'The train leaving for European paradise': New Ukranian mythology

World and We
Sergey Strokan is a journalist, essayist and a poet. He is also a political commentator with Russia's “Kommersant” Publishing House. Mr. Strokan hosts “Red Line”, a weekly analytical program broadcast by The Voice of Russia in New York City. He is the author of three poetry collections, a winner of the Maximilian Voloshin International Literary Award (2010) and a member of Union of Russian Writers.
'The train leaving for European paradise': New Ukranian mythology
The belief that today or tomorrow Ukrainians might be rewarded with quick access to the gates of a European paradise is one of the core myths promulgated by the ideologists of Ukrainian statehood.

The sudden  decision of the Ukrainian government to shelve an association agreement with the EU, taken days before a largely-anticipated deal was due to be made at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, has sparked angry protests in Kiev and other major Ukrainian cities.

The ex-Soviet republic, located in the very heart of Eastern Europe with a territory larger than France, the land of the well-known writer Nikolay Gogol, famous gorilka, rare beauties and hundreds of miles of rich black soil is currently locked in a fresh outbreak of “identity crisis”.

This is a new attempt to do some more mental exercise and more soul-searching to decide once and for all where to head: to the East or to the West.

This is a question that has already split Ukrainians many times in their country’s turbulent history– both in the pre and post-independence period.

“Ukraina tse Europa!” (“Ukraine is Europe!”) – chants an agitated crowd at Kiev Independence square. It is energized by a two-meter, stone-faced giant, raising his granite fist high in the air: the famous world heavyweight boxing champion and the leader of UDAR (“Blow’), the Ukrainian opposition party, Vitaly Klitchko.

Fluent in German, English and other European languages, Vitaly Klitchko has already developed a reputation forcelebrity in Hamburg – his adopted native town. Probably, he has every right to boast of his“European identity”. But how appropriate would it be to call “Europeans” those ordinary Ukrainians, who are braving cold rain, police batons and tear gas on Independence square?  How long will it take to make regular Europeans out of weary Ukrainian babushkas and ordinary folks who often live in huts with constant power cuts and no central heating, and have hardly seen a euro in their life?

A woman reacts during a meeting to support EU integration at European square in Kiev, November 25, 2013. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko)

If Ukraine one day becomes Europe it will happen not today or tomorrow. However, for the people on Kiev’s main square the question of their country making a European choice sounds like “now or never”. For them this is a do-or-die exercise and they show no inclination for compromise and backtracking. They are determined to put more pressure on President Yanukovich to force him to reconsider his decision not to miss the Eastern Partnership train, departing from Vilnius station this Friday.

Those who are looking not to the East but to the West, fail to understand, that the European Union approached Vilnius summit empty-handed, offering Ukraine nothing in return, except its own mantras about a “happy family of nations”, living in a “Pan-European home”.

No subsidies for the restructuring of the Ukrainian economy, no visa-free regime, and not even the slightest hint that one day Ukraine might be privileged enough to get the key to its own flat in the EU home. 

So, it is not “predatory Russia”, which has browbeaten President Yanukovich and forced him to turn down the EU proposal. Self-sufficient European bureaucracy has no one to blame but itself. 

One may say that Europe itself is preoccupied with its own problems, and therefore at this juncture it has little to offer the new recruits from the Eastern Partnership (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus). But if the moment for the Eastern Partnership summit was untimely, then what was the rush to sign an association agreement with Ukraine?

However, European bureaucracy doesn’t seem to display the sense of reality and flexibility needed to resolve the Ukrainian issue, which is turning into another bone of contention between Moscow and Brussels.  President Yanukovich’s government proposal to hold trilateral talks with Russia and the EU got a frosty response with Lithuania’s foreign minister, who said “we do not see a role for any third country in this process”.

The second myth of the new Ukrainian statehood is the idea that as the EU is a gate to paradise, so Russia is a door to hell for Ukraine. There should be no integration with the “land of Putin” and let’s forget about geographical proximity and myriads of trade, economic, social and cultural ties between the two nations.

The escalating political crisis in Ukraine which has reminded people of the events of the Orange revolution in 2004 coincided with the 80th anniversary of Holodomor – a man-made famine that claimed the lives of millions. Meantime, it was not only tens of thousands of Ukrainians who died of hunger in the pre-war Stalinist Soviet empire. The area created by this unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe spread far beyond the borders of modern Ukraine - to the basin of the Volga River and further eastward.

However, the ideologists behind Ukraine’s new European identity insist that it was a deliberate and targeted policy of genocide against the Ukrainian nation, which was orchestrated by the Kremlin. So, looking through the prism of this myth, Russia is seen as an alien, hostile power. Respectively, key integration projects with Russia, like the Customs Union or the Eurasian Union are described as detrimental to Ukrainian national interests.

By adopting the new European myth, a large part of Ukrainian society shows it remains deeply Soviet in its mentality. While Soviet people naively believed in a happy family of nations and communism’s paradise, two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union many Ukrainians have the same kind of belief in a new European paradise and the “European happy family of nations” that they must enter at any cost.

Not many are willing to admit that there is no such thing as paradise, and the cost of pursuing such myths for Ukraine’s new statehood might be quite high.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.