Revolutionary Cycles: Dialectics of Liberation and Liberty in Ukraine

December 2017
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The following is an excerpt from Mykhailo Minakov's new book, entitled Development and Dystopia. Studies in post-Soviet Ukraine and Eastern Europe, forthcoming in 2018 from ibidem (Stuttgart) and distributed by the Columbia University Press (New York).

"We promise according to our hopes, and perform according to our fears."

Francois de la Rochefoucauld, Maxims and Moral Reflections


Contemporary Ukraine was born as the result of the revolution of 1991 that ended the Soviet Union and provided the disunited, newly independent nations with a historic opportunity for their own political and economic creativity. This post-Soviet revolution was driven by a cocktail of aspirations for national liberation, economic creativity and political liberty.

In the course of post-Soviet transition, these revolutionary promises were only partially implemented. One might say, each specific post-Soviet nation has betrayed this revolution its own way. However, their aims have remained highly desirable throughout the region stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

In Ukraine, the revolutionary changes of 1991 started with the promises of institutionalized democracy, pluralist politics, and a free economy, and ended up with the Maidans—events consisting of rather primitive democratic politics and high morality of peaceful civil protest united by demands to fulfill the promises of 1991. A Promethean agenda was brought on by the founders of the Third Ukrainian republic1  in 1990–1992, and is still relevant to Ukraine even after Euromaidan. A country that became independent as the result of a revolutionary promise to become a democracy with a free market in a European family of nations, has still not fulfilled any of the these promises. One promise guided the end of the “Orange revolution” (2004), as well as the major source of political creativity in the Euromaidan (2013–2014).

Here, I argue that in the course of post-Soviet transition, Ukraine’s political transformation and economic modernization were so slow that elites and the wider population have forgotten the goals of this transition. In this state of transitional disorientation, the oligarchic political system soon emerged. The unstable institutional framework of the Ukrainian oligarchy ignited several attempts to return to the republican promise of 1991. So far, the Ukrainian state has been shaped in such a way that it inevitably evolves into political, economic, and social crisis approximately every ten years. Each time, this crisis provides Ukraine’s citizens with a choice between liberty versus liberation strategies for revolutionary change.

In order to expose the pre-conditions in the creation of Ukrainian oligarchy and its revolutionary cycles, I review: 1) the revolutionary opportunities underlying the 1991 revolution, 2) the specific path of the Ukrainian transition, and 3) the cyclic return to the revolutionary situation in 2004 and 2013–2014, as well as the current opportunity to re-found of Ukraine’s republic.

Revolution as a New Beginning

Mass Demonstration in Kyiv, 1990. Source:

The collapse of the Soviet Union had many preconditions, including real political competition among diverse groups and leaders, the economic and administrative failure of Gorbachev’s experiments, the growth of ethnic tensions, and the increasing volatility of citizens in their support for the Union. The careful reformist approach of the USSR to governing could not contain the snowball of disastrous socio-economic and political problems leading to 1991. And this is precisely when everything dissolved.

The Belovezha Accords and Alma-Ata Protocol of 1991 unraveled the Soviet Union, but also made it possible for Ukraine’s elites to use that revolutionary moment for fulfilling their aims, as defined in the Declaration of Sovereignty (1990) and the Declaration of Independence (1991). Unlike in Russia’s secession from the U.S.S.R., Ukrainian independence did not begin with mass protests or citizens dying for the sake of the republic. The post-Soviet Ukrainian revolution, with its irreversible novelty, began in the private sector which forced public institutions into its orbit. Accordingly, the fundamental structure of the Third Ukrainian republic was based on revolutionary innovations in the booming private sphere, while political institutions were just a public façade for their private owners.

