Secretary General of Handicraft Chamber of Ukraine
We have been studying the experience of Europe for a long time and we came to the following conclusion: If we want to raise our economy, we shall first and foremost support the manufacturers. By exploring the roots of Ukrainian industrial beginnings, we have identified crafts being at the core of our industrial origins. Unfortunately, the sectarian communist October Revolution in 1917 eradicated human ideas and civilizational achievements such as „property“ and „entrepreneurship“, a legacy still dragging on Ukraine and its people even today. Deprived of its territory and against its will, Ukraine was forced to be part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991.
Today, even 30 years upon the end of the Soviet empire, many Ukrainians still view entrepreneurial activity as somewhat inferior or semi-legal. They associate craftsmanship with the manufacture of archaic items, such as pottery, displayed at the local traditional Sorochynsky Fair.
Each country follows its own specific path in its relationship towards crafts. In our research, we have identified the German craft model as a starting point for Ukraine. The German concept allows for a broad interpretation of craft, comprising folk craft or any professional and technical activity, even small industries.
Germany has even adopted a separate Craft Code, and each German land has one or two craft chambers that join their forces (note, they are all associated with the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts). Associated craftsmen do not regard their mandatory membership as a burden, but rather as part of the German culture. German chambers observe proper vocational education, masters can teach next generations and share their experience.
Ukrainian handicraft needs a large-scale reform. In 2009, we have already submitted our proper proposal to the Ukrainian government, including a broad range of initiatives (see Order of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine from 9 September, 2009, no. 1110-р “on the approval of an action plan for the development of craft measures for the period up to 2015”). Since then, unfortunately, this plan has never been popular with any government cabinet and it came to no fruition. No minister had ever the will to elaborate on its details and implementation, being aware of the sad reality and complexity of the situation of crafts in Ukraine. Consequently, Ukrainian craft school graduates lack applied skills and most often they attend vocational schools only if they fail their External Independent Evaluation (ZNO) or if they are not admitted to university.
It is my strong belief that we can restore the attractiveness of craft professions by embarking on cooperation with business structures. Since, at the state level, we face lack of understanding for the potential of the craft sector, we have started, in parallel, to search for other regular, non-governmental partners. As a result of such cooperation, together with a total of nine expert organisations, the Crafting Europe project was launched, an initiative supported by “Creative Europe”.
As part of the project, craftsmen and digital designers will work in pairs. Craftsmen will produce ideas to create applied or decorative objects, while the latter will suggest suitable modern technologies to rationalise and to simplify production processes, using 3D modelling programs and other tools. Thus, craftsmen will shift their processes from the past to the future.
Craftsmen will also be equipped with marketing and business skills on how to recruit members to form a team and on how to work in odd conditions (e.g. in view of the current pandemic crisis). With the development of artificial intelligence, gradually more and more processes are becoming automated, but it should always be remembered that a robot could never ever develop consciousness. Consequently, each individual entrepreneur is inherently valued and becomes aware of the entire production technology, thus becoming able to adopt changes and also becoming ready to pass on his or her craft skills to future generations.
As a training element of the project, my partners and me also wanted to include a trip to the lead country (Ireland). Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the project had to be postponed to September 2020. On the other hand, we have won extra time to gather project participants: students, active entrepreneurs or seniors – people who want to discover something new for themselves. Lifelong learning matters! The first steps in innovation may evoke controversial responses, but after all, they will be part of our long-term future.