Scandinavian anthropologist and sociologist Hans-Jørgen Wallin Weihe talks about historical traumas, college independence and existential challenges
Hans-Jørgen Wallin Weihe, a well-known anthropologist, sociologist, essay writer, and professor at several universities, says this for no grandeur or rhetorical effect. He compares Ukraine to Finland when evaluating the potential of academic education in Ukraine. The latter inspired him to visit the Center for Humanitarian Research based in Lviv's Ivan Franko University. Professor Wallin-Weihe also lectured at the Ye bookstore.
HELSINKI AND KYIV
U.W.: You draw some parallels between Finland and Ukraine when it comes to their past as colonies of the Russian Empire. Finland has somehow healed its cultural and historical traumas. Ukraine has not and today many things look even more gloomy in our country than before. What's your view of this?
Finland is obviously a much different country than Ukraine. It is a much smaller country and it has a much smaller population. Still, even Finland includes minorities and large differences in the population. The Swedish population has a different language from the Finnish majority. In the north the minority of the Saami is divided in several different groups all speaking different versions of the Saami language.
Finland does indeed struggle with a number of memories. The civil war at the time of independence was very brutal and quite a number of people were executed. In the Second World War Finland lost substantial territory to the Soviet Union. Part of that land (Karelia) is central to Finnish folklore as expressed in the national epic poems of Kallevalla. For
many Finns part of their innocence was lost in the civil war and part of what was important to the Finnish identity was lost in the Second World War.
I am mentioning those two examples to illustrate that Finland does have trauma and some that are not completely healed and which in many ways have a tendency to reappear. Finnish historians have in later years been discussing both traumas as well as the painful alliance and co-operation with the Germans during the Second World War. Finland has found a way of coping with those traumas and the painful memories that often resurface even generations later.
U.W.: But the Finnish search was successful due to something?
Finland has both a state system and an economy with long historical roots. Even if changes have been great in the years after the war, a small country with a strong independent judicial system, a well built system of infrastructure and a strong private sector has obvious advantages over a large country with a weak private sector, a complete change in the economy and a judicial system which needs substantial legal change. Finland had its success story partly due to the high ethical standards followed by common people and their hard work. Finnish citizens voluntarily share their income with the state in exchange for good infrastructure, modern education and strong independent judiciary. Many Ukrainians, though, follow the same values and this looks inspiring.
MANIFESTOS AND TRAGEDIES
U.W.: How do you explain the phenomenon of Anders Behring Breivik? Has Norway been able to preserve its freedoms, feelings of security and high social trust after this tragedy?
The tragic terrorist attack by Anders Behring Brevik was the terrorist attack of an isolated loner inspired by Ted Kaczynski's Unabomber manifesto and by Timothy McVeigh's bombing in Oklahoma in 1995.
In a world of modern, easily obtainable information and communication isolated loners can easily be inspired by the evil deeds of other deviants. Anders Behring Brevik is indeed one example and we should all hope that he will not inspire others. We all need to have awareness in order to avoid future terrorist attacks. I do think that many Norwegians were deeply affected by the terrorist attacks. The attack was indeed a national trauma as well as many individual tragedies for both the victims, friends and families.
U.W.: As an anthropologist, what existential challenges do you think the average European faces today? What will help to meet them?
The challenges of what we are faced with indeed to serious only to be addressed by scholars. It is an existential question for all of us and I do believe that we need, today as in times past, to relate to the very core values of humanity. Some of us will find those values in religion, and other in care and compassion for each other and nature. Pure material possessions and values indeed can make life easier, but can never be the very values of society nor should they be for an individual.
U.W.: You say to students and professors that universities play an important role in urban culture. They have long memories, international affiliations and discipline of intellectual communication and cooperation. Lviv University and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy have the tradition of such autonomy. But other universities founded under the Russian Empire and especially later under the Soviet Union were controlled by the state. How should we move on having such a legacy?
I do believe that the distance between Ukraine and the rest of the world will be diminished by international co-operation as well as by maintaining high standards in research and education. I myself travel to Ukraine because the scholars have a high standard, and because you have a very diverse culture with long roots stretching back in history shared not only within Europe but around the world.
As far as ideological control and discipline are concerned, that did not affect all fields of science and education in the same manner. Many scholars worked within fields that were international and maintained high standards independent of ideology. Both for Ukraine and the rest of the world it is important to develop joint projects both within science, economy and education. Language education both in Ukraine and abroad is an important part of this, as well as education and insights into the cultures of others.
U.W.: Today the current Minister of Education in Ukraine, Dmytro Tabachnyk, wants to subordinate universities totally to his ministry. How do you understand the freedom of universities? How is this guaranteed in Norway, for example?
On the level of principle I do indeed think that universities need to be independent and sometimes critical institutions. Still, I do think it is legitimate for the state to give some national and political priorities. Even in my country, where educational institutions are independent, we have to accept that financing from the state means that we have to live with political priorities as far as what kind of education the state wants to finance and of course what kind of research the state wants to finance.
What I will oppose is that the state tries to regulate the ideological content of education as well as the conclusions and methods of science. Ethical standards, research standards and educational standards need to be controlled by independent bodies.
Hans-Jørgen Wallin Weihe was born in 1951. He is a Professor of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Stavanger and Bordeaux and Lillehammer colleges. Mr. Wallin Weihe wrote and defended a thesis on European colonization of the Nicobar Islands, and eight books on the history of daily life and the interaction of conventional and modern cultures. He has crossed the Atlantic Ocean by boat many times. Mr. Weihe is a distant descend of Friedrich Christoph von Weihe, a Swedish Lieutenant who participated in the war of Carl XII at the Battle of Poltava.