Semantic Dimensions of the Term Euromaidan

Lisa Vogt

Essay Semantic Dimensions Euromaidan

What comes to one’s mind about the protests on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev from November 2013 to February 2014, depends on numerous factors. Where one lives, what his or her social surroundings are like, if one is interested in politics at all and how one was following the events via media or personal reports; all this and even more determines our attitude towards what the participants of the movement called a “revolution of dignity”. Thus, to talk about the meaning of the so called Euromaidan, is an issue that highly involves personal perspectives of the discourse participants. Thereby, every participant seems to add a new point of view. Multiple perspectives culminate into the term Euromaidan, a hypernym for different semantic dimensions concerning the events on Maidan. On the basis of three anthologies, which were published in Germany and are concerned with the political crisis in Ukraine, this essay collects opinions, phrases and thoughts on the meaning of the term Euromaidan and tries to sketch a summary of non-Ukrainian perspectives towards this topic. The first anthology Majdan! Ukraine, Europa appeared in March 2014, only a few weeks after the violence on Maidan had reached its climax. Two months later, Juri Andruchowytsch became publisher of a collection of essays under the title Euromaidan: Was in der Ukraine auf dem Spiel steht. In March 2015, one year after the end of the protests, Katharina Raabe published the third major German anthology Gefährdete Nachbarschaften – Ukraine, Russland, Europäische Union. In this essay, I do not claim to offer a fully sophisticated overview concerning the presented opinions in those anthologies. I would rather like to give an insight serving as a basis on which we can establish a lively discussion. Also, I do not intend to give answers to what Euromaidan means. On the contrary, I would like to open up questions that might be considered worthwhile to think about. Taking all this into account, it becomes evident that this project is far from being finished. The texts presented in this essay can only serve as a first selection and more material has to be analysed, in order to broaden the horizon of the project’s perspective. Every new contribution can, therefore, enrich the continuum of semantic dimensions and enhance the quality of possible discussions.

To start with, one could argue that it lies in human’s nature to give a name to everything we come across in life. If so, we would also have to find a proper label for the events on Maidan in winter 2013/14. For most Ukrainian people, especially for those who stood there in the very centre of Kiev to show presence in the fight against a corrupt regime, the answer is simple: it was, still is and will always be considered as a revolution and they cannot accept less.[1] German media and politicians, however, are more careful here and summarize the events on Maidan, the annexation of Crimea and the separatist movement in East Ukraine under the term Ukraine crisis. Also, it is not yet clear, neither on Ukrainian nor on European side, how one should classify the separatist movement in the oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk. Some Ukrainians call the defensive actions of their troops against the separatists ATO, Anti Terrorist Operation, a term I had never heard of before I came to Ukraine and which is highly criticised within the Ukrainian population. Only gradually do we proceed to designate the fights in Donbass as war. This rhetoric dilemma underscores the need for communication between all parties that have an interest in this topic. In the chosen text material, there are other descriptions of the Euromaidan, which are able to transfer a sense of empathy or a general attitude of the authors towards the topic. For instance, Katharina Raabe uses the following expressions: “Regimewechsel in Kiew“ (12), “Umsturz in Kiew“ (12), “tektonische[s] Beben in Kiew“ (10). Those are quite strong and even metaphoric words to summarize the events on Maidan. In terms of the first quotation, one could discuss if Euromaidan can really be called a change of regime which indicates that the system itself has not been modified at all. Other metaphoric descriptions are “das Wunder auf dem Maidan“ (Margolina 130), “ein politisches Tschernobyl“ (Garton Ash 97) or “die Reise ins Herz der kalten Finsternis“ (Pollack 118).

