August 8, 2022

My personal history of independence

A group of young Ukrainian authors who pertained to support the trainees at the political hunger strike in Kyiv, in September 1990, at the Square of the October Revolution (now Independence Square, a.k.a. Maidan). From Mykola Riabchuks individual archive.

My Personal History Of Independence

This sensible conclusion most likely prevented us from asking the exact same concern to our parents or, God forbid, our instructors. We certainly felt that the word independence was somehow smelly when used to the Soviet republics, particularly to Ukraine. We were taught considering that kindergarten that Ukrainians and Russians are brethren, that the former can not endure without the latter, and those who attempted to separate the Siamese twins were our (and mankinds) worst enemies.

My Personal History Of Independence

The concept looked rather easy: the Olympic arena was located a mile away from the Square, and the football fans had an old custom to march on the city centre after matches, along the main opportunity called Khreshchatyk. The devilish strategy may have worked, had the provocateurs managed to set the fans versus the trainees. We, a host of intellectuals, completely comprehended this but chosen to go to the square that evening, not so much to protect the trainees physically– it would have been definitely utopian– however, rather, with a slim hope that the presence of public figures and journalists in the square would prevent the organizers from justification.

My Personal History Of Independence

All those little circumstances accumulated in my head, and Im hesitant to associate to mere chance what took place afterwards. When a concern haunts you, when youre looking for a response, you are most likely to discover something.

My Personal History Of Independence

In the meantime, the media started reporting the overly positive pinky professionals forecasts that included Ukraine as probably the finest economically prepared for self-reliance. The spectre of economic prosperity had certainly drawn rather a few people who otherwise were not much interested in the superb ideas of political liberty.

My Personal History Of Independence

What will not fill your stubborn belly.

My Personal History Of Independence

I try to consider the glass rather half-full than half-empty. We are certainly far behind our Central or baltic European former fellow inmates of the communist camp. We are definitely far ahead of all the post-Soviet republics given that just Ukraine (and a small Moldova) maintained the democratic system ushered by perestroika– with liberty of speech and assembly, routine multi-party elections and modification of federal government, mass support for democracy and a lasting dedication to Euro-Atlantic integration..

My Personal History Of Independence

More open than meant.

Self-reliance is not just a story of great expectations and disappointments, however likewise of great persistence, as exercised by a quarter of the population, a minority that has actually managed to affect the majority-driven post-Soviet politics. It was this committed minority that prevented Ukraines backsliding into dictatorship– as it took place in Russia and Belarus. Undoubtedly, this persistence at some points needed innovative upheavals, and eventually expense countless human lives, and one tenth of Ukraines territories occupied by Russia.

Act Zluky. Photo by Ostap R via Wikimedia Commons.

L: Orange Revolution Photo through Opendemocracy from Flickr. R: Kiev: Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) at night. Image by Jorge Franganillo fromn Flickr.

I did my finest to avoid the dispute of interests, diverting my anti-communist inclinations from the necessary ideological brainwashing at the university, and went with difficult sciences instead of humanities, at the time supercharged with dogmatic Marxism-Leninism. It was 1971, I was 18 years of ages. The political thaw was over, the country was entering another Ice Age, and the only freedom we could dream about was our internal flexibility; the only independence we could covertly treasure was that of our casual, alternative intellectual life.

The talks on glasnost and perestroika (openness and restoration) developed in the following year, right after the Chernobyl catastrophe or, more precisely, after the shameful attempts to silence, downplay, and manipulate the news about a massive surge at the major nuclear electric plant near Kyiv. The media of the time gladly reacted to Gorbachevs call, and so did also casual civic companies that rallied around the relatively apolitical issues of ecology, cultural heritage, healthcare and the likes. Specialists of two unique areas took the lead: culture and academia. Not that these locations and institutions were beyond the Communist Partys control, vice versa. The extremely status of creative workers, bearers of a particular understanding and skills, required the Party to tolerate certain deviations in this scene, relying more on carrots than sticks.

Photo by Didssph on Unsplash.

In my teens, I was looking at the large political map of Europe in the classroom, where all the Soviet republics were painted in various colours, with unique borders, names and national capitals. They were as curious as myself: why a big nation of 50 million individuals, with a distinct language, culture, and history, could not have the independence of Poland, Hungary, or Romania? We were aware of political distinctions and the East-West divide, so we did not liken Ukraine to France or Italy.

