It is impossible to predict what the situation in Ukraine will be by the time these lines appear.
Will the new “Orange Revolution” have been extinguished by the cold? Beaten down by riot sticks or drowned in blood? Or will it have forced the corrupt hierarchs who rule the country to compromise, to retreat, and perhaps even to step down?
Already certain, however, is that the events of the past month — that is, since President Yanukovych’s sudden about face in Vilnius, when he chose to put himself back under the Russian boot rather than sign the partnership agreement that had been negotiated with the European Union — are extraordinary in every respect. Extraordinary, the contrast between the fervor of the Ukrainian people in their refusal to be sold to Putin and, at the same time, the West’s listless melancholy, its posture of pampered children afflicted with the “spiritual fatigue” diagnosed by Edmund Husserl, inventor of the modern idea of Europe.
Extraordinary, the crowds of men and women running extreme risks, which may come to include the ultimate risk, to gain the right to one day enter a shared house that to us seems no more than a tangle of cold rules, absurd budgetary directives, subsidies, and norms.
Extraordinary, the impression one gets, when listening to those crowds, of hearing again in all its original freshness and force the beautiful yearning for Europe passed down to us by our fathers and our fathers’ fathers, which we have tended to allow to dry out, if not to crumble into dust, leaving us holding the letter without the spirit and, between the dead letter and the purloined, the “ashes of great weariness” that Husserl, again, lamented.
And the notions of peace, democracy, and rule of law that the demonstrators have made their standards; the idea that Europe is first and foremost the name of an idea and, thus, the name of a dream and an ideal that in turn signify an additional measure of civilization but also of prosperity; and those words of the European tribe that, thanks to the Ukrainians, have suddenly appeared in a new and purer light after having been forgotten by established Europe.
And, in ancient Ruthenia, where the most heated issues also tend to be the most archaic, in that land laden with history that is, in addition to being the cradle of Russia, also, in a sense, one of the largest cemeteries on the continent — in that land drenched in blood, where the two most atrociously criminal inclinations of the last century came together, the certitude that clinging to the idea of Europe is the best way of extricating oneself, truly, from that hideous past.
All of that, for the past two weeks, has been spoken by the demonstrators in Kiev and by the swelling crowds in the Russian-speaking cities in the east and south of the country.
Expressed in this revolt, too, is a faith in a concept — Europe — that offers, in the demonstrators’ eyes, the only way of one day chasing out of the popular mind the remnants of the double nightmare of Nazism and Stalinism.
In response to all this the European authorities can assume one of two stances.
Either they can, once again, bow down to Putin, leaving him free to roll back, wherever he can and at whatever cost to his vassals, the dismantling of the Soviet Union, which he is known to view as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century; and to allow — perhaps because we find it convenient, perhaps because our Euro fatigue is so great that even thinking about having to implement a new partnership tires us out, perhaps, in other words, because Russia’s brutality enables us to make one of those cowardly exits that we have, alas, grown accustomed to making — a new Iron Curtain to drop over the aspirations for freedom of the Ukrainians today and, tomorrow, of Georgia and Moldova in a return to the captive Europe that Milan Kundera spoke of on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a reopening of the wound inflicted on Europe by our resignation at seeing it cut in two and left to unfold in two different space-times.
Or we can keep up the pressure on Kiev — more specifically, we can hold open the offer of association that a corrupt president refused on November 21 while assuring the peaceful opposition that defies him of our active sympathy. In other words, we can make use of all instruments available to us to punish the muggers (political sanctions, freezing assets held in European banks or in tax havens with which Europe has entered into agreements of cooperation and mutual assistance) and aid the muggees (dispatching parliamentary missions, relaxing visa policies with regard students, among others, and providing direct aid to rebellious civil society organizations). By offering a concrete European translation for the “disgust” voiced by John Kerry, we can kill two birds with one stone: on the one hand, a step toward greater democracy; on the other, a rejuvenation of the fading idea of Europe, which needs all the help it can get if it is to regain its lost glory.
Ukraine offers a chance for today’s soulless Europe.