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World cannot overcome the current crisis by neglecting the destiny of Ukraine – Soviet dissident

The first days of the Euromaidan protests in November 2013. Photo by Alex Zakletsky
World cannot overcome the current crisis by neglecting the destiny of Ukraine – Soviet dissident
Article by: Myroslav Marynovych
This article is an abridged version of a lecture given by Myroslav Marynovych as part of the conference “Human Dignity – Socio-ethical Legacy and Challenge of the Revolution of Dignity” organized by the Center for Eastern Europe and International Studies in Berlin (ZOiS) in cooperation with the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Konrad-Adenauer foundation, and the Open Orthodox University with the aim to rethink the meaning and Christian understanding of human dignity in the Ukrainian socio-political context in Kyiv over 31 October-1 November 2019. Euromaidan Press is publishing it on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the Euromaidan Revolution (celebrated as the Day of Dignity and Freedom in Ukraine on 21 November).

We know from Christian social teaching that Judeo-Christian understanding of human dignity differs from its civic understanding in treating man as God’s son: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him” (Genesis 1,27). Since man is the image of God, man also has personal dignity – that is, man is somebody, not something. Man cannot be a tool for implementing various plans. Common and personal development of everyone is possible only upon recognition of human dignity.

However, this recognition resembles the Platonic idea – eternal, but unachievable. As Plato’s real world is only a shadow of ideas, so is the real perception of human dignity only a shadow of its Christian definition. In this respect, Ukraine is a good illustration.

On the one hand, our country lives by the cultural code of human dignity inherited from ancient Kyivan Christian civilization. However, on the other hand, it desperately struggles against imposed Russian imperial tradition of despising human dignity and treating man as an instrument for state purposes. Thus we live between the two amplitudes: either reach the highest peaks of spirituality or, speaking with Serhiy Averintsev, “striving for absolute good before sunrise, live in devilry.”

The 20th century was catastrophic for Ukrainians. We’ll be always grateful to American historian Timothy Snyder, who described in the scientific language of facts, well understood in the West, the tragedy of people at Bloodlands victimized by the two totalitarianisms by turns, the Communist and the Nazi. This disaster influenced very disruptively these peoples’ perception of their own dignity. In this sense, I keep a strong impression that the greatest victims of the two totalitarianisms were not those who perished but those who survived.

Westerners often overlook this posttraumatic syndrome while expecting from Ukrainians exemplary and responsible democratic behavior; and, in case we fail the expectations, they easily fall into Ukraine fatigue.

Ukraine managed to resist the furious pressure of Kremlin and explode by the three massive, bright and creative Maidans.
As a former Ukrainian dissident, I can witness that human dignity and inalienable rights that stem from dignity were the conceptual core of the dissident movement in the former “socialist camp,” including Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. This dignity was especially apparent in the nonviolent character of dissident resistance. In my view, the spiritual nonviolent bearing of Mustafa Dzhemilev and the entire Crimean Tatar people is still underestimated by humanity – especially now, in connection with the annexation of Crimea. If we don’t want this bearing to be radicalized due to the feeling of hopelessness, we should realize that Crimean Tatars deserve to be included in the European security system and the leaders of these people deserve the collective Nobel Peace Prize.

Dignity was also the spiritual core of the three modern Ukrainian revolutions: Revolution on Granite of 1990, Orange Revolution of 2004, Revolution of Dignity of 2013/14. That is why I was there “at home” with my dissident experience. All these spiritual elations of dignity in Ukraine were based on the same essential values: truth, love and mutual assistance.

Speaking with Adam Mikhnik, all three Ukrainian revolutions were “the most majestic manifestation of the meaning of European values.” Despised by Russia and seemingly always secondary, Ukraine managed to resist the furious pressure of Kremlin and explode by the three massive, bright and creative Maidans.

All three Ukrainian revolutions had a spiritual – and even religious – significance. All three were spiritual revolutions, all three were marked by the greatest elation of human minds and hearts, hitherto fettered by the inertia of fear. It was beyond the scope of Ukrainian Maidans to radically change the quasi-Soviet state order; however, every time each of these revolutions prevented Ukraine’s falling into a political trap prepared by Kremlin.

It was beyond the scope of Ukrainian Maidans to radically change the quasi-Soviet state order.
The most important consequence of each Ukrainian spiritual revolution was that its energy transformed some people, gave them a new spiritual force, raised them into higher levels of freedom. Of course, every time there were also those who remained slaves and yearned back to their Egypts, and mercenaries who longed for their magnetic gain. At the political level, the decline of revolutionary enthusiasm always looks like a defeat, a painful breakdown. However, at the spiritual level, there is a rule aptly expressed by the former head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, major archbishop Lubomyr Husar: “Let people grow in freedom.” In other words, one cannot grow in freedom by a single effort.

That is why our falls are almost inevitable. A good illustration of this is the temporary passion of Ukrainians for “garbage lustration,” which reached its climax in the spring of 2015.

Oleksandr Danyliuk, deputy head of the Rivne Oblast Council, undergoing “garbage lustration.” 26.09.2014; Photo:

At Euromaidan, we used to say: “Man receives his dignity from God, not the authorities. So, it is not up to Yanukovych to deprive us of our dignity.” However, soon after people were angry at state bureaucrats because they didn’t even think about changing their established habits. Indignant protesters resorted to their own way of “lustration,” by throwing the listless bureaucrats into garbage containers. But, if man receives his dignity from God, it is also not up to protesters to deprive anybody of his dignity, even dealing with the worst bureaucrats. You can and should remove them from power, convict them in the court of law, but you are not entitled to demean their dignity, because in the last case you assimilate yourself to your enemies.

