Euromaidan in Kiev, November 2013 ©  Evgeny Feldman | Wikimedia Commons
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Letters From St. Petersburg, Part I

Social justice in the Maidan movement in Ukraine

Many researchers analyze the Maidan movement as a part of recent waves of protests shaking the world time and again. However, despite the similarities behind all these movements such as populist identities, anti-state agendas, and more, there is one crucial difference between the movements in the post-socialist world and protest movements in other countries – this difference concerns the social climate. …

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Polish Round Table Talks in Warsaw, Poland, on February 6, 1989. © Erazm Ciołek | Polska: sierpień 1980–sierpień 1989
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Reflections on a Revolutionary Imaginary and Round Tables

The new always appears in the guise of a miracle

This is the prepared text answering the question “What do we really know about transitions to democracy?” for  the General Seminar of The New School for Social Research, March 19, 2014.

It was a quarter of a century ago, in 1989, that a new kind of revolutionary imaginary emerged, one that promises a new beginning, and demonstrates the possibility of comprehensive systemic change without bloodshed. Velvet or otherwise un-radical, this kind of revolution has become a site of tangible hope, a site in which words have power, where people regain their dignity, and realize their agency through instruments other than weapons. Negotiated revolutionis not an oxymoron, but it is still an extraordinary event, as dictatorships are by definition opposed to any spirit of dialogue and compromise. …

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Vladimir Putin meeting in Novo Ogaryovo near Moscow, 2008 © Vladimir Rodionov | RIA Novosti archive
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Solidarity with Ukraine against Putin’s Reality

We should not be surprised by differences about how to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Understanding reasons for those differences is one critical step toward formulating an effective response. Recognizing both real policy options and the equal importance of political signals is the second. Moving too fast is dangerous in the short run, but not moving at all is the most dangerous in the long run. And that’s what Germany’s leadership promises.

We should not be surprised that the authorities of Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain explicitly resist calls for trade sanctions. Leaderships in Austria and Hungary are likely with them. London seems more concerned with its financial prospects than European well-being. Putin has been pursuing a policy of diplomatic divide and conquer within the EU, sweetened with economic deals powered by the energy business. …

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Map of Ukraine showing Crimea in red © Sven Teschke | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Preaching to the Choir: The Crimea and Putin’s Domestic Audience

On February 28th, the Federal Council, Russia’s upper house, granted Vladimir Putin’s request to use military force in Ukraine. By that time, Russian troops stationed at the Black Sea Naval Base in Crimea had already left their garrisons and secured the area. Russian forces now effectively occupy the Crimea, which is a semi-autonomous and self-governing region of Ukraine with a majority ethnically Russian population.

In response, the U.K., France, the U.S. and Canada have announced that they are suspending their preparatory meetings for the G8 summit due to take place in Sochi this summer. On March 1st, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on the crisis in Ukraine. President Barack Obama has warned that Russia’s actions will have “costs.” As several academic and media sources have noted, Russia is potentially in violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, which guaranteed the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine in exchange the country’s denuclearization. …

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Euromaidan in Kiev. Hrushevsky street riots, January 23, 2014 © Аимаина хикари | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

EuroMaidan Politics

Friends and Enemies in Ukraine

“The following video contains graphic content, which may be disturbing for some viewers,” says NYTimes.com about a video of the protests in Ukraine. Yes, politics — if by “politics” we do not mean debates of “experts” and TV celebrities who represent political parties — is disturbing, and not only in Ukraine.

Yet, in Ukraine, politics has come back. Hundreds of thousands of people have been on the streets for two months already protesting the government. What started in November 2013 as a protest against President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the EU has very quickly turned into a protest against the entire regime, the whole system of power from the President to a local police officer.

The first violence used against the protesters on November 30 showed that the government hates to see the faces of those who do not like it. After two months of mass protests, …

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Euromaidan's Open University, Kiev, Dec.16, 2013 © Андрей Романенко | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Letter from Ukraine: The Maidan Experience

Kyiv’s Maidan has really proved to be a lasting affair, strong enough to manifest the will of the majority of Ukraine’s population. Everyone could see the evidence of its ability to stand against police forces. Even during calm periods Maidan is still an impressive sight.

For those of us who are used to spending most of our time on the Internet, getting to Kyiv’s Maidan feels like diving. Emerging from the subway in the city center actually turns into a deep submersion. The sense of clarity and understanding, seemingly provided by “navigation devices” – social networks and information web-portals, instantly disappears when one is on the streets. You are there and you have to reconstruct on the spot a whole new and different picture of the Maidan’s world and of what really happens there. You begin to understand that the indicators generated by the devices we are so used to are nothing more than indicators…

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"Mr. Lenin’s personal guard," Euro Revolution in Kiev Sunday 1st of December 2013 © Ivan Bandura | Flickr
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Lenin’s Lost his Head: What’s Going On in Kyiv?

On Sunday, for the second time in two weeks, a half-million people gathered to protest against the government in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in an action dubbed on Twitter #ЕвроМайдан (EuroMaidan). Meanwhile, a short distance away, a smaller group of people toppled an eleven-foot statue of Vladimir Lenin, quickly removing its head and breaking the body up with a sledgehammer. The images of the latest Ukrainian protests are reminiscent of the Orange Revolution. The Maidan is again the site of a makeshift opposition camp complete with field-kitchen, portable toilets, hundreds of tents, a stage, and barricades all decorated with Ukrainian flags. Viktor Yanukovich and Russia have also reprised their roles as the main villains and targets of popular protest. While there is value in comparing the Orange Revolution and EuroMaidan, there are also important differences that make the solution to the present situation much more complicated and uncertain.

One common thread between the Orange Revolution and EuroMaidan is the contestation of Ukrainian identity…

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