Maidan is an Arabic word of Persian origin meaning "square". There is a park called Maidan in Kolkata, the city of Goddess Kālī. The public space in the centre of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is also called Maidan.
All of which might lead us to reflect on the historical interplay of cultures in Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and elsewhere. This shared cultural history of Eurasia is forgotten, or at least undervalued, by those who consider European identity to be all-important.
In February this year, a new régime was established in Kiev with the support of the Euromaidan movement — a militant protest movement based in Ukraine's Maidan, and committed to economic and political alliance with Europe.
Some (not only Russians) see the February régime change in Kiev as a fascist coup. Others (not only Americans and EU people) see it as a popular revolution, a step forward for democracy.
So who is right?
In the months before and after the February takeover, there were a number of signs that the rising political movement had a fascist character. Here I am not referring to outright acts of lethal violence (which I will discuss a little later) but more subtle symptoms:
• The Euromaidan rallies included far-right paramilitary groups (such as the Right Sector and the Svoboda Party); whereas people who were visibly on the left (even if pro-European) were forcefully excluded.
Rightwing toughs acted as protest marshals, and dealt with people whose slogans they thought inappropriate by assaulting them or by tearing up their banners. They did this for instance to feminists and to supporters of labor unions.1
• Maidanists have glorified people who were on the fascist side in World War II. They have also destroyed monuments to people who died fighting against fascism in that war.
Maidanists have paid tribute to the memory of Stepan Bandera (1909 – 1959). Bandera was the founder of an armed group of Ukrainians who took part in Operation Barbarossa, the massive German-led military campaign against the Soviet Union. A large portrait of Bandera was put up over the entrance to the Kiev City Council building, where Maidanists established their protest headquarters in January.2
War memorials honouring Red Army soldiers who fought against Hitler were demolished after the February Maidanist takeover.3
The historian Timothy Snyder, who is a defender of Maidanism, has mentioned that the majority of Ukrainians who fought in the Second World War served in the Red Army.4 Indeed, Ukraine has a honourable anti-fascist tradition. But that is not the tradition the maidanist movement identifies with.
• Attacks on major Ukrainian parties of the centre and the left
The centrist Party of Regions is the group whose candidate Victor Yanukovych won the presidential elections in 2010. Maidanist regional power-holders in a series of areas imposed bans on the party in January.5 Elsewhere, in Lviv for example, local sections of the Party of Regions reportedly decided to dissolve themselves — one has to wonder, under what sort of pressure? 6 President Yanukovych was given an ultimatum by the paramilitaries: resign, or be forcibly overthrown.7 Realising that the state forces were demoralised and unable to protect him, Yanukovych went into exile in the Russian Federation.
The Communist Party of Ukraine is smaller than the Party of Regions, but has sufficient support to hold seats in the national parliament (the Rada). After the takeover in Kiev in February, offices and homes associated with the party were ransacked and burned. The régime has since moved to ban the party through the courts.8
There are also features of the Euromaidan movement that can seem reassuring, even inspiring... at least at first sight:
• Enormous and colourful demonstrations may seem to prove the popular character of the movement. Observers from other countries have been impressed by the idealism of participants in the demonstrations.
This becomes less reassuring when we remember that the Italian Fascist movement and the German Nazi movement also held marches and rallies, both before and after taking power — very large demonstrations, with people from many different backgrounds and walks of life.
When C.G.Jung (a Swiss citizen) visited Nazi Germany in 1933, he talked with "people of unquestionable idealism" who thought a "great revolution" was taking place there, even though there were some "unavoidable abuses".9
• The new régime was established via a decision of Ukraine's parliament (the Rada) and held presidential elections a couple of months after taking power.
This too is less reassuring than it looks. After all, Fascists in Italy and Germany used constitutional procedures and parliaments (e.g. the Reichstag) to consolidate their power and give it an appearance of legitimacy. However the crucial factor was control of the streets by rightwing paramilitaries: the Blackshirts in Italy, the Stormtroopers in Germany...
• The post February government is a coalition, with some experienced political leaders of the mainstream right as well as some from the far right.
The Fascist régime in Italy, the Nazi régime in Germany, both began as coalitions too. In Germany in 1933, government ministers who were members of the Nazi party were outnumbered by associates of Franz von Papen. Von Papen was a conservative Catholic nobleman and a experienced politician.
Verifiable information about ruthless acts of maidanists, before and after they gained state power, is easy enough to find.
