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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert


6 December, 2013 - 19:50
Photo: Ruslan Kanuka, The Day

“Blessed is he who visits this life
at its fateful moments of strife”

(Fyodor Tyutchev)

Kyiv, 12.05.2013

There are unique moments in history, when people, for just a few days, come further ahead than for many previous years and decades. Such moment is now happening in Ukraine. Tens of thousands were gathering at the manifestation in Kyiv on November 24. Just a week later, same place, there were more than half a million peaceful protesters. Coming to Khreshchatyk street, people could not believe their eyes: gosh, how numerous we are!!!

Facebook web-feed now looks like a host of simultaneous reports from multiple battlefronts. Tartars are coming to Kyiv’s Maidan from Crimea. 500 protesters are coming from Transcarpatia, peacefully neutralizing the attempts of road police to stop them. In Vasylkiv, near Kyiv, local citizens effectively block the motorcade of a special police unit. In Kyiv private drivers block the local base of the same police unit (and this happens the next day after the local prosecutor's office initiated several criminal proceedings following a similar blockade of the governmental buildings!). The students of Kyiv National University, after two-hour negotiations with First Deputy Minister of Education, squeeze from him an order not to persecute students for their participation in protest actions. Kyiv’s Maidan springs out smaller “branches”: near local courts, city prosecutor's office, Ministry of Home Affairs…

Of course, the authorities fight back. Special police forces are acting. So are diligent prosecutors and obedient judges. So are underground criminal forces, tacitly guided by the authorities. But they, habitually, persecute the protesters mostly one by one – while, at the same time, new dozens and hundreds are joining the stream of protests totally independently from each other.

The uniting force is not a leader and not a “command centre”. It’s an idea.

It seems that healthy (and often quite unhealthy) skepticism of Ukrainians towards the three leaders of parliamentary opposition served us best by radically healing us from “leaderism” and by schooling us to rely, in the fight for our common future, primarily on our own forces.

Miraculously, the protests have gone radically decentralized. The revolution turned into a Hydra: you cut off one head, and a dozen of new heads appear immediately in the most unexpected places.

What’s going on here and why?

Every ruling political power, deliberately or not, supports or implements by its activities a kind of cultural “project”. In forming and structuring the political space, it follows some conscious or unconscious principles that always have identifiable cultural roots.

What are the cultural roots of the current “Donetsk power”?

They are flesh of the flesh of Donbas, with all its historical and cultural peculiarities.

Donbas is the land of migrants, who settled down here and found a common Russian language.

That is why the people of Donbas, with all their spontaneous isolationism, cannot become a germ of a separate “donbasian” nation. Curds, Basques, Sicilians all have ethnical originality, deeply rooted in their native land. Nothing similar is here. All ethnical substrata are secondary and have external cultural roots (of course, mostly Russian).

No surprise, this is a fertile ground for “internationalism” and, respectively, profound intuitive distrust towards any kind of “nationalism”.

Donetsk ideologists – as far as one can speak like that at all about the Party of Regions – actually replaced the project of “Ukrainian nation” by the project of Ukraine as “mini-USSR”. There is no “Ukrainian nation”; there are “multinational Ukrainian people”. This explains their ritual dances around the rights of “national minorities”, interpreted here not as in Europe (i.e., ethnical minorities within this or that European nation), but as multiple “nationalities” within the framework of Ukrainian-Russian people (ideally, with constitutionally approved state bilingualism).

However, “mini-USSR” is nothing else but “mini-Russian Empire”!

Indeed, Donbas is a kind of “little Russia”, historically destined to find itself outside of Russia. Should I remind that “Little Russia” is exactly how Ukrainian lands were labeled first in Byzantium and then in Moscow?

The breakup of the Soviet Union gave rise to a cohort of local tycoons – here in Donbas, as well as in the big Russia. However, unlike the big Russia, the local tycoons in Donbas were not challenged either by strong security forces or by old Kremlin-molded “apparatchiks”.

That is why local FIGs managed to realize – first in the region, then in Ukraine as a whole – the same scenario that Mikhail Khodorkovsky attempted to implement, so unhappily for himself, in the neighboring Russia: the entire country is controlled by a small pack of nouveaux riches having a “pocket” parliamentary majority and only partially autonomous state apparatus.

Adjusted for this top control of nouveaux riches, the model of Ukraine under Janukovich proved to be a natural variation of the traditional model of Russian statehood.

“We have two misfortunes in Russia: the power of darkness below, and the darkness of power above” – thus goes the famous Gilyarovsky’s saying (1886).

Everything seems traditional and logical: there is a super-rich ruling top, which exploits for its sole benefit the nature and industry of the entire country, and there is the rest of the population that has somehow adjusted to the existing power and is too loose to put up any palpable political resistance. Not that this population is undereducated. The real point is that to put up a political resistance towards the domestic state power – as it constantly happens in Western democracies, now almost entirely in peaceful forms – the population needs a ground of solidarity, which is not rooted in this very power.

How this is possible in Russia, formed as a whole solely by the efforts of Russian state?

