Important Precedent from the Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University

On 18 May Fr Borys Gudziak, Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University [UCU], received a visit from an officer of the SBU [Security Service]. His purpose was, firstly, to convince the Rector that it was the latter’s duty to deter students from possible “unlawful actions of a political nature”, and secondly, to get his signature on a letter addressed to him from the SBU management.


He said that the signature would confirm that the Rector had been informed and warned.


Since the SBU officer refused to leave the Rector the original or copy of the letter, Father Borys Gudziak refused to sign it.  He took advantage of the ongoing General Assembly of Federations of European Catholic Universities to widely circulate a memorandum describing what had happened.


The event gained a great deal of publicity. This demonstrates that despite considerable disillusionment in the situation in the country, Ukraine has a lot of friends who are genuinely concerned for his fate. It also, however, became clear that the entire incident needs to be properly thought through.


We can be certain that a good many rectors in Ukraine, hearing about Father Gudziak’s act, will shrug their shoulders: “What’s the big deal?  I always sign such letters, that’s the way things are”.

Indeed, that was the way in Soviet times. Yet must it be like this today? If the concern of the SBU leadership is warranted, and there was nothing unlawful in the letter, the person it was addressed to has the right to keep at least a copy of it.


Suspicions regarding possible provocation arise precisely when you have to read a letter which the SBU officer won’t let out of his hands, and put your signature to it which can later be interpreted as they please. This procedure is an overt relict of the Secret Police era which is for some reason being assiduously preserved by the SBU.


What has not been entirely erased from our memory is how the head’s signature became a hook dangled to frighten him with. The daring act of the Rector of at least one university in Ukraine is a precedent which should force us to think about the humiliating and anachronistic nature of the very procedure.


There is only one public remedy against that which wishes to remain secret, and that is to make everything open.


Some may ask why there is so much fuss over an “innocent” visit from an SBU officer. Well, that question should be answered by those who actively glorify Stalin, build monuments to him, implement Putin’s plan for “pacifying” Ukraine (“coerced love”), while protests against this are called “destabilization” and “unlawful acts”.


Putin’s regime is based on total power of the FSB. It is they, the FSB, who have made democracy in Russia so “controlled” as to be ephemeral. Therefore anybody wishing to clone that regime in Ukraine should be prepared for people’s instinct for danger being aroused.


The FSB inherited from the KGB the practice of intimidating those who didn’t buckle under, of persecuting political opposition and reprisals against those who refused to bow to the will of the Security Service. The Ukrainian government would, it appears, now be planning to follow in those same steps.


So what then should we expect from the SBU when our university in its commitment to moral principles and Christian values must be in opposition to the arbitrary rule, spinelessness and corruption which have spread like a terrible cancer through today’s Ukraine?


What should those who find themselves in the “zone of public risk” expect?  Ministerial inspections to order? Visits from the tax inspector? Or various acts to provoke trouble and aimed at discrediting us?

In the Ukrainian Catholic University, as in any other university, there is also psychological opposition between the administration and the students. The basis of this lies in the inevitable opposition of interests between those who govern and those who are governed.


Yet in UCU fortunately there is no difference between both sides when it comes to upholding human dignity. Let the reader themselves try to count how many universities in Ukraine have rectors prepared to sacrifice their own position so that the students’ freedom to express their will, including protest, is safeguarded in his institution.

At this point I cannot refrain from criticizing the previous “orange” leadership.


A working group of eight universities, including UCU, drew up a Concept Framework for University Autonomy which was presented for consideration to the higher leadership. It was not approved – clearly officialdom’s fear of losing control of the situation in higher educational institutions got the upper hand.


Where is their control today? And how are universities for whom autonomy from the authorities is the basis of their identity to fare now? After all, the Ukrainian Catholic University can only fulfil its mission born of freedom in conditions of freedom.


I would like to ask one key question: how many trials do we have to still go through before we understand that the old Soviet model of subjugating university rectors by making them dependent is a relic of a totalitarian era which we have supposedly put aside?


It’s not just that you can’t possibly fit into the Bologna System with this model. We look like some prehistoric reptiles that have sprung up suddenly at a modern aqua park. If we so assiduously retain this model, is it so surprising that the prehistoric era is also returning?


Myroslav Marynovych, Vice-Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, former political prisoner


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