Ukrainian People Power

Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland (College Park) and author most recently of "The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century" (University of California Press, 2012).


hc_edited-1In 2014 we will celebrate a quarter of a century since the revolutions of 1989. It was a formidable succession of events that made Pope John II speak about an annus mirabilis. Something unexpected, truly miraculous happened then: presumably eternal dictatorships fell apart as a castle built of sand. The Bolshevik fortresses disintegrated, leaving behind them both exhilaration and confusion. The moral landscape had been plagued by decades of state-sponsored lies. Those revolutions were anti-utopian, anti-ideological, anti-teleological. Because they refused any form of cynical arrangements (or they appeared to repudiate such intrigues), some called them anti-political endeavors.

We are experiencing these days a resurrection of the civic spirit in the Ukraine. As noticed by Adrian Karatnicky, one of the most knowledgeable commentators on Ukrainian politics, we deal with a Euro-revolution. Revolutions take place when the old regime is irrevocably compromised and the citizens cannot bear anymore its mendacities and methods. In the case of the Ukraine, this is a pro-European revolution and a radical rejection of Vladimir Putin’s diktat. The protesters have resumed the interrupted project of the 2004 Orange Revolution, an uprising that Vaclav Havel justifiably called the first post-communist revolution within the former Soviet Bloc. The open society confronts directly its rivals and enemies.

Modern revolutions involve idealistic passions, sudden discontinuities, abrupt fractures. The logic of subservience is challenged from below by spontaneous forms of civic empowerment. The public space, long frozen, is suddenly invaded by innovative modes of participation. Read Hannah Arendt’s “On Revolution,” especially the chapter about the revolutionary tradition and its lost treasure. Egor Sobolev, one of the protesters’ leaders in Kiev, states unequivocally that the general opinion is favorable to the American and European ideals: “Real power should belong to the citizens, not to ministers, presidents, and politicians.”

Historical time contract change their conventional meanings. The same thing happened in Prague during the Velvet Revolution, in November 1989. All taboos and prohibitions collapse. Revolutions celebrate a proud defiance of the established order, suddenly appearing as totally obsolete. They advocate a rebirth, a new order of centuries, a novus ordo seclorum. New structures emerge on the ruins of the old ones. People are yearning for something totally different, what German philosophy calls “das ganz Andere.” Revolutions are instances of historical transcendence.

What seemed to last forever disintegrates under our astonished eyes. American sociologist Aristide Zolberg described revolutions as moments of madness. Political meteorology fails to forecast such events. In Kiev, Lviv, even in Viktor Yanukovich’s fiefdom Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, people take to the streets. Hundreds of thousands discover that they are the real source of power. Like in Hungary in 1956, citizens reclaim political sovereignty and national dignity. These were the main goals of the anti-totalitarian revolutions in 1989.

The call for European integration is directly related to the 1989 political imagination. Ukrainians refuse to be annexed by the Russian empire. When they say Europe, they mean rule of law, struggle for transparency and guaranteed accountability. The government responded with violence. Many protesters were beaten. This was a stupid move on the part of Yanukovich and his camarilla. Instead of deterring the revolutionaries, such actions angered them. The Ukrainian revolutionaries choose Europe because they know who Putin is and what Putinism means. They don’t want to accept the Kremlin’s decrees as God’s orders. They want norms and procedures, not repression, blackmail, and threats.

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  • leo klötter

    I’m confused here. Ukrainians are demonstrating to join the European Union. FRONTPAGE Website always portrays the European Union as an anti-democratic, totalitarian dictatorship in Brussels, similar to the UDSSR.
    So why should Ukranians bother to leave one dictatorship only to join another? In this case, they’d be better of staying with the cheap gas and trade benefits granted by Russia instead of becoming beggars at the door of the European Union.