The official founders of Ukraine as an independent state were Soviet local elites (later called “national communists” and “national democrats”) who established a consensus in the fall of 1991 to found the new republic. The political creativity and thinking of both groups were dominated by historicist visions of what revolution is and what choices it provides. By the time of the U.S.S.R.’s collapse, historicism was a dominating and almost unchallenged set of beliefs shared equally by elites and the population at large. Ideological alternatives at that time included either a post-Marxist “formationist” approach, or nationalist worldviews: from the integral nationalism of Dmytro Dontsov, to the revolutionary social nationalism of Stepan Bandera (Szporluk 1991; Kasianov 2008; Riabchuk 2012). Political liberalism was a rare and non-influential alternative. In spite of the considerable evolution of revolutionary theories in the West throughout the 20th century, they were not very well known in Soviet Ukraine. Karl Marx and Friedrich List were still defining figures in the vision of what revolution is and how to practice it.

The historicist approach pre-defined Soviet and early post-Soviet understandings of revolution as a historical phenomenon shaping the social world. In the Ukrainian context, this revolutionary thought was connected with Marxist and nationalist theories. Roman Szporluk in his profound study of these revolutionary theories, Communism and Nationalism, has shown how Friedrich List’s and Karl Marx’s ideas have created a specific merger of revolutionary theory and practice in our part of the world (Szporluk 1988). These two sets of theory-practice have already met in the revolutionary period of 1917–1922 in the lands of the Russian Empire. The same theoretical/practical situation returned to the post-communist countries in 1989–1991. Excluded from global intellectual networks and losing insight into global political processes during the Soviet rule, the decision-makers who inherited the late USSR started new national projects that continued the early 20th-century tradition of looking at revolutions and practicing them (Kasianov 2008: 40ff).

The historicist point of view prescribes to revolution a rapid change in the development of some historically significant, large group of people. This change takes place in all spheres of human activity including the economy, politics, and culture. It is connected with the vision of a desirable future and the ability to use the laws of history to achieve it. As Karl Popper has wisely argued, belief in the knowledge of historical laws has a direct impact on political practices, namely: the inclination to use social engineering and to destroy any room for individual choice in the context of some “known future” (Popper [1957], 2002: 4–5). In spite of differences among the virtual “subjects of history” (be it social class, ethnic group, or primordial nation), revolution is unanimously perceived as a major event on a long path leading to a future in accordance with the desires of revolutionary socialists and/or nationalists.

Due to the lessons gained from totalitarian projects, revolutionary theory dramatically changed in the mid 20th century. The key point in those lessons was the critical connection between freedom and the future: there is no room for freedom in a society with a pre-described future. On the contrary, the openness of the future provides individuals and societies with room for creativity, including political creativity.

The issue of political creativity became a foundation in the review of revolutionary theories originating from 19th-century teachings. Out of many political thinkers working on this issue, Hannah Arendt in her text On Revolution provides us with several key insights that can help us better understand the trajectory of transition in independent Ukraine. Arendt’s major idea with regard to revolution is its inseparability from modernity’s logic of unprecedented beginnings. In this statement, she breaks with the tradition of historicizing revolution. Revolution can be seen as a situation in which the human capacity for communication can transform politics into an arena for creativity and innovation. Basically, revolution is not a historical event, it is not just a change marking a new period of history; revolution is real when it provides an entirely new start: “Crucial […] to any understanding of revolutions in the modern age is that the idea of freedom and the experience of a new beginning should coincide” (Arendt 1990: 29). The political sphere is thus a sphere of human conduct and creation: a platform for creating a new order at large or for starting a new institution.

In her discussion with historicists, Arendt coins a very important issue critical to understanding revolution: it is about the creation of a sphere of freedom, not about the process of liberation. She writes:

It may be a truism to say that liberation and freedom are not the same; that liberation may be the condition of freedom but by no means leads automatically to it; that the notion of liberty implied in liberation can only be negative, and hence, that even the intention of liberating is not identical with the desire for freedom” (Arendt 1990: 29).

The promise of liberation is not enough for a revolt to become a revolution. It is actually only the beginning of freedom that provides us with the criterion of revolution. In a way, the real revolutionary was not Moses, who was only promising the change, but Prometheus, whose heroic deed opened a new dimension for individual choices for freedom.

Based on the distinction between liberty and liberation, Arendt differentiates two types of revolutionary strategies: creative and historical. The historical strategy interpreted “irresistible and irrevocable” revolutionary innovation as one that continues for centuries after its start. Such a continuous strategy is present in the logic of the French and Bolshevik revolutions.

