A Revolution of Dignity

Dec 22nd, 2013 | By | Category: Civic Actions, European Union, Human Rights, In Depth, Protests, Ukraine, USA

On Thursday, November 21, 2013, with only one week before the scheduled signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, the former’s head of its Cabinet of Ministers announced that there would be no signing, at least not within a week at the upcoming Vilnius summit. What ensued was a spontaneous people’s protest throughout Ukraine that evolved into a well organized national revolution that ultimately concentrated in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

 

The revolution was named the “Euromaidan”, but that term captured its essence only until the night of November 30 into December 1. That night Ukraine’s regime ordered its special police unit (“Berkut”) to disperse the protestors, attacking and beating them with rubber and plastic night sticks. Many of the student protesters were severely injured, one died and several were arrested. At the end, the size of the crowd prevailed and the Euro-protest was transformed into the Euro-revolution. Its demands now included criminal prosecution of those who ordered the attack, the dismissal of the Cabinet of Ministers and the resignation of Ukraine’s current president with a democratic election and referendum to follow. Signing an EU association agreement was no longer the ultimate goal. There would be further attempts by special police units to disperse the “Euromaidan”, but in each instance the people prevailed.

 

As it turned out the revolution is really about human and national dignity (“hidnist”). That word has been spoken over and over again. What it means is probably somewhat particular to different segments of the Ukrainian society and, perhaps, even individually inveterate. “Hidnist” means to live as a European. It means to be rid of Russian oppression. For some it may even mean not to be represented in the eyes of the world by a convicted criminal. The words “Zeka het’” (ex-convict out) ring often throughout the “Euromaidan”. Most importantly it’s about national pride. The specific venue of the revolution like the entire city of Kyiv is covered with blue and yellow Ukrainian flags. Almost every speech concludes with the words “Slava Ukrainy” (Glory to Ukraine) three times with the audience’s response “Heroyam slava!”(Glory to its heroes).

 

As with most matters Ukrainian, Russia is not a bystander. It actively pursues its own interests. Having devised a scheme to counter European economic wherewithal, Russia insists that Ukraine join its Customs Union and not the EU. Otherwise the Union is nothing more than Russia and some largely insignificant players. Threats were the strategy for Moscow at first. Then it offered and signed off on some enticements, in the form of billions of dollars in credits and a discount on Russian gas. Coincidentally, the timing has been ironic. On November 23, Ukrainians throughout the world commemorated the “Holodomor” (Great Famine)of 1932-33. Seven million and more Ukrainians perished at the hand of Moscow during that power play orchestrated from Moscow.

 

Very important to this equation has been the support from the West. The EU has made its support manifest through visits and communications. Perhaps more so, the United States has been forthcoming in support of the “Euromaidan” through the visit of the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs to both Moscow and Kyiv, leaving a veiled message in Russia and a strong one in Kyiv. Then came an unequivocal condemnation of the use of force by the Secretary of State himself, harking back to admonishments to Ukraine’s leadership from the Vice President made immediately prior to the regimes brutal behavior. And more recently two U.S. Senators from different sides of the aisle appeared at the “Euromaidan” stage in support of the people and introduced tangible substance to their words – a jointly sponsored Senate resolution with teeth, providing for sanctions against particularly offensive members of the ruling regime, with a burgeoning list of offenders that may include the current president of Ukraine himself.

 

The revolution prides itself on being peaceful, but after all, it remains an act of civil disobedience as more than half of Kyiv’s main street (“Khreschatyk”) is barricaded and at least three public buildings are under siege by the revolutionaries. Lenin’s most recent demise in Kyiv was not only symbolic but hopefully irreversible. The once protected grounds were taken over by tourists and souvenir seekers until the authorities removed the remaining carcass.

 

Thus, the government’s action of force evoked an even stronger reaction, mostly in defense, but not meek. There could not have been more fallout. The regime then resorted to politics, attempting to organize its own manifestation of support – a counterrevolution, but with less than significant results. Ukraine’s former first president suggested that if a government has to organize (and pay) for a counterrevolution, then that government is not fit to govern and should relinquish control. The regime’s humiliation was complete when the counterrevolution announced its unlimited duration, only to adjourn essentially by the very next day.

 

Despite the government’s seeming failings, the end result is difficult to forecast. Hope springs eternal and the revolution hopes to join Europe, depose the prime minister and his cabinet, the president himself and procure the release of all the opposition’s political prisoners, most importantly among them a former prime minister, opposition leader and the current president’s worst nightmare.

 

The final outcome of the “Euromaidan” is impossible to portend. In fact there probably will not be a final outcome, only a series of dynamic developments but with little certainty. The only certainties are that if the people of Ukraine are allowed to choose their own strategy for their economic and cultural future, that future would be within Europe. Furthermore, perhaps more importantly that all else, the events of the “Euromaidan” which arose as a result of the current regime’s unwillingness to respect the will of the Ukrainian people and recognize the people as determinants of Ukraine’s and their own future, these events have expedited irreversibly the development of the Ukrainian nation. After all the “Euromaidan” in Ukraine is a revolution of national dignity.

 

December 21, 2013 Askold S. Lozynskyj

 

The writer participated in the Euromaidan in Kyiv from December 12-18, 2013.

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