As you see, we still have problems with a profound understanding of dignity. However, “garbage lustration” was rather a regrettable error than a rule. The spiritual elation at the times of the Revolution of Dignity was so magnificent that the Evil clearly could not tolerate it. So, the attack of Kremlin regime, which for me is the modern incarnation of Evil, was predictable. The annexation of Crimea and the bleeding wound of Donbas are a desperate attempt by Putin to extinguish the spiritual flame that burned at Kyivan Maidan and illuminated the entire Ukraine.

However, the response of the world was unpredictable. The degradation into national egoism and aggression wasn’t unanimously condemned; instead, it became contagious. Today, five years after the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine, the world has become unrecognizable. The international security system declined; in fact, there is no Euro-Atlantic solidarity of Western democracies. Political leaders openly lie and are not even ashamed of it anymore. Informational bombs stuffed with fakes became a new mass destruction weapon – more terrible than nuclear weapons due to its invisibility. Vulgarity and militant anti-professionalism pleased the voters and gave rise to the ninth wave of populism.

Now not only Ukrainian destiny is at stake; we are talking about the destiny of the entire world. Here in Ukraine, we cannot find solutions without the world’s help; however, the world also cannot overcome the current crisis by neglecting the destiny of Ukraine. The core issue here is values that define the course of events in the overall social and political milieu of our globalized world, just as the state of mantle defines the course of events in the Earth’s crust. And values mean first and most of all human dignity.

Here in Ukraine, we cannot find solutions without the world’s help; however, the world also cannot overcome the current crisis by neglecting the destiny of Ukraine.
If this is the case, let us ask ourselves whether all these manifestations of crisis somehow influence the standing of human dignity. In fact, the question is rhetorical. Let us repeat once again the main Judeo-Christian basis of dignity: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him” (Genesis 1,27). And God is Truth, God is Love. All mentioned traces of devilry in this world, including violence, hatred, and lies, are adverse to God, and, thus, adverse also to human dignity.

Here we arrive at the main question of our times: how to find an alternative to insolent and celebrating devilry, which injures human dignity. Naturally, we look at the Church, which used to be the primary apologist of human dignity – the Church with capital “C” and without confessional differences; the Church, which is named the mystical Body of Christ.

Well, the Church of Christ claims long since that the Truth is “Who,” not “what,” as Christ announced to the world: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14,6). That is why the Church foresaw that the world, which missed Christ, will miss the truth as well, and will fall into the crisis of a truly ontological scale.

However, can the Churches, knowing the nature of truth, witness it truthfully? How much energy in their preaching is wasted for mutual overpowering? Each of them seemingly stays for its own understanding of the truth, and all of them together break the truth, because God is not only Truth but also Love. Indeed, we all were told: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another” (John 13,35).

This should be the starting point: heal thyself! The Church cannot but start by answering the question, why her witness about Christ is so unconvincing exactly when the world is desperately athirst for cleanness and truthfulness.

Unfortunately, there are problems not only with the internal health of Churches but with their preaching as well.

Churches beware of speaking the Truth because this might set them against the powerful and influence the lives of their fellow believers subjected to dictators. The rule “speak for sake of consolidation,” which initially was a very strong instrument of soft power, today, in fact, means “do not speak the truth for the sake of apparent mutual understanding.”

Churches beware of speaking the Truth because this might set them against the ruling ideologies and political doctrines, whereas Churches are willing to stay “beyond politics.” However, can you imagine Christ Who remains neutral regarding false ideologies in the political sphere? The point is exactly that you can earn the ulterior Kingdom only when you stand for the truth in the kingdoms of this world!

And what does it mean to “guard the Truth” in the times when the new Neros infect people with hatred, instigate them to violence, and distort the public information space so drastically that people cannot distinguish good and evil, truth and lie?

A number of God-inspired texts say that God “destroys falsehood.” I do believe that. But should Churches simply wait for God’s wrath from Heaven to punish the wicked? The wrath of God will fall upon them, but which should be our role in this story?

In a number of my public speeches, I repeat the same metaphor, which for some reason is for me irreplaceable. I always imagined that lightning strikes from top to bottom, from heaven to earth. Generally, this is so. But slow-motion shot has shown that before the main pillar of lighting will strike from heaven, a small pillar of fire arises from earth.

This is an excellent metaphor to show how we can and should assist in God’s transfiguration of us and the entire world. Our action makes sense! That is why the more this world is choked with falsehood, the more resounding is the actual silence of Churches. Not a single existing Church can manage this mission alone. We need the collaboration of all Christians, the more so because we already are a minority. A special responsibility lies on the Churches of those countries which became special victims of hatred, aggression and informational war – including Ukraine.

Ukrainian Churches should realize that any forms of envy, jealousy and mutual pushing away must be eliminated from the church life. The only legitimate competition should be competition in righteousness; the only permissible zeal should be zeal in faith. Better to lose in trust than apparently win in suspicion.

We need a decisive break from the current state of stagnation. We talk a lot about consolidation into a single Kyiv Church, meaning first and foremost an organizational consolidation. And, by doing so, we kill the right idea in the bud. A structural consolidation is the last step, whereas we should start from consolidation around a common godly cause. In order to give to the voice of consolidated Kyiv Church ozonic freshness and instant persuasiveness, it is important that this consolidation will break stereotypes and unconditionally prioritize the truth of Christ.

A book with the proceedings of the conference is under preparation. Watch the whole lecture by Myroslav Marynovych (in Ukrainian) here:

Myroslav Marynovych is the Vice-Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University based in Lviv, founder of Amnesty International Ukraine, a founding member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, and Honorary President of the Ukrainian PEN Club.


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