The first online seminar “(Re)thinking the Social Contract for Ukraine”: ways of its transforming and the role of society

Aspen Institute Kyiv continues to implement the project dedicated to the social contract for Ukraine. On February 10-11, the Institute held an online seminar (Re)thinking the Social Contract for Ukraine. Leaders of various fields (public administration, business, jurisprudence, politics, science, media) joined the dialogue.

The seminar participants discussed the phenomenon of the social contract, its national features and transformation in modern Ukraine, presenting their reflections and unique leadership experience. In particular, the interaction between society and elites, legal consolidation of social contract norms, and geopolitical aspect. In addition, during the seminar, the participants discussed the texts by leading Ukrainian thinkers (Serhiy Proleev, Viktoriya Shamrai, Olesya Ostrovska-Lyuta, Oleg Khoma, Volodymyr Yermolenko, Vakhtang Kebuladze, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Pavlo Sheremeta, Serhii Korsunskyy, Vsevolod Rechytskyy), that were explicitly written for the project by Aspen Institute Kyiv. 

Denys Poltavets, director of Aspen Institute Kyiv program development and Andriy Kulakov, program coordinator of the Aspen Institute’s Kyiv program for Community, moderated the dialogue. 

Education, Judiciary, or Generational Change: What Affects the Renewal of the Social Contract

At the seminar the opinion was expressed that society is going through the stages of growing up. Considering this process, it is necessary to transform the social contract by reacting to challenges, reflection, and dialogue.

In addition, education plays a decisive role in developing society and the nation and forming new leaders. The country’s security also directly depends on its quality. The participants emphasized that the Ukrainian social contract is a “constant earthquake” because our country’s education system is imperfect.

Ukrainian society must clearly define which institution it is ready to trust, particularly in ensuring compliance with the social contract. Therefore, according to the participants, the reform of the judicial system can also become a driver of positive changes in society. 

Permanent process or fixed rules: constancy and variability of the social contract

The seminar participants expressed that the social contract is permanently changing, updating, and being rethought. At the same time, it will never be perfect and satisfy everyone. Its renewal can occur organically (the change of generations) and due to the initiative of a small group (thinkers, intellectuals, authorities), which is mandated to implement changes in the social contract.

The participants’ opinions regarding the drafting of the social contract were divided. Some believe that a social contract is not a law, not a formal document, at most – a declaration with no legal force. Some participants consider the social contract a metaphor and a manifestation of the social imagination. In contrast, others believe that the provisions of the social agreement should be clearly spelled out and legally enshrined, maybe in the Basic Law.

In addition, according to the participants, the transformation of the social contract is currently taking place in Ukraine, and the catalyst for this process was the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war. We must eliminate Soviet and Russian narratives from the Ukrainian social contract. The aging of society and the decline of infantilism also give Ukraine a chance to change the social contract.

The updated social contract of Ukraine: society must choose the form

The participants called the current social contract of Ukraine imperfect, problematic and “convoluted,”; but at the same time it is a mirror of our society.

The social contract of Ukraine lacked the concept of a culture of political participation. However, this was typical for our society until February 24, 2022, said the participants.

The dialogue participants also emphasized that after winning the war, we should not return to kleptocracy; this can be achieved by following two rules: transparency of elections and control over the authorities’ actions.

In addition, as part of the seminar, the participants met with Andriy Zahorodniuk, Chairman of the Board of the Center for Defense Strategies, Minister of Defense of Ukraine (2019-2020). They discussed the impact of the security sector on all spheres of state and society functioning and the concept of civilian control over the armed forces.

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