For the kickoff of the nearly month-long French Spring festival in Kyiv today, the Kyiv Post asked French writer and playwright Bernard-Henri Levy to write about his support for the EuroMaidan Revolution that prompted Viktor Yanukovych to flee as Ukraine’s president on Feb. 22, 2014.
I remember the Maidan on that beautiful Sunday in February 2014 when several hundred thousand citizens of Kyiv braved the cold and then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s militsiya.
I remember the emotion that suffused me when, as I spoke, I spotted among the many Ukrainian flags several blue, star-studded flags of Europe and even a tiny red, white and blue flag of France almost indiscernible in the huge crowd.
I recall my surprise when I realized that before me stood a mixed crowd of Tatars and Poles, Cossacks and Jews, the grandchildren of the survivors of the Holodomor and of Babi Yar, sharing the same European and revolutionary zeal.
I remember thinking, “It’s like the Place de la Bastille in Paris, where the French people coalesced, or Wenceslas Square in Prague, where I had heard the petrified heart of Europe begin to beat again. The squares of Europe have a beautiful history that overlaps that of the continent’s cities, its civilization, and its civic life, of which the Maidan is a part. »
But I remember also thinking that there was another history, a quite different history of squares that led up to the massacre in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. “May Kyiv’s Maidan,” I remember hoping, “not be another Tiananmen.
I remember a man with a profile of a Greek coin and the eloquence of a Roman tribune, a man who preceded me on the dais that day and who said, in a voice vibrant with anger and anxiety, that the militiamen operating under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ultimate control were, unfortunately, capable of anything—and I remember making myself repeat three times the name of this noble Cassandra whom I did not know and who, before those hundreds of thousands of faces from among whom the Grim Reaper would, just hours later, recruit his Heavenly Hundred, was warning of what the Berkut was capable. The speaker was President Petro Poroshenko.
I remember our meeting, later that day, in an office that reminded me of my father’s, where he, Petro Poroshenko, confided to me that he looked forward to the best but also, alas, foresaw the worst.
I recall my message that day to French President François Hollande: “Mr. President, I’ve just met the man who will be the president of the new Ukraine.”
And the response: “Invite him to Paris; I’ll meet with him.”
I remember the occasion, several days later, where, in the course of a public meeting that I had quickly convened for him and Vitali Klitschko, his comrade in the Maidan and rival candidate for president, Poroshenko’s eloquence conquered the people of Paris as it had those of Kyiv.
I remember the great lesson on Europe that he offered that night to the Parisians who had come to hear him.
I remember a Ukraine that, when he spoke, was not the vassal of the Russian empire begging for membership in Europe but the beating heart of the continent, and I recall that Poroshenko considered the Maidan the heart of that heart.
I remember a Ukrainian people that, when he spoke, was not just one European people among others but the best, the most fervent, and the most enthusiastic of them.
European, indeed, were the people of the Maidan by their history—but also by dint of the blood they shed.
European, indeed, were the Ukrainians because they were the children of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and the great Taras Shevchenko, and—soon enough—because in the Maidan, for the first time in history, young people would die clutching the starry flag of Europe.
Attempts have been made to defame the people of the Maidan.
It has been said that you, the people of the Maidan, were the dark memory of Europe. No. To the contrary, that virtue of resistance that is the pride of Europe, it was you who embodied it during those bright, glorious, and terrible days. The national socialism, anti-Semitism, and fascism that are the shame of Europe were found on the side of your enemies.
I remember bowing before your dead.
I remember praising your bravery and your fine political spirit.
I recall telling you that Emmanuel Kant, the great philosopher of universal law, may as well have been born in Kyiv or Lviv.
I remember remarking that Voltaire’s Candide would not have felt out of place—indeed, he would have felt at home—on the banks of the Dnipro.
I recall the moment when I understood that you were not a piece of an empire, that you did not belong and would never belong to those who thought themselves your masters—the czar in his time, the Bolsheviks in theirs, and, today, one Putin. I recall the instant I saw and understood that you had the soul of a free people.
Yes, I remember that beautiful Sunday in the Maidan.
And I remember the moment in my own life when I realized that I had made your cause my own.