A look at Ukraine's reconstruction and recovery
Institutional Communication Service
1 July 2022
Demyan Belyaev, who recently arrived at USI through the Scholar at Risk initiative, has joined the Public Integrity Research Group of the Institute of Communication and Public Policy. Having worked in several countries, such as Portugal, Germany and the United States, the researcher outlines the critical aspects of a successful recovery in Ukraine and the vital role of the social sciences.
There is a widespread tendency in our societies to see the people involved in science as "nerds" if you will. In a sense, many perceive science as very "theoretical" and "detached" from the real world. As a result, an "ordinary person" often assumes that people who have worked successfully in science are not capable of being influential professionals, like, for example, politicians.
Unfortunately, in Ukraine, the country that is the focus of attention during the upcoming international conference, as well as in most other post-Soviet countries, the trend of declining social prestige in those who work in the scientific sphere is a rather disturbing fact. In Ukraine today, the predominant belief is that the best policy decisions can be developed and implemented by "successful" businessmen who have already built their practice in the past and can now run the country based on the same principles. In contrast, academic experts are seen primarily as useless people, capable only of reading and writing "boring" books and developing theories that never have any practical relevance. The consequence of this view of the world is that most elected and appointed officials are people who not only lack a scientific background but even a solid education.
In my view, however, this hampers development because science, especially the social sciences, is a system of thought, a way of approaching the world's phenomena, which once developed can be applied, successfully, even to very practical tasks such as policy-making. So, going back to your question, I see no contradiction in that, and indeed I would say that the best policy experts could be recruited precisely from among social scientists.
Your professional experience includes working in several countries, from the United States to Germany to Portugal and Ukraine. What do you think are the main differences between all these countries, if any?
Another interesting question. Based on my experience, I would say that there are no differences at the individual psychological level; that is when a person acts alone. Throughout, people are motivated by the same things: they want comfort, gratitude, and to feel respected. However, at the social level, when people interact with others or think that they are being observed and judged by peers, they tend to act in a way that they feel is approved by peers, and this is where so-called cross-cultural differences appear. People's perceptions of "normal" behaviour in different situations may vary from country to country, and in most cases, they try to adapt their behaviour accordingly.
Perhaps the most drastic difference between Ukraine and the post-Soviet states compared to Western countries is the presence of established elites in the West. Most of the people who are part of the ruling elites grew up within them, whereas in Ukraine, as also, for example, in Russia, the people who came to power in politics and business are often people who grew up in conditions that the Marxists called "proletarian." As a result, their propensity to abuse their "unexpected" power for private gain seems greater than in the West. At the same time, their vision of what the "development" of a country should mean seems somewhat less elaborate.
Another related difference is that while Western leaders usually do not see their children's future outside their own country, post-Soviet elites strongly aim to "expatriate" their descendants to "better" places such as the UK, France or Switzerland. This has an important political implication, as the interest of these leaders becomes one of maximizing their private gains while in power rather than developing their countries since their families have no intention of living there long-term anyway.
The topic of the upcoming conference, namely the future recovery of Ukraine after the war, is quite broad. What do you think will be the key issue for Ukraine's successful recovery?
The first issue is that this war ends as soon as possible fairly and constructively for Ukraine, which depends very much on the international community. I tend to agree with those experts who say that the international community is co-responsible for the current crisis because of its previous benevolence towards the growing Russian authoritarianism. "Remaining neutral" may sound like a nice and diplomatic stance. Still, in some situations, neutrality is also a way to support one side of a conflict, usually the more aggressive one. Therefore, it will perhaps be the actions taken by the international community from now on that will most influence the end of this war and its modalities.
The second issue for successful recovery is what the USI team I recently joined is studying: the case of public integrity and the efficiency of anti-corruption policies. In Ukraine, there is a high risk that the funds that the international community will allocate for the reconstruction of the country could be diverted directly into the pockets of private individuals or misused, that is, spent for the proper purposes but in a very inefficient way. This could happen, for example, if government officials responsible for spending such funds try to hire companies affiliated with their relatives or acquaintances to receive part of their profits later.
Therefore, designing a corruption prevention scheme before any funds are transferred and tying the allocation of all "reconstruction" funds to the implementation of such a scheme is vital to the success of any future development of Ukraine. Our team and I are studying best practices from various other countries that would be useful in designing a system that would work in the Ukrainian context. Of course, once we have completed our work, it will be up to European and Ukrainian politicians to decide whether or not to use our insights. Still, we hope this will happen, and we are already open to various forms of cooperation and collaboration.
I believe this is precisely the topic and the historical moment when the social sciences can once again prove useful for a very practical and meaningful purpose, given the challenges Ukraine, Europe and the world are facing right now.
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