by Marilyn Harris '16

The month of December signaled the one-year anniversary of Euromaidan, when the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend preparations for signing an agreement with the EU triggered mass protests in Kyiv’s Independence Square. Although current coverage of Ukraine focuses on the military action taking place in the east of the country, on Friday, December 5, Carnegie visiting fellow Valeria Korablyova from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv returned to the significance of the event itself in her presentation, “Euromaidan and its Aftereffects,” at the CREEES weekly noontime seminar.

Korablyova, a scholar of social and political philosophy who studies the development of post-Soviet symbolic space in her native country, examined Euromaidan as a topos and a rupture with the previous social order. Korablyova described these protests as a “breakthrough experience, a short-term event that was important in changing everything.” This rupture brought a return to fundamentally European values, social engagement on all levels of society, and the development of Ukraine’s new national narrative.

A native of Kharkiv, Ukraine, Korablyova was teaching philosophy at Kyiv University throughout the protests. Although she had been developing a habilitation thesis around symbolic space prior to Euromaidan, this case of mass unrest was an opportunity to test out some of her hypotheses. Maidan, meaning square in Ukrainian, refers to Independence Square itself in Kyiv and the protests that have been held there. The First Maidan, better known in the West as the Orange Revolution, brought people to the streets over alleged vote rigging in the election of Viktor Yanukovych in 2004. Euromaidan shares some characteristics of the First Maidan; both, in Korablyova’s eyes, “are ruptures, some kind of breaks in continuity in ‘normal society’ intended to bring about dramatic change in the social order.” However, this most recent movement, known in Ukraine as the “Revolution of Dignity,” went beyond a power play between two political candidates. “This Maidan was driven by ideas…it was about revising the general rules of common life,” Korablyova said in her lecture.

In this quest for change, demonstrators developed slogans and images reflecting this sense of shared purpose, such as “I’m a drop in the ocean that will change Ukraine.” People from all walks of life volunteered to support the demonstrators, rare in a country that did not previously have a strong tradition of volunteerism. At the same time, activists went to work on building a “parallel society” to support their movement: protestors created temporary institutions across several different areas, including fundraising, safety, medical care, food supplies, information policy, communications, and even education, developing the Open University of Maidan.

If there is now enough perspective to examine and draw conclusions, however preliminary, from this event, what might those be? Korablyova argued that for post-Soviet Ukraine, Euromaidan was a key moment in defining the new national project of the country, establishing a vision for Ukraine that its citizens have taken ownership of, even as conflict continues in the East. As one of the biggest states belonging to the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s identity over the past 24 years was largely shaped by a government that changed in name but not in those who held positions of power; crony capitalism and a Soviet inertia were several of the defining characteristics of the pre-Maidan nation that Korablyova cited in her talk. Yet the future that this movement seeks is not just about joining the EU. Korablyova called Euromaidan “a rebellion against the discrepancies of the world of late capitalism,” yet it is not a socialist revolution either. “Instead, it goes to the origins of modern Europe, marking a distinction between its ideas and basic values and its current implementation, between liberalism as a doctrine and neoliberalism as the process of marketization.”

A year after these historic events, Ukraine’s national project may have been defined by these protestors, but how close, if at all, is Ukraine to achieving this vision? "I think that all the attempts of these Maidans, by these events, we declared our will to choose the European path, because it was European in its slogans, its ideas, and its essence…right now we are struggling for it,” Korablyova says. The pessimists, she says, fear the country will collapse economically and that the current government is unprepared to help the nation weather this and potential further warfare in the east. Optimists, however, believe that if Ukraine can build a prosperous European country in whatever boundaries it has, sooner or later, other countries will seek to have that same prosperity. In the long run, however, Korablyova emphasizes that the ultimate goal is not only to join the European Union—although it is regarded as a desired step towards a prosperous Ukrainian future—but “to live in Ukraine itself, which is to be a European country, grounded on European values, European practices.”