Kateryna Gryniuk, Ph.D., Research Unit for Sociology of Politics, Economy and Education, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences
Andriy Korniychuk, Ph.D., European Studies Unit, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences
Sustainable Peace in Ukraine: Making a Case for a Community-Centered Approach
The post-World War II peace and security architecture fell into a downward spiral when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. This unprovoked and brutal act of aggression became not only an attack on Ukraine’s statehood and sovereignty, but also a blatant attempt to undermine international rules-based order, democratic values, and freedoms. The unfathomable cost of Ukraine’s brave and relentless resistance should serve as a reminder of the well-known but quickly forgotten mantra – neither peace nor democracy should be taken for granted.
In response to Russia’s attack, a new global peace and security architecture started to form, characterized by an increase in military spending and growing securitization of the public space. Similarly to Cold War dynamics, governments are likely to return to military deterrence as a key instrument of international affairs.
The outcome of the war in Ukraine will define the exact shape of this new peace and security architecture in Europe and beyond. That said, the future of Europe as a stable, peaceful, democratic, prosperous, and united region will largely depend on the resilience of European democracies and their societies against (neo)imperialist revisionism.
The questions of state security and defense policy dominate the discourse around the war. The public and expert debates are replete with contributions about Ukraine’s democratic future, territorial integrity, and sovereignty depending on its ability to defend against an enemy with prevailing military resources. Members of the international community recognize the importance of military assistance as well as the strengthening of the defense sector as a part of Kyiv’s recovery efforts. Ukraine’s successful resistance has been also attributed to the unprecedented mobilization of the population, which speaks in favor of strengthening the concept of cross-societal resilience. The latter expands conventional military doctrine (the size and resources of the army) to include effective cooperation and coordination between civilian and military actors. We do not negate the importance or relevance of these observations.
Yet, we also believe that Ukraine’s ongoing existential battle for its future underscores the importance of a community-centered approach to peace and security. Without the a community-centered approach, sustainable peace in Europe will only be wishful thinking. A community-centered approach entails a holistic understanding of the social fabric of a given society to identify areas of possible ruptures and undertake activities to strengthen social cohesion. Public policies that polarize the public sphere and marginalize different societal groups effectively undermine the stability and security of local communities and state structures. A society that lacks inclusiveness and fails to take care of its most vulnerable groups has proven to be prone to malign influences from foreign and domestic actors seeking to exploit such weaknesses.
Ukraine, due to its complicated past, is a stand-out case for the importance of a community-centered approach to policymaking. To succeed, Ukraine needs hands and minds to rebuild and transform itself from the brutal Russian onslaught. A ceasefire marks just the beginning of a long road to recovery and sustainable peace in the country. Modern Ukrainian philosopher Volodymyr Yermolenko has accurately described the Ukrainian nation as one being born in violence and traumas, calling it a world champion in survival. Timothy Snyder, a renowned American historian, in a similar vein, has referred to Eastern Europe in his writings as “bloodlands”, emphasizing its violent and troubled past. Larysa Denysenko, a contemporary Ukrainian human rights activist, argues that Ukrainians while constituting a majority in numbers, were de facto a minority on their land. These challenges emerged due to Russia’s oppressive cultural, political, and economic omnipresence on Ukraine’s territory for centuries.
Even with the coveted EU and NATO memberships, Ukraine’s peace and security model can remain fragile without an effective social contract and well-functioning social services (e.g., education, healthcare, access to food, and other basics) inclusive of different societal groups (e.g., women, children, elderly, war veterans, internally displaced citizens, diaspora, etc.). Furthermore, without instruments for dialogue, non-violent communication, and reconciliation, its social fabric will continue to be put under huge stress, during or after the war. It will be more prone to malign foreign influence with old wounds being opened and animosities flaring up.
Therefore, we agree with the appeal to keep strengthening social cohesion, resilience, and unity in Ukrainian society. Such a community-centered approach should be laid in the foundation for Ukraine’s democratic recovery, catalyzing sustainable peace in Europe.
Sustainable Peace in Ukraine as an Existential Necessity for the EU
Jean Monnet, a key figure in EU’s history, claimed in his time that “Europe will be forged in crisis, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.” Indeed, as the integration progressed, socio-economic and financial turbulence have become a regular occurrence in the EU and its member states. The EU has faced major hurdles along its way to bringing peace in Europe and its neighbors (e.g., the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, and the Russo-Georgian war in 2008). The world took note of the EU’s peacebuilding track record with arguably the highest form of recognition – a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. And yet, despite the overwhelming optimism, “the end of (violent) history” (to paraphrase Fukuyama) for Europe was not to be.
The escalation of Russia’s war against Ukraine in 2022 became an awakening – a paradigm shift for all those who saw an almost irreversible trajectory toward Europe’s development into a stable, peaceful, and democratic region. A “peace project” at its core, the EU now faces a difficult task to respond to the seismic shock Russian aggression has caused for its member-states. Yet, the EU’s ability to transform and evolve crisis after crisis, and the general mobilization we have observed to help Ukraine defend democratic principles and values, allow us to look with cautious optimism into Brussels’ ability to address the existing challenges. Moreover, the unprecedented military and humanitarian support for Ukraine, and the granting of the candidate status to the EU mean that it is effectively no longer a buffer state between the EU and Russia, but an integral part of the European integration project, its peace and security architecture. The future of value-based Europe depends on Ukraine’s successful resistance against a brutal and oppressive neighbor. For both Kyiv and Brussels, Ukraine’s victory in a war and its ultimate success in becoming a member of the free and democratic European family are an existential necessity.
Against the background of an increasingly hostile international environment, the debates about the need for more defense spending and/or modernization of military equipment do not seem to lose momentum. However, a community-centered approach that promotes social cohesion must be included in efforts to build a modern, resilient Europe able to withstand the forces undermining its peace, stability, and democratic foundations. In the context of the above, as the war continues, one should not neglect the importance of addressing the existing and emerging tensions between different societal groups in European societies, fuelled to a large extent by the dividing narratives of foreign malign powers such as Russia and China.
In the past (e.g., cohesion policy, European Pillar of Social Rights) and present (e.g., Next Generation EU as an element of post-pandemic recovery), the EU has shown its awareness of the significance of societal resilience as a core element of Europe’s stability and prosperity. Russia’s war against Ukraine underscores the significance of a socially responsible, community-centered approach to an effective and sustainable peace and security architecture. Hence, we argue that in pursuit of more security and stability, the EU should not lose sight of priorities central to its peaceful future (such as green transition, technological advancement, and economic reforms). And it should ensure that future members such as Ukraine have the necessary conditions to apply a community-centered approach, while embarking on a similar, sustainable path of development.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Graduate School for Social Research (GSSR). The publication of content on this blog does not imply endorsement or approval of the expressed views by GSSR.
 Volodymyr Yermolenko, (ed). 2019. Ukraine in history and stories. Essays by Ukrainian intellectuals. Kyiv: Internews Ukraine, UkraineWord.
 Tymothy Snyder. 2012. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Basic Books.
 See Volodymyr Yermolenko, (ed). 2019
 http://namu.com.ua/ua/resources/news/7-ttsrnkhkv-tus-vkmrts-k-ekaosg-vke-tsnualrfenysh-pyeekakhsukv-k-chafyokkhakhsukv-ekaosgts/ (accessed, 01.02.2023)
 Jean Monnet. 2015. The Memoirs. Third Millennium. Main edition
 https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2012/summary/ (accessed 01.02.2023)
 Some of the examples of such groups are: temporarily displaced people and host communities; those who fled, and those who stayed inside the country or temporarily occupied territories, etc.