Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ruud Meij, Euromaidan and Solidarność: the politics of antipolitics

"Our revolution was truly beautiful - it was a carnival of freedom, patrionism, and truth. That movement managed to reveal what was most valuable in people - their tolerance, nobility, and kindness towards others. That movement built and did not destroy; it returned dignity to people and did not prey on the urge towards retaliation. Never before and never again was our country to be such a nice country, its people so free, equal, and congenial."
This is not a future memory of Euromaidan, nor is it even about Ukraine. It is Adam Michnik writing in his book In Search of Lost Meaning on the Solidarnść revolution of 1980. Michnik not only captures beautifully the alsmost romantic ethos of those early days of Solidarność. He points also to its strategy and aims. Exactly that's what I'm missing in Euromaidan: a public debate about the strategy and aims of Euromaidan.

Thinking with your public feet, or public thinking on your feet?

A "revolutionairy mood" is all to present in Euromaidan. You can't miss it if you walk, as I did, at Maidan in Kyiv, or listen to speeches and declarations at the Shevchenko monument in L'viv. In these tense and nerving days Euromaidan seems to think more with its heart and feet, and less with its mind. You walk, shout, laugh, cry, drive, tweet, send facebook messages. It's energetic. It's inspiring. It's enthousiastic. It's sometimes deeply touching, impressive and heart breaking. And there always happens something that arouses intens feelings of rage or even hate: the beating up of protesters, the attempt to crack down Maidan, the maltreatment of Tetyana Chornovol. And then we walk again, shout again: 'shame', 'Hail Ukraine'.
These "revolutionairy feelings" are the fuel and oxygine of Euromaidan. Without it you can't get the movement going. But thinking with your feet differs from thinking on your feet. Thinking with your feet begs some crucial and urgent questions. 'what is Euromaidan?' and 'what can or should Euromaidan actually become?' When I browse through all my favourite tweets, facebook pages and blogs, this kind of questions are virtually non-existent. A quick survey on twitter confirmed my suspision: no debate about aims and strategy. "I don't now (about) such a debate. Will write if I do hear something."
These questions of strategy and aims, however, seem at least somehow implied by the set up of the Maidan All-Ukrainian Association, or Maidan People's Union, as it is called on Wikipedia, on Sunday December 22, and the the announcement of the first All-Ukrainian Forum of Euromaidans to assemble on January 11 in Kharkiv. As the first seems more 'political', the second looks outspoken 'antipolitical' as, according to Kyiv Post, 'the Forum recommends local Euromaidans not to appoint delegates-members of parliamentary parties'.
Both the Association and the Forum are answers to the pressing question of what Euromaidan should become, if it wants to capture the hopes and ambitions of Ukrainians for a better and more promising future. Looking at recent polls this is urgent enough. Ukrianians seem to have an increasing sceptical view of Euromaidan. 'Wil it lead to something? And what will it bring? Will I get dissapointed again?' You can break the world record anthem singing on New Years Eve - and it was awesome -, but that will not change the daily lifes in Odessa, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Kyiv or L'viv.
My guess is that a public debate on Euromaidan, its organization, aims, strategy and tactics is inevitable. It helps to create Euromaidan as a community of civic inquiry in a community of civic practice. A good starting point is the reference, made on the Wikipedia page of the Maidan People's Union. 'It will be a bit like the Solidarity movement in Poland.' That's a useful point to start with.

The Solidarność way: civil society and antipolitics

What can Euromaidan learn from Solidarność? There are two catchwords that come to my mind: civil society and, especially important, antipolitics. Solidarność related dissidents added these, admittetly abstract concepts, to the then current political discourse on political transformation, seizing state power and revolution.
I'm a fan of antipolitics. Antipolitics is gonna make a difference here. The politics of antipolitics helps us to get rid of the other way of doing politics, deeply rooted in the Ukrainian mind and history, which makes it hard for Euromaidan to make steps forward, but which is still very present in the rhetorics of Euromaidan: the politics of revolution.
The Maidan Manifest, which was voted for by the Maidan Popular Assembly on New Years Eve, seems a compromise between the politics of revolution and of antipolitics. The strategy of antipolitics differentiates sharply from the strategy of revolution. Revolution aims at capturing Ukrainian state power, embodied by Yanukovych, and transforming the Ukrainian state; antipolitics ignores the centre of state power, and captures and educates the mind of every citizen. Revolution aims at the decisive battle in Kyiv; antipolitics avoids the battle and spreads like 'a nebulous cloud' (Von Clausewitz) over Ukraine. Revolution is a strategy of the centre; antipolitics is a strategy of power defying practices in regions, cities, towns, factories, offices, civil services and universities. Revolution seeks the decisive moment; antipolitics the slow process. Revolution speaks of resistance; antipolitics of defiance. Revolution is hot; antipolitics is cool.
But before discussing what these concepts could mean for Euromaidan, lets first look at some of the major thinkers who framed the Solidarność' frame of reference: Leszek Kołakowsky, Jacek Kuroń, Adam Michnik, and György Konrád.

