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Post-Maidan Ukraine. Why are we trying to live in a country that no longer exists?

Post-Maidan Ukraine. Why are we trying to live in a country that no longer exists?
Article by: Vitaliy Portnikov
Translated by: Christine Chraibi

To move forward, Ukrainians must realize that their country is poor and archaic. 

We, as participants and witnesses of the unforgettable events that took place in Kyiv two years ago, cannot help but feel that we were then forging European and post-Soviet history and that the Revolution of Dignity was our first great opportunity to build a new country – a democratic, European, future-oriented state.

But in fact, the Maidan was just part of a general global process happening all over the modern world, more precisely…in the non-modern world, to be honest. These events were caused by the exhaustion of social and political models and resources to which we were accustomed, and which everyone took for granted.

A good example is the Arab Spring – the collapse of Arab nationalist dictatorships. What is the result today? It varies from country to country. Long and bloody civil wars broke out in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Egypt’s government was “reformatted”. Only Tunisia, where it all began, managed to establish a fragile democracy.

Resources in post-Soviet states were exhausted in the first days after the collapse of the USSR. It was clear that, unless serious economic reforms were initiated, these resources wouldn’t last for more than 20-25 years. And so the years passed….

We can say that Euromaidan was definitely a popular movement for Ukraine’s European integration. We can say that it was a firm protest against a criminal regime, injustice and corruption. We can say that it was a strong movement for independence from Russia. But the most important thing is that it was a popular rebellion against the state, which did not even exist when the Maidan started. Like in old fairy tales, the Kyiv treasury was empty, and the king was looking for a place where he could get more money. All post-Soviet resources had been exhausted and post-Soviet Ukraine simply breathed its last. The Maidan was our chance to build a new state.

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However, we still cling to the past and think that we can repair what used to be. No, we can’t, and we shouldn’t try to fix what doesn’t exist anymore. We continue to function under the old system of relations towards the government and society. We expect to live better if we accept European laws and eliminate corruption. We believe in the promises made by people living in the old coordinate system.

The Maidan victory has given us a chance to build a new country. However, we’re currently building on the ruins of the old Soviet state. Sooner or later we’ll have to get rid of these crumbling ruins.

We must understand a few very simple things.

First: What’s happening in Ukraine is part of a global post-Soviet crisis. We weren’t the first to fall. Georgia was first. Moldova is currently in the midst of a period of turbulence. Both countries, despite major attempts at reform, haven’t managed to build a modern state. Georgians, Moldovans and Ukrainians continue to live on post-Soviet ruins. One of our biggest misconceptions is that we want to borrow someone else’s experience and use it on these ruins, but we forget that the ruins must be cleared away first.

The crisis in post-Soviet space will continue. All the former Soviet republics, including Russia, will eventually collapse. This collapse may turn into an uncontrollable civil conflict and/or permanent chaos. The faster we modernize, the more chance we have of protecting ourselves from the consequences of this collapse. The Baltic countries avoided total collapse and chaos thanks to timely reform. If we’re too slow, too hesitant, we may lose not only a lot of precious time, but also our country.

Second: Ukraine is a very poor country. Yes, we can change that, but today we’re still living in the old economy and don’t know what to offer to the world. Effective reforms will not change the situation unless we draw up some new proposals. The Georgian experience is the living proof of this. It will be years before we can achieve a new economy and improve our people’s welfare. We can never go back to “the good old days” – two or three years of crisis, and then large new salaries and more bank loans – all that will be gone. We’ll also have to forget about the state’s social role. The state might be able to support the poor, but hardly more.

Third: Ukraine is a very archaic country. This archaism, has, in fact, allowed us to survive. But, we should understand that our archaic nature isn’t just our never-ending capacity to revolt against injustice. It also includes the whole complex relationship between man (citizen) and state, a tolerant attitude towards daily local corruption, distrust of any government, of the state as an institution, even if it is our own state. This distrust insures us against “tsarism” (absolute rule), but also absolves us of responsibility. Unless things change, we will lose both our state and our country.

Fourth, we need to understand that the world will never be the same again, i.e. what it was before the Maidan. It will change constantly. What seemed unshakable, rock-solid and eternal will collapse… The Maidan victory led to the war between Russia and Ukraine. The Arab Spring led to an outburst of radical terrorist violence and may result in a war between Russia and Türkiye. Now just imagine what would be the consequences of the collapse of Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf, or radical changes in communist China? What would happen in the event of a major economic or social crisis in Russia? How will the EU change against the background of such global challenges? And, finally… what must we do if this happens?

We must change. We must hurry. We must not believe in false promises. And most importantly, we must never stop moving forward. We must feel that we’re only a tiny part of a rapidly changing world. If we stop, we will bring Ukraine to destruction, and by doing so, betray the heroes who sacrificed their lives for us all.

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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