From our arguments the supreme, truly consensual and profoundly philosophic conclusion arose: If self-reliance were possible, Ukraine would have currently achieved it.

We certainly felt that the word independence was in some way smelly when used to the Soviet republics, specifically to Ukraine. In the meantime, the media started reporting the overly positive pinky experts projections that featured Ukraine as arguably the finest economically prepared for independence. And ethnic Russians, for the very first time ever, made up a solid majority of supporters of Ukraines self-reliance: from simple 35% in 2013 to 73% last year.

Among the very first literary performances held semi-officially, thanks to the Gorbachev policy of perestroika and openness, at the Les Taniuks “Metrobud” studio in Kyiv in the mid-80s. Photo from Mykola Riabchuks individual archive.

In 1985, I resumed my research studies in Moscow, at the Gorky Literary Institute, after being expelled two times from university in the 1970s– for taking part in a literary samvydav and, even worse, holding unsuitable contacts with Ukrainian dissidents. There, I shifted from prose and poetry to literary criticism as I felt it offered better tools to influence public argument. I was ultimately welcomed to head the criticism section at the reliable Kyiv-based journal Vsesvit (The World).

He hysterically required that we eliminate an innocent photo from the back wall of the class, a double-page from the Soviet magazine with the artistic photo of a yellow wheat-field under the blue sky. It wasnt prohibited, but the colours mistakenly resembled those of the Ukrainian national flag, or, in those times view, a nationalistic flag: the official yellow-blue sign of the temporary (1918-1920) Ukrainian National Republic.

One of them, Ukrainian-speaking ethnic Ukrainians had actually constantly been strongly dedicated to independence, so the modifications within this group were modest: from 77 per cent to 91%. And ethnic Russians, for the first time ever, made up a solid majority of advocates of Ukraines self-reliance: from mere 35% in 2013 to 73% last year.

Photo by Marjan Blan|@marjanblan on Unsplash.

A group of young Ukrainian authors and artists in the well-known Mykola Riabchuks “kitchen” in Lviv where many counter-cultural events were held in the late 1970s. Image from the authors personal archive.

In August 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed and all the union republics rushed away like smaller sized matrioshkas escaping from the greatest one, Ukraine appeared to be the only republic that chose to authorize and completely legitimize the choice of the parliament at the national referendum. For lots of, the effort looked rather dangerous because Ukrainians had actually currently held a similar referendum in March that year, and its results did not bode well for the nationwide cause. Back in March, more than two thirds of Ukrainians supported Mikhail Gorbachevs proposition of a restored federation of the sovereign republics, with just one quarter ballot versus it.

(Freedom to Ukraine!). Thousands of football fans, barely ever engaged in politics, selected up the motto and happily passed the square with those two basic words, as we gazed at them in astonishment.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay.

The horizon of our expectations was rather narrow. The best thing we could picture for our country was a version of the 1968 Prague Spring, and perhaps a (re) turn to its program, socialism with a human face. We hoped for completion of Russification, non-interference into the cultural (apolitical) life,– a soft version of communism, like in Poland. Poland was not just the closest neighbour, however also the primary channel of alternative details about western art, literature, cinema, and modern-day music. We longed for the boundaries of the permissible to reach what Polish intellectuals delighted in and intensely broadened..

Mikhail Gorbachev was the eight and last leader of the Soviet Union. He ended up being general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985 at the age of 54. Image by RIA Novosti archive, image # 359290/ Yuryi Abramochkin/ CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, by means of Wikimedia Commons.

Im obviously prejudiced, however nowhere have I felt the current of history so intensely and strongly as at house, in Ukraine. This experience can in some cases be as chaotic as breathtaking; it can be aggravating and bewildering at the same time, even terrible, but never ever dull, never hopeless. Ukraine, I believe, is an excellent adventure, an excellent chance and a great obstacle.

By the end of the years, the scenario had actually supported, relative growth resumed, but these enhancements were still too modest to offset previous losses, and too fragmented to usher sustainability. Thirty years after independence, Ukraine stays among the poorest countries in Europe and one of the most corrupt on the planet– at least in the popular understanding, as measured by Transparency International.

