Gandhi Voyage supports a grassroots movement building trust in Ukraine


28 April, 2010

‘Trust may not succeed in one week, one month or maybe even 10 years, but I think the world should know that there is a grassroots movement for trust in Ukraine.’

Rajmohan Gandhi’s final thoughts for Ukraine were a fitting conclusion for the first ‘Week of Trust’ that was celebrated from Kiev to Crimea on April 19-26. Gandhi and the Voyage of Dialogue and Discovery were special guests in support of the people’s movement led by Foundations for Freedom, the local Initiatives of Change team in Ukraine.

Throughout the course of the week, a number of events took place including several lectures, press conferences and public forums.

After a 20-hour journey by bus from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the Voyage was welcomed to Kiev’s Taras Shevchenko University by a traditional Ukranian choir. Surrounded by the media, an entourage of about 40 people walked across the street to the memorial park of Taras Shevchenko. After laying some flowers at the Shevchenko statue, the group returned to a packed lecture hall for a discussion on trust.

During her remarks, Wadiaa Khoury shared three critical lessons she learned while trying to build trust in her native Lebanon: first, a conviction that all people are equally thirsty for peace and security; second, that each person is responsible for a conscious effort to create unity; third, that times of high tension in a country are not times of legitimate isolation.

Professor Gandhi followed: ‘Trust has a wonderful connection with yesterday. I have my version of what happened yesterday and you have your version of what happened yesterday. And when I say that I will have trust, it means that I’m putting yesterday behind. Yesterday belongs to yesterday. Today is a new day. Today I will trust you.’

In response to a question from the audience about the limits of trust, Gandhi continued, ‘There is a limit to trust. Yes. But there also must be a limit to mistrust. Today we must stand up and say we have met our limit of mistrust.’

The next day, Rajmohan and Usha Gandhi met with Viktor Yushchenko, the former President of Ukraine before moving on to a public forum entitled ‘Is it Hard to Trust? Is it Easy to Trust?’

A panel of well-respected personalities, including a writer, a philosopher and a human rights activist, discussed the idea of trust, its history in Ukraine and its place in the country’s future.

A common theme throughout the exchange was the motto from Soviet times: ‘trust, but check’. The resulting entrenched psychology aroused a clear response from writer and publisher, Evgen Svyerstyuk. ‘We are in a crisis of love and trust. We have to overcome our heritage. I grew up in a school of life that emphasized mistrust and stereotypes. We were raised apart from the faith that founded our traditions. We have to overcome this heritage. But this revolution happens within. This transformation happens within.’

Evgen Zakharov, a well-known civil activist and human rights expert, said, ‘In many ways the problems of Ukraine have their foundations in mistrust. The source of this mistrust is a lack of shared values. As such, our values are not uniting society. But the path to mutual trust is possible when there is listening and empathy.

After two hours’ panel discussion the program moved onto an awards ceremony for the winners of a photo-and-essay-competition on the theme of trust, followed by a reception featuring music from a traditional Ukrainian folk ensemble and a fusion group who mesh traditional Ukrainian sounds with Sanskrit poetry.

The fast pace continued on the Crimean Peninsula, well-known for it’s diverse population and challenging history of integration. With Foundations for Freedom, the Voyage continued to raise the issue of trust onto the national agenda.

In the historic open-air museum of Hersones, the ruins of an ancient Greek city on the edge of Sevastopol, Rajmohan Gandhi was the guest of honor at another public forum titled, ‘Searching for Trust in the Multicultural Society of Crimea’.

A number of public figures spoke at the event, including the editor of a Crimean Tartar newspaper, the head of a Crimean Jewish social group, a professor of theology, a WWII veteran and a local politician. The tightly run event allowed a number of voices to emerge from those gathered.

A local school principal urged the audience to start locally. ‘Trust is the biggest part of social life and we need it in every sector of society. In order to build it, we need to start in small groups: children and parents; neighbor to neighbor; you and me.’

Gandhi expressed his views by encouraging dialogue in a region sometimes void of honest conversation between divided people. ‘If my conscience is clear, it cannot be polluted by meeting with my Other; it will not be polluted by listening and dialogue...The world is crying for stories of reconciliation. If we find healing from the past, this gives hope for the future. Can Ukraine find reconciliation within Ukraine? It would be a very powerful example for a world that needs such examples.’

The week concluded with two and half days of regional meetings with Foundations for Freedom. Throughout the meetings, young Ukrainians spoke urgently about the need for trust and the steps they are taking to create trust in society. Two young men in Central Ukraine are building an environmentally-sustainable community house for Foundations for Freedom. Olka Hudz, a young woman from Lviv, is coordinating a program called ‘Ukrainian Action: Healing the Past’ which aims to work with young people to restore trust in Ukraine by starting with themselves.

Another group is working with young professionals in Crimea to create positive change in the society. Another group visited with the Voyage of Dialogue and Discovery for an afternoon towards the end of the week. Their project is called ‘Strengthening Trust Between the Multicultural Youth of Crimea’.

In conversation with young people from Simferopol, Usha Gandhi shared her sentiments. ‘There is revenge in all of our histories. Maybe these feelings are inside each of us. We may want revenge. But at other times we are inspired to build a bridge or we see a division and we’re moved to reconcile. It’s up to each of us. What will be the stronger force in our lives?’

In his closing remarks to Foundations for Freedom at the end of the Week of Trust, Professor Gandhi praised the efforts of the week. ‘The whole country is talking about trust. It’s an amazing thing that has happened.’