[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s I am writing this it is still not clear how the, increasingly unpredictable after bloody dispersal of Maidan, demonstrations and riots in Kyiv will end. There is no certainty whether the regime will enforce a monthly ban on assemblies in downtown Kyiv which was ruled by an impartial Ukrainian court on the night of Saturday to Sunday. There is no certainty whether the national strike called for by opposition leaders will become reality. Besides there is no certainty if leaders of opposition parties are able to take over the grassroots protest or will they be rightfully toppled along with the Yanukovych regime during a citizen revolution.
There is no certainty virtually about anything – except one thing. The brutal, apparently pointless dispersal of Maidan is a turning point not only for the Ukrainian society but also for the whole region.
For nearly a decade the key event for Eastern Europe, that defined the political processes taking place here, was absence of police violence in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution. That absence of police massacre at the very moment when everything was moving towards it formed a new political reality. That reality not only enabled a peaceful transition of an authoritarian regime through mass demonstrations. That reality has also made the authoritarian regimes start using new methods – for instance creation by Russian authorities fascist youth movements to neutralize protests. That reality has enabled – for the very first time in the modern history of Ukraine – a whole generation for whom an unconditional right to voice their own opinion, freedom of assembly, and lack of acceptance for state violence are not some abstract “European values” but common beliefs won in individual experiences of fighting, oppression and victory.
But that reality has also caused a political apathy at an unprecedented scale. It has also caused depoliticization of social protest, its capture by ideology of hate.
The bloody attack of police on peacefully demonstrating citizens (mainly students) gathered on Maidan not so much strikes through that political reality but introduces it to a new level.
It would appear that anyone who in the past few years subjected the Orange Revolution to critical consideration – and such individuals were fewer and fewer over the years – came to an ever harder to escape conclusion that Maidan of 2004 is just a first chapter or a prelude to a larger event that may lead to a genuine system shift, not only of the people on top. That crucial event wasn’t dispersal of the “tax” Maidan (a protest of entrepreneurs against tax code) in 2010. It also wasn’t, on its own, Euromaidan. It was the violence against few dozens of peaceful protesters, exactly nine years after new game rules were set for the post-Soviet space in exactly the same spot. What does this violence mean for the generation created by Maidan of 2004?For some – as evidenced by fights in front of president Yanukovych’s seat, which I watch live while writing this text – it means crossing the threshold beyond which violent response is legitimized. For others – political mobilization aimed at toppling not only the current regime but all the other structures based on discursive or physical violence. Most of all the fascist-like Svoboda party which has the most to gain from present riots independent of their outcome.
We also have a chance to cure the social diseases caused by the former revolutionary wave: disbelief in possibility of non-party politics of cynicism and apathy, and – on the other hand – degradation of social action by extreme right or sectarian left.
Now we can definitely say that between December 2004 and November 30th 2013 Ukraine was a part of a broadly understood European community – despite the humiliating visa regime or lack of free movement of capital. Will it remain so depends not only on what is happening on the streets of Kyiv. It also depends on how that seemingly irrational act of violence on Maidan will be received and explained – most importantly by European community.
As justly noted by Paweł Pieniążek (who was beaten by Ukrainian police in Kyiv) the pogrom of Maidan gave a new chance to a street protest – if the demonstrators weren’t dispersed by force they would wilfully disband on Monday the latest. However the reasons for that action are not as mysterious as would appear at a first glance. Violence on Maidan is nothing else than one of guarantees that Ukraine will not return to association with Europe, meaning it will keep the pact agreed between Putin and Yanukovych.
The president of Ukraine was forced to a particular eastern partnership of blood. Too many times did Ukraine fool Putin in a game with Europe. It is possible that it was Putin who set a condition for Yanukovych of a bloody dispersal of protests, as a true signature under the agreement. Because now Europe will never again talk with Yanukovych – which will furthermore punish Ukrainians already punished by their own authorities and militia. If Europe really cared for Ukraine it would then have to make a step forward and undermine that brutal agreement by continuing the association process despite current actions by Ukrainian authorities.
That would require some suspension of basic “European values” but it is well known that when true interests were at stake those values were easily suspended. I don’t think I need to remind the European leaders their photos with Muammar Gaddafi at the decline of his illustrious career, the constant flirting with Putin himself or their own record of recent dispersal of peaceful protests. In no way am I advocating to give Yanukovych and his people a free pass on the Maidan massacre. They will be held responsible by Ukrainians themselves – when only Ukraine will be led outside of the sphere of influence of a country that imposes violence on citizens of another country. If, of course, they won’t be held responsible presently.
Article was originally published in Political Cricique’s Opinion Daily on Dec. 1. Translated by Konrad Zwoliński.