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Like modern Ukraine on the Maidan. originated


Ukrainians celebrate the New Year on the Maidan during the Euromaidan Revolution. December 31, 2013. (REUTERS / Maxim Zmeyev)

As Ukraine celebrates three decades of independence, it is a country increasingly determined by the pursuit of democracy versus authoritarianism and by a historic geopolitical departure from Russia towards Europe. These civilizational decisions were most immediately apparent during the two post-Soviet popular uprisings in Ukraine, the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2013-14 Euromaidan Revolution, both of which took place mainly in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev. It is not an exaggeration to say that modern Ukraine was literally created on the Maidan.

Almost a decade apart, the two seminal popular power movements of independent Ukraine were sparked by different immediate causes, but shared the common goals of defending the country’s young democracy and preventing a relapse into Kremlin-style authoritarianism. In retrospect, it is now clear that they played a decisive role in shaping the country’s national course and at the same time had a dramatic impact on the wider geopolitical climate.

To grasp the true meaning of the Maidan Revolutions in Ukraine, it is crucial to understand what kind of country Ukraine was on the eve of the first uprising in 2004. In the first thirteen years of independence, Ukraine had made surprisingly little effort to break decisively with the Soviet past. Instead, many Soviet-era officials remained in office while memories of Soviet authority continued to dominate public spaces across the country, often sitting awkwardly next to recently established symbols of Ukrainian statehood. Significantly, until 2003 a huge Soviet hammer and sickle coat of arms towered over Independence Square in the heart of Kiev.

Politically, commercially and culturally, Ukraine was in many ways indistinguishable from Russia before the Orange Revolution. This blurring of the borders was so pronounced that the second post-Soviet president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, even saw himself compelled in 2003 to publish a book with the title “Ukraine is not Russia”.

As the fourth presidential election in independent Ukraine drew nearer in the final months of 2004, the country appeared to be approaching an important historic crossroads. Would Ukraine finally break with the Soviet past or would it join Russia in order to reject the dysfunctional democracy of the 1990s and return to authoritarian stability?

Russian President Vladimir Putin was so convinced of his ability to influence the outcome of the Ukrainian presidential election that he actually came to Kiev and gave lectures to Ukrainians on the need to support his elected candidate. It turned out to be a spectacular miscalculation that aroused outrage among many previously apolitical Ukrainians who felt that their country’s newly won independence was threatened.

Putin’s mistake was one of several factors that sparked an unprecedented wave of opposition to the Ukrainian authorities and their attempts to rig the country’s presidential elections. In the days following Ukraine’s deeply flawed November 2004 vote, huge crowds flocked to central Kiev to voice their opposition. The orange revolution was underway.

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The most immediate result of the Orange Revolution was the victory of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko in the renewed presidential election in 2004, but the repercussions of the uprising were felt well beyond the ballot box.

The Orange Revolution affirmed Ukraine’s democratic credibility and led it on a divergent path to the increasingly authoritarian Russia of Vladimir Putin. In the sixteen years since the Orange Revolution, Ukraine has held eight national votes without ever seeing a return to the kind of political repression and rampant election rigging that is routine elsewhere in the former USSR. Instead, free and fair elections and peaceful transfers of power have become the norm. This has helped strengthen notions of European identity within Ukrainian society while deepening the feeling of psychological separation from Russia.

The Orange Revolution was also a turning point for the Ukrainian media. Prior to the November 2004 protests, Ukraine’s mainstream media was tightly controlled by state censorship, which largely dictated the news agenda. When the level of public support for the protests could no longer be ignored, channel after channel broke with the authorities and began broadcasting objective coverage of the events on the Maidan. No subsequent Ukrainian government has managed to reintroduce the spirit of the free press.

Of course, the information space in Ukraine remains far from perfect. Like the country’s entire party-political system, the media landscape continues to suffer from excessive oligarchic influence and is prone to corruption. Yet the events of winter 2004 served as a turning point in the transition from centralized state censorship to media pluralism. This has profound effects on Ukrainian society as a whole, shaped the country’s self-image and created fertile ground for the consolidation of a vibrant civil society.