    • Boots

      Reality is that even the EU is light years better than what they currently have and what they left before (Soviet Union). I don’t know the Ukraine’s thinking but I guess if you feel you need an alliance you have to go with the lesser of evils. I have two Ukrainian immigrant friends (mid 40′s) who came to the US and they appreciate our freedoms and opportunity (both are employed… one’s an engineer and the other a systems geek). Frontpage is mostly right about the EU in that freedom of speech is severely limited by laws criminalizing criticism of protected classes… and the tax and regulatory burdens of most EU states. The EU administration is hard left.

      • Race_Dissident

        The difference is, to the extent that Putinism is evil, it has already reached its apogee. EU evil, on the other hand, is nowhere close to reaching its potential. I would rather be in Russia than Sweden 40 years from now.
        The Ukrainians need to be patient here and think ahead, rather than rashly embracing the amiable monstrosity known as Europe.

        • Boots

          No argument here. Anyone paying attention and not blinded by ideology understands the direction the EU is headed. State the truth about Islam and you get charged with a hate crime. I was only guessing about the thinking of the Ukraine’s leadership and choice of alliances because I really don’t know.

          • Race_Dissident

            Understood.

  • Dyer’s Eve

    Amen!

  • Johnnnyboy

    If I were Ukrainian, I would want neutrality. Try to keep the Russians from manipulating the internal politics, but do not aspire to leaving the Russian orbit entirely. To paraphrase a previous revolutionary, do no provoke a fight with the bear, just “tickle” him a little now and then.

  • ConcernedCitizen999

    Ukraine is a great country, nation and people.
    The European Union of Soviet Republics is poison.
    Skip that.

  • pistis

    I would rather go for Russia which is opposed to radical islam…and Putin is trying his best to get rid of radical muslims in Russia.

  • TienBing

    Tough choice, flagrant subjugation on one hand and insidious subjugation on the other.

  • Race_Dissident

    “When they say Europe, they mean rule of law, struggle for transparency and guaranteed accountability.” The Ukrainians may know Putin, but if this quote is any indication, they don’t know Europe.

  • defcon 4

    Putin seems to be resisting islam0fascism while the EU is facilitating it. I’ll take the strong arm of secularism over the oppressive, psychopathic, Jew hating insanity of islam any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

  • Fritz

    What is it that the protestors want exactly? I heard something about it being over the government putting off a trade deal. There is a big difference between a trade deal and becoming integrated (colonized) by the E.U, Canada has a trade agreement with the E.U but is obviously NOT joining the European Union. In the Ukraine’s relationship with Russia, they may not always get along but they at least maintain their sovereignty, this is something they will no longer have if they join the E.U. politically, if that is what they seek.

  • UCSPanther

    I don’t think there is much love between the Russians and Ukrainians. Too much bad blood, especially from “Uncle Joe’s” reign of terror…

    • merhy

      Ukraine is quite a big state (45.5 million), but ideologically divided into east and west. east – pro-Russian, industrialized, more densely populated. West mainly agricultural, and had visited the 20th century in the Russian Empire, then a little independently then in Poland (192h), then in the USSR (1939), the Second World War mess, then again independently (the end of the 20th century).
      My grandmother lives in eastern Ukraine, and all the 20 years after the collapse of the USSR, it is practically everyone with whom there spoke they saying we all want to be part of Russia.
      Western yeah, do not like Russian, and have very strong nationalistic moods (close to fascism).

  • Hktony

    The eu sanctions Islam Russia doesn’t . You go to prison if you criticise Islam in the eu. It will get worse. The eu is becoming what Russia left behind. Do you know parents in Sweden are afraid to tell there male children that blue is a boys color in case he reports them to the school. Afraid of your own children! And you want them to join the eu.

  • Smithy

    Wasn’t the Orange Revolution a George Soros-induced thing? Isn’t it obvious that this is the same? Do the “wester” Ukranians know what Soros & Co. have in store for them? Do Americans who support the revolutionaries know what Soros has in store for us?