Values and the Future of Ukraine

Ukraine is at the beginning of deep changes, which most probably will affect all the segments of its society. Ukrainians “shifted” westward with its values, dreams and the ideas about the future.

Yaroslav Hrytsak, asked to assess the current situation and provide the prediction for Ukraine of the coming 20 years (What awaits the Ukraine?, Aspen Review 3/2013), refers to one of the contemporary sociological theories—the theory of modernization and human development, developed by Ronald Inglehart and his team (Inglehart, 1990; Inglehart, Welzel 2004 Welzel, Inglehart, Klingelmann 2003). Having noticed that the central issue of the theory—the relationship between the quality and standards of living and the values recognized by a society—reminds a chicken and egg situation, the Author tends to be more on the position that values are a cause and not vice versa. At least, Author seems to argue for the thesis that the changes in the values (or, as he in other places writes, in “social consciousness”) are able to affect the standards of living and almost directly transform to the GDP level.

Although, generally speaking, it seems inspiring to look at the situation in Ukraine from the perspective of values shared by the society, their changes and differentiation, the approach presented by the Author appears to be in a sense too “mechanistic” and, too literally treating the conclusions of the Inlehart’s theory. In the current article we are trying to “demystify” a little the theory of Inglehart and propose several complementary approaches that may help understand what is happening today in Ukraine.

What Does Inglehart “Really” Say?

The abovementioned theory belongs to middle-range theories and investigates mainly the relationship between the socio-economic development, cultural change and democratization of the political system. According to its main theses (Inglehart, 1990; Inglehart, Welzel 2004) one can expect the two directions of value changes, which depend on the global processes of economic development and modernization. The first one is the shift from traditional values (traditional patterns of family, institutions and authorities, especially religious ones, as well as the national pride and highly valued identification with the nation) to the secular-rational ones—that include democratic participation in political life, rational-legal legitimacy of institutions and individualism as a core of the values system. The second possible direction of changes is the transition from materialistic value orientations connected with the needs of survival and physical and economic security—to the post-materialist values expressing the need for self-expression, interest in the quality and comfort of life together with the spiritual aspects of religious beliefs. These changes occur in the context of globalization, modernization and economic development as a result of increasing economic prosperity.

Yaroslav Hrytsak points to this particular aspect of the theory and refers to the relevant results of empirical analyses. First of all, it is important for him that Inglehart and the team have found the relationship between sharing the post-materialist values and being a part of the particular cultural area identified on the basis of the dominant religious tradition, imperial legacy and regional divisions. The conclusions of this part of the analysis are, in Hrytsak’s opinion, not optimistic for the future of Ukraine. “Unavoidably simplifying a bit, we could say that if someone wants to be happy and rich, he or she should be born in a Christian country (the most important exception from this rule are Confucian countries); among Christian countries the indices are better for those belonging to the tradition of Western rather than Eastern Christianity and among Western Christian countries Protestant ones are faring better than Catholic ones (Max Weber was right, as we can see). The second factor is the empire you once belonged to. As it turns out, states originating from the former British Empire, regardless of the seas and oceans separating them, have very similar (high) indices, while the countries from the two remaining empires, Spanish and Russian, were pushed by history somewhere to the sidelines of economic and cultural development. And finally the third rule, which sounds almost ridiculously simple: it is better not to have a communist legacy than to have it.”

It is worth emphasizing however, that the theory of Inglehart contains other elements, that might also be of interest when analyzing the developments in Ukraine and trying to predict the possible directions in which this complicated situation can evolve. Firstly, the Inglehart’s concept is strongly related to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which also describes the mechanisms of shaping value systems by the living conditions. At the individual level one considers the most important these values which were scarce in the childhood period (scarcity hypothesis). It means that the hierarchy of values of an individual reflects the socio-economic environment: the highest subjective value is attributed to the goods and values that are relatively difficult to achieve. In other words, the greatest value to the individual represents what it most lacking (e.g. enslaved would seek freedom and poor—property).