Civil society: Kołakowksi, Kuroń, Michnik

The history of Solidarność is well known. It wasn't just a labour union, but aimed also at political reforms. "History has taught us that there is no bread without freedom. What we had in mind was not only bread, butter and sausages, but also justice, democracy, truth, legality, human dignity, freedom of convictions, and the repair of the republic."
After the strikes in Gdańsk and other cities, the Gdańsk Agreements of 1980 recognized Solidarność as an independent labour union. It got its region-based structure in 1981. Solidarność was suppressed in 1981, after the declaration of martial law by general Jaruzelski, and banned in October 1982. Solidarność went underground - its leadership and members persecuted and arrested - but still very visible in Polish society. In 1989, after the Polish Round Table Talks, Solidarność was legalized, and the communists were suprisingly beaten in the first more or less fair elections. Solidarność representative Tadeusz Mazowiecki became the first non-communist Polish Prime Minister since 1945. In 1990 Lech Wałęsa was elected president of Poland.
The rise of Solidarność was the moment that the Polish people stood up and rewon their dignity. From the beginning it was also an intellectual, almost philosohical movement. Which, as a philosopher, I can appreciate in Solidarność. It was in this intellectual reflection on Solidarność - while it was struggling, striking and protesting -  that Kuroń, Michnik and Konrád developed their ideas on civil society and antipolitics, that I find challenging for Euromaidan.
The famous philosopher Leszek Kołakowski wrote, a decade before the rise of Solidarność in 1980, his seminal Theses on hope and hopelesness. On the one hand he sketches the almost inescapable totalitarian rule by the Communist Party. On the other hand Kołakowski states that this totalitarian rule is only inescapable as long as people believe in it. Creating an independent civic and democratic culture is a crucial step in deconstructing this system. The message of Kołakowski is that the decisive battle may be not with the centre of political power, the Communist Party, but changing the hearts and minds of every citizen. Aiming at seizing political power is even dangerous, given the overwelming power of the party, and the threath of Soviet intervention. Look at Budapest 1956 and Prague 1968.
According to, Lviv born Jacek Kuroń, however, the movement for an independent civic culture is not a prelude to political opposition; it is itself political opposition. Democratization, for Kuroń, becomes an objective that can be realized within society as opposed to the state.
Adam Michnik, the third outstanding intellectual, concluded that a system that defended itself with falshood and oppression had to be attacked with the weapon of truth and not with violence. "The wisdom of the underground leaders of the Solidarność was that they chose a means of resistance that enabled the avoidance of bloodshed and still managed to preserve the ability to create and institutionalize an underground civic society."
In the end the focus on civil society can be summerized as follows: defying, not resisting the hard power centre, not aiming - at least at first hand - at regime change, non-violence, building a sense for democracy, moral capital and an independent culture in the capillaries of the Polish civil society. All this captures very well the core of antipolitics.

Antipolitics: György Konrád

The concept of antipolitics was coined by the Hongarian philosopher and novellist György Konrád. It is worth reading Konrád's own powerful words: "The society doesn't become conscious because she asserts some philosophy, but because she doesn't get fooled by one. If the apolitical human being is just a marionette for the professional politician, than the antipolitician is the real adversary of the politician. The antipolitician wants to keep the state politics under the control of the civil society. The antipolitician is no representative, but a guardian of the intellectual power."
Konrád tries to develop a style of political practice that doesn't aim at posessing formal political power. Antipolitics is the political practice of the powerless. Antipolitics means politicizing human beings who don't want to become politicians, and don't want to take part in power. Antipolitics creates independent authorities that defy political power. Antipolitics is a counterfailing power, that can't and won't seize power. Because of her moral superiority it already posesses power.
Antipolitics isn't an opportunistic strategy for gaining political influence when it seems impossible to beat the power elite. It's much more constructive. It acknowledges the truth that a democatic political system does only exist in name, when it doesn't have its roots in the civil society. The core of antipolitics is the empowerment of citizens. Something like this happened at Euromaidan when someone tweeted me: "I feel so proud that we stood up for our dignity. We can really achieve something we deeply care about."
That's why György Konrád could conclude: "The succes of the maturization of autonomy can't be measured by the substitution of the current government by another. It can be measured by the growing of the number of independent humans. Let the goverment stay where it is." As long as we rely on a change of government, we are passing our own obligations on a mythical Father and get lost in a mythology, in which we are represented by others. "The slow revolution of autonomy is not gonna be achieved, in the rooms of the government behind the padded doors, where politicians are occupying the old chairs."

