”Before the full-scale invasion, there were no real divisions in Ukraine at all.” Sociologist Tymofii Brik about quarrels in social networks, collectivism of Ukrainians and dialogue with Russians — theses from an interview

Dmytro Rayevskyi
Kateryna Kobernyk
”Before the full-scale invasion, there were no real divisions in Ukraine at all.” Sociologist Tymofii Brik about quarrels in social networks, collectivism of Ukrainians and dialogue with Russians — theses from an interview

Tymofii Brik is 36 years old. He is a sociologist, head of sociological research at the Kyiv School of Economics, and since 2022 its rector. He defended his masterʼs degree in sociology and social studies at Utrecht University in 2011 and his PhD in sociology at Carlos III University of Madrid in 2017. On his Facebook page, Brik regularly discusses popular topics that concern Ukrainians in the context of sociological research. And science always forces us to look at them from a completely different angle. Babel editor Dmytro Rayevskyi asked Brik about the most important thing — whether Ukraine really suffers from linguistic, political and other divisions, whether there is a need for a dialogue with the Russians, and whether social networks can be considered a mirror of society. After this conversation, many things became clearer.

About sociological surveys and discrimination in Ukraine

In October 2023, the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology published the results of a public opinion survey on various issues. Among other things, it turned out that 45% of the respondents believe that there is discrimination based on language in Ukraine — without specifying which one. Many Ukrainian media wrote at the time that 45% of Ukrainians personally experience or feel such discrimination. Timofii Brik explains why such polls should be perceived differently.

"Sociologists often conduct similar surveys. We ask people what they think about something — a reform, a presidential candidate or, for example, discrimination. Why? We want to know the feelings that dominate society. Because peopleʼs thoughts then influence their actions. That is, this survey only shows that 45% think that there is discrimination based on language in Ukraine. But it doesnʼt show what the actual situation is," says Brik.

He adds that a situation often arises when public opinion polls give inflated figures. For example, people fear discrimination and tend to think that there is a lot of it, even if they donʼt personally experience it. On the other hand, if you ask people about their personal experience of discrimination, the indicators, on the contrary, may be lower than they actually are — not all people admit that they have been discriminated against, they may not know about it or not notice it or not understand it at all question. Different studies have different limitations and conditions. And you can find out the real picture only by comparing different data.

About social networks and influence on public sentiment

Brik says that social media should be taken seriously because it is part of the public space where opinions are formed that then influence society. In todayʼs world, whoever has political capital, that is, the motivation, resources, and strength to fight for an agenda, is influential. Back in the second half of the 20th century, there was a naive opinion that the influence of the media on society was one-sided. They used the term "injection" — newspapers or television give information, people absorb it, and this is how they form their opinion.

"Now itʼs clear that it doesnʼt work like that. People do not simply perceive information, they reinterpret it or reject it. Like, this fact I like and I will take it, but this one I wonʼt take. Because people are brought up and live in different bubbles — professional, regional, cultural. And this affects how they perceive information," Brik explains.

Therefore, it is important who has the time and resources to shape the agenda, defend their ideas, constantly talk about them — and thus reach people and change public opinion.

About strategies of interaction with the Russians

Scandals regularly occur in Ukraine due to the fact that cultural figures communicate with Russians at various international events. For example, in September 2023, at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, the Ukrainian writer Andriy Kurkov had a discussion with the Russian-American writer and journalist Masha Gessen. This caused a wave of criticism on social networks. Many other Ukrainian cultural figures categorically oppose to any contacts with Russians.

"There are many different groups that are somehow interacting with the Russians now. There is one bubble — cultural figures. But there are others — economists, spies, diplomats, military. And everyone has their own way of communicating with Russians. Even if taken to the point of absurdity, the military is shooting at Russians, and this is also a form of communication. And diplomats are forced to talk to the Russians at the UN, because that is their job. But for some reason, we reduce this topic to the sphere of culture," says Tymofii.

He explains that this is precisely related to political capital and influence on the agenda. Culture workers are proactive, reflective intellectuals, they speak loudly about what concerns them. Therefore, they hijack the agenda.

About conflicts from the point of view of social psychology

A year before the full-scale invasion of the Russians into Ukraine, Tymofii Brik conducted research together with the British social psychologist Andrew Livingstone. They studied the factors that may affect Ukrainiansʼ readiness for dialogue with Russians in the future.

Livingstone explores the conflicts of different groups around the world. In a broad sense, wars and, for example, conflicts between social groups, rich and poor or Protestants and Catholics. His main idea is that any conflict deepens when people feel that the other group, the opposition, does not understand them.

"The message of "they donʼt understand us" causes a feeling of dissatisfaction, unrepresentation, and humiliation. And it is this that closes all possible ways of reconciliation. And if it disappears, it gives a sense of satisfaction and subjectivity," explains Brik.

At the same time, he emphasizes that any substantive conversations about dialogue with the Russians are possible only after the victory in the war, punishment of war criminals and reparations. But the very idea of Andrew Livingstone must be remembered.

About splits in Ukrainian society

"People constantly ask about divisions in Ukraine. And it is basically assumed that they exist — you just need to find where exactly they are this year and how bad everything is. But I am convinced that before the full-scale invasion we had no real divisions at all. This was our false perception of Ukrainian society and the same hijacking of the agenda when politicians or journalists constantly emphasized divisions. Which really didnʼt exist," says Brik.

He says that according to the data of many years of sociological research, Ukrainian society is much more unanimous than one might think. Ukrainians from different regions have one basic culture — role models and opinions about what is "right" and "wrong". Research shows that for Ukrainians, the collective is important — loved ones, family, friends and the community in general, as well as a high level of mutual support. Instead, Russians are characterized by individualism and self-assertion.

At the same time, a big war, according to Brik, could cause real social divisions in Ukraine. Because divisions often form where there is a conflict over resources. The war has a negative effect on the economy, there are less and less resources, there will be more and more poverty and economic inequality. And this can lead to serious divisions.

About the religiosity of Ukrainians

One of the key topics of Tymofii Brikʼs research is religion. He says that since the 1990s, general religiosity in Ukraine has been growing. Moreover, both nominal religiosity, when a person is not an active parishioner, but considers himself or herself a believer, and practical — in terms of the number of people who go to church on holidays, Ukraine is close to Greece and Georgia.

"What does this religiosity affect? Will Ukrainians vote for Christian parties? Will they refuse vaccines if the priest tells them to? According to our data, the influence of religiosity on everyday life began to manifest itself only in recent years. So far, nominal religiosity is much more than practical," says Tymofii.

In general, religiosity always increases in the world where there are economic problems, significant inequality, wars or cataclysms. But there is another factor that sociologists observe. The more different denominations and churches there are in the country, the greater is the general religiosity. Competition between churches for parishioners creates a situation where a person has a lot to choose from. If you donʼt like something in one church, you can go to another. And this increases the total number of believers.

"And here a paradoxical question arises. If we theoretically have a monopoly of one church, does this mean that religiosity will begin to decrease? It is unknown. It is difficult to make predictions in sociology, because there are many different factors that can also affect the situation," Brik concludes.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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