Twenty-five years after what Pope John Paul II named the annus mirabilis 1989, Ukrainians succeeded in overthrowing an appallingly corrupt autocracy. Viktor Yanukovych and his clique claimed that they had come to power as a result of free elections. What they refused to admit is that such elections do not offer a blank check for murdering peaceful, non-violent expressions of civic disobedience. The Independence Square in the heart of Kiev has become a real experiment in civic self-empowerment, a symbol of spontaneous anti-totalitarian search for freedom. In this respect, the Maidan, as the place is widely known, is reminiscent of the Kronstadt anti-Bolshevik uprising in March 1921 and the anti-Stalinist militias in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. Maidania is more than a geographic location. It is, like George Orwell’s Catalonia, a state of mind.
Revolutions have more than one cause and a plurality of consequences. The Ukrainian Revolution was born out of desperation, anger, and outrage. It has been a massive response to Yanukovych’s acceptance of Vladimir Putin’s diktat and the implicit abandoning of the country’s national sovereignty. A Soviet-trained bureaucrat and a hyper-corrupt politician, Yanukovych had nothing but contempt for citizens as the true holders of popular sovereignty. Like Romania’s Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, founder of dynastic communism, Yanukovych ignored reality and lived in his own delusional universe. Ukrainians call him Yanushescu. He ordered the massacre of unarmend citizens in the name of an alleged national interest. In fact, he defended only his selfish interests, his survival in power. The moronic reactions of the Yanukovych gang to the enduring challenges from below sped up the revolutionary upheaval.
It was not oppositional political parties that ensured the demise of this dictatorship with a democratic facade. Like East Europeans in 1989, like Russians in 1991, Ukrainians have discovered the possibility of a non-Machiavellian way of practicing politics. The name for this yearning is civil society. It had been civil society that got rid of Yanukovych and foiled the opportunistic arrangements imposed by the European Union. Had it been the way the EU wished things to evolve, the Maidan would have long since capitulated.
Putin’s propaganda has intitiated a global campaign to besmirch the Maidan as the territory of extremism, jingoism, and resurrected Fascism. Yanukovych’s nincompoops have echoed these calumnies. No rhetorical device has been spared to portray the Maidan freedom fighters as heirs to World War II ultra-nationalists. This was precisely the device employed by Slobodan Milosevic to de-legitimize the Croatian and the Bosnian struggle for independence. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, denounces the protesters as “fascists” and uses violence to smash the opposition.
The reality is that the Maidan has been diverse, protean, polymorphic, ideologically flexible, and opposed to any form of extremism. I don’t deny the existence of far-right groups, but any movement like the Maidan is bound to magnetize individuals of various political persuasions. I speak here of the mainstream, not the periphery.
The real message of what I call Maidania is not intolerance, but tolerance, not exclusion, but inclusion, not Russia, but Europe. Maidania is a transideological, post-Utopian project. A legacy of 1989, its main value is living in truth. Ukraine’s new leaders will have to build upon the social capital of trust, truth, and tolerance created by Maidania. They will have to honor the memory of those who were murdered because they believed in the citizens’ right to fight for truth.
Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland (College Park) and author of numerous books including “Reinventing Politics: Eastern Europe from Stalin to Havel ” (Free Press, 1992, expanded paperback 1993, Ukrainian translation, 2003) and “The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century” (University of California Press, 2012).
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