Aspen Institute’s Kyiv seminar on “(Re)thinking the Social Contract for Ukraine: Local and Global Levels of the Social Contract, Points of Agreement and Disconnection”

On May 27, Aspen Institute Kyiv held its second in-person seminar, “(Re)thinking the Social Contract for Ukraine.” Members of the Ukrainian Parliament, representatives of the Cabinet of Ministers, judiciary, education and media sectors, entrepreneurs, senior-level civil servants, and cultural figures attended. 

In her opening remarks, the Executive Director of Aspen Institute Kyiv, Yulia Tychkivska, emphasized that there is currently a demand in society for dialogue, the creation of new meanings, the exchange of ideas, and the development of a vision for the future. That is why Aspen Institute Kyiv encourages reflections on the topic of the social contract and, as part of the project, has compiled a collection of essays by leading Ukrainian intellectuals.

During the seminar, participants discussed the significance of the social contract at various levels and explored the commonalities that unite Ukrainian society and the factors that can divide it.

Here are some of the key ideas that were raised during the discussion:

The Concept of the social contract: practical and metaphorical dimensions

  • The social contract holds symbolic value and serves as an indicator of a stable society. It involves the conscious engagement of society in community life, trust in rules, and a belief in the effectiveness of their enforcement.
  • The social contract is not fixed; it represents a dynamic balance. Therefore, society needs to engage in discussions about its institutionalization. In particular, the governing authority’s cultural code directly influences the social contract framework.
  • The social contract is not officially codified and is not limited to the Constitution, although the Constitution is an essential but not sole expression of such a contract.
  • Variations of the social contract exist at the level of individual communities, countries, and groups of nations, and they need to be harmonized with each other.
  • Active and equal participation of the parties involved in the social contract — business, government, and the public — creates a triad that contributes to the stability and development of society.

The Current State of the Social Contract

  • The present can be seen as a collection of needs of individual social groups, and the social contract reflects these needs and the ways to reconcile them.
  • The decentralization reform contributes to a better understanding that people play a crucial role in shaping policies.
  • The inclusiveness of the social contract is a requirement of the present for the future. Inclusiveness is necessary for the integration of all groups, the resolution of conflicts, and the support of solidarity within Ukrainian society.
  • Ukrainian society is consolidated against the enemy. However, it is difficult to predict what Ukraine will be like after the victory, creating uncertainty about the priorities for further development. Planning which projects will be relevant after the war is challenging, as the war rapidly changes society’s preferences and demands.
  • Businesses must play a significant role in post-war reconstruction and the future social contract. The role of business in rebuilding Ukrainian society should be evaluated appropriately, and appropriate conditions for the operation of economic entities should be established.
  • The social contract is best viewed as the weaving of the social fabric, a continuous process necessary for strengthening society.

Transformation of the Social Contract and Response to Challenges

  • During times of war, the question of the social contract becomes particularly relevant as society needs unity to ensure security, justice, dignity, freedom, and full development.
  • It is essential to pay attention to the vectors of internal development of the country as the foundation of national stability.
  • Further emancipation of society (the liberation of the creative potential of individual social groups) is necessary for its development and formation.
  • The continuation of armed conflict polarizes Ukrainian society, and it can be dangerous when those who disagree are perceived as adversaries or even enemies.
  • Education is essential, and literacy is necessary. Education is of paramount importance. Education has transformed from a matter of national interest to a point of national security, as it determines the level of societal development and the country’s ability to cope with challenges.
  • The importance of civic education has increased to ensure that every Ukrainian understands their rights, duties, and responsibilities. Equally important is the acquisition of civic competencies that enhance the resilience of the Ukrainian nation.

The discussion was based on the Collection of Essays by leading Ukrainian thinkers compiled by the Institute as part of the project. Among the authors of the texts are Serhiy Proleyev, Viktoriya Shamray, Olesya Ostrovska-Liuta, Oleh Khoma, Volodymyr Yermolenko, Vakhtang Kebuladze, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Pavlo Sheremeta, Serhiy Korsunskiy, and Vsevolod Rechytskyi.

Denis Poltavets, Director of Program Development at Aspen Institute Kyiv, and Roman Kobets, Research Fellow at the H. S. Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, moderated the seminar.

Aspen Institute Kyiv invites everyone to join the dialogue on the future of Ukraine and the social contract in various platforms to consolidate efforts for developing and rebuilding the country.

The “Social contract for Ukraine” project is implemented with the support of NED (National Endowment for Democracy).