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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Signing of the Treaty on the adoption of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol to Russia. Left to right: S. Aksyonov, V. Konstantinov, V. Putin and A. Chalyi. © Kremlin.ru | Kremlin.ru/news/20604
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

An Anniversary of Crimea Takeover: Borders and the Crime of their Violation

A year ago, Russia occupied Crimea, staged a disputed referendum about seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, and annexed it to its territory. In postwar history, the annexation of a part of a sovereign country’s territory to the aggressor state has no precedent. There have been several occupations, invasions and secessions since 1945. But until a year ago no part of sovereign state was forcibly acquired by another state and made part of its sovereign territory. …

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Vilnius Gediminas Tower pictured in spring © Mantas
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Vilnius and Warsaw: Our Common Cause

Upon receipt of the Freedom Prize

Mrs. President, Mrs. Chair of the Parliament, Mr. Prime Minister,

I am moved and embarrassed by this honor bestowed by the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania on a Pole — a Polish journalist and editor of Gazeta Wyborcza. I treat it as a sign of recognition for my friends and colleagues who supported Lithuanian strivings for independence and democracy from the very beginning — and this includes people from the era of democratic opposition and those who later came together around “Gazeta.” The Polish democratic opposition always wanted a sovereign and democratic Lithuania to be a friendly neighbor of a sovereign and democratic Poland. …

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President Barack Obama speaking in Nordea Concert Hall, Tallinn, Estonia ©  Johan Viirok | Flickr
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Obama Channels Reagan in Estonia

In the days leading up to President Obama’s state visit to Estonia on September 3rd, the eve before the NATO summit meeting in Wales, details of his schedule, travel plans and meetings were meticulously scrutinized. As streets closed and helicopters circled, the contrast between the heavy security surrounding the Commander in Chief and his message of freedom couldn’t have been starker. Obama’s visit dramatically underscored the complex relationship between freedom and security in a post-9/11 world. …

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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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Anti-government protest in Kiev, Dec. 29, 2013, showing flags of The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda" parties © maksymenko oleksandr | Fickr
EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionThe Left

The War on Fascism

By my title,“The War on Fascism,” I do not mean the war between the US, the Soviet Union and Great Britain, on the one hand, and Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and imperial Japan on the other, the war that took place between 1939 and 1945. Rather I mean an unspoken war on the concept of fascism that increasingly characterizes our understanding of World War Two and informs discussion of contemporary problems, such as Ukraine. Although the term “fascism” is still in use today, it generally refers to real or supposed dictatorships, such as those of Saddam Hussein or Vladimir Putin, and has lost its original connotation, that of an authoritarian but still capitalist state. Because the original meaning of “fascism” was aimed not at dictatorship, but at the relation between dictatorship and private property and market power, the term had a critical or self-reflective character. Understanding the loss of this character can help us understand the history by which present political discussions, for example those concerning Putin, have become impoverished. …

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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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