The magic spell which historical necessity has cast over the minds of men since the beginning of the nineteenth century gained in potency by the October Revolution, which for our century has had the same profound meaningfulness of first crystallizing the best of men’s hopes and then realizing the full measure of their despair that the French Revolution had for its contemporaries” (Arendt 1990: 57).

Arendt argues that, if continued, revolution loses its potential for creating the situation anew. Only the first generation of revolutionaries has the right to claim innovation, while their followers are doomed to continue the case of liberation without being free themselves in their political activity. An opposition to Moses-style liberation strategy is revolution as the creation of a sphere of freedom enabling new beginnings. This creationist act provides humans as political beings with the opportunity to be genuine selves in starting and fulfilling their own political projects. The historical example of this was set by the American Revolution.

Yet we need only remember the course of the American Revolution, where the exact opposite took place, and recall how strongly the sentiment that man is master of his destiny, at least with respect to political government, that permeated all its actors, to realize the impact which the spectacle of the impotence of man with regard to the course of his own action must have made” (Arendt 1990: 51).

In this way, the liberation strategy, as it turns out, ruins revolution where it is defined as the creation of a sphere of freedom.

In my interpretation of Ukraine’s revolutionary path, the distinction between liberation and liberty strategies is critical. The Ukrainian case provides us with examples proving that moments of irreversible change provide individuals with the choice of following one of these revolutionary strategies. Furthermore, in the history of independent Ukraine, both approaches have manifested themselves to their full capacity. The liberation strategy was connected to the national democrats in their state-building attempts. At the same time, the liberty strategy, with its passion for new experience and political creativity, boomed first in the late/post-Soviet private sphere, and only at a later stage backlashed as oligarchic rule and corruption into the slow-to-reform public sphere. When these two strategies and processes met, the Maidans happened as revolutionary moments with potential for genuine political creativity.

Lost and Found in Transition

Mass Protests during the Orange Revolution. Kyiv, 2004. Source:

Framed by competing revolutionary strategies, the Third Ukrainian Republic was the combined product of establishing freedom and channeling the creativity of Ukrainians in the private sphere, and the simultaneous reform of the public sphere under the dominance of national democrats with their Moses-style liberation strategy. This competition between revolutionary strategies was established in the form of communists and nationalists guiding public sector reforms with firm beliefs in the historicist approach, while the private sphere served as an unregulated space for economic, religious, criminal and many other types of entrepreneurs seeking freedom and competition.

Post-Soviet transition from the communist regime into the once-promised democracy of institutions grew by means of reforms in the political and economic sectors. In the post-Soviet situation, such reforms were based upon two mutually-supportive strategies: de-Sovietization, and the building of democratic and market institutions. Meanwhile, capitalist society was being re-invented by late-Soviet populations living in newly established national states.

All of the post-communist elites had to make a choice: “shock therapy,” or gradual reform. As Anders Aslund has argued, “[p]ostcommunist transformation has been an intense battle. On one side of the barricades stood radical reformers, who wanted to build a normal society. Their main opponents were rent seekers, not old communists” (Aslund 2007: 2). The answer to this dilemma held critical importance for the future of these new nations.

Ukraine failed to grasp the remedy of shock therapy or to fulfill revolutionary promises. Even though political pluralism, electoral democracy, partially safeguarded private property, and many elements of the free market became Ukraine’s reality, these changes were only introduced very slowly, and remain fragile. It took us many years to start fulfilling any prior revolutionary promises, while, at the same time, these promises had already been forgotten by elites and most of the population. Leaders in these unhurried processes have usually referred to the myth of Moses who needed forty years of collective journey with the slave-born in order to get to the promised land.

