For Your Freedom and for Ours
The events that took place on February 20th 2014 in Kyiv will be forever remembered as a moment when the price of liberty, democracy and human life itself were questioned. In fact, this moment marks the end of post-Soviet Ukraine, for now the history of a new Ukraine has begun. What it will be nobody knows, but certainly this country will not follow the Soviet type of post-colonial existence.
The price the Ukrainians are willing to pay for their freedom, human rights and the possibility to decide about their own destiny and not to become the silent slaves of a handful of rulers was demonstrated on February 20th. Standing at Independence Square in Kyiv under a shower of assassin bullets, nearly 100 people – whose main crime was to have the courage to come to the central square of their country, demanding for changes and justice – were killed. This murder cannot be justified and there is no question whatsoever that the organisers of this crime should face the appropriate legal consequences of their acts in the International Human Rights Tribunal.
Undoubtedly, the fate of Ukraine is in the hands of the Ukrainians themselves. No one else can decide about the future of their country. Judging by the will of its citizens, Ukraine will be democratic and European.The question remains what price they will pay for this, and how difficult the process will be. It will for sure not be a short and painless one.
It is from such fundamental rights and values for which Ukrainians have peacefully manifested on the streets during the entire winter to protest for a free and democratic Europe. The price that Europeans are willing to pay today and what they are capable of doing in the name of their European values is the most debatable question they face today.
At the end of November 2013, peaceful protests were held against the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to refuse to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. From the very beginning of the Kyiv protests, Yanukovych and his team constantly inflicted violent measures against the citizens of Ukraine. In response to the students’ “carnival” demonstrations called the EuroMaidan he reacted using police batons. With regards to a protest against violence that demanded at least some concessions – he cynically agreed to a round table – during the night of December 10th he tried to forcibly “clean up” the Maidan. In response to the protest against the dictatorial laws adopted on January 16th, he began shooting at the people while violating and ignoring all legal procedures.
During all this time, European politicians have expressed concern and tried to talk to Yanukovych using symbolic and political language. But, unfortunately, Yanukovych understands only one language: the language of force and coercion.
The escalation of violence temporarily came to a halt at the beginning of February, when the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian Parliament began to seek a compromise. Many hopes were put into a meeting of the Supreme Council on February 18th when the government promised to compromise with the opposition for the restoration of the Constitution of 2004, a parliamentary-presidential form of governance and the creation of a coalition government. However, on that day most of the representatives of the ruling party controlled by Yanukovych left the Parliament, refusing to vote.
Exactly a few days before this event, Brussels stated that there is no plan to introduce sanctions against the Ukrainian government. By contrast, Russia declared that Ukraine will get another credit transfer of 2 billion US dollars if Yanukovych “stabilises” the situation in the country.
Desperate to disperse the protesters by force and to exercise his powerful dominance, Yanukovych decided to kill the protesters in the hopes that the survivors would just scatter away fearfully and learn their lesson.
While on February 20th the ministers of foreign affairs of Poland, France and Germany negotiated with Yanukovych, snipers were ordered to shoot people in the main square of Kyiv; they also shot at the doctors who tried to help wounded protestors and journalists. The scene resembled a criminal operation with one purpose in mind: to intimidate the whole country so that people would run away and forever leave without ever attempting to protest on the street again. It is unbelievable to think that all of these events took place at the beginning of the 21st century in the centre of Europe.
Only in the aftermath of these tragic events has the European Union imposed sanctions against the representatives of the Ukrainian authorities. All this time, Russia has enforced open pressure on Ukraine. The Russian media has purposely tried to create an image of the protesters by labelling them “fascists”, “nationalists”, “extremists”, etc. Many in Ukraine believe that this coercive scenario had been previously planned out in Moscow and its purpose is to keep this territory in chaos. Right now, Russia has started a military invasion of Ukraine in Crimea.
A similar strategy was already enforced in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria and other politically unstable regions of the former Soviet Union. This is nothing surprising if we remember that for many Russian politicians an independent Ukraine has always been a “historical mistake”. In light of the desperate attempts of Putin to revive his empire in the framework of the Eurasian Customs Union, a democratic and European Ukraine is a “verdict” of this re-emerging Soviet Union at the very beginning of its existence.
Considering this complicated panorama, only the countries from the former Soviet Bloc – especially Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic nations – have expressed their understanding of the significance of what is happening in Ukraine. Moreover, because these nations continue to remember the days of Soviet domination and the price that they had to pay to get rid of the totalitarian legacy, their encouragement of the Ukrainians’ unrest has been candid from the very beginning.
What is the European Union prepared to do for its citizens? There is no question that Ukraine, one of the largest countries in Europe, must count on this support in order for its citizens to win their right to life, European prospects and a better future. And who gave their lives in this struggle prove that they are not slaves but free people, and that their country is indeed part of Europe, not only geographically, but also spiritually.
The solution to this unfortunate scenario is dependent not only on the fate of Ukraine, but to an even greater extent, on the future of Europe itself. This, as well as the outcome Ukraine will have after these events, will determine its future development for many years ahead. What is the meaning of Europe now, what values unite it and on what basis will it build its future existence?
Needless to say, Ukraine has become a huge problem for Europe. This is not only because of the various political hardships inside of Ukraine, but primarily because Ukraine has become a mirror in which Europe sees its own problems, fears and weakness. All of these factors manifest the crisis in Europe itself.
In the past, Ukrainians often perceived someone (either Russia or Europe) as the “Other” in relation to the definition of their own identity and destiny. However, the events that have taken place recently, have proved that Ukraine in the eyes of Europe is also the “Other”.
The metaphysical centre of Europe, this “painful point” is now located at the Independence Square in Kyiv. As the French philosopher and social activist Bernard-Henri Levy has said: “Ukraine is the heart of Europe. If Ukraine will be forced to return to the Soviet yoke, Europe will not exist. It will be her spiritual end.”
This being said, what kind of Europe will exist tomorrow? The answer to this question seems to be found now on the streets of the cities and villages in Ukraine. Hopefully, the idea of a united Europe will be at close reach; however, it depends on the way the EU will react towards the Ukrainian situation. Is Europe able to counteractto the unprecedented pressure Russia has on Ukraine, or will it allow for the rebuilding of a neo-Soviet Empire? Hopefully, the Ukrainians not prefer to remain in their cosy houses with their unsolved problems, condemning themselves to a slow oblivion…
Oleksii Polegkyi is a research fellow at the Institute of International Studies at Wrocław University and the Political Communication Research Unit at the University of Antwerp. He received an MA in Philosophy from the National Kyiv Taras Shevchenko University in Ukraine and was a recipient of the L. Kirkland Fellowship Program and an Open Society Foundation Fellowship. Polegkyi published articles concerning the post-communist transformations in Eastern Europe, European integration and identity building in the post-Soviet space.