Poland and Ukraine: what's the difference?

Is there a useful lesson to be learned for Euromaidan in this strategy of politicizing of civil society and antipolitics, which Kuroń, Michnik and Konrád regard as a crucial part of Solidarność? Does it make sense? After all: Ukraine 2013 is not Poland 1980. One obvious difference is that Solidarność started - apart from the above quoted statement - as a struggle for an independent labour union fighting for better living conditions. Euromaidan is from the start political, fighting for human dignity, civic rights, a good enough state and, yes, a more prosperous future.
But leaving that aside, there are other striking differences. The Poles lived in a would-be totalitairian soviet state, where Solidarność had at least partly to opperate under the conditions of martial law. Ukraines live in a would-be democratic post-soviet state. Appreciating the differences is crucial. Ukraine lacks the monolitic soviet structure. It has at least a rudimentairy functioning democracy, a written rule of law, a market economy, a growing entrepreneurial middle-class, and a developing civil society. Let's look more closely at some of these differences.

1. For one thing, if one likes it or not, Ukraine is at least in name a constitutional democracy. Yanukovych is a democratically elected president, just as the last elections of the Verkhovna Rada were internationally assesed as 'relatively fair'. It is off course justified to critized the monopolization of mass media by the governing elite of the Party of the Regions, the presure put on citizens, especially in the East and South, to support Yanukovich, the dominant position of the oligarchs in de poltical spectrum, the use of fake parties and so on. But the fact can't be denied that the current political system in Ukraine may be authoritarian, may be criminal, but is definitely not totalitairian as in Poland in 1980, although the spectre of totalitiarianism is always present. So Ukraine is not Poland, not Hungary, not East Germany. It is in all its charachteristics a slavic, byzantine, post-soviet state, in which stalinist structures are to a large extent still in place.
The uneasy and disturbing fact for Euromaidan is that president Yanukovych can claim that he is democratically elected, that he is the legitimate president of Ukraine, and that he only can be ousted by the majority of the Verhovna Rada, in which the Party of the Regions has 210 of the 444 deputies. True, this is not the whole story of Yanukovych and his presidency, but it still can't be ignored.

2. The government doesn't 'owe' the civil society like in Solidarność' Poland. In former "Eastern Europe" an independent and sustainable civil society - one of the main characteristics of democratic "Western Europe" - did not exist. Or at least, it should't, according to the ruling Communist Parties. The party ís the civil society, it controls the civil society, and it prevents the civil society from becoming independent. A forteriori this means that countries in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, like the Baltic states, Poland, Hungaria, Rumenia and Ukraine - before 1989 lacked an independent public sphere, essential for free public political and cultural debate.
This obvious isn't true anymore for Ukriane. It wasn't true in 2004, in the hour of the Orange Revolution and it isn't true in 2013, in the hour of Euromaidan. In fact what I saw, as a regular visitor of Ukraine, was actually the other way round: the flourishing of the independent civil society: the artistic community, the scientific and intellectual debate, the discussions among students, the developing of new social media. It isn't a coincidence that Euromaidan was first of all an uprising by students, born after 1991, using twitter and facebook.
The truth of Ukrainian civil society is not it's apathy. The truth is that it was first of all, to speak with Hegel, a civil society of bourgeois, not of citizens. A civil society of Ukrainians striving for wealth, freedom and happines. An apolitical civil society, based on an unwritten, unconscious contract with the political elite: we don't trust you, but if you don't mess with our business, we don't mess with yours. The suspending of the signing of the Association Agreement by Yanukovych broke this compromise. It was an interference with this bourgeois type civil society, an arbitrary humiliation of legitimate dreams by an arrogant political elite, which overplayed its hand. It changed over night a civil society of bourgeois in a civil society of citizens-to-come.

