The adoption, by the Verkhovna Rada?, and signing of the ill-formulated so-called "decommunization laws," by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko?, on 15 May 2015, is unfortunate ( Yet, this misstep is not or not so much an expression of Ukrainian propensity to limit freedom of speech, or to cover dark sides of the ambivalent war-time history of Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist movement. As with other things that are going wrong in Ukraine today, the adoption of these laws is an outcome not of ethic pathologies, but rather the result of lacking professionalism. In the particular case of the "decommunization laws," the trivial issue is an apparent dearth of apposite contemporary historic, foreign affairs, and international legal expertise of those who drafted, propagated and pushed through this package of legislation.

   As in other economic and political affairs of the post-Soviet countries, public debates and actions are frequently dominated by self-made men (far less so, women). A large number of prominent commentators, in Ukraine and other post-communist countries, have few or no proper academic qualifications, yet are known – sometimes, widely so – as "experts" for particular fields. Many such putative top dogs are posing as specialists although they do not take part in their international expert communities' professional life. That means that they only rarely publish in peer-reviewed or/and high-impact outlets, and only seldom present their research results for critical discussion at international conferences of reputed specialized organizations, e.g. at conventions of the relevant international academic associations of scholars in such fields as political science, economics, history, law etc.

   Concerning the "decommunization laws," I do not know of any historian with a proper scholarly publishing record in respected journals or book series as well with an appropriate academic position who has fully supported these laws, in their current reading. Instead, dozens of the Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian academics specializing, in the fields which these laws touch upon, have expressed – sometimes, repeatedly and expressively so – either their strong disapproval of, or their partial reservations about, the current laws' edition.

     Most of the defenders of the laws, in contrast, do not seem to have a properly academic publishing record. To be sure, some among the latter, like Volodymyr Viatrovych, have published and presented a lot, within Ukraine and at Ukrainian diaspora fora abroad. These publicly known commentators often appear in Kyiv’s mass media and at various public events. Some are regarded as established or even leading experts in their fields. Yet, often one has to ask: Where and under which circumstances did these experts’ research papers appear. Who did the assessment and editing of the manuscripts for these publications, if there were any? Who initiated, hosted and organized these commentators’ public presentations? Who selected their papers presented at conferences, and what kind of conferences were these? Who and for what purposes provided the funding for such publications and presentations?

      For people familiar with how reputation is established in academic life, the relevance of the answers to these questions is obvious, if not self-explanatory. Yet, in Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries, hundreds of self-appointed "experts" use non-scholarly tools to establish themselves as supposedly qualified specialists in this or that field. Such means may include rhetorical talent, political connections, non-academic publicism, mass media presence, raising funds from lobbyists, or various forms of civic activism. To be sure, none of these instruments and activities are bad by themselves. In fact, performances and tools such as those listed can or even should be valuable additions to any scholar’s traditional skills, work and profile.

      Yet, at the end of the day, they cannot replace what is the “gold standard” of, or primary criterion for, defining proper expertise and academic achievement: publications in widely respected journals or book series. To lesser degree, an expert’s reputation is also supported by publications in other esteemed outlets, such as widely read specialized websites of relevant scholarly institutions, working paper series of leading research groups, influential magazines regularly publishing articles by professors or senior researchers from highly ranked universities and think tanks etc. Some of the most important of these fora would have some more or less sophisticated system of third-party evaluation, such as peer review before publication, and/or routinized scholarly review of their publications in other specialized periodicals like, for instance, in the book review sections of relevant scholarly journals. Sometimes, the editorial committees of narrowly specialized publications series (journals, book series, working paper series) provide rigorous internal review that secures sufficiently high trust within their international epistemic communities. Other outlets establish themselves through the wide respect and ecumenical nature of their authors’ teams.

   Unfortunately, more often than not, post-Soviet putative experts are not participating in this international “intra-specialty” life. While sometimes they may simply not be interested or industrious enough, in other cases they would not be able to do so. Their texts would lack sufficient quality and have problems being accepted by such outlets, with a high prestige among specialists. Instead, these post-Soviet experts are active in “extra-specialty” life, i.e. in journalism, television, advocacy, campaigning, consultancy, politics, etc. Again, the latter are also important activities, and may be a part of a proper experts’ professional life. Yet, public appearances and other performances outside the experts’ community, do not establish a putative specialist as an indeed qualified and respected expert – or, with regard to the post-Soviet realm, they should not do so.

    For a professional boxer, it might be useful to have the looks and manner of Sylvester Stallone – the famous victor in some widely watched boxing matches against, among others, stunning Dolf Lundgren. Stallone looks extremely impressive in these fights, and “Rocky Balboa” has, perhaps, become the most famous boxer of the world. Yet, one suspects that Stallone would perform unimpressively against even an unknown professional boxer. A properly professional boxer, to be sure, may benefit from copying some of the instruments that Stallone has used to attract attention. And “Rocky” is fun to watch – as many post-Soviet putative experts are fascinating speakers to listen to. With proper training Stallone could, perhaps, become a box champion. Yet, he would have to win a boring fight against friendly Klichko rather than knock out spectacularly once more chilling Lundgren. Ukraine’s Klichkos’ and experts’ careers might benefit from a few actors lessons from Stallone or other showmen. But, when push comes to shove, Ukrainian boxers and experts need different qualifications.

(See also: The Post-Soviet TV Experts: How unwary journalists help dilettante analysts to spoil reforms in the former USSR,

Andreas Umland, M. Phil. (Oxon), Dr. phil., Ph. D. (Cantab)
Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Kyiv.
Adjunct Associate Professor, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy