Lessons from Ukraine's Maidan Revolution: "Looking for the European Union we have found our own Ukraine"

"Looking for the European Union we have found our own Ukraine"

Ukraine has undergone an arduously painful economic crisis yet also a remarkable overall transformation.

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Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution sprung out of popular resistance to the decision of then President Yanukovych not to join a path towards close collaboration with the European Union in the autumn of 2013, and instead forge closer ties to neighbouring big brother Russia.

Fast forward to early 2017 Ukraine has undergone an arduously painful economic crisis yet also a remarkable overall transformation, with support from Western democracies and international institutions. The LSE IGA organised panel with Anne Applebaum/LSE, Olena Bilan/Dragon Capital, Mustafa Nayeem/MP, Ukraine, and Vladyslav Rashkovan/former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Ukraine identified a few key lessons on transformational policies in front of a packed auditorium: 

  • The Maidan revolution of 2013/14 had its origins in the Orange Revolution of 2004. Yet a critical difference was the organised/institutionalised role of civil society (all panellists reiterated this central message)
  • “This is the golden age of civil society” – but now the challenge is to strengthen institutions to make changes irreversible (Nayeem)
  • The greatest achievement of the Maidan Revolution is that the new generation does not fear the government – a veritable generational behavioural shift (Nayeem)
  • Reform but do not destroy institutions as that can backfire. Persuade and cajole resistance to change (Rashkovan)
  • It is more leadership not just “institutions” that matter. It is people who manage institutions after all (Rashkovan)
  • “We all felt we had to respond to the calling to serve Ukraine”(Bilan)
  • It is important to create a common national narrative and perhaps the Maidan is just that for the Ukrainians (Applebaum). Does it provide a model for now struggling Western democracies on how to fight for values you deeply believe in, she wondered.
  • Creating VoxUkraine – an independent analytical platform - and the VoxCheck that verifies facts have been an important part of raising the level of economic debate and of monitoring of the government (Bilan)
  • On the role of West’s commitment, Nayeem remarked: “Looking for the European Union we have found our own Ukraine”. IMF and EU have played positive yet only supportive roles, the programme was by Ukraine (Rashkovan, Bilan, Nayeem)
  • On the role of Russia, the panel sounded quite self-confident (“it is up to us”; “Russia is not the only elephant in this room - another one is the heavy Soviet moral legacy”). Yet this question was also put in the global context: “A HQ of a Russian TV channel in New York is that same as tanks in Eastern Ukraine today” (Nayeem).