Partially, this belatedness is connected with the strength of those whom Aslund has called “rent-seekers.” It is important to stress that in the Ukrainian case, in addition to the rent-seekers’ interests, the opponents of “the old communists” played an important role. The “national democrats” and “national communists,” united by their belief in ethnic/collective competition shaping human history, had their stake in defining the choice. Looking at the statements of the two declarations (The Declaration of Sovereignty and The Declaration of Independence), as well as the first clauses of the Ukrainian constitution (formulated in 1996), the early post-Soviet consensus was indeed imagined as all-inclusive. It combined somewhat contradictory socialist, nationalist and liberal utterances, a refusal to openly and concretely state the aims of state-building, rather than articulate the lines of a new social contract. This meek type of political communication was the result of an attempt to continue ethno-nationalist liberation in a society that was viewed by the nationalists as not yet ready for such a change. The unspoken social contract at this time was solidified between the brave and sociopathic champions of the private sector (who appeared to be rent-seekers for liberal spectators), versus public figures cherishing inhuman plans in a Moses-style social engineering project.

Even though collectivist expectations remained dominant in the public sector, there were some humble attempts at political creativity in Ukraine. In this area, Ukraine, while striving to normalize, did not orient itself on European models, even while turning to Western terms for its political institutions. The political history of Ukraine can be described as a competition between two major, recently re-invented political institutions: the parliament (Verkhovna Rada), and the president. As has been described in the above chapter, the Verkhovna Rada was an institution rooted in Soviet realities, bringing into post-Soviet times the practices and values of the 1970s–1980s. At the same time, the Rada was also a space for the development of a strange hybrid of Ukrainian public space that slowly promoted a mixture of democratic, representative, and corrupt practices. This Soviet continuity constantly came under fire by presidents. As a late Soviet invention (namely of Gorbachev), the Office of the Presidential was a phenomenon that did not fit into the modern distribution of power across branches: it was simultaneously the executive, but also remained above the legislature and judiciary. As a result, the Ukrainian presidency as a political institution poses a permanent authoritarian risk to the Third Republic. None of these institutions have been a reliable champion in democracy, and all of them have been abused by rent-seekers for their exclusivist rule.

The major creative trend in the public sphere was connected to the creation of the national state. Ukrainian identity underwent radical change: from the Soviet ethnic group with its “republic,” into a group with its own statehood and a title of ownership over the entire population of all of Ukraine’s territories. In an attempt in what Pierre Rosanvallon called the “democracy of identification,” i.e. creating an ideology that would legitimately unite rulers and those ruled, Ukrainian identity developed among the following alternatives: self-isolation, the Central-European “return to Europe”, and Eurasian Ostalgia (Rosanvallon 2011: 4). The state wavered between the poles of civic and ethnic nationalisms, rule of law and ethnic egoism for over two decades. Its revolutionary potential was limited only by the idea of liberation begun in the 19th century (or much earlier, as the radical nationalists insist), articulated in the so-called “liberation struggle”2 of 1917–1922, fought for by the organized nationalists during the 1930s–1950s, and formally won in 1991. In the independence period, Ukrainian national liberation focused on the past; its potential for shaping the present and future was grim.

While the public sphere was a field of conflict and cooperation between authoritarianism and nationalism, the private sphere was booming with different types of new forms of human creativity. Soviet modernity was based on the principle of imbalance between the private and public spheres. Private institutions were brought to the minimum of existence. Intimate, religious, and communal life, arts and business were all under permanent pressure from gigantic public institutions inherited from the Soviet totalitarian system. Perestroika gave impetus to the era of independence, which re-enforced the sexual, business, consumer and criminal revolutions in the private realm of Soviet society. The sexual revolution changed practices of family life and forms of intimate communication. Yet it also changed the distance and timing of communication among post-Soviet Ukrainians. Gender-based exploitation and freedom each reached unprecedented levels. Family institutions were radically transformed, which also resulted in more rational family planning and an overall decrease in childbirth. The same radical changes have occurred through different forms of consumption. Post-Soviet Ukrainians had to learn how to live in a society without a deficit of goods, but with a deficit of income and more or less socioeconomic safety. However, the greatest area in human creativity was always connected to the business and criminal revolutions.

The human inclination toward entrepreneurship was regarded among the worst sins under Soviet rule. The breadth of the Soviet shadow economy is still unclear, but it has had a considerable impact on post-Soviet business-circles (Feldbrugge 1984: 528ff; Aslund 2007: 54ff). Pushed to the margins of Soviet society, the business community was always a part of much larger criminal networks and shared their respective values and practices. The Soviet business community had only slightly changed in the late Soviet Union with Gorbachev’s reforms and its permissiveness toward the “cooperative movement.” The new cadres of the emerging entrepreneurial class easily accepted those lifestyles that the older generation of Soviet businessmen had adopted. By 1991 most business people were either part of criminal networks, or were controlled by them (Kutpatadze 2012: 7).

The collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by the dysfunction of many law enforcement agencies. Criminal groups immediately exploited this situation in order to participate in privatization and enter in among the power elites. People, who were either convicted in Soviet times (e.g. Viktor Yanukovych, Oleksii Poroshenko, or Vadym Rabinovych), or who were allegedly connected with the late/post-Soviet criminal groups—each succeeded in this strategy and remained among the key figures in the history of independent Ukraine. Even today, recent convicts and criminal figures often become important players in Ukraine’s elite groups.

Economic liberalization needed cadres able to risk and undertake private initiatives, as well as cooperate with the government in policy definition for the private sector. When Anders Aslund describes the initial stages of the post-Soviet economic transition, he rightly mentions: “A whole new system had to be built, and the knowledge of how to do so was limited” (Aslund 2007: 4). In situations involving a lack of information and skills, these criminal leaders turned out to be winners in the competition for privatization of the most attractive Soviet industrial legacies. By mid-1995 these groups had merged with the non-criminal business-groups of the so-called “‘red directors” as unique businessmen integrated into regional political and economic groups.3 With the growing force of the biggest criminal groups, their representatives were placed in local and central governments, as well as in law enforcement establishments (militsiya, prokuratura, sudy) (Kutpatadze 2012: 12). At the same time, the criminal groups changed their structures so that they had separate legal and shadow parts. By the beginning of the 21st century, the legal sub-structures of complex criminal groups included incorporated companies with international property networks and parliamentary political parties. Quite soon they lost their criminal nature, and entered into a natural state of patronal networks where formal and informal institutions comply and coordinate (Hale 2014: 4ff).

Rent-seekers’ groups, constituted by red directors, heads of criminal groups and successful businessmen, have won the competition for access to national resources in Ukraine. The post-Soviet private sphere proved to be a field where new forms of business, communal life, and public-private partnership were created. The energy of the private sector also changed the public nature of political institutions. So-called “systemic corruption” became a term to describe the emerging order with a specific private-public formal-informal balance. This time, it appeared as an oligarchic regime. As a result, the successful rent-seekers have obviously restructured not only industries, but also political institutions in Ukraine.

The Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers were the first victims of the Ukrainian oligarchs. The oligarchic groups, organized by regional adherence, were present as factions in the parliament. Their representatives held key positions in the Cabinet of Ministers since the times of acting prime-minister Yukhym (Yefim) Zviahilskyi in 1993. The key interest of these groups was to obtain control over the centers of power, providing access to budget resources, i.e. ministerial departments and parliamentary committees. At a later stage, the presidential office became the primary goal.

With the rise of the oligarchs, the national democrats’ impact on state-building processes dropped to a minimum. The only success that the nationalist revolutionary alternative had was their decisive impact on the identity of younger generations, and some moderate impact on the self-identification of the wider population. Impoverishment, depopulation, and disorganization during the 1990s promoted among Ukrainians some primordial beliefs that harmonized with the neo-traditionalist models of Ukrainian identity proposed by national democrats. Focused on language and culture, the national democrats created parties that had electoral support sufficient for a presence in the parliament as the opposition. In their shadow, however, grew more radical and less democratic nationalist forces, which later became important for post-Maidan Ukraine. Both nationalist groups tried to compete with the oligarchic parties and their allies. In the 21st century, with each passing year, this conflict continues to grow. The two strategies of liberation and freedom in the revolution both met thirteen years after the founding of the Ukrainian republic in the clash of the Orange revolution.

The oligarchic rule in Ukraine encountered problems with the formal institutionalization of its rule. As a façade democracy, the Ukrainian state had all the expected formal democratic institutions: separate legislative, judicial and executive branches, a constitution, elections, local administrations etc. However, de facto citizens’ participation in politics was limited to elections. During the electoral campaign, local communities bargained with candidates for renovated roads, sewage, water supply lines, kindergartens or schools. By the beginning of the 21st century, the oligarchic families reached such a level of concentration of resources and power that they ran elections as a de jure procedure legitimizing their rule.

