EuroMaidan is the general name given to mass protests that erupted in Ukraine when the government backtracked on signing an EU association agreement. According to some folks, the government did this purely to appease Russia. According to other folks, association terms were not favorable enough. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle – as it usually is. I could be wrong, though.
Anyway, protests tend to bring out the stupid in people who are observing said protests from far away. Here is some of that stupid, for your reading (dis)pleasure. A lot of these comments are translated, some are paraphrases, but I’m not changing the meaning of anything here:
1. “Yeah, the Ukrainians are out there on the streets because being out on the streets is fun.”
Here comes the clue train, last stop you: Ukrainians are ANGRY. Ukraine has basically been stuck in the 1990s for two decades now. There is lack of basic governance, social institutions barely exist, health care is a grim joke, corruption is so bad that it is unnoticeable, it’s as much a part of daily life as the weather. Now, Ukrainians act out their anger in different ways. Some Ukrainians are quietly angry, others are loudly angry. Some are resigned. Some are active. But to say that they are out there out of the desire to have “fun” is contemptible. Obviously, any kind of street protest inspires a feeling of community – which in itself is a warning sign. Ukraine so thoroughly lacks community today, that people must go out into the streets en masse to find it.
Let’s also not forget that protest was violently dispersed just last week. There is danger that the situation could get worse. This is about bigger things than “fun.”
2. “Oh, so you’re questioning the merits of the EU association agreement? Who’s paying you?”
Oh yeah, THE KREMLIN is showering me with cocaine and hundred-dollar bills right now, so that I specifically point out a very simple fact: the eurozone is in trouble – and Ukraine’s economy is in WORSE trouble – and while there are long-term prospects for this relationship, there are little short-term solutions for what Ukraine is going through. And all of the platitudes in the world about human rights and democracy won’t help right now.
3. “Russia wants to offer Ukraine brotherhood – and ungrateful Ukrainians are rejecting that!!!”
So when Gazprom sits down at the negotiations table with Ukraine, what is on Gazprom’s mind? Brotherhood? Or business? Don’t get me wrong, Ukraine and Russia are close, they have always been close, even the disdain for Russia in Western Ukraine is a kind of symptom of that closeness (we tend to actively despise that which, on some fundamental level, greatly affects us) – but politically speaking, Russia quite obviously looks out for itself. Of course, there are moments of grace in that relationship. Under Yeltsin, in the early days of chaos, there WERE discussions about attacking Ukraine. It was brotherhood that prevailed then – perhaps brotherhood will, in the future, spare these two countries more trouble (I hope).
4. “Please don’t try to smear the Ukrainian protest movement. It is a progressive movement. The Ukrainian right is tolerant of gays, for example. It’s not like the Russian right.”
Look, pointing out that the protest movement is DIVERSE and full of DIFFERENT people with DIFFERENT interests is not the same as smearing it. Instead, it’s called “being in touch with reality.”
I’m sorry, but there are some really unpleasant people in the protest movement. There are unpleasant people in EVERY protest movement. That’s just the way the world works.
5. [I quote some sad fact from Ukrainian history] [Some idiot who’s never even been to Ukraine does not believe said historic fact – and FREAKS RIGHT OUT, accusing me of using Ukraine’s messy past to somehow paint Ukraine as a “bad” country]
Look, I enjoy talking about Ukrainian history, because it is also, in part, my history. I prefer to do it with people who are also from Ukraine/have some cursory knowledge of Ukraine/are not brain-dead. This should be simple enough. It never is, for some reason.
6. “Stop trying to spread disinformation. We KNOW you can’t speak Russian in Kiev. Not even on the streets.”
I love this. This is great. This is beautiful. This is random people trying to tell me, a Russian-speaker who’s originally from Kiev, whose relatives still live there, how things REALLY are.
7. “Oh, so you’re sympathetic to the protesters? You must be a fan of the Ukrainian neo-Nazis!” vs. “Oh, so you have serious reservations about the protest? You must be a fan of Russian imperialism!”
I realize that times of trouble force some people to abandon nuance, while many others don’t even know what the word “nuance” means. But some really have no excuse.
8. “These Ukrainians who are protesting HATE the Russians.”
No, most of them are simply fed up with the Kremlin’s policies (particularly the gas issue) – and even more fed up with chaos and corruption at home. It’s not ALL ABOUT RUSSIA ALL THE TIME, you know. And it must be said that the Ukrainian protest class has even welcomed Russian opposition activists who have come down to Kiev to see what’s happening for themselves. Once again, as I already mentioned, there ARE some scary people in this protest. And as history has repeatedly taught us, even a small group of scary people can unleash hell. And some of those scary people are also provocateurs, which further complicates things. But of course, accepting the notion that the Ukrainian protest is actually kinda complicated is too much for people who have the intellectual capacity of a catatonic hamster.
What stands out at EuroMaidan right now are not messages of hate – it’s messages of love and hope. It’s the kind of love and hope that makes you wonder if the phrase “candle in the wind” was wasted on famous blond women.
9. “Ukrainians are UNITED.”
Ukrainians are divided. No point in trying to ignore this. In fact, ignoring this is downright dangerous. Also, Ukrainians themselves know about the division in their country. People are aware of it. They talk about it and try to bridge it. Whether they’ll succeed remains to be seen.
10. “Lenin’s statue being destroyed is a great thing for democracy.”
I don’t like Lenin and I’m glad his statue is gone. HOWEVER, even I can admit that statues being smashed to bits is not a sign of a healthy society. In a healthy society, there would have been a referendum on the thing. We’re far from referendums and debates, however. We are in a different territory altogether. A lot of people were sick of that statue – but destruction and removal are fundamentally different things. Think about it.
In a functioning democracy, people aim for consensus. Taking up hammers is a last resort.
I can say “fuck Lenin and his statue” and mean it – but can still wish for a better way.