Ten years later, when senile Soviet leaders started dying one after another, getting a season ticket to the funerals became a grim but popular joke at the time. We couldnt predict the scope or direction of the ultimate modifications, but comprehended that the system was progressively uncompetitive and economically inefficient, that the communist ideology had completely lost any mass appeal, and that the professed goal of catching up with the West was simply a bad joke under the scenarios of deep stagnancy and overall disillusionment.

Every year, on the eve of the Independence Day, pollsters release sociological studies that typically include an essential question about the popular mindset toward nationwide self-reliance: would the participant support it now in a hypothetical referendum or not? Nationalists dislike the concern, renouncing it as a justification– they think it would be abstruse in normal countries. Ukraine can hardly end up being typical if it rejects reflection, consisting of sociological. In 2013, before the Russo-Ukrainian war, nationwide self-reliance at an imaginary referendum would have been supported by 61 percent of respondents, with 28% ballot versus and 11% uncertain.

As an author, Ive released numerous books on Ukraines convoluted transition and numerous articles where I castigated Ukrainian federal governments, society and, sometimes, the West that had made its own numerous mistakes vis-à-vis Ukraine. Today, it is certainly not the nation I had dreamed about three decades back, however I have to tame my aggravation since 4 years ago I would not dare dream about any independent Ukraine whatsoever, a minimum of within my life-span..

In January 1990, we organized the first massive political demonstration in Ukraine: the live chain of unity in between Kyiv and Lviv was obviously designed on the 1989 Baltic chain that commemorated the unfortunate Molotov-Ribbentrop contract. Our chain commemorated the 1919 Act of Unification between the two temporary Ukrainian republics that emerged from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian and russian empires. 8 months later, the dissatisfied students of Kyiv launched a cravings strike at the central square, requiring the dismissal of the government that had actually probably messed up perestroika. They demanded that new, multi-party elections be held.

It was the very first time that I felt that eventually, Ukraine would inevitably get self-reliance. Therefore it occurred, in just a year.

So we bought all the previously prohibited books and signed up for all the progressive journals that had actually unexpectedly reached multimillion circulations. Numerous lives would have barely been sufficient to check out all of them however we voraciously accumulated those riches, asserting on the worry that the thaw would soon wind up, another Ice Age would set in, and we, happy holders of the rare, distinct literature would once again be secretly sharing it with buddies and family members, and handing them on to the next generations.

It wasnt simply a political map that evoked subversive concepts in my boylike head. Every day life caused comparable concerns. Why were all the motion pictures in theatres dubbed in Russian, while no one appeared to care about Ukrainian? Why did practically all TV programs, with a couple of pathetic exceptions, air in Russian? Why would Russian speakers never change to Ukrainian, but expect rather that one would switch to their language? Dared you defy this unspoken rule, they may well have actually identified you a nationalist,– a charge of criminal weight at the time. Incredibly, all sort of bourgeois nationalism existed within the Soviet Union– Ukrainian, Georgian, Latvian and so on, but no Russian nationalism; so much so that even this expression was unfathomable..

The new Soviet leader elected in 1985 was a colourless apparatchik, identified just by his reasonably young age from his gerontocratic associates and predecessors. His first words and actions were uninspiring: a mild criticism of some small defects and imperfections was framed within a standard rhetoric which determined Soviet communism as an excellent system that must become even better. His first programmatic slogans boiled down to more enhancement and velocity.

No Ukrainian peer of Václav Havel or Lech Wałęsa had any chance to win in a greatly Sovietized society; neither Czech nor polish experiences under foreign rule might match Ukraines 300-year experience in the Russian empire and the additional 70 years in the Soviet Union. Ukraine inherited a colonial, opportunistic elite that had been interested primarily in power and property however definitely not in any reforms that would have weakened their supremacy. And it inherited a population at large that was neither able nor ready to change that elite, not to mention make it work.

The strike turned out into a protracted stand-off as the authorities neither dared to distribute the protesters by force, nor to fulfill any of their demands. It was the time when the main square called officially after the October (Bolshevik) Revolution obtained its current name, Independence Square. It occurred spontaneously, coined by the bottom-up initiative of the Kyiv citizens who began to apply the new name as a proof of their uniformity with the trainees..

Image by crimea13 from Pixabay.

This puts me in an awkward position considering that I need to reconcile my bitterness and justified criticism with a sober acknowledgment of the hard reality of complex path-dependences and low social capacity, of restricted skills and the unlimited dullness of political representatives.

