Antonina Kolodii. The Nation-Building Role and the Historical Roots of Maidan

Rethinking Democracy  –

Maidan is a unique experience in the history of protest movements and peaceful revolutions. Its positive aura and self-sufficiency, unexpected firmness and kindness of its participants impel to contemplate the phenomenon of Maidan and its future. As Vitaliy Portnikov wrote, the 21st century in Ukraine has begun with Maidan. What will it be like for Ukrainians? Will they be able to overcome the civilization lag inherited from previous totalitarian regime and anchored over the years of independence due to feeble rulers? Will Ukraine find its “national idea”, fulfill its mission and take such a place in the world that its creative and gentle people deserve?

1. Euromaidan and Protection of National Sovereignty. Euromaidan has arisen as a peaceful long-term protest action aimed at pursuing the course for Ukraine’s European integration, preserving and strengthening its independence, and turning to the path of the rule of law. It has become the outpost of counteracting Ukraine’s open subordination to Moscow’s diktat that does not enable pro-Russian politicians to move too far in the Eurasian direction and forces the ruling top to hide their readiness for this. With its existence, Maidan asserts that independence of Ukraine as a state is based on the will of people and may not be used by the country’s leaders as a token coin in achieving their own goals in the struggle for power and enrichment.

“Formally, Ukraine has been a sovereign state since 1991,” – Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in Twitter on December 2, 2013, – “but its people are now on the barricades to make it genuinely independent.”

Before the first violence committed by the authorities, Euromaidan might have been viewed as a manifestation of unexpectedly early political maturing of the generation that has grown up in independent Ukraine and its desire for resisting the willfulness of ruling circles in conducting foreign policy. It has been also a warning to Yanukovych and company that the post-Orange disappointment has dispersed and that in case of falsifications during presidential elections they may expect a strong resistance. Finally, from the very beginning Euromaidan has become the evidence that Russia will not obtain Ukraine so easily, because Ukrainians want to go to Europe and competently formulate why. From the first days of the protest, most Maidan participants have spoken about democracy, human dignity, civil rights, justice, lawfulness, and fair play as the basis of social and political order and the main European values Ukrainians strive for.

The change has happened after the dispersal of manifesting students at Maidan Nezalezhnosti at night of November 30, 2013 accompanied with brutal beating of defenseless young people, as well as the cruel battle near the Presidential Administration on December 1, 2013. Maidan that has gathered nearly one million people from various social strata and age categories for popular assembly has turned from being mostly euro-integration oriented to becoming mostly anti-power, anti-authoritarianism and revolutionary in the sense of not only changing people in power, but the whole political system. Maidan of 2013-2014 has come to replace Euromaidan.

The word “Maidan” now does not mean the place (square), but the action, movement, and direction of people’s aspirations. We have reasons to use this word in singular to denote a certain integral and simultaneously differentiated social phenomenon that exists in several dimensions: physical, locally defined (certain “occupied” space with its own rules of interaction), mobile (actions of “Automaidan” in Kyiv, its suburbs and all over Ukraine), organizationally formalized as movement (All-Ukrainian Association “Maidan”, Forum of Maidans of Ukraine and other organizational forms), and virtual (Internet and media communities working at the cause of Maidan). Each of these forms may strengthen or weaken in the future, gain new modifications or decline.

Maidan has an all-Ukrainian character. It is present on the squares of different cities of Ukraine, though its heart is definitely in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti that the maidanians (I am taking the liberty of using such neologism) have won form the brutal police state as a space of their freedom and springboard for expressing people’s will. Not without reason some visitors of Maidan call it the contemporary Sich (the center of Cossack state in the 16th-18th centuries), others – Vatican, yet others – fortress or camp where the new social forms and approaches are created on the basis of the historical substratum.

