Comparing the Moscow protests in late 2011 – early 2012 to the 2013-2014 revolution in Kyiv and other cities of Ukraine, I would like to emphasize six key factors that set the Russian and Ukrainian events apart.
Factor N1. Ukraine has a competitive oligarchy. In Russia… how should I say this? There is the Kremlin, and whoever isn’t with the Kremlin can stick to knitting mittens for sale.
Factor N2. Ukraine has the experience of the peaceful Orange Revolution, which happened in the lifetime of the current socially active generation. This experience remains important. Russia has no such recent event to remember. We might recall August 1991 or October 1993, but those were a long time ago. Besides, those are very sad and bloody stories.
Factor N3. Political and social movements in Russia are limited by some sort of social contract. You people stay out of politics and don’t badmouth the Kremlin, because we only have one politician. Do that, and you can have bonuses from the oil and gas incomes. For some, this means corruption opportunities. For some, redistributing incomes from the resource-based economy. For common people, the bonuses come in the form of social payments. This way, everyone gets something – both the people and the members of the feudal power vertical.
Ukraine, however, doesn’t have a resource that would be large enough to divide among the feudalists and still have some left for the common folk. There are certain amounts of resources that depend on the state of the world market (metallurgical products, chemical products, grain). As they are getting scarcer, the feudal clan wars grow more bitter.
Factor N4. Ukraine has another thing that we Russians have trouble judging objectively. I mean the Western Ukraine factor. Throughout history, Western Ukrainians have managed to keep their proverbial backbone. It hasn’t been broken. Maybe because those regions escaped collectivization, Holodomor [the famine], and the 1930’s repressions – while Eastern Ukraine, Russia and Belarus faced all of that. Essentially, Russians, Eastern Ukrainians and Belarusians are people with broken backs. It was the presence of that internal core [still remaining in Western Ukraine] that became the critical factor and started the snowball effect.
All of the events happening in downtown Kyiv and in the Ukrainian regions right now are none other than the formation of a new political nation, without a strong division into Western and Eastern Ukrainians.
Factor N5. I visited the Maidan in December and January, and I saw people with a great capacity for self-organization. There isn’t a boss to go to for permissions or orders. The place is dominated by a spirit of fraternity, where people coordinate themselves and make decisions together. This social model is in stride with the challenges of the 21st century, when horizontal links start taking over instead of vertical subordination. Real life shows this model to be much more effective. I think that if the Maidan had a boss, the Maidan would’ve been gone a long time ago.
Factor N6. People regain a sense of dignity – they’ve had enough of being knaves and ‘trembling creatures’ [‘Am I a trembling creature or have I the right?’ – Dostoyevsky]. Yes, today’s Ukraine is indeed divided. However, it isn’t divided into the West and the East, into Orthodox and Greek Catholics, into Russian- or Ukrainian speakers – but into people with a sense of dignity and the lumpen without it. I believe that the prospects and the working model of every country depend on the balance between the last two categories. If the people with dignity are the majority, Ukraine is looking at a beautiful future. Today, like back in 2004, some Cossack behavior styles are rearing their heads. And the more pressure you put on the Cossacks, the stronger the reaction will be, the harder they will fight back. In Russia and Belarus, protesters run from the OMON [riot police], while in Ukraine, they fight back. Russian media talks about a conflict between ‘fascist hooligans’ and ‘the law enforcement’. Somehow, no one says that the conflict is against a criminal state that takes medics hostages, that beats up students and journalists, that douses people with water cannons at -10 Celsius, that throws gas grenades into infirmaries. By and large, I believe the current events to be one of those rare cases that political philosophy describes as the natural right of the people to rebel – rebel against an illegitimate and unjust government.
(Commentary for the Ulitsa Moskovskya newspaper, Penza; transcribed by Yevg. Malyshev)