• A riot policeman who had been set on fire by a petrol bomb was photographed in central Kiev prior to the takeover in late February.10
• After the takeover, in the southern city of Odessa, over 40 anti-Kiev protesters were killed in a single incident on May 2 — they were burned or beaten to death when a large maidanist crowd attacked the trade union building where they had taken shelter.
As the flames spread, some of the maidanists chanted: "Burn, Colorado, burn" 11 — a reference to the "Colorado beetle", an insect pest. This is similar to the dehumanising language used in another continent 20 years ago: the Rwandan genocide of 1994, where the killers called their victims "cockroaches".
• In the southern city of Mariupol, on May 9, armoured vehicles loyal to the new Kiev régime entered the city centre and opened fire on its police headquarters. They left the building gutted by fire and several people dead, including police and civilians.
Kiev's Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, said that the building had been occupied by "terrorists", and local police had asked for help. Mariupol residents who spoke soon after the incident with western journalists gave a different account of what happened — they said Kiev's forces had not come to help the local police, but to punish them, after the Mariupol police rejected a new boss sent in by the régime.12
• The régime established a new enforcement arm called the National Guard, which militia people from the Euromaidan demonstrations have been encouraged to join.13 Today the National Guard as well as the Ukrainian army is waging a civil war against cities in the Russian-speaking east of the country who reject the authority of the Kiev régime.
Although mainstream western media have reported these acts, they tend to present each violent incident as a unique event, and as a response to some provocation, either from Yanukovych and his riot police, or from Russia's President Putin, or from pro-Russian separatists.
Undoubtedly the maidanists have had some feisty opponents. Hitler's brownshirts (SA) had feisty opponents also, such as the Red Front (German: Rot Front), the paramilitary wing of the Communist Party of Germany.
Yet, provoked or not, isn't every human being responsible for his or her own actions? Don't leaders and participants in political movements have choices to make, even in times of crisis? Why have maidanists repeatedly made choices which escalated the conflict and the violence?
Timothy Snyder, a defender of the Maidan movement, has described its demonstrators as "young people who unreflectively thought of themselves as Europeans" (emphasis added).14
Speaking as a person of European ancestry and culture, I have to say that maidanist Ukraine is indeed expressing an aspect of European identity, but it's an aspect too little transformed by reflection. It is the shadow side of Europe, which expressed itself in the carnage of Operation Barbarossa, and before that in the Crusades.
Colin Robinson, 16 July 2014
1 Alec Lune, "The Ukrainian Nationalism at the Heart of 'Euromaidan' ", The Nation, 21 January 2014 (accessed 14 July 2014)
2 Photo of Euromaidan Headquarters (Wikimedia Commons) (accessed 14 July 2014)
3 "Russian lawmaker complains to UNESCO about demolitions of Soviet monuments in Ukraine" Kyiv Post, 8 March 2014 (accessed 14 July 2014). A retired minerworker in Donetsk told a western journalist that this was his main reason for opposing the new Kiev régime. Luke Harding, "Inside the 'Donetsk People's Republic': balaclavas, Stalin flags and razorwire", The Observer, 20 April 2014 (accessed 14 July 2014).
4 Timothy Snyder, "The Battle in Ukraine Means Everything", New Republic, 11 May 2014 (accessed 14 July 2014)
6 "Party of Regions faction in Lviv Regional Council disbanded", KyivPost, 27 January 2014 (accessed 14 July 2014)
8 "Ukrainian democracy under threat as interim government moves to ban Communist party", European United Left/Nordic Green Left European Parliamentary Group, 21 May 2014 (accessed 14 July 2014). "Communist leader's house burned down near Kiev", nahnews.com.ua, 25 February, 2014 (accessed 14 July 2014). "Prosecute Communists", Kyiv Post, 10 July 2014 (accessed 16 July 2014).
9 From Jung's 1946 essay "Aufsätze zur Zeitgeschichte". C.G.Jung, Collected Works, Vol 10, RKP, London, 1970, p 236.
11 Andrew E. Kramer, "Ukraine's Reins Weaken as Chaos Spreads", New York Times, 4 May 2014 (accessed 15 July 2014)
14 Timothy Snyder, "Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine", New York Review of Books, 20 March 2014 (accessed 15 July 2014)
© Colin Robinson 2014
19 July 2014
Troubling. And exceedingly timely...
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Yes, I find it troubling too...
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22 July 2014
We were seeing the tv for the world version of the Ukranian story. But it is quite different from what the Western media depicts. It is now a worrying concern for the world as a whole now. German story was started with the Europe and the rest of the world sleeping. Now we have to wake up and find a peaceful solution to this acts of violence.
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