Kyiv, 19 May 2014 – In its passion for democratic values and dignity, the Ukrainian revolution has revealed a need for Europe to revisit and to reaffirm the values on which it is built. Both the European and world order will be at risk if Europe refuses to challenge Russian propaganda. Intellectual elites throughout Europe need to consider what is at stake. These were among the key observations voiced by French, American, and Ukrainian experts at the conference “Ukraine: Thinking Together” in Kyiv.
Public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy, speaking at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy on Friday, May 16, urged Europe to stop those trying to disrupt the Ukrainian presidential elections. He also called on Europeans to resist Putin’s propaganda; failure to do so would be a moral defeat. “The new style of fascism coming from Putin’s ideologists is very dangerous for Europe,” he said. Sanctions are not working, because “they are insufficient and can be circumvented. … Putin is not a chess player; he is a political gangster. His regime feeds on European weaknesses. So, my humble advice is to strengthen sanctions and not to fall into the Kremlin trap.”
The experts shared the view that the West must respond more vigorously to what Russia is doing in Ukraine. Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale University noted: “This revolution is definitely European, and the reaction should be European as well. The problem is that the revolution happened, but a lack of analysis produced a lack of political reactions. What is important is that the Maidan itself, with its dignity and inspiration, opens opportunities for the future. In the West, things like this are taken for granted.”
According to Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, “Putin has violated all international norms, international law in a variety of ways. It annexed – rather stole – Crimea, and it has just destabilized Ukraine by means of an unconventional invasion. This is by any meaning of the word an assault of the world order, on the postwar world. Such an attack has enormous implications not only for Ukraine, but for the world. It raises fundamental questions of the responsibility of states towards other states. It is what we might call a moral emergency.”
Ukrainian philosopher and essayist Volodymyr Yermolenko said Ukraine had made a real contribution to Europe by showing its passion and faith on the Maidan: “There is a part of Europe that I call the Europe of rules. It lacks faith, but conventionally follows the rules. The Ukrainians who were on the Maidan are ready to follow the rules, but Europe has yet to recognize that rules cannot exist without passion.”
“To me, Putin acted out of a feeling of weakness and an awareness of Russia’s instability,” said journalist Paul Berman. ”He is afraid that Ukraine’s success will lead to the end of his system. Our goal is to demonstrate that society can be built on democratic rights and freedoms. Western countries have to ensure Ukrainian success.”
Carmen Claudin, a senior research fellow at the Centre for International Affairs in Barcelona, said that Ukraine enjoys public support in Europe. “But we also need political and institutional responses. Ukraine faces an enormous task. Real revolution and real change will come through reform. Moreover, if Ukraine succeeds, it will be the answer to Putin’s victory in Crimea, and the day will come when Crimea will regret being annexed by Russia.”
At the same time, speakers underscored that the West’s reaction so far has been insufficient and weak. Former French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Bernard Kouchner called Europe’s reaction almost non-existent.
Speakers also agreed that in the current political and social situation, federalization of the country would be dangerous. Noted Claudin: “Federalization is a proposal from Putin. He wants to centralize his own country this way. Ukrainians have to choose decentralization, especially taking into account that democratization and decentralization are two things that always go together, and one is impossible without the other.”
“The crisis in Ukraine is not dividing the country, it is reinforcing solidarity among Ukrainians,” summarized Konstantin Sigov, director of the European Humanities Research Centre at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
Timothy Snyder is the Bird White Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna.
Leon Wieseltier has been the literary editor of The New Republic since 1983 and is the author of Kaddish. His writings on culture and politics, foreign policy and human rights, Israel and Jewish history have appeared in numerous journals.
Paul Berman is a journalist who has written extensively about totalitarianism, liberalism, and interventionism. He is a member of the editorial board of Dissent.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher and public intellectual. He has written extensively about democracy and liberalism.
Carmen Claudin is senior research fellow at Centre for International Affairs in Barcelona, where she was the director of research from 1998 to 2012.
Bernard Kouchner is former French minister of foreign and European affairs and a co-founder of Médecins sans Frontières and Médecins du Monde.
Volodymyr Yermolenko is a philosopher and essayist and a senior lecturer at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
Konstantin Sigov is a philosopher and civil rights activist. He is the director of the European Humanities Research Centre at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and founding director of publishing house Dukh i Litera.