That is why the post-materialistic values are present mainly in the young generations of Western societies. Since their material needs have been satisfied, then, according to Maslow’s theory, individuals seek to satisfy the needs of a higher level.

This concept helps to a certain extent understand the amazing style of consumption demonstrated by the Ukrainian oligarchs who build palaces of a size considerably above their needs, dripping of gold—because gold is an indicator of wealth and prosperity in their eyes. In this way they compensate for themselves, the shortages many of them had experienced as children.

Scarcity hypothesis is not the only one concerning the process of value formation. The second one, called socialization hypothesis focuses on the process itself. The system of values does not adjust to the socio-economic environment immediately, but with a significant delay. This is because the basic values of the person reflect to a large extent the conditions prevailing prior to his or her entry into adult life. Inglehart points out that the basics of the value system are founded in adolescence and are not subject of change in the rest of life. The process of value change shall take place between generations. This change applies to the generations of children, so its effects are visible only after a couple of years. As far as the politics is concerned, the expected change is even more delayed since more time is needed for a generation with a new values to exercise institutional power.

This mechanism explains the changes in value systems of the individuals in developed societies (but basically only there)—the changes from materialist to post-materialist values.

What Kind of Values Does Democracy Need?

Do these mean that changes in values in successive generations need to be evolutionary and unidirectional in all societies? Not necessarily— Inglehart’s theory also allows for different development. We may sometimes be witnessing the return to the values of earlier generations— this happens when the absence or potential functionality of that values is felt today. Young activists on Euromaidan refer to traditions deeply rooted in the community and rediscovered recently, such as those expressed in the past by the Zaporozhian Cossacks and today referenced explicitly: Maidan is being compared to the Sich. The main focus of this comparison is stressing that there prevails the same spirit of freedom combined with a high degree of self-organization. It does not have to be—and certainly is not in this case—dysfunctional in terms of building the democratic political order.

To approach the situation of Ukraine the researcher should refer to this segment of value system, which is directly or indirectly related to the politics—especially to the values forming the basis for democratism as a system of government.

The discussion on which values are crucial for the democracy to develop and work had been started by the publication of the book by Almond and Verba (1963). The authors strongly emphasized the importance of civic culture. The core importance of civic culture is moderation resulting from harmonious combination of culture and tradition (The most important civic culture is a sense of civic competence).

Ingelhart’s voice in this debate, underlines the need for and significance of grounded democratic attitudes for a genuine democratic transition. According to Inglehart“…in the long run, democracy cannot be built through institutional changes or measures undretaken by elites. What counts are also values and beliefs of ordinary people” (Inglehart 2003:167).

The political culture always emerges in a specific historical and cultural context. World Value Survey has provided arguments supporting the thesis that the recognition of post-materialist values (also in its part related to the political culture) are associated with belonging to a particular cultural sphere. Hrytsak refers to these results pointing at the disadvantageous position of Ukraine on the map of values. However, despite the fact that presence and length of previous democratic traditions are the significant factor shaping the political culture, the results of other Inglehart’s studies proved that the duration of democratic governance does not significantly affect the prevalence of values favorable to self-expression. One cannot therefore legitimately claim that the longer democratic tradition is, the stronger and more widespread pro-democratic beliefs are, and vice versa—a short experience of democracy or lack of it will encourage rejection of democratic political solutions. The study does not confirm the opinion, popular also among political commentators, that the longer a political regime exists, the greater is the support for it (Welzel, Ingelhart, Klingelmann 2003). This conclusion opens space for an optimistic prediction for the Ukrainian future: it is possible to break away from the burden of historical and cultural heritage.