In the years after the Orange Revolution, the euphoria gave way to disillusionment as Viktor Yushchenko struggled to live up to the sky-high expectations raised by the 2004 protests. This provided an opportunity for pro-Kremlin forces to make a comeback and ultimately enabled the villain of the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yanukoych, to win the country’s 2010 presidential election. The revival of Russian fortunes in Ukraine, however, turned out to be short-lived.

When Yanukovych tried to break away from his previous commitment to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union in late 2013, crowds again took to the streets in Kiev. A clumsy reaction from the increasingly authoritarian Yanukovych government then quickly turned these protests into a full-fledged revolution. In early December 2013, Ukraine’s second major Maidan movement of the post-Soviet era was underway.

While the Orange Revolution was remarkably peaceful, the Euromaidan Revolution, as it was called, eventually got caught in a spiral of violence when repeated raids by the authorities sparked a militant response from demonstrators. When President Yanukovych fled to Russia in late February 2014, over a hundred people were killed.

More than seven years later, the Euromaidan Revolution remains a contentious issue. Ukraine officially commemorates the victims as martyrs and holds annual vigils in their honor, while streets and squares across the country have been renamed in recognition of their victims. Public opinion on the uprising is less clear-cut and cannot be easily separated from the trauma of the ongoing war with Russia initiated by the Kremlin in direct response to the events in Kiev and started just days after the dismal climax of the revolution. Even if attitudes towards the Euromaidan revolution may differ, no one would question the historical significance of the uprising.

Similar to its 2004 predecessor, the Euromaidan Revolution underscored Ukraine’s European decision and cemented the country’s rejection of Russian reunification. It is crucial that in the months after the revolution, the spirit of the Maidan gave the Ukrainians the courage to defend themselves against the forces of the Kremlin and prevent the division of Ukraine. It is no accident that many of the makeshift volunteer battalions deployed against the Russian invasion in the spring of 2014 came straight from veterans of the Maidan barricades.

As Ukraine celebrates thirty years of statehood, it is possible to see echoes of the Maidan across the country and far beyond. The undeclared Russian-Ukrainian war, which Putin started in spring 2014 for fear of a Moscow Maidan, is now in its eighth year. Over 14,000 Ukrainians were killed in the conflict while Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine are still under Kremlin occupation. Despite these tragic costs, Russian aggression has failed to derail Ukrainian democracy. On the contrary, the country has held a number of highly competitive presidential and parliamentary elections since the fighting began.

Meanwhile, Russia’s comprehensive geopolitical response to the Euromaidan revolution has plunged the world into a new Cold War that is likely to last as long as Russian troops remain in Ukraine. Every new Russian assassination attempt, cyber attack, disinformation campaign or election interference around the world can be traced back to Kiev’s central square.

Ukraine’s two Maidan movements have had a decisive influence on the country’s democratic development and nation-building efforts. They have given Ukrainians a sense of control over their own destinies while helping to promote a distinctive national narrative. This has enabled Ukrainian society to move beyond the political passivity and shared identity of the Soviet past. While Putin continues to insist that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people,” the Ukrainian Maidan Revolutions provide compelling evidence that the two countries are indeed very different and are now moving in completely opposite directions.

Peter Dickinson is the editor of the Atlantic Council’s UkraineAlert Service.

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Like modern Ukraine on the Maidan.  originated

Vladimir Putin continues to threaten Ukraine with an increase in troops in the border region and the risk of a major escalation in the seven-year war between the two countries. The best way for the West to deter Russia is to arm Ukraine.

The views expressed on UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its employees, or its supporters.

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UkraineAlert is a comprehensive online publication that regularly provides news and analysis on developments in Ukrainian politics, economy, civil society and culture.

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the of the Eurasia Center The mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values ​​and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the west to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the east.

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