In his article ”Maidanologie“, Stefan Weidner explores the etymological perspective of the word maidan, which is of Arabic heritage and means square. He states that the term Euromaidan has become a political statement and the place as such a part of Europe (see Weidner 96). Besides, he mentions that in Hans Wehr’s Arabisches Wörterbuch there are also translations for maidan as field, battle ground, battlefield or romping ground (see Weidner 96). There are other examples of maidans in the Arabic world, for instance the Tahrir Square in Cairo (Arabic: Mīdān at-Taḥrīr) or the Taksim Square in Istanbul (Turkish: Taksim meydanı), which lately became scenes for protests as well. Weidner argues that it is somehow curious that there are different places with the same name in the world where at almost the same time similarly motivated protests are running. He says: “es ist, als trüge die Etymologie dieses Wortes wie ein Keim alles in sich, was sich später auf den ’Maidan‘ genannten Orten abspielen würde“ (Weidner 96).

When people from an outer point of view write about Euromaidan, mostly everyone makes its violence the subject of discussion. Firstly, there are trends to aestheticise the means of the combat. For example, Katja Pertrowskaja, a Ukrainian author, who has been living in Germany for almost 16 years now, mentions “eine echte Schönheit, die vier Meter hohe Barrikade auf der Proresnaja-Straße“ (39). She also describes how the barricades themselves where aestheticised by inscriptions like “Die Schönheit liegt im Kampf” (Petrowskaja 43). The German correspondent for Poland and Ukraine Konrad Schuller depicts a black wall of smoke from the burning barricades: “Rauch in quellenden, schnell wachsenden Türmen, dicht, zuckend, warm wie Samt. Die Männer werfen und werfen. Alles schluckt diese Wand” (Schuller 24). Secondly, authors writing from a non-Ukrainian perspective also emphasise the necessity of violence in order for the protestors to achieve the goals of the movement. Schuller points out that there was a time before and after the occurrence of violence on Maidan. Hence, the painted helmets can be seen as “ein letzter Gruß jener Zeit, als diese Revolution … noch eine Party sein wollte, ein allabendliches fröhliches Fest mitten in der Stadt“ (25). Sonja Margolina claims: “Revolution ohne Gewalt ist ein Wunschtraum“ (131). However, Claudia Dathe and Andreas Rostek, the publishers of the anthology Majdan! Ukraine, Europa, put it even more drastically: “Erst die vielen Opfer – so die brutale Logik dieses Aufstands – brachten das Machtsystem des Wiktor Janukowytsch zum Einsturz“ (12). And Rebecca Harms argues: “Die Bewegung ist gegen die Gewalt gewachsen. Der Platz und die Menschen haben sich verändert“ (65). Thus, as tragic as it may appear, there seems to be a common opinion about the essential function of violence as a motor for revolutionist changes.

Finally, after focusing on the meaning of the word maidan, I also want to take the second part of the movement’s name into account. What is this connection of the square’s name and Euro about? Sometimes during my research, it appeared ambiguous to me that a movement for strengthening Ukrainian national consciousness must necessarily include the connection to Europe. Is it that easy? In all the texts I have read so far, there is no doubt that Ukraine belongs to Europe. This seems to be out of question. It is also a widely accepted opinion that Euromaidan changed Europe and the way we look at ourselves. During our discussions in Lviv, a student mentioned that the term Euromaidan was only used in the first days and weeks of the protests, afterwards many participants forgot about it. But how come that, nevertheless, it became a hypernym for everything that happened in Ukraine in winter 2013/14? Did we, for instance in Germany, maybe only adopt the term because it meets our supposed European identity? However uncertain this topic may be, we can assume that not everything on Maidan was exclusively made and meant to be for Europe. Rebecca Harms reports: “‘Normal‘ war das Wort, dass [sic!] ich neben ‘Europa‘ auf dem Majdan am häufigsten gehört habe“ (64). And Martin Pollack states: “Am Euromajdan wird nicht allein das Schicksal der Ukraine entschieden. Dort geht es um Europa. Um die Seele Europas, das nicht an der Schengengrenze endet“ (120). Consequently, I consider academic projects that depend on personal contact and communication an essential method for exchanging points of view, in order to be able to overcome prejudices, come to terms with the tragic incidents on Maidan and use potentials of those new developments.

[1] see Katja Petrowskaja in Kissina/Petrowskaja 189: “Dass jetzt durch die Revolution – es war eine Revolution! – vieles nach oben gekommen ist, …“

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