Ukraine and the world: seeking a genuine reality

(Speech at the US-UA Working Group Yearly Summit “Providing Ukraine with an Annual Report Card”, June 19, 2014, Washington D.C.)

After several hundred years of statelessness, neglect, and battles for independence, Ukraine re-emerged in history with a global tragedy – the disaster at the Chornobyl nuclear plant in 1986. Later Ukraine set two important historic precedents, that positioned Ukraine in the international media spotlight – these were the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Revolution of Dignity known as Euromaidan of 2013-2014.

The victories of both of these two revolutions testify to both the strengths and the weaknesses of Ukrainians. Why was the second revolution necessary? Only because the first did not yield the desired results. Today Ukrainians are to fulfill their ability to build an effective state. To this day Ukrainian people is not looked upon as a nation-state that can fend for itself, not by Russia, and not by the West.

Except the Revolution of Dignity has significance not only for Ukraine, but also for the global community. First and foremost this is a revolution of values, just as the Orange Revolution was. Many thought leaders say Ukrainians are in the front lines defending the values of the civilized world, standing up for the rights and the future of everyone else on the planet. If Ukrainians lose, it will be a defeat for the entire civilized world that has been building a system of global security for many years in the hopes of a better and shared future.

Instead, today we have a deep shared disenchantment, similar to the social climate in Europe at the start of the First World War. The civilized, rational, progressive world proved itself to be helpless in the face of barbarian actions cynically fortified with modern technological advances. Technology is neither good, nor bad on its own. It all depends on the individuals that use those technologies.

A discussion about the Ukrainian revolutions inevitably leads us to the topic of “Russia”. The metaphors of Winston Churchill casting communism as the regression of mankind, and Ronald Reagan’s casting the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire, today apply directly to the Russian Federation. Aggression, corruption, violence, deceipt, domination. These are the primary features of the “alternative Russian civilization” represented today by Vladymyr Putin, a threat to the whole world.

This global ideological battle is also challenging stereotypes. They are not to be feared, as they are a part of each of us. Walter Lippmann said that in the desire to understand the world, people create images in their minds, and later they modify these images when they receive new information. Lippmann also speaks of the pseudo-environment which the media helps create.

This global conflict of values, viewed by the international community primarily as a local Ukrainian-Russian conflict, deserves to be cracked open and released from its ideological pseudo-environmental shell. Let’s direct our attention to a few important hypotheses:

First. Russia has not only rejected the rules proposed by a global system of security, but  Putin has misappropriated and distorted well-understood political terms, fundamentally changing their meaning, for example, by drawing analogies between events in Ukraine and in Kosovo; by Russian terrorists in Crimea and Donbas copying Euromaidan tactics (such as the name “self-defense”, the use of tires for barricades and the like); by the false mirroring between the Euro-Atlantic world based on rule of law and the Eurasian world based on rule by force and fear.

Second. The Russian state orients itself to the so-called “greatness” of the Russian Empire and of the Soviet Union, having drawn parallels between Stalinism and Czarist ideologies under the rubrics of “Moscow – the third Rome”, and, “autocracy, orthodoxy, nationality”.  As a result, today we are not dealing with a monkey armed with a grenade, but with the danger of a barbaric beast playing with the buttons of a nuclear arsenal.

Third. Russia is winning the global information war, in as much as Russia is not facing any unified opposition within the international community. We observe the impact of journalists who sold out, and of irresponsible politicians the world over.

Fourth. The lack of decisions of the international community relies on a cowardly reluctance to look truth in the eye. Just because there are no Kremlin leaders with surnames “Hitler” and “Goebbles” does not mean that the resurgence of a Russian so-called “sovereign democracy” moving westward over Ukrainian territories differs from the Nazi Drangnach Osten, as it is accompanied by very similar xenophobic concepts.

Fifth. The acceptance by the west of contemporary Russia as a nation of great literature, classical ballet, and democratically-minded intellectuals is unrealistic as it misses the dangers of blind xenophobia. According to the All-Russian Center survey of national sentiment, published in the middle of May, Putin’s approval rating is at 85.9%. This brings to mind the words of Karl Jung on Nazism as the collective psychosis of German society between the two world wars.

