Do European values nonetheless matter in Ukraine?

When Volodymyr Zelenskyy received the 2019 presidential election in Ukraine, Ukrainian thinker Vakhtang Kebuladze referred to as his phenomenon a ‘non-Maidan’. I repeated this expression in my interview for New Japanese Europe printed in Could this 12 months. Kebuladze meant that Zelenskyy’s election undermined the 2013-2014 confrontation between the pro-European ‘Maidan’ and the pro-Russian ‘anti-Maidan’, and his political mission – Servant of the Individuals – intuitively or consciously sought a special method: extra inclusive but additionally extra imprecise, a complete platform attracting voters with completely different origins and values.

At the moment, I referred to as the Zelenskyy phenomenon ’populism 2.0’. Throughout the election marketing campaign, Zelenskyy was not proposing concepts, values and even slogans. He was proposing himself, his (actual or imagined) character. The main emotion behind this character was the emotion of belonging: ‘I’m one in all you’, he tried to say, ‘I’m not a politician, not part of “them”’. Opposite to different politicians, he moved from political slogans (‘vote for us and we offers you justice/peace/safety/welfare/order’) to political memes: his phrase play mocked present politicians or corrupt civil servants however didn’t suggest something like a plan or aim; he mobilized his voters to chuckle at and reject different positions however gave no different.

Photograph by Адміністрація Президента України, CC BY 4.0, through Wikimedia Commons

Present constellation of gamers

This vacancy was Zelenskyy’s key downside – but additionally his key power. The ideology of the Servant of the Individuals was unclear however sufficiently complete to draw completely different folks and completely different expectations. This inclusiveness regularly made Servant of the Individuals a key centrist power within the Ukrainian political panorama. It additionally helped crystalize two oppositions to the Zelenskyy celebration: the patriotic pro-western opposition embodied by Poroshenko’s European Solidarity and the pro-Russian, anti-western opposition embodied by Viktor Medvedchuk’s Opposition Platform for Life (OPSZ). Two lesser political forces are additionally price mentioning right here: the liberal (and doubtless most pro-western) Holos, led by rock singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk; and the aggressively anti-western celebration of video blogger Shariy (the Shariy Celebration). Whereas Holos is regularly dying out, ‘squeezed’ between centre-right Poroshenko and centrist Zelenskyy, Shariy is gaining recognition, particularly amongst youthful audiences within the east and south, by performing as a youthful and anti-systemic ally of the Opposition Platform for Life.

One other vital Ukrainian political participant Yulia Tymoshenko, one of many leaders of the Orange Revolution (2004-2005), is drifting extra in direction of Ihor Kolomoiskyy and more and more enjoying an anti-western card, pushed by the oligarch and his entourage. Add to this a bunch of native events born of decentralization reform and a few new oligarchic political tasks, and you will notice the standard, difficult character of Ukrainian politics.

It is vitally tempting to current this constellation in a European-style ideological matrix: centre-right European Solidarity (considerably much like the German Christian Democrats); the ‘centrist’ Servant of the Individuals; the liberal Holos; the centre-left Tymoshenko celebration; the pro-Russian ‘left’ of OPSZ; the novel far-right Ukrainian nationalists (balancing between two and three per cent); and the “far-left” Shariy. Nonetheless, all of those acquainted adjectives – ‘proper’, ‘left’, ‘centrist’, ‘liberal’, ‘nationalist’, ‘socialist’ – are hardly relevant as such to Ukrainian politics that’s pushed by personalities and cash fairly than concepts or ideologies. And, whereas on the pro-western flank there are no less than indicators of demarcation between extra liberal forces and extra patriotic/identification politics, the pro-Russian aspect remains to be characterised by a chaotic combination of concepts.

