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24 November, 2012  ▪  Zenon Zawada

Warm Relations

A donation from Dmytro Firtash to Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), and recently established harmonious relations between its rector and the oligarch, raise complex ethical issues about the role and future of UCU

At the end of September, the acting rector of Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), Bishop Borys Gudziak, joined Prime Minister Mykola Azarov in dedicating among Ukraine’s largest greenhouse complexes, built by Dmytro Firtash in his native village in the Ternopil Oblast.

Bishop Gudziak was among a delegation of more than 20 Ukrainian Catholic priests who blessed the greenhouses with holy water, as tradition.

At first glance, it would seem strange that Firtash’s greenhouses would interest the rector of a university. After all, UCU doesn’t offer a biology or botany major for students to have internships at the greenhouses. UCU is exclusively a liberal arts university, and one of the best in Ukraine at that.

Yet any confusion is cleared up once taking into account that Firtash made a $4.5 million donation, almost a third of the cost of the first phase construction of UCU’s Striyskiy Park campus, which will become the university’s main hub in a few years.

Bishop Gudziak said in an interview published on Sept. 9 in the English-language Diaspora newspaper, The Ukrainian Weekly, that he hopes the donation won’t be the last from Firtash. Yet the donation caused a rift in the Ukrainian Diaspora in the U.S. and Canada, which until Firtash came along was the main source of financing for UCU. Not only does the Diaspora leadership look at Moscow with disdain (justifiably so), but it’s not very fond of the Ukrainian oligarchy that played a key role in the 2010 victory of President Viktor Yanukovych. The tension in the Diaspora is strong enough that some of Bishop Gudziak’s close colleagues refuse to communicate with him now.


As his response, Gudziak has offered the example of Cambridge University, which received $6.7mn from Firtash to launch a Ukrainian studies program. His “Cambridge Defense” is based on the fact that Firtash doesn’t interfere with the academics of Cambridge University and hasn’t attempted to, according to the bishop. As his response to questions about his greenhouse trip, Bishop Gudziak said, “We accept donations, understanding our responsibility – before donors, as well as the larger citizenry – to wisely use our funds, which is why we don’t ‘hide’ from any donor, since we view such behavior simply dishonest in our relations to our donor, as well as to everyone who is interested in UCU and supports us.”

Indeed it’s likely that Firtash won’t be introducing a class entitled “Economic Advantages of Ammonium Nitrate and Natural Gas Transit Monopolies” anytime soon at UCU. It was believable that UCU would remain independent of Firtash’s politics in Ukraine.

After all, blessing a complex of greenhouses isn’t a moral wrong. Yet Bishop Gudziak’s trip from Lviv to the depths of the Ternopil Oblast was the first indication that what UCU insisted was a clear black-and-white line between business and charity could actually be a gray hazy streak .That’s cause for concern among those who supported UCU since the 1990s when it was still a humble theological academy on cozy Svyentsitskiy Street.

Firtash’s donation and Bishop Gudziak’s newfound rapport with the oligarch (he was seated in the second row of seats during Guzdiak’s Aug. 26 consecration as bishop, just behind his mother) raises complex ethical issues about the role and future of UCU, as well as its acting rector.

UCU’s role in Ukrainian higher education was to introduce and maintain Western values and standards. Bishop Gudziak explicitly stated that UCU’s mission was to give Ukrainians a quality education so that they wouldn’t have to travel to the U.S., Germany or Great Britain.

UCU was founded as a non-profit university, which envisions providing education as an end in itself, rather than a means to profit, as almost all of Ukraine’s higher education institutions operate.

It’s supposed to be based on Christian values of honesty and integrity, rather than pragmatism and materialism that have infected Ukrainian society today. Only should a student’s performance determine his or her grades, which could not be bought at UCU, let alone a diploma.

Firtash, on the other hand, hasn’t demonstrated an interest in Western values in Ukraine. Although he is one of the few people who has the power to change life in Ukraine for the better for it is citizens, yet he has done next-to-nothing to promote the rule of law in Ukraine, equality before the law or individual rights such as freedom of speech and assembly.

Firtash sponsored that same World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum in Kyiv that occurred in the format of whitewashing Yanukovych’s image and at which the president’s security officers assaulted protesting Ukrainian editors.

Instead he has been assembling his monopolies on natural gas transit and ammonia nitrate production, among other industries.

He has aligned himself with the administration of Viktor Yanukovych, which threw the former prime minister in prison, violated her rights and the rights of former Internal Affairs Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, thereby damaging Ukraine’s Euro-integration aspirations for the near future.

In accepting Firtash’s donation, Bishop Gudziak associated himself with one of the people who is at the root of those same problems of Ukraine that he says UCU wants to remedy.
Let’s remember that Gudziak was among the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians participating in the Orange revolts of 2004.

After accepting Firtash’s donation, it’s entirely reasonable to ask what was Gudziak standing for on the maidan, if not to prevent such opaque, corrupt government schemes such as RosUkrEnergo, in which Firtash played a central role.

What was Gudziak standing for, if not to protect freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, all of which have been restricted by the same Yanukovych administration that Firtash has comfortable ties with.

The dilemma faced by Gudziak is the dilemma faced by most Westerners living in Ukraine – whether to push the rock of Sysyphus with your Western values and suffer the whole way, perhaps even failing altogether, or to conform to the nihilistic norms of the day and make those material gains that you want.

The diaspora in North American refers to this phenomenon as “going native,” with its most famous victims being former First Lady of Ukraine Kateryna Yushchenko and former Justice Minister Roman Zvarych.