These are some crucial differences between Solidarność Poland and Euromaidan Ukraine: its quasi democratic political system and its maturizing civil society. The question is, does the strategic focus of Solidarność on politicizing civil society and the political practice of antipolitics have any promising message for Euromaidan?

Euromaidan: revolution of antipolitics?

What could a program of Euromaidan antipolitics look like? Can a strategy that focusses on civil society, and not on the centre of hard political power make sense? I think it does. Maybe even more than in Poland 1980. There are two focal points that need to be addressed. First, there isn't any decent political representation of the citizens of Ukraine, but there can be. Second: the political elite doesn't know how to deal with the more mature civil society. That opens an attractive field for antipolitical action. So, what can be done?
Two things come to my mind. First, Euromaidan can create, in the civil society, the backbone of a decent political party (1). Second, Euromaidan can educate and mobilize the civil society for democratic practices, especially for fighting the Ukrainian disease: corruption (2).

1. The good news is that on first sight the political future of Ukraine is much more promising than that of Eastern Europe of the eighties. Look at the democratic opportunities. Yanukovych can simply be beaten in the elections of 2015. That's why the call for a shadow goverment by Tymoshenko is so out of tune with this political reality, the quasi democracy of Ukraine and the democratic nature of Euromaidan. Euromaidan should resist considering itself as a coup, nor as a revolution. Euromaidan is a movement of citizens standing up for their rights, reclaiming dignity, and defying the politics by the presidency to use the Ukrainian state for the benefits and power of his family, and the political and economic elite that supports him.
The most discomforting bad news is, that Ukraine lacks an effective parliamentary control of the executive power, lacks a credible political opposition, lacks a decent and trustworthy political party, lacks a grass roots political culture. That's maybe due to the most sustainable legacy of the soviet state I refered to: the annihilation of the independent civil society.
The legacy of this virtually non-existent civil society is felt in the way of doing politics in Ukraine in the last quarter of a century, starting with the presidency of Kravchuc. "Kravchuck remained wedded to a very soviet style of politics - clientelism, government as compromise between elites, devide and rule, the kompromat of opponents and an aversion to viewing either the state or political parties as arenas of public accountability rather than a battleground for personal or group interests. Herein lies a long-term problem for Ukraine politics", writes Ukraine expert Andrew Wilson. Wilson also points to the crucial defiency of the Ukrainian political spectrum. "the absence of a real reform lobby in the political centre. In its absence, the political centre has been occupied by virtual politics, a shifting kaleidoscope of clan groups, shadowy business and old nomenklatura interests. They have dominated every Ukrainian government since 1991, but have never imposed any coherent strategy for change." This is in a nutshell the story of Ukrainian politics since Idependence Day. Politics means seizing political power by a political faction to safeguard private interests, to produce the good Father or Mother, by faking a care for justice and the good for all. It echos the politics of revolution. Euromaidan - that's crucial to see - is the promise of the end of this paradigm of post-soviet politics.
My feeling is that the rhetoric of revolution in Euromaidan is part of the legacy of the post-soviet state. Toppling Lenin, is still Leninistic. The Orange Revoltion of 2004 had his own myth: the illusion that the good king, the briljant and strong leader - the Father György Konrád spoke of - could (and should) do the job for the Ukrainians. In 2013 - when Euromaidan is basicly created by the first post soviet, post 1991 generation - we face another myth: that of the overthrow of government and regime change.
The strategy of antipolitics could be more promising because it fills the political void that is so deeply felt in Ukrainian politics: the absence of a decent political party. I think that Euromaidan can be the craddle of the first decent political party in Ukrainian history. That means that Euromaidan has to resist the almost unresistable desire to topple Yanukovych. Ousting Yanukovych won't solve a thing. You get rid of someone, but you won't have something new and promising yet. And it will split Ukraine again in two: between those who support Yanukovich and those who hate him, those in East and those in West, those who prefer to speak Ukrainian and those who speak Russian.
Here is where the openess of the Ukrainian civil society comes in. Antipolitics means patiently building a coalition of the willing in the civil society of all citizens who want a decent, non corrupt state, a free market, a fair distribution of public goods, the protection of civic liberties and a alliance with Europe. It doesn't matter if you are a member of the Party of the Regions, or Svoboda. In fact, against the background of this 'minimal' program of a decent political party all existing political parties are meaningless and futile. 
This focus on creating a decent, grass roots political party can have some important implications for Euromaidan. The first practical consequence is that "the oppostion" should reconsider its role in Euromaidan. In fact it would be wise if it jumps over its own shadow and, while supporting it, decides not to be a part of Euromaidan. The second practical consequence could be aiming for a decent, and not a rotten compromise with the government, and getting Euromaidan recognized as legitimate Round Table party. It could have the same symbolic and political meaning as the recognition of Solidarność by the communist Polish United Workers' Party in 1981 and 1989.
So Euromaidan should develop itself as the backbone of a grass roots political party. This 'First Decent Political Party of Ukraine' can set the stage, first in March 2014, for the next EU summit, and off course in 2015, for the presidential elections.