Firstly, due to this fact, once I use the adjective ‘left’ with regard to Medvedchuk and Shariy, I exploit it as a metaphor fairly than an actual description. They’re making an attempt to draw the eye of the European ‘left’, arguing that they’re the important thing power opposing Ukrainian ‘nationalists’. However their ‘leftism’ is illusory and has nothing to do with a real European left; it isn’t a couple of welfare state or social redistribution however pro-Soviet nostalgia and pro-Russian rhetoric, acute anti-western rhetoric and weak claims that they oppose ‘nationalists’. They’re additionally, fairly in all probability, receiving monetary help from the Kremlin; Medvedchuk and Shariy usually show nostalgia in direction of the Soviet industrial, authoritarian and imperial previous.

Secondly, Zelenskyy’s ‘centrism’ is fairly wishful considering. Its ‘inclusiveness’ is commonly a synonym of its vacancy that was fairly vacuous in the beginning and is turning into more and more bereft within the making: the 2020 native elections have been poor even when it comes to political campaigning when put next with the 2019 election.

Thirdly, there isn’t any steadiness on this system. At the moment, the ‘patriotic’ and ‘pro-western’ flanks (Poroshenko, Holos and pro-western MPs of the Servant of the Individuals) are dropping recognition and sources as targets of an enormous anti-western data marketing campaign, completely studied by In the meantime, the ‘anti-western’ flank (Medvedchuk, Shariy, Kolomoyskyy’s shut politicians from Servant of the Individuals and new events like For the Future linked with Kolomoyskyy) are gaining recognition, primarily due to the massive monetary and media sources behind them.

What does this pattern imply for Ukrainian values? Nothing optimistic, that’s for sure.

Liberal-patriotic alliance

Photograph by White Home Photographic Workplace, Public area, through Wikimedia Commons

The liberal-patriotic alliance was key to the emergence of contemporary Ukraine. It was a big issue within the Ukrainian dissident motion within the Soviet Union of the 1970-80s, which tried to mix the liberal discourse of human rights and the patriotic values of group rights and identification. The Ukrainian Helsinki Group, which emerged in 1976 in protest in opposition to the Soviet Union’s neglect of the Helsinki Ultimate Act (the USSR ultimately signed it), was a symptom of this. The opposition to Soviet totalitarianism, which suppressed each particular person rights and the nationwide/political identities of its ‘republics’, demanded a unified entrance of liberals and patriots.

All through the Nineteen Nineties, this liberal-patriotic alliance dominated mental discourse. Nonetheless, it had little understanding and help from most of the people. The vast majority of Ukrainian society within the early Nineteen Nineties was made up of the post-Soviet elite and strange residents who had not taken this competitors of concepts significantly and have been specializing in materials issues. Some earned some huge cash from corrupt rent-seeking schemes or different profitable companies, whereas others have been targeted on financial survival and making certain the fundamental every day welfare of themselves and their households.

Throughout the two Maidans (the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005 and the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-2014), this liberal-patriotic discourse, which pressured the significance of each human rights and the rights of the Ukrainian political group (in opposition to Russian expansionism, for instance), was capable of mobilize residents and supply them with concepts that impressed resistance and even a readiness to sacrifice themselves. What’s extra, this liberal-patriotic alliance was not distinctive to Ukraine. It was dominant all through the western world, from the late Seventies – with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan – by to the late Nineteen Nineties with a liberal-conservative consensus. This consensus changed the liberal-socialist alliance of the 1940-60s, which created a European social mannequin and welfare state that balanced the values of freedom and equality. Opposite to the liberal-socialist consensus, the liberal-conservative alliance of the 1980-90s rejected the function of equality as a key worth and pressured the function of the rule of legislation, along with the liberal concept of freedom.

Right now, this liberal-conservative alliance has collapsed all through the world. Former allies are turning into bitter enemies. Each liberalism and conservatism have gotten more and more radical and intransigent in relation to at least one one other. Ukraine, on this sense, is not any exception. A number of developments put the previous liberal-patriotic alliance into query. ‘Liberals’ and ‘patriots’ are more and more in opposition to at least one one other. Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbas have made patriotic discourse extra radical, with lots of its representatives doubting that the liberal values of human rights may be utilized to the enemy, in a rustic at struggle. ‘Liberals’, quite the opposite, argue that radicalizing patriotic, safety and identification discourse is useful to Russia which presents Ukraine as a ‘fascist state’ and is popping Ukraine right into a mirror of its enemy. The collapse of the liberal-patriotic consensus endangers the very resilience of the Ukrainian political mission, going through rising threats from Russia, not solely from the surface but additionally from inside the nation.