Revolutionary Cycles

Euromaidan Mass Demonstration in Kyiv, December 2013. Source:

The Third Ukrainian republic has twice returned to the situation of its re-establishment: the first time in 2004, and the second time in 2014. For the first time, the oligarchic regime has made an attempt to openly disregard the minimal standards of electoral democracy in early 2000. This triggered the mobilization of civil groups and marginal oligarchic groups to participate in peaceful mass protests (the Maidan). The victory of the Maidan in 2004 was connected to two main factors: the civic activism of protesters who felt political action to be their innate right for freedom, and the Soviet instinct of Ukrainian leaders to react to public protest. This readiness to remain in political communication, even in a situation of conflict, made it possible to avoid bloodshed and reconcile the nation after the Orange Revolution. Meanwhile, it also informally institutionalized the Maidan as a meaningful democratic practice within the framework of Ukrainian political culture.

As a phenomenon of contemporary Ukrainian political culture, the Maidan has introduced a certain historical narrative that reveals the Orange Revolution to be a continuation of the “Revolution on Granite.” This was a student protest in October 1990 that in later patriotic discourse was described as an event providing impetus toward independence. Far from being a mass protest, this students’ action was still quite a vivid example of finding new ways of political practice in Ukraine. Requests to sack an unpopular government were supported by peaceful forms of protest including hunger strikes, street manifestations, and presence in the main square in Kyiv and in the streets of some university cities in Ukraine. October Revolution Square (now The Square of Independence) was then the major location for the student revolution. The peacefulness and effectiveness of the action led to some political change, while its symbolic geography united the “Granite Revolution” with the Maidan in one political practice prescribing Ukrainians a certain pattern of action in the case of any real danger posed to their republic.

Nevertheless, a one-time protest—even lasting for several weeks or months—is not a substitute for the establishment of institutionalized democracy. When the Orange coalition collapsed in September 2005, politicians of the Kuchma era were invited back into government; at this time the supporters of Maidan learned the lesson of distrust for politicians and the need to permanently monitor their behavior. For some period of time, this effect reduced participation in elections, introduced disenchantment with democracy, and shifted inclinations toward the “strong hand” of a leader. In 2010 this became the pre-condition for two candidates with a strong-hand-image to enter into the second round of presidential elections. Yulia Tymoshenko and Victor Yanukovych equally represented the authoritarian trend, but with different styles: patriotic populism, and patronizing neo-Sovietism.

Back in 2010, for some intellectuals, the victory of Victor Yanukovych was already a sign of the end of the Third Republic.4 Yanukovych’s critics expected that his rule would turn Ukraine into just another authoritarian regime in western Eurasia. It was hard to imagine that a chance at revolution would once again emerge for Ukrainians.

President Yanukovych quickly cured the post-Orange trauma. My model of the Third Republic’s cyclic development is actually based on observation of the similarity of processes between 1991–2004 and 2005–2014, each leading to revolutionary attempts and regime changes. But this model is nothing without an unavoidable human factor. In a way, Victor Yanukovych was twice the father of revolutionary situations in Ukraine. He and his partners in the Donetsk regional group shared a behavioral pattern that provoked mass protests. This pattern at its core is actually the product of the specific political experience that Yanukovych and others gained from the revolution in the private sector in the 1990s. The ease of doing business while serving in a public post, the will to power measured in cash, and blunt disrespect towards political communication were points of exchange shared by all leaders of the core six financial-political groups constituting the shareholders of the Party of Regions. The Promethean revolutionary experience of the early 1990s, with its focus on personal freedom, led by private interest, did not serve the democratic case.

According to information revealed after the Orange Revolution, Yanukovych was ready to act with military force in the fall of 2004, the same way he did in 2013–4. Yet since the key decision-making figure at the time was President Leonid Kuchma, a representative of the old Soviet nomenklatura, Yanukovych’s fighting mood was kept under control. By contrast, in 2013–2014 President Yanukovych did not have any figure or institute limiting his behavioral inclinations. The Euromadan—which began the same way the Orange revolution did—was fated from the outset to end in a bloody conflict.