The optimists were right, as 90% of Ukrainian voters (consisting of 54% in Crimea and 84% in the Donbas) approved independence on December 1. It was a clear reaction to the concern about the nature of the impending self-reliance: either it should be an extreme break with the communist past and all types of Sovietism, or a smooth connection of the existing political practices, organizations and, of course, cadres who– as Joseph Stalin had actually appropriately mentioned long before– figure out everything.

Most importantly, those institutions had their own premises to host informal conferences, and their own outlets enabled for challenging publications. The regional authorities were puzzled by the combined signals from Moscow and frequently did not know how to respond. The openness of glasnost was planned more to purchase legitimacy than to enforce significant modification. But in this political climate, the simple motto rolled forward like a snowball, intending obviously at a full freedom of speech. Every day new, formerly banned topics were recuperated, proscribed names revealed, and forbade texts (re) published. It was a lightheaded, envigorating time when the space of liberty expanded nearly significantly, and we nearly felt its day-to-day improvement physically. We also felt that the procedure could at any minute be easily stopped, reversed, crashed, extinguished; there were no institutional mechanisms that might sustain it or guarantee its irreversibility.

This one-quarter minority slowly grew up and matured, comprising over half of the population today and leaving Moscow no opportunities for Ukraines re-Sovietization, or an autocratic turn. They are finding out by doing, and I believe that at some point they will find out to make practical coalitions, produce accountable federal governments, and translate great political programs into truth. To make democracy work, as Robert Putnam notoriously put it.

Prior to finishing from high school, older good friends provided me a samvydav essay, entitled Internationalism or Russification?, by the prominent Ukrainian intellectual Ivan Dziuba. Based thoroughly on Lenin quotes, it mostly verified my moms idea of a humane however distorted communism. However, the severe reprisal against the author and the persecution of those who read and disseminated his work concurrently validated my daddys wisdom.

This mostly describes why Ukraine did not break down in 2014, as the Kremlin had actually expected,– even when the state did truly collapse, as the nation had neither an army, nor functional police, or a reliable security device. It was primarily volunteers, the multi-ethnic and normally multilingual people of Ukraine, who rescued the nation and promoted civic identity from a simple political statement (which it had always been considering that Ukraines self-reliance) to a broadly accepted and mentally internalized truth. This is also an action to Putins compulsive claim that Ukrainians and Russians are the exact same people. The Duce of Moscow draws his unusual idea on historic misconceptions and old-fashioned concepts of a nation as a community of the very same blood and language, culture and soil, history and– quite unbelievably, in the 21st century– religion. What is missing out on amongst these parts, as suspicious as they remain in regard of Ukraine and Russia, is the notion of values, of various political cultures that make the 2 nations as incompatible and various nowadays as their political predecessors, the historical Moscow tsardom and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had always been.

It was mainly volunteers, the usually multilingual and multi-ethnic residents of Ukraine, who rescued the country and promoted civic identity from a simple political statement (which it had constantly been considering that Ukraines independence) to a broadly accepted and mentally internalized truth. What is missing out on amongst these parts, as suspicious as they are in regard of Ukraine and Russia, is the idea of values, of various political cultures that make the two countries as incompatible and various nowadays as their political predecessors, the historical Moscow tsardom and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had actually constantly been.

A landslide at the fictional referendum.

Moms and dads were of little aid. When party membership was mostly a career requirement, my mom was an Easterner and a dedicated communist– a rare phenomenon at the time. She preserved that the initial Leninist policy might have been distorted by Stalin, but it would only refer time up until it was repaired. My dad, a Westerner and, like many residents, a negative double-thinker, explained to me that may makes right, and some animals are always more equal than others. He familiarized me with the stating, one can not beat the butt with a whip.

It came as not a surprise that the country throughout the 1990s looked like a failed state: hyperinflation broke loose, birth rates plummeted and emigration increased, and the popular support for nationwide self-reliance dropped, eventuallies, to barely more than fifty per cent. Cynicism reigned supreme, and Berthold Brechts old dictum ( zuerst kommt das Fressen und dann pass away Moral) was reworded in both Ukrainian and Russian as flexibility will not fill your stomach and nobody would butter his bread with self-reliance.

A great persistence.