The Evolving Theory of Values Change

Referring to the theory of Inglehart one should be aware that since the first hypotheses had been formulated, this theory has undergone significant changes. This happened under the influence of the results of international research projects inspired by this theory. When looking at the results of research and analyses covering European countries (i.e. EVS—European Values Survey, instead of WVS) one can find out that the studies conducted in the 80-ties (first and second wave of the EVS) did not provide the results clearly confirming the Inglehart’s hypothesis. Neither the level of economic development clearly determined the degree of individualization of values relating to various spheres of life, nor the values systems demonstrated successive convergence and progressing consistency (Ester, Halman, de Moor, 1993). The data obtained in the course of EVS illustrated mainly diversity, not unity uniformity or systemic character of the values of Europeans. At the same time the results allowed discovering the regularities that explained the values’ and beliefs’ differentiation and the directions of their changes. Explanations of changing values, goals and attitudes of European societies, including Polish one, require the examination “… in the context of the overlapping processes of different temporal and territorial coverage,” stated A. Jasińska-Kania (Jasińska-Kania 2012, 8). Such recommendations for cross-country comparative analyses and emphasis on diverse directions of changes differ significantly from the first version of the theory that apparently organizes the Yaroslav Hrytsak’s main argument.

The Values of the Ukrainian Society—Instability and Unexpected Turns

The European Values Studies provide the proof for the argument that the transformations of values in Europe are multidirectional, depend on many factors and are a subject of unexpected turns, changes or accelerations. Taking into consideration exclusively a set of self-expression and survival values one can observe that in the course of a decade that separated the two EVS surveys (1999 and 2008), Ukraine did make a step in “improper direction”—contrary to the Yaroslav Hrytsak’s claim. In 2008 the values related to self-expression were less popular than in 1999, and the values ensuring survival—more popular. These changes affected all age categories, which is demonstrated by Figure 1.



It is also worth mentioning that regional differences—between the East and the West of the country were insignificant when talking about both the direction and scope of these changes.

At the same time, the countries of Central Europe (Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary) have made a clear step towards the self-expression values reducing simultaneously the number of shared survival values (only in Slovakia both sets of values gained the increasing support). The similar changes and differences were observed in the level of support for democracy as a form of government: in Ukraine this support has declined while in Central Europe the attitudes have become more pro-democratic.

The results of other surveys conducted in Ukraine show however, that referring to the decreasing support for democracy and increasing interest in survival values is not a proper way to describe the developments in Ukraine: what seems to be more relevant in this context is the substantial level of instability of values related to politics. It is very difficult to observe a clear trend there and therefore the task to formulate prognoses for the future seems extremely hard. The changes recorded in 2008 in comparison to 1999 seemed to demonstrate that Ukrainians tend to reject the values, which are connected with political culture of the West, and share those usually associated with the eastern areas of the continent. The surveys conducted in the years following the last wave of EVS illustrated the opposite—the Ukrainian society has demonstrated the tendency to seek close relationship with the European Union instead of giving the priority to Russia. It is part of the common knowledge that Ukraine is deeply divided in its East-West orientations, however the mentioned shift of sympathies towards the west had been noticed in all Ukrainian regions. This is shown on Figure 2.

The changes affected also all the age groups, moreover—the youngest groups of Ukrainians seemed to be less divided regionally in their views than their parents and grandparents. The Figure 3 shows only the situation from 2013 (the survey was conducted in late spring)—the age categories of 15–24 and 25–34 are very similar from the point of view of proximity to the EU independently from the region of origin. They are different only in the opinions about how close they feel to Russia.

To conclude—generally we are with Yaroslav Hrytsak when he claims than Ukrainian society is undergoing deep value changes. From the outside, they can be seen as the signs of instability. The results we are just witnessing in Kyiv and—what is important—in many other Ukrainian towns, where for the long time the citizens have been protesting against the current regime. It is meaningful that these protests were catalyzed by the President’s refusal to sign the agreement with the European Union. The agreement, which would in perspective make Ukraine much closer to the EU than to Russia. The President did not notice that in the meantime the society “shifted” westward with its values, dreams and the ideas about the future. The style of governing represented by the current Ukrainian authorities is not in line with these values, dreams and ideas. No doubt that Ukraine is at the beginning of deep changes, which will most probably affect all the segments of its society.

Grażyna Kacprowicz

Ph.D. in sociology, lecturer at the Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw, former director general of the polish European Ministry.

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