Occupied territories VS occupied hearts. Temporarily?..
Iryna Zhdanova, Founder of the NGO “Open Policy Foundation” and Klym Churyumov Scientific Lyceum, Ph.D. in History
I believe in networking. Education. Synergy in action. In an open network of people who wish for peace. They yearn for this and understand that this is not the way for a decade. This is a path through at least three checkpoints: truce-reconciliation-peace.
According to UNOCNA, in just 10 days in January, there were 64 violations of the silence regime. And while the shots are firing and people are dying, and there is no real truce, it is naive to expect reconciliation, much less peace. And most importantly, such populism has an explosive mixture considering the number of weapons in the possession of the citizens of a country at war. What not only ATO veterans and hunters have. And the events of February 19, 2014, should remind of this scenario better than the famous Ukrainian TV series.
I believe that education is a better tool than weapons and explosives. And the lenses of telescopes and microscopes are more promising than the optical lenses of sniper rifles. Weapons aimed at Ukraine. (Would you say I am naive? Maybe). After 6 years of daily work with those affected by the war on both sides of the contact line, I strongly believe in the potential of innovative education in the “occupied VS temporarily occupied territories” competition. I will give only 3 arguments in this blog.
First. Space of dialogue.
In December 2020, there were 42,000 crossings at the Stanytsia Luhanska checkpoint alone. Walking through the checkpoint, can the citizens of Ukraine discuss trust, the achievement of a truce, and common values? In the line at Oschadbank, Administrative Service Centre? Where else do they meet? Those who live THERE. And those who live HERE. Where can they meet to have an unhurried dialogue? Where are values formed? In schools/universities/colleges/vocational schools. It is the environment that shapes the worldview. And this is almost the only place today where children, young people, and their parents, who live on both sides of the contact line, can meet. They have space for dialogue. At least some chance to hear one another. And, to be heard is the most important. And then, step by step, we need quietly develop the hope of a ceasefire that will tickle somewhere in the stomach. It is a hope for reconciliation that will appear in the heart. And, perhaps, it will come true for the lives of their children. A dream of peace and a united Ukraine. And the understanding that this dream can come true, God grant it, for the life of grandchildren...
The second argument. Age of value formation.
I do not believe that older people will cross the second “truce-reconciliation” checkpoint. Inevitable changes have taken place in 7 years of Russian propaganda - professional propaganda with rich investments. At the same time, we can believe very carefully that the schoolchildren and students’ parents, middle-aged people (THERE and HERE), will be able to take the first step towards reconciliation in case of a ceasefire. Real one.
The second condition is education for their children. They do not believe (and not only THERE) and will not believe Ukrainian politicians. But they will believe their children. When their children, schoolchildren, and students of Ukrainian schools and universities will tell about Ukraine, where it is safe to study, having a promising future for work, where there are a stable economy and high living standards.
And what is most important, we can hope that these children and young people will be able to get rid of those stereotypes faster when they travel. And this is the next argument.
The third argument. Mobility.
Using, as an example, the International Green School in Kosmach (Carpathians), where students and children whose parents live THERE came to study, I can say that a friendly innovative Ukrainian environment does in 5-10 days more than years of propaganda. Are they all really “separatists”?.. I saw how they cried when the National Anthem of Ukraine was performed... Parents of primary school children from TOT call the hotline with a request for distance education: “we want the child to study in Ukrainian environment, listen not only to what is said in the local school. Generating the stereotype that everyone THERE is a “separatist” is wrong. I am convinced that they should learn about Europe and European values on the campus of Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, with which three displaced universities signed Memoranda with the assistance of the Open Policy Foundation.
Propaganda, fear, lack of money, and information about learning opportunities in Ukraine remain the main risks. At the same time, from 2016 to 2020, 8,225 entrants from the temporarily occupied Crimea and Donbas used a simplified procedure to enter Ukrainian universities through the “Donbas-Ukraine” and “Crimea-Ukraine” Education Centers.
Therefore, I believe in the effectiveness of communications at various levels. Since 2016, a hotline has worked at the Open Policy Foundation, and now we have launched an information campaign together with the Government Contact Center. Preparatory courses in mathematics and the Ukrainian language for passing the SFA and IEE for students from THERE and HERE will work in Klym Churyumov Scientific Lyceum in cooperation with Donetsk Polytechnic. Registration will be open on February 15. I do not think that these actions are an attempt to heat the water in the ocean with a heater. I believe in the synergy of small significant and effective projects.
The last. The main thing. About synergy in action.
P.S. I do not believe that meetings at polished round tables in VIP hotels contribute to peace in my country. Because, first, any round table has sharp corners. Second, politicians need to have even greater courage to end a war than to start it. This is a quality that dissolved in sheer populism in the age of digital marketing. Third, it is not only politicians with iron eggs who can afford to play the long game for 10-20-50 years, but also those who have flexible brains and, most importantly, strategic thinking… So, let’s make a network of small and significant projects, and #keeprowing.