has something, like a program or at least a set of standards of how to behave. That's probably a good thing. I think it's really good that he's in politics now because he would be bad for everybody including Mr. Zelenskyy himself if Mr. Zelenskyy had a parliamentary majority and could govern by himself. As smart as he is, he just doesn't have the experience, he doesn't have the depth to run the whole country, to run every ministry, he just doesn't have that many people. And also, if you get 73 percent, you're given total responsibility then you're going to crash - you need to have somebody to cooperate with and also to share responsibility. I’m hopeful if Servant of the People, Mr. Zelenskyy’s party, is going to be new and big, there needs to be something else that's also new and big at the same time, it's good for balance.

We have been given some notes from your lecture, and there was this discussion of Europe which had lost its future, particularly mentioning that the last time the future was discussed was during the Euromaidan. Can you elaborate on that, what do you mean by this and why is it so critical? It's true we have this trouble with Europe, we were just this week discussing the decision on the PACE allowing Russia to come back. The people are really concerned, maybe they shouldn't be panicking but still...

In the 21st century a lot of politics is politics of time. A lot of what people call populism is actually this kind of artificial nostalgia, let's imagine that the 1930s were good, that 1940s were good, that the 1950s were good. Mr. Putin does that, Hungary's Orban, Poland's Kaczynski does that... We're not going to talk about the present because we're not going to pretend that we're going to change the present. All the money is going to stay where it is, we're not going to touch that, we’re going to talk about the past, we’re going to tell you how good the past was. And that kills democracy in the long run because democracy is about the future. We vote because we think we might actually elect politicians who can change something in the future, and if the future goes away from politics then democracy also goes away. For Europe, the future is very important because Europe is a new thing. It's not a state, it's not an empire, it's a new thing, and so it has to have a story about where it’s going because it’s new and its story has always been that it prevented bad things, we stopped them. 

There was a first World War, there was a second World War, there was no third world war because we now have the European Union. Okay, that's sort of true, but they need to have, the Europeans, need to take responsibility in a different way. “We’re like in the nicest neighborhood of the nicest city of the nicest part of the world” - that's wonderful, but the elites of these countries have to have something besides the status quo and fear that they're going to lose it. They also need a story about where they're going. That's also why the Maidan, in particular, but also Ukrainians, in general, are quite important for Europe. [Ukrainian philosopher Volodymyr] Yermolenko wrote about this at the time of the Maidan, but a lot of other people have made the same comments, and it’s true: Europe needs Europeans who are thinking about the future, things could get a lot better and things need to get a lot better, and that's something that Ukraine has for export a little bit. I mean Ukraine is obviously not in it alone, the Europeans also have to stop thinking, “We’re good because peace, rather we’re good because enlargement, because we can deal with climate change, because we can deal with monopolies, because we can deal with digital technology, we’re good because we can deal with the future."