The struggle for obtaining sovereignty (supremacy) of people in the domestic life of the state interweaves with the struggle for sovereignty of the nation in the international relations. The people is willing to determine its fate and choose the way of development independently, hence protesting against authoritarian methods of rule of the contemporary authorities both in domestic and foreign policy and claiming implementation of the motto born back in 1920s “Out from Moscow!” and establishment of Ukraine as a truly independent state (rather than a “failing state” as Moscow’s neo-imperialists want to see it).

The European choice as a goal of Maidan movement has not been removed from the agenda, but postponed for the future. Maidan has been and still is an event directed to asserting independence and returning Ukraine the values inherent to its people and encoded in their mentality that in many aspects coincide with the European values: human rights and freedoms, human dignity, sovereignty of people, accountability of the authorities, security of property rights, fair justice, etc.

2. The Nation-Building Mission of Maidan. Maidan is not only the act of asserting sovereignty of the Ukrainian nation, but also the means of its further consolidation through the interaction of citizens at Maidan, their solidarity in confrontation with the ruling top, their insistence on the necessity of total transformation of social and political life in the country. Viche (weekly popular assemblies numbering tens and hundreds thousand people) taking place at Maidan Nezalezhnosti is a form of realization of power directly by the people of Ukraine, while Maidan itself, as its civic leaders declare, is “a network subject of a new type that does not have a single center and reflects the interests of various strata of the society”.

It is interesting to read numerous descriptions of Maidan by Russian publicists that irrespective of authors’ viewpoints and democratic inclinations note the difference (and even oddness) of the behavior of Ukrainians.

Despite the assertions of Russian and pro-Russian ideologists that Ukrainians and Russians are “the single nation”, over the years of Ukrainian independence the difference of Ukrainians from Russians has clearly manifested in the aspect of societal (including political) culture and mentally programmed combination of values that distinguishes one nation from another and makes each of them unified in itself.

The only obstacle for understanding such a difference has been the heritage of communist totalitarianism that overlapped and leveled the rich heritage of older times concerning interaction, cooperation and creation of social capital.

Sanctification of the state is not characteristic of Ukrainians; they are generally indifferent to the notion of the state grandeur that is the basis for building the ideology of the so-called sovereign democracy (in reality, imperial totalitarianism) in Russia. The values of freedom, human dignity and wellbeing in a wide sense are more important for Ukrainians. They have negative attitudes to vertical hierarchies alienated from interests of an ordinary person and they are inclined to self-governance. This is the pivot of the Ukrainian national idea that the maidanians assert with their actions rather than slogans.

Having demonstrated the ability for common understanding of the general good and desired social order and the aspiration for its fulfillment despite circumstances, Maidan is clarifying the content of the Ukrainian national idea and giving hope that it will be implemented into the practice of nation-building and the state will be reestablished on the new and simultaneously old principles inherent to deeper Ukrainian tradition.

Unfortunately, not the whole Ukraine equally participates in the process of nation-building. There are regions where the majority of population is indifferent or even hostile towards Maidan. Participants of the so-called anti-Maidan are brought (!) from the Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, and partially Kharkiv, Poltava and some other regions of Ukraine. A part of these “voluntary slaves” is constituted by conscious bearers of the imperial idea (Putin’s fifth column). But a greater part is in the state of “lethargic sleep” due to Soviet and Post-Soviet Russian mesmerizing and social depression. They do not imagine that it is possible not to support the authorities, especially if they seemingly represent their region, and do not admit that pro-authority TV channels are deceiving.

It is important, however, that at Maidan we have the critical mass of well-educated, socially active citizens that make up the core of the nation. Certainly, the process is not confined to this and will not stop on this. To make a long story short, I will refer to an analogy: American nation and national state was founded by only 13 states. During the Civil War even among those founding states there were such that stood for secession. The differences in values and culture between the North and the South of the US still remain. However, the American national identity is the achievement of all ethnic groups and residents of all territories of the US, and now none of the regions seems to be willing to separate. Thus, there is a hope that Ukraine will gradually overcome regional differences and step on the way of successful development.