The peaceful stage in the Euromaidan ended very quickly. The blatant beating of students shown in all pro- and anti-Yanukovych media provoked a mass response. Instead of tens of thousands of activists supporting European integration, hundreds of thousands came out to the Maidan. President Yanukovych made real his worst nightmare through his own decisions. Disrespect for constitutional norms, the reduction of freedoms to their absolute minimum since 1991, and decreasing economic freedoms all provided possible reasons for revolt. Triggered by images of the bloodied faces of students, Ukrainians emerged in full force to demand the same rights and liberties that they had wanted in 1991 and 2004. However, this time the revolution lost its peacefulness; it was the advent of the radicals.

Victor Yanukovych took a critical step that ended political communication in Ukraine. During his four-year rule, he decreased his legitimacy and the legitimacy of the Third Ukrainian Republic. He changed the constitution and increased his presidential authority tremendously; he implemented Putin’s model of “the vertical of power” in Ukraine, and controlled all branches of power as well as all local councils; he destroyed small businesses and increased budget-dependent clientele to a size that Ukraine’s state budget could no longer sustain. Most of the oligarchic groups were marginalized, while the ruling family increased their capital and power. Unpopular, with a doubtful majority in parliament, Yanukovych took a last decisive step by introducing dictatorial laws on January 16, 2014. Vladimir Putin was slowly introducing authoritarian norms through an absolutely loyal Duma, obedient media, and against the backdrop of high popular support in Russia. The Ukrainian leader followed suit when he decided to implement the same laws right in the midst of a political crisis. This was the key step that basically ended the Maidan of 2013–2014, and ignited the civil violence that independent Ukraine had not known prior to that moment.

Mykhailo Minakov's new book

Following to the lessons learned in 2004–5, the Euromaidan began as a civic protest keeping its distance from the parallel party protest in the neighboring square in the center of Kyiv. Later, when the two protests merged, Euromaidan activists stressed the difference between the two constituencies of the protest. The civic protesters did not believe in the ability of the political opposition to fulfill the promises of a new beginning of the Republic. When the energy of mass protest has no real political channel, utopian expectations bloom. In 2004, the presence of trusted political figures in the electoral situation provided protesters with a chance for returning to the social contract. The authority of Yushchenko made it possible to oust Tiahnybok’s radical nationalists away from the Maidan. In 2013–2014 neither a real political chance, nor a respected political figure existed to which protesters might turn in seeking to fulfill the same function. The unused energy from the protest, arguably a much more radical enemy in the form of an emerging dictator, as well as the presence of radical organized groups all led to fratricide.

The level of violence in January – February 2014 has shown that contemporary Ukraine can survive only if Ukrainians re-found their Republic. Yet the primary goals remain the same as they were in 1991: institutionalized democracy, a free market, and European integration. However, today this means that the construction of the fourth Republic must be based on lessons learned during the post-Soviet liberationist failures, and the tragic effects of deviant freedom led by private interests. The fundamental contradiction between Moses-style liberation and oligarchy’s corrupting freedom must be resolved. By solving this contradiction, and bringing freedom-based political creativity back into the public sphere, the Promethean act of founding the fourth Republic might be conducted in some near future.

  • 1.Hereinafter I use the following count of Ukrainian Republics: the First Republic is a common name for Ukrainian political projects during 1917–1922 which were the alternative to Soviet Ukraine; the Second Republic refers to Soviet Ukraine that existed from approx.1917 through 1991; the Third Republic is the name for post-Soviet Ukraine from 1991 and until today.
  • 2.The Ukrainocentric term for the events of the revolutionary period of 1917–22.
  • 3.The most visible were and remain to be the Dnipro(petrovsk) and Donetsk regional agglomerates of clans. More on this see Chapter 2.2.
  • 4.E.g. this was discussed by Mykola Riabchuk who, however, refers to it as "the Second Republic," not recognizing the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a legitimate part of Ukraine’s history (Riabchuk 2010: 4). 
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