Sunday, January 12, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Could There Eventually Be a Euro-Maidan in Karelia?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 12 –  One of the Kremlin’s greatest fears is the kind of civic activism on display in Ukraine could spread to the Russian Federation, but most of its focus has been on the possibility that a Euro-Maidan might take place in Moscow. But a Russian regionalist has now raised the possibility it could occur at some point in the country’s republics or regions.

            Vadim Shteppa, a committed regionalist who writes frequently about Karelia and federalism, spent the New Year’s holiday with the Euro-Maidan in the Ukrainian capital.  On his return, he has offered his assessment of that movement and most interestingly the possibility that it will spark imitations within the Russian Federation (

            Visiting Kyiv now, Shteppa says, is to step into “a certain parallel world,” one which recalls not just the mass demonstrations in Russia of 20 years ago but the far older traditions of the Zaporozhye sech or the Novgorod veche, which of course pointed to a very different trajectory for Russia than the Moscow one.

            Those taking part in the Euro-Maidan in Kyiv, he continues, have established an uneasy balance with the authorities: they are not able to overthrow the regime on their own, but the powers that be are not in a position to disperse participants of what is after all the establishment of a Ukrainian civic nation.”

            (People are always coming and going from the Maidan, Shteppa says, allowing some commentators to predict that the authorities are winning and the people are losing.   But such analyses miss the point because in case of need a million Ukrainian would come back to the square.)

            “Thousands of people” at the Euro-Maidan proudly carry their national flag and from the heart sing their national hymn. One is hardly likely to observe that at Russian political gatherings, whether they are official or unofficial,” Shteppa says.

            To be sure, there are “many representatives of nationalist parties and movements” at the Maidan, but efforts by Russian writers to portray the entire enterprise as a manifestation of radical nationalism or even fascism are totally misplaced.  Bandera is not a model for anyone except as “a one of the symbols of an independent Ukraine.”

            Russians tend to be uncomfortable when they see that nationalists “easily find a common language with representatives of other political movements and share hot tea with one another.”   Instead, most Russians appear to believe that democrats and nationalists must not have anything to do with one another.

            But the real meaning of the Euro-Maidan is not in such narrow political issues, Shteppa argues. Instead, it lies in the fact that “over the course of 22 years of the independence of Ukraine not just a new generation has grown up but another people has been formed,” one not “’against Russia,’” as Moscow television insists but simply one that “values its state independence and does not want a return to the status of an imperial colony.”

            Shteppa spoke to some of those in the Euro-Maidan about European regionalism. He says he was received politely but with some reserve because “regions” are associated with the current Ukrainian president and his regime.  He notes that his friend Anatoly Polyakov who said that the Maidan was “the cradle of a future Russian revolution” was more warmly received.

            The regionalist writer says he was especially impressed by the organizers of the “Maidan is Where We Are” movement, an effort to broaden the impact of the meetings by “’showing citizen that together we can not only stand in the Maidan but also work for the good of our city. The Maidan is not in the center of the city. The Maidan is there where we are.’”

            “It would be useful for Karelian civic activists” to take note of all this, Shteppa says.  But that will require a maturation of “a powerful civic consciousness which is prepared to decide the fate of our country.  If someone has forgotten, in our hymn, Karelia is explicitly called ‘a country.’”

            For the present, Shteppa concludes, “it is somehow difficult” for him to imagine that Karelian will “sing it” the way Ukrainians are singing theirs.  First of all, Karelians must take steps to throw off their “colonial status.”  Until then, it will be “too early to talk about an analogue of the Euro-Maidan” in their republic.

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