Conference reports Revolutions and their aftermath A year after Euromaidan
The roundtable at CBEES 27 March, provided the space for an academic debate in which scholars and experts could present the findings of their research and share their views on the current events in Ukraine with a broader audience.
Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 1-2 2015, p 34.
Published on balticworlds.com on april 28, 2015
Euromaidan took place from November 2013 – February 2014 and the roundtable ”Revolutions and their aftermath: A year after Euromaidan” hold 27 March, marked the first anniversary of the mass protests in Ukraine. Intellectuals from Ukraine, Germany and Sweden who specialise in history, regionalism, gender, social movements, mass media and security gathered together to discuss the causes of the events that led to the regime change in the country and Ukraine’s current prospects. The scholars shared their reflections on Euromaidan and its consequences from different perspectives. The event concluded with a joint discussion between participants.
From the perspective of the use of history, Euromaidan became a space for reactualisation of the process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung – coming to terms with the past, as Olena Petrenko, a historian from Ruhr University, argued. On the use of history during the street protests she demonstrated how Soviet and anti-Soviet legacies – respectively represented through such historical topics as Cossackdom and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) – reinforced each other to produce revolutionary symbols for mobilising purposes. She also drew attention to how the notion of ‘fascism’ became an empty concept in the coverage of the protests.
Tamara Martsenyuk, a sociologist from Kyiv Mohyla Academy, stressed that through studying women’s participation in mass protests we can understand the diversity of Euromaidan better. For Dr. Martsenyuk, it proved to be a heterogeneous space with grassroots initiatives where traditional gender stereotypes were both reaffirmed and contested. Commenting on the women’s role in the protests, Dr. Martsenyuk emphasised that women were not helpers (as they are often perceived) but makers of the revolution. She concluded that, as a result of Euromaidan,we can see a general shift in Ukrainian society. In contrast to the situation after the Orange Revolution, where people lost interest in self-organisation the moment Yushchenko came to power, after Euromaidan people felt their own responsibility for their future. Therefore, the locus of control is internalised and solutions for problems are sought inside the community and not outside, in the government, etc. The role of women in Euromaidan is also under reconsideration: womens’ contributions strengthen the critique of sexism and undermine patriarchal gender roles.
In her presentation on regionalism in Ukraine, the political scientist Valentyna Romanova presented a careful examination of the causes and consequences of Euromaidan. She argued that the reason for mass protests was the lack of institutional capacity to bring about the change demanded by the public at national and local levels. In particular, transparency, better representation of public interests and decentralisation of power were demanded. Dr. Romanova set out the link between Europeanisation and democratisation, on the one hand, and domestic decentralisation, on the other. The appearance of decentralisation is one of the most obvious consequences of Euromaidan and it is seen by many experts as a necessary step towards the democratisation of the country.
One of the leading Ukrainian intellectuals, Mykola Riabchuk, stressed that we should be careful when describing Ukraine as being a community divided along ethnic or linguistic lines. If the country is divided then this divide is based on values, which correlate with other more noted divides such as ethnic, linguistic and religious,regional and political. To that extent, the two distinct and opposed sets of values are European, based on liberal democracy and the rule of law, and post-Soviet or Eurasian, underpinned by putinism and ‘Russian world’. Yet even then, Ukraine is no more divided than any other nation. As Mr. Riabchuk argued, the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Russian invasion contributed to the consolidation of the political nation. He concluded that what we can observe now in Ukraine is the civic nation in the process of being made.
In his reflections on the Ukrainian situation the Swedish journalist Torgny Hinnemo said that there was a huge discrepancy between what he learned from books on Ukraine and what he observed in Ukraine during his during 25 years of travelling throughout the country. These observations align neatly with the sociological data on support for Ukraine’s independence, which have been over 50% in Crimea and the east of the country and over 80% in the west. He stressed that the language and ethnic issues are too exaggerated in the literature, while people are more concerned with corruption and low standards of living.
Jakob Hedenskog from the Swedish Defence Research Agency commented on the current crisis in Ukraine and on the country’s prospects in the future. He also analysed the Russian-Ukrainian war in the broader context, including its effects on Sweden. He argued that, according to international observers, Russian intervention in Ukraine had nothing to do with the defence of Russian compatriots. It was a geopolitical move that was seen by Russia to be in its own geopolitical interest. According to Hedenskog, the Donbas region for Putin is nothing more than leverage over Ukraine – Putin does not want to “own it”. Yet the longer the war continues the more expensive it gets for Russia to keep it going. He stressed that through its aggression in Ukraine, Russia is trying to destroy the European security architecture. Thus, what is going on in Ukraine is directly connected to Europe but the leaders and citizens of the European Union often underestimate the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict on their own countries.
During the joint discussion, a question was put on the “objectivity” and “relativity of truth” in the Swedish media’s coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. At the same time, the opposition between the so-called “Western” and “Russian” media was underlined. It is highly debatable whether the existence of a consolidated “Western media” view on the current Russian-Ukrainian war can be asserted convincingly. This is because the attitudes to the current conflict are heterogeneous in almost all countries of Europe – France, Greece, Germany, etc. “Relativity” is a very useful analytical tool in academic research, but it can also be a very dangerous tool for propaganda. This was recently claimed by media scholar Peter Pomerantsev in his book “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia” (2015). In this work, Mr. Pomerantsev highlighted that the very purpose of Russian propaganda is to make everyone question everything so that no point of reference can be fixed. On the other hand, though, in a modern era, in the era of hybrid and information wars, social networks, mobile telephones and compact video cameras facilitate the documenting of evidence and shed some light on the massacre in Kyiv during winter 2014, the annexation of Crimea, and the dramatic events of the war in the east of Ukraine. The source criticism and juxtaposition of different sources of information become particularly relevant.
To sum up, the roundtable provided the space for an academic debate in which scholars and experts could present the findings of their research and share their views on the current events in Ukraine with a broader audience. The joint discussion also addressed questions on the role of the media and journalists, as well as the consequences of propaganda in the current Russian-Ukrainian war. The workshop organizers, Roman Horbyk, Julia Malitska, Olena Podolian and Yuliya Yurchuk, summarised that such discussions contribute significantly to a deeper understanding of events which are too difficult to put into clear-cut categories and well-established explanatory schemata of Ukraine as a divided community or as an arena for geopolitical power games. The research at grassroots level indicates that Ukrainians from different regions of the country, different ethnic backgrounds, different religions, and different professional and educational characteristics, were all the main agents and “doers” of the Euromaidan Revolution.NOTE: The roundtable was organised by the Ukraine Research Group under the patronage of the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), and was financed by the Baltic Sea Foundation (Östersjöstiftelsen).