By Anton Shekhovtsov
Edited by Voices of Ukraine
Those commentators in the West who did not support either the Euromaidan protests or, later, the revolution in Ukraine, often deprived Ukrainians of any agency. They would resort to imposturous Western “self-hatred” and talk about “Western imperialism” and how bad it was to expand Western-style democracy.
Against this background, Ukrainians were objectified into non-subjectivity: it was not them who rose up against the brutal regime in defense of their own dignity – rather, it was the West that manipulated the Ukrainian mobs against Russia.
The Ukrainian revolution won, because, contrary to all the Orientalist and patronizing rhetoric of Western cynics, the Ukrainian revolutionary movement was a subject, rather than an object, of the historical process. The revolution won because Ukrainians did have agency.
They largely lost it, however, after the annexation of Crimea and the Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine. The introduction of the more-or-less significant Western sanctions against Russia implied the introduction of Western patronage over the weak (and, at times, non-existent) Ukrainian state. In the short run, it was useful for Ukraine: when the strong West stood up for the country that was much weaker in military and economic terms than the aggressor, the Russian invasion stumbled.
Yet in the long run, the loss of Ukrainian agency is destructive for Ukraine, because continuous patronage emasculates the civil society and reverts the gains of the revolution. Without regaining agency, Ukrainians cannot win. During the revolution, being a subject of the historical process implied being stubborn and determined. Today, to regain Ukrainian agency implies implementing uncompromising reforms. The choice is very clear: REFORM or SURRENDER to the aggressor. The West will not be “babysitting” Ukraine for long. The window of opportunity is closing.
Source: Anton Shekhovtsov FB
Shekhovtsov is right I think, both in that it was the assertion of an informed, and very stubborn and resolute agency on the part of average Ukrainians—what essentially amounted to the self-motivated actions of a reawakened civil society—that proved effective in precipitating the collapse of the Yanukovych regime, and also in that it will only be as a result of this same focused assertion of civil society or “citizens movement” activity that Ukraine can be saved now. Losing this focus, allowing civil society reforming efforts to be pushed off of center stage, will only lead to increased stultification, disorder and disarray, and the collapse of Ukrainian society into one or another variety of senseless and self-destructive power struggle.
This, incidentally, is precisely what Vladimir Putin is counting on—that Ukrainians are stupid enough to do his dirty work for him, allowing him to sweep in at the right moment of heightened chaos, seize whatever chunk of his fantasized “Novorossiya” he deems worthwhile, and tell the rest of Ukraine to go to hell—or to Europe, which is pretty much the same thing in Putin’s mind.
I’m not sure I entirely agree with Shekhovtsov that “Ukrainian agency” has been lost at this stage, however—even with everything that is precarious, problematic and threatening at the moment in Ukraine, the surprising electoral success of the Samopomich Party, as well as other reformists who have now entered the Rada, indicates that the flame of the civil society movement is still alive, even if it is facing serious headwinds. If the rest of the political class can begin to incorporate these reformist energies, and do so sooner rather than later, Ukraine can find a way to move forward. If not, the dream of true Ukrainian independence will dissolve utterly—if not forever, then at least for another generation, or two, or three.
The best advice and encouragement Ukrainians can be given at the moment, therefore, is to “remember Maidan”. Indeed, to my mind the whole “meaning of Maidan” is its triumphant apotheosis of “citizens movement politics”, and if Ukrainians can keep their focus on this, then I believe their efforts will eventually bear fruit.
Anyone interested in delving into a fuller exposition of these ideas, please take a look at my article “The Meaning of Maidan” at http://www.ideamaidan.com.
Pavlo: we would agree that Ukraine’s agency on the meta-level right now lies in exactly that massive civic engagement of a self-organizing, self-motivated, pro-active, aware and awakened citizenry that stood up and claimed its civic rights on Maidan,’cause it sure don’t lie in the systems of government that continue to disappoint. And that civic movement continues to organize into so many volunteer battalions and grass-roots volunteer organizations to support the ATO and counter the Russian invasion and the takeover of Donbas. With many of those Maidan leaders now in Parliament post-elections, and the MoD working with some volunteer groups on projects, it is a great hope that their sense of individual agency takes effect in the corridors of power as a contagious example that inspires change throughout the governing social structures that have been so badly usurped by mafia-style rule since soviet times – and effects the change that the Orange Revolution was unable to carry through on (+ goes even further). Added bonus if that engaged civil society makes deep roots and becomes an example of agency and inspiration to global societies! There’s a lot of work to be done, a biblical amount as you write, so time will tell. But it is important to support exactly this form of awakened agency to ensure a future of dignity. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.