The warrior versus the bourgeois

The conflict between liberalism and patriotism/conservatism mirrors a elementary axiological conflict, which we see all over the world, together with Ukraine: an issue between the ‘warrior ethos’ and the ‘bourgeois ethos’. By the warrior ethos, I perceive a set of values upholding the beliefs of victory on a battlefield: glory, honour and pleasure. By the bourgeois ethos, I perceive values upholding the beliefs of change, mutual respect and a optimistic sum sport.

The warrior ethos has been a long-lasting basis of European moral doctrines. It was the moral foundation of European Antiquity, primarily Historic Greek metropolis states, and is the muse of Western democracy. It’s primarily based upon the concept that a real ‘advantage’ is received on the battlefield, on an agon. The perfect citizen is meant to have the ability to combat, win and earn glory. The warrior ethos stresses the values of combating for nationwide sovereignty and identification, of sacrifice, heroism and victory in struggle.

The bourgeois ethos, quite the opposite, emerged with European modernity, the rise of capitalism and the next invention of political liberalism. It may be attributed to philosophers like John Locke, David Hume and broadly seventeenth to eighteenth century Britain. Opposite to the values of sacrifice, victory and glory, it emphasises mutual change and recognition. It stresses the values of a optimistic sum sport and compromise. It presents the very best metaphor to explain human society as agora, not agon – in different phrases, the assembly level, the market.

In my latest essay Ukraine, Europe and dignity, I argue that the mixture of the warrior ethos and bourgeois ethos is essential for the event of the concept of dignity (dignitas). Dignitas is vital for each European Union values (‘dignity’ comes first within the record of values of Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union) and for Ukraine’s latest historical past, whose EuroMaidan was referred to as the Revolution of Dignity from its very starting.

A united Europe was the results of an alliance of those two units of values: a Europe of glory and a Europe of change; a Europe of victory and a Europe of compromise. Each wanted one another. Dignitas is unthinkable with out mutual respect and equality, which comes from the bourgeois ethos; nevertheless, additionally it is unthinkable when every part is topic to change and there are not any purple strains for compromise. These purple strains come primarily from the warrior ethos and its emphasis on the worth of honour.

Each have performed a big function in Ukraine’s latest historical past. The bourgeois ethos helped many voters overcome their Soviet previous, to develop into extra individualistic and fewer depending on the state, and higher worth horizontal relations, mutuality and belief. However the warrior ethos has additionally been key for Ukraine’s defence in opposition to overseas aggression. The worth of sacrifice was acutely current each throughout EuroMaidan and the struggle. It’s outstanding how the phrase ‘warrior’, voin, has renewed significance within the Ukrainian language.

The warrior ethos is the rationale why many Ukrainians are sceptical of Europe’s coverage in direction of Russia, which is taken into account by many as too mushy, compromised and unwilling to confront hazard (i.e., too bourgeois). Right now, nevertheless, these two units of values are additionally contested inside societies one of many strains of battle between liberalism and patriotism. Furthermore, each are additionally going through assault from a 3rd participant – the Kremlin. Putinist Russia is ideal at imitating European values however altering them for its profit – it skilfully performs on the controversy between liberalism and conservatism, both serving to radical conservatives or imitating liberal discourse on ‘freedom of speech’ when it must.

Zoopolitical ethos

Photograph by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany, CC BY-SA 2.0, through Wikimedia Commons

In Ukraine, the Kremlin can also be selling what I name a ‘zoopolitical ethos’. By zoopolitics, I perceive a selected worldview, through which politics – or the political as such – is known not as a warriors agon or because the retailers’ market however as a giant jungle the place animals combat for survival. Zoopolitics valorizes aggression, power, growth (i.e., the values of social Darwinism, which flourished within the western world within the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and led to the age of proper and left-wing totalitarianisms of the 20th century). Social Darwinism argues that human beings are neither warriors on the battleground, valuing their honour, nor are they retailers assembly on the market, valuing their mutual revenues. As a substitute, they’re however animals combating for survival, with no mercy in direction of one another. In response to the zoopoolitical ethos, political competitors is one huge combat amongst huge animals (nations, states, empires) making an attempt to amass extra residing area.