This is what actually drives the recent and current political protests in the biggest Russian cities towards a permanent stalemate. Whatever people fight for, the outcome is either their coming back to “United and Great Russia” (in the bunch of alternative versions from Eduard Limonov to Alexei Navalny), or… nothing at all (in the worst case, the further breakup of Russia, i.e. the third stage of dismantlement of the Russian Empire – something that neither Russia nor the rest of the world seem to be ready to bear). However, the “United and Great Russia” is already (and disgustingly for Russian liberals) defended by the state ideology.

Now, what’s in Ukraine?

For historical reasons, Ukraine – that is, the considerable part of it – gave rise to tradition of consolidation of local population outside and independently of any formal power-holding structures. This tradition proved to be alive and ready to use today – just as it was used and strengthened by Zaporizzhian Cossacks, then by the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (aka Makhnovtsy) and numerous smaller independent units, then by the followers of OUN, those of Ukrainian People's Revolutionary Army (aka Bulbovtsy), and, once again, numerous smaller independent units.

This is what Janukovich and his group failed to take into account. In the bloody mafia war in Donbas of 1990s, even the most sophisticated participants – those who eventually became winners, i.e. remained alive and rich – did not face any cultural complications, since the war was taking place within a homogeneous (donbasian) cultural space. The nearest groups visible on the horizon, those from Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk, both tied to Soviet military-industrial complex, were mentally somewhat different, enough to evoke occasional irritations, but not alien enough to create an insurmountable cultural gap.

The problems were latently engendered at the all-Ukrainian level, where “Donetsk power”, despite all warnings of its predecessors, profoundly and strongly forgot that “Ukraine is not Russia” (as Leonid Kuchma famously stated in his 2003 book). The cultural project of this power, once again, was exactly that “Ukraine is Russia”, but autonomous and within a more modest geographical scale.

In fact, this was the first serious blunder.

The second blunder took place when the “Donetsk power”, with its brand-name mentality and zero feeling of cultural differences, burst into the world politics.

Those people did not study multiculturalism. They did study the art of survival in a deadly struggle; the art of control over finances and industry; the methods of privatization of enforcement structures (preserving their governmental status or having them totally private). But multiculturalism was not in their curriculum. And so it happened that they completed their formation long before they could feel an urgent and pressing need of having at least the basics of it.

But how can you deal with today’s world without mastering multiculturalism?

The first ones who felt and irritatingly noted this cultural inadequacy were European diplomats (as it turns out now, the US diplomats noted it as well, although not so publicly).

And then, after Vilnius, when the visible split appeared at the international level, cultural problems suddenly surfaced within the country as well – squeezed, as it (seemingly) was, under almost absolute governmental control.

People rediscovered again that they have quite a lot in common outside and independently of this power. Moreover, the joy of consolidation centupled exactly because the consolidation took place outside and independently of this heavy and stiffening power, which so openly despised its own people.

We are Ukrainians. We want to join Europe. We want to be a part of Europe.

What could be simpler than that?

But “Donetsk power” just could not embrace into its world picture that people might wish something by themselves (to be sure, besides “bread and circuses”); might wish it jointly, not one by one; and might even act together in defense of their common will and common choice. It still cannot apprehend that. By the way, many dwellers of today’s Donbas cannot apprehend that as well – so that quite a few of them still firmly believe in purely American origin of Ukrainian “Orange revolution”. In the mentality of both Donetsk politicians and most of Donetsk intellectuals, people can consolidate and act together only as guided from the top – from Donetsk, if not Moscow; from Washington, if not Donetsk.

The nearest days will show whether the current movement of self-organized masses will grow into a true people’s revolution. Anyway, it is already clear that “Donetsk power” as an all-Ukrainian power is doomed. Not economically (or not only economically – that’s another story), but culturally. It is not within its power to subdue the rapidly strengthening Ukrainian nation.

Does it mean that shortly we’ll witness the split of Ukraine into the national “Western Center” and yet more moderately sized, but purely little-Russian “Eastern South”?

From the cultural prospective, this split is quite possible, but not inevitable. However, to overcome this danger one would need a radically new cultural policy, unprecedented not only for Ukraine, but in many respects also for the entire Europe.

One could safely live in a heterogeneous cultural space – which is certainly the case of Ukraine within its today’s borders – only by consciously accepting cultural pluralism and having a well-developed system of domestic “translation” between the “languages” of different mentalities.

This is the only chance to secure that national “Western Center” will not stand up once more against the compulsory “Russian-style internationalism”, whereas the internationalists from Donetsk will not irritatingly oppose the coming threat of “Ukrainian nationalism”.

One should not forget also the internal pluralism of Ukrainian economy, where huge heavy industrial plants, requiring highly centralized “Weber-style” management, exist side by side with internationally successful and highly mobile IT companies. Here one might need the same flexible system of switches from one to another managerial “language” as in the cultural dimension described above.

To create such a cultural project is challenging but doable task. At any rate, the success of this task is the true “do or die” question for further survival of Ukrainian state within its current geographical limits.

This will be the most difficult home-policy problem for the new Ukrainian power.


Oleksiy Panych,

professor of philosophy,

senior researcher of “Spirit and Letter” publishing house

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