Sixth. The apparent successes of a Putinistic Russia rely on the complete indifference to a civilized world,  and on basing success rely on the principle of “might makes right” and on utter contempt for international rights and rules that apply equally to all.               

Seventh. The time for the west to distinguish Ukraine from Russia is long overdue.

Everyone has heard of the kozaks. This phenomenon arose in the 16th century or even earlier in what is today the Ukrainian oblast of Zaporizzhia. According to the stereotypes of Ukrainian historical memory, kozaks symbolize freedom and dedication in service to their people. In my childhood my grandmother said to me, “Remember, you come from kozaks, you are a free person.” Yet the distorted Russian mirror reflecting a deformed Ukrainian history presents the kozak as one who served monarchs, destroying everything that might stand in the way of the aggressive empire.

The totalitarian mythology of Putinistic Russia is founded upon specific stereotypes, thrust into the public consciousness by the state-controlled mass media. In the absence of free speech, the persistent public nullification of critical thought leads to the zombification of Russian society through totalitarian concepts. For example, the former “single correct” soviet truth now becomes an exclusively anti-western truth. A majority of Russians in the public sphere are no longer able to apply basic logic and answer the question why Orthodox Bulgarians, Greeks and Romanians become members of NATO?

For Russian political mythology, Ukraine is exceptionally significant. And so, Kyiv is the “mother of Russian cities”. We note, as distinct from the Russian positioning of Moscow as the “Third Rome”, a symbol of imperial power, the Ukrainian historical stereotype treats Kyiv as a “second Jerusalem”. This is a symbol of justice.

Governing Kyiv lends legitimacy to the empire calling itself “Russia”, taking the name from the Middle Ages, when Ukraine called itself “Kyivan Rus'”. The history of the Russian empire under the name “Muscovy” dates back only to the 15th century. The discourse of the empire is hides and refuses to acknowledge this fact. The Russian anxiety – “If we do not possess Ukraine and Kyiv, then we will not be ‘great’ enough” – preoccupies Putin, and his entire propaganda media machine.

Russia initiated a war with Ukraine in its quest for “Greatness”.  This fact is to be taken seriously.  We need to understand not only what drives the information wars, but also the imperial mythology and collective psychosis now entrenched within Russian society. They do not wish to hear and will not tolerate hearing anything that does not comport with the official discourse and propaganda. Most Russians wish to hide in the fog of “Greatness”, so as not to see the depravity, the economic and political problems, the isolation and violation of human rights in the country where they live.

A great metaphorical significance in the Ukrainian collective consciousness is found in the stereotype of the meaning of Maidan. The Maidan is a place where serious social problems are discussed, where an answers to the key issues that affect each citizen are found collectively. Maidan symbolizes justice and the strength to defend this justice.  In Kyiv they say, “Are you unable to find Truth and Justice? Go to Maidan, seek help at Maidan”.  Currently, a special group of lawyers and political analysts are at work to institutionalize Maidan as a political entity within the Ukrainian legislative system.

Thanks to Euromaidan, there are new social and political processes taking place in Ukraine now. Today we have concerns before us that are dramatically different from those of Russian political culture. Ukrainians are assembling and coming together along social and civil groupings based on their rights as citizens. There is no division or discrimination along linguistic-cultural or territorial lines. Thought leaders of Crimean-Tatar, Jewish and Russian backgrounds rejoice repeatedly that they are, indeed, Ukrainian.

The war has strengthened Ukraine and unified its people. Ukraine is building a new military structure and a new nation. We truly have tremendous challenges with material resources, war and corruption, but we wish to establish a just nation based on rule of law for all its citizens. If Ukraine and Maidan win this war, the world will be a better place. 

Ukraine needs the support of United States to defend itself.  We are not asking for “boots on the ground”.  We are asking for the means to defend ourselves.  We are asking for support to build a strong civil society, to improve our educational system, to rebuild our country economically. 

Thank you for this opportunity to speak and to meet with you in your capital.

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