2. The stragegy of politicizing civil society is especially promising because the ruling political elite doesn't have a clue how to deal with it. Lets face it. They try to beat up protestors at Maidan - and it backfired. They try to crack down Maidan with thousands of Berkut - and it backfired. They created a culture of intimidation and violence against journalists, and Euromaidan organizers - and it backfired. They try to manipulate and mislead public opinion - and it will backfire. They will fail, because of the impossibility to control social media, and because they have no clue of the strength of the civil society: its soft moral power. Ghandi and Martin Luther King knew: against the moral power of decent citizens the emperor loses his clothes.
In developing antipolitical practices the Ukrainian citizens becomes visible as democrats before we have a decent working political democracy. You can be a democrat before you have a democracy. Most promising is developing a practice of anticorruption. Corruption is humiliating, it prevents economic development and it leads to a low trust society. Fighting corruption enhances personal integrity, is non-political, accumulates the moral capital of Euromaidan and debunks political hypocrits. But beware: the antipolitics of anticorruption as a civil society project is hard enough.
Let me give an example. Some weeks ago we had a meeting with about forty young students in L'viv. They were all fans of Euromaidan, though a bit anxious for hoping that it would achieve something. But they definitely agreed that being Euromaidan changes yourself. It makes you feel proud, responsible and a center of action. A real citizen. Then we asked what responsibilty and obligation you could have as a student, being faithful to Euromaidan. Should you, for instance, stop bribing professors and declaring your faculty a 'corruption free zone'. The students felt silent. It's apparently easier to change the government, than to change the faculty! You can't do it alone. You have to trust each other. Still, this is one of the most effective antipolitical practices which defies a corrupt, on face value, non-changeable political system - most of all: it's legal.
Fighting corruption is only one of the antipolitical practices that can involve citizens. Not on their own, but together, regulary assembling in cities, towns, villages, factories, offices and universities, discussing, building trust and learning from each other. Creating a community of civic inquiry in communities of practice. That could be the Euromaidan style in 2014.

Euromaidan = Ukraine-to-come

People like Jacek Kuroń, Adam Michnik, György Konrád, and Lech Wałęsa, who where part of Solidarność, invented intelligent strategies like the politics of antipolitics. They were very sceptical from the start: 'It's imposible.' But they added: 'That's why we gonna do it!' They had no blueprint, just as there is no blueprint for Euromaidan. Learning lessons form Solidarność doesn't mean imitating it. From history we learn the negative way. We learn what we shouldn't do. What Solidarność points out for me is that the logic of revolution as a logic of political change is deeply flawed. It is self defeating - it always produces bloodshed, counter revolution and another authoritarian regime. Revolution is a politics of monologue. Antipolitics is the politics of dialogue.
Civil society is the practice of dialogue. It installs a moral and political learning process of citizens-becoming-citizens. It lives from the differences of opinion. Dialogue builds trust and that is something what is extremly important in Ukraine. The language of revolution makes enemies out of adversaries. The language of antipolitics makes adversaries out of enemies. With adversaries you talk, and change arguments. Enemies are hard to trust and respect. Adversaries you can trust and respect. Not much, but maybe a little and then, just maybe a little more.
A couple of years ago an L'vivian student asked me: "Sir, can you teach us how to become democrats?" I didn't know quite well what to answer. But I know very well my afterthoughts: "You have to teach it yourself!" Well, that's Euromaidan: teaching yourself to become a democrat, constructing yourself as a political subject, a citizen of the modern world. Euromaidan = Ukraine-to-come.

Ruud Meij is philosopher and lecturer at the University for Humanistic Studies in the Netherlands and is involved in anti-corruption projects in Ukraine.

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