Bohdan Hawrylyshyn, 86, is among those rare Ukrainians who has become a global citizen. For the last 50 years, he has lived between Geneva and Kyiv. He started his professional career as a woodcutter in Canada and ended up as an economy adviser to the Ukrainian government.

In 1988, he helped start the International Management Institute, the first business school in Ukraine. In this Kyiv Post interview, Bohdan Hawrylyshyn shares his experience on how to solve some of Ukraine’s tough problems, which he believes will only be solved by the nation’s young generation.


Bohdan Hawrylyshyn: “I found some four points Ukraine may learn to transform. The first is full political freedom.It should be also a certain level of economic well-being and social justice. But the most important factor for Ukrainian society is to live in symbiosis with the biosphere rather than in ruination and pollution.

So Ukraine needs to follow those countries with such characteristics. Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Austria and Germany have them all. Of course, it’s also about Canada, even though that’s a little bit far.”


BH: “In this case, it can be good for Ukrainians to study abroad and come back to Ukraine. The problem is that at least 50 percent of students aged 20-30 would go away from Ukraine. So the country would have to go through transformation before these people understand they can live and work here. The best choice is to study in Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries, Germany or Switzerland. The students may found there which model can be used in Ukraine.

On the other hand, I found the U.S. can’t be the best model Ukraine should follow. The legislative process in the U.S. is not reconciliation of individual or group interests for public good, it’s about public lobbies. Beyond the current economic system it has – human being has no value there. People are treated as resources; they’re utilized and then thrown into the social garbage after that.”


BH: “Ukraine’s image is terrible now. It can be improved only if Ukraine manages to implement a range of reforms mentioned in the [trade and political] association agenda. But I don’t think it will be done by May. It’s not important for me that Ukraine should strictly become a member of the EU, because it is in a bad shape itself. It has a poor governmental system and too much concentration in Brussels. I remember that [President Viktor] Yanukovych as a governor of Donetsk didn’t allow a single Russian investment in Donetsk as he wanted to be a boss there.

He didn’t want to be under Russia’s pressure. Now he’s balancing between East and West. On the other hand, Europe wants Ukraine actually. But the process of Ukraine’s transformation is much more important than membership itself. I think, Ukraine should become a federation or even confederation, so the regions will have much autonomy. If you give people more autonomy, the situation comes better. That’s why we have to learn much from Switzerland.”


BH: “Many young people want to improve the situation in Ukraine, but they don’t know where to start. So, the [Bohdan Hawrylyshyn Charitable] Foundation tries to hint them. They are free to create a group with at least one lawyer, economist and ecologist – and then learn one of the countries for one year (it can be Austria, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland).

The most important task for them is to see what makes these countries so effective. After analyzing how that countries work these groups should go into the local councils to implement their knowledge there. And in some years they will be able to go to the Parliament with this critical mass. Ukraine needs total transformation and it’s a challenge for the younger generation. Young people can be effective, because they know languages (at least English), while Ukraine’s prime minister knows little Ukrainian. They can use contemporary methods of work as they have been abroad.

And they’re not being warped by the Soviet experience. Also they don’t maintain some good things it had – little bit of as social justice, for example. People in power don’t know how to change it. Opposition is not likely to do something – they aren’t united and don’t have clear ideologies. But I believe that it’s possible to transform the country. We have such situation during 1990’s elections in Ukraine, when at least 25 deputies were from political prisoners; there were poets, writers and more over dreamers – Ukraine’s intelligentsia. And they really wanted independent and democratic Ukraine and have clear vision on it.  That process has to be repeated now.”


BH: “All the top countries are not in search of national idea – they already have it. But Ukraine still needs to find it as it can be unifying thing. That’s a sad part of our history: we’re inferior – and many people still feel it. Yet I spoke with students in Lviv, Kharkiv and Donetsk.

They are concerned on how regional differences may endanger Ukraine’s sovereignty. I noticed slight differences between the students. The great difference is between those students and the old people from the Party of Regions. Well, appropriate political system can help here. For example, Switzerland is held by its political system. It’s a stakeholder democracy – people decide about essential thing themselves (in the communes) and it’s better than strong vertical (power) Ukraine has. I‘ve never heard of one single person in western Switzerland (French-speaking part of the country) wants to join France.

They have no slightest decision to join Austria, Germany or European Union. Swiss would rather think of EU to join Switzerland. So, the unifying can be in a vision – what country we should have. And it’s not only about the language to unite people.”


BH: “I want to inspire young people and show that everything starts as a dream. In December 1988, we created the International Management Institute. I need to admit that it wasn’t based on a huge business plan. I had a two-hour discussion with Borys Paton (the president of National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine).

It took some time to register so we launched first MBA program in 1990. It was during the Soviet Union, but I remember the reaction from Izvestia newspaper. “If you want to study business come to Kyiv,” read the headline. So the thing is that – put a lot of focus and energy into the dream and transform it into reality.”