Somewhere down the road, Gudziak and his circle determined that the modest donations from the Diaspora weren’t enough, and that being a small academy in a quaint 19th century building, graduating a few dozen students a year, wasn’t enough either.

Indeed throughout its various pursuits, the Ukrainian Catholic Church seems to take the approach of, “Build it first, find donors later.” Among the results of such an approach is the incomplete Christ’s Resurrection Patriarchal Cathedral on Kyiv’s Left Bank, which has been under construction for nearly a decade and not yet close to completion.

Such facts dismantle the “Cambridge defense” offered by UCU’s leadership. UCU is not Cambridge University, which was established in 1231, has an endowment of $ 6.9 bn and is situated in a nation which had rule of law for at least three centuries.

In that sea, Firtash’s influence is that of a single tuna. It is hard to imagine the chancellor of Cambridge University traveling 266 kilometers to bless the greenhouses of one of its millionaire donors.

On the other hand, UCU was established in 2000, has a budget that’s a fraction of the Cambridge University budget and is situated in a nation that had a fragile democratic republic whose few remaining pillars of rule of law were dismantled during the last two years by people with close links to Firtash.


The UCU leadership must have considered what motivated Firtash to make his $4.5 mn donation. Several ideas come to mind.

Yevhen Smahliuk, the head of Firtash’s press service, repeated the line that Firtash has the wish to support the development of a European-quality university in Ukraine, which has a unique approach to teaching with Ukrainian tradition and common human values.

Of course, there is the possibility that Firtash simply wants education in Lviv Oblast to blossom. Certainly. Yet other goals are possible.

UCU could become a vehicle for Firtash very much like Yalta Euopean Strategy is for Victor Pinchuk and what the world’s largest Jewish center, the recently opened Menorah in Dnipropetrovsk, is for Igor Kolomoisky and Hennady Boholyubov–an excellent public relations platform, a platform for a popular base of support among the local populace and a lever of influence on the West.

Then there’s the issue of regional influence. Rinat Akhmetov has Donbas, Pryvat Group and Victor Pinchuk share Dnipropetrovsk, Oleksander Yaroslavskyi has Kharkiv, Kostyantyn Zhevago has Poltava, Petro Poroshenko has Vinnytsia, Ihor Yeremeyev has Volyn, and now Firtash may be laying his claim to Halychyna.

He needs a positive image in the West, where much of his business lies and is expanding. Sponsoring the only Catholic university in the post-Soviet sphere is a good step in that direction. Firtash could also be hoping for a helpful ally in Bishop Gudziakin Brussels and Strasbourg.

On July 23, the Vatican announced that its appointment of Bishop Gudziak as the apostolic exarch of France, Benelux and Switzerland, which occurred more than a year after Firtash’s donation was announced. But it was widely believed for years that Gudziak would be tapped to lead an eparchy, and Paris came as no surprise with Gudziak’s predecessor there entering deep into his elderly years.

Moreover, Gudziak told The Ukrainian Weekly that he will be “very much” and “explicitly” involved in politics in France, Benelux and Switzerland, which are not only home to the European Union’s governing organs, but also the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland.

If Firtash has a personal rapport with Gudziak (how else to explain the decision to bless the greenhouses?), what is to stop Firtash from calling Gudziak on his next visit to Strasbourg and asking,

“Borya, kak dyela? I heard that you’re attending the banquet tomorrow night. Did you know that the EU Parliament’s chair of the industry, research and energy committee will be there? Perhaps you can mention that I’d like to a meeting with him this week. And it wouldn’t hurt to mention the new academic wing we built at UCU, too.”

As apostolic exarch of France, Benelux and Switzerland, Gudziak has the potential to become a better diplomatic asset and even overshadow Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko and his diplomatic corps.

While Hryshchenko is increasingly perceived as a Soviet-era dinosaur with diminishing credibility, Gudziak is a sophisticated intellectual who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He can relate better to a euro-diplomat than a Soviet-educated bureaucrat can.

Of course, Bishop Gudziak’s defenders will correctly point out that the leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate are in frequent contact with their oligarch sponsors and have no moral scruples when business, politics and religion overlap.

But the Ukrainian Catholic Church is supposed to be a far higher standard of ethics and morality, given its heroic resistance to Soviet Communism (which the Moscow-centered Orthodox Church largely capitulated to) and commitment to Western values in Ukraine.

These ideals include the separation of church and state, so that the state never becomes a sponsor or partner with any single church. It’s these ideals that have created the higher standard of living and quality of life that so many Ukrainians aspire to through Euro-integration.

Until recently, Bishop Gudziak, and every Westerner involved in Ukrainian society was at the forefront of a battle between Western values and the “Russian World”…

Finally, it should be noted that the dedication of greenhouses was scheduled on the same day as the village’s church holiday, which by itself could not have been a sufficient pretext for a university rector to visit a remote village.

The UCU leadership’s decision to accept the DF Group’s invitation reflects that UCU is in a painful transition phase which its leadership has not fully grasped. 

In arranging for an internationally recognized rector and bishop to travel to a remote village to bless a set of greenhouses – a job usually reserved for the local parish priest or head of the eparchy – UCU is still acting like a small academy instead of one of Ukraine’s top-tier institutions of higher education.

The greenhouses are business, which is supposed to be an entirely separate matter from charity. There’s supposed to be a fine line to distinguish the two.

Bishop Gudziak has built a reputation during his decade of leading UCU as a man of exceptional integrity and high morals. He draws respect from all corners of the global Catholic community.

With the newly acquired big sponsors and with them, big responsibilities, UCU’s leadership will need to more closely consider the ethical implications and political appropriateness of its decisions so that all that has been built remains intact and untarnished.

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