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Ukrainians must not waste the chance offered by Maidan

Photo: Gleb Garanich (Reuters)
Ukrainians must not waste the chance offered by Maidan
Article by: Vitaly Portnikov
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Ukrainians need to understand one simple thing. As a result of Maidan, we succeeded in replacing a foreign power that was very effective, especially when it came to the interests of thugs and the Kremlin, with one that was not particularly effective but ours.

During each anniversary of Maidan one hears the usual words about disillusionment and about the government that came to power “thanks to the blood” of the defenders of the main square of the country but which failed to “live up” to hopes and expectations.

These complaints would be justified only if the goal of Maidan had been to establish some kind of government or to fight for the interests of political forces or their leaders. But there was nothing of the sort during the 2013-2014 years. Those who comment on the 2013-2014 Maidan are confusing it with the 2004 Maidan. At that time, many of the protestors really were placing their hopes on the presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. The Maidan itself began after the presidential elections and was part of the plan to protect the voting results from being manipulated by those in power.

And, indeed, many of the protestors were soon disappointed by their chosen candidate because they expected him to bring about not simply changes but a better life. The fact that the “orange” team was not a team of reformers and soon quarreled was not even the issue, but rather the fact that the last period of its rule coincided with a global economic crisis that affected Ukraine as well.

This is why many of the former Yushchenko voters voted for the “strong manager” Viktor Yanukovych in the hope that the former criminal would bring order to the country. And Yanukovych did. But people did not draw conclusions either from Yushchenko’s rule nor from the established “order.”

Most Ukrainians still do not want to understand that an effective government emerges only in an effective society. And not the reverse.

The 2013-2014 Maidan was primarily an uprising “against” and not an uprising  “for.” An uprising against Yanukovych, against injustice, against attempts to “surrender Ukraine to Russia.” The EU flags that delighted the West were what remained in Maidan from the student actions in support of European integration.

But hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets only after the beating of the students. They came out because they were outraged by injustice, and their one key motto, which I saw and heard clearly on December 1, 2013, was ” out with the zek (criminal) !” The political leaders were not the initiators of this protest by thousands; they were only the intermediaries between the citizens and the government that the citizens wanted to remove.

At the same time, these political leaders had the critical task of safeguarding the state, which under conditions of mass protests in the capital and in the western and central regions of the country could have lost control and become easy prey for the former metropolis. The fact that such fears were realistic was confirmed by Russia’s seizure of Crimea and parts of the Donbas immediately after Viktor Yanukovych’s flight from Ukraine.

The 2013-2014 uprising represents only the chance to build a new country. At the same time, we must realize that were it not for the annexation of Crimea, the war in the Donbas, and the artificial elimination from the voter lists of millions of pro-Russian supporters, who ended up on  “the other side” of the line of demarcation, this chance, even after Maidan, would have been minimal.

About half of the country was hostile or indifferent to Maidan. Feelings began to change only after the beginning of the war. But most importantly, neither the residents of Crimea, nor a large portion of the inhabitants of the Donbas, were able to vote for their traditional choices.

This is why we need to understand that the situation that has arisen today represents a window of opportunity that may soon close down for many years.

There may be various reasons. Elections of populists who will be unable to cope with the tasks of rebuilding the country. Restoration of territorial integrity that will return millions of pro-Russian supporters to the voter lists. Deterioration of the governing crisis in the West, which may ultimately exclude Ukraine from the foreign policy priorities of the civilized world.

Each circumstance can not only ensure there will be no “better life” for a long time but also lead to the collapse of the country along the well-known borders of geopolitical influence.

The chance to build a united democratic and successful country still exists — even though it is decreasing with each passing day. But this chance demands responsibility — both on the part of the government and of society.

The government must strive to make the processes of such state-building irreversible — even despite public sentiments and fears of low ratings during elections.

Society must give up anarchy and learn to respect state institutions even when the individual citizen believes they contain inferior representatives of the establishment.

Society must learn to control the government. Citizens themselves must go into government — primarily at the local level.

Citizens must be ready to finance their political and social activity themselves — the state cannot be built on the handouts from big business. Therefore, the average Ukrainian must take full responsibility for himself not only during rebellion but also during the process of building  a state. Otherwise nothing will happen.

We must understand one simple thing. As a result of Maidan, we succeeded in replacing a foreign power that was very effective, especially when it came to the interests of thugs and the Kremlin, with one that was not particularly effective but ours

But if there is no understanding of this fact, the next government will be foreign as well.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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