The zoopolitical discourse, typical for at present’s Russia, has additionally been exported to Ukraine and different European nations, selling the triumph of the cynical thoughts, which assesses the scenario solely on the premise of survival instincts and an aggressive capability to destroy others. After I discuss with zoopolitical (or social Darwinist) discourse in Ukraine, I imply primarily the abovementioned pro-Russian and anti-western forces – represented by Medvedchuk’s OPSZ, Shariy’s celebration and Kolomoyskyy-aligned political actors, each inside the Servant of the Individuals and outdoors it. They’re characterised by an extreme use of hate speech, political incorrectness, and a rejection of each liberal (human rights) and identification (group rights) discourse. Brazenly or latently, they specific their help for Russkiy Mir (the so-called Russian World) – a Russian imperial concept trying to re-establish its zone of affect and, moreover, to re-establish its political empire.

Apparently, the zoopolitical ethos mimics each the bourgeois ethos and the warrior ethos. It makes use of liberal discourse in opposition to the democratic world. It argues that the western world promotes ‘liberal fundamentalism’ and that the Russian-backed discourse – on Ukraine media akin to RT, Sputnik and Medvedchuk’s channels – truly present the true different, real essential considering and, due to this fact, needs to be defended in line with the democratic precept of free speech. The reality, nevertheless, is that the zoopolitical aim is to make use of data as a dangerous fairly than instructive instrument – to increase imperial energy, not human information.

It additionally mimics the warrior ethos, because it argues that Russkiy mir is endangered, encircled by its enemies that Russian folks should combat, opposing any western try and weaken it. The reality, nevertheless, is that the European warrior ethos, rooted within the Greek polis, was citizen-focused, not empire-focused. It was initially way more anti-imperial than imperial. It was born way more as an ethos of the defender fairly than that of the occupier – and, due to this fact, is way more relevant to the present anti-imperial Ukraine than to imperial Russia.


The Ukrainian liberal-patriotic alliance has been the important thing driver of Ukraine’s means in direction of European values of dignity. And, though it isn’t in the very best of form, it actually could possibly be reborn once more. The issue is whether or not we will nonetheless discover a universalist vocabulary to explain what’s going on in at present’s world and even what’s going on amongst our neighbours. Take the Belarus protests, for instance. Belarus’s rebellion in opposition to Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Ukraine’s EuroMaidan in 2013-2014 have a lot in widespread. The true mobilizing power behind each was a response to direct police violence. It was this second that offered the ethical motivation to protest in opposition to violence and the civic motivation to guard residents’ votes from fraud or the nation’s geopolitical route.

But, many place significance on stressing the variations fairly than similarities between the Belarus and Ukraine protests. Some be aware Belarus’s lack of identification politics (for higher or for worse). Others understand the Belarus protests as much less violent (the start the EuroMaidan was additionally non-violent). There are additionally those that complain that Belarus’s opposition is simply too mushy on Russia. Though all of those variations appear to be much less vital than the points that unite the 2 protests, we nonetheless discover it tough to discover a widespread narrative.

Sadly, the shortage of a standard narrative that goes past any explicit state makes the very discourse of values mindless. Opposite to postmodern scepticism about grand narratives, I consider that our incapacity to embrace them makes us weaker, not stronger. The break up between liberal and conservative values on the earth, the break up between liberal and patriotic values in Ukraine – or in different nations – and the radicalization of opposing discourses drives us away from the concept of ‘European values’.

‘European values’, with their concentrate on dignity, is a compromise between what I name the warrior ethos and the bourgeois ethos. And it’s more and more falling sufferer to the neo-authoritarian zoopolitical ethos, intransigent in its want to survive. This zoopolitical ethos has just one motivation: destruction as a instrument of survival. As one well-known French author put it, ‘destroy, she says’.

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