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‘The Revolution of Human Dignity’

| Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In light of the recent violence and turmoil in Ukraine, the Nanovic Institute for European Studies hosted a discussion Monday evening in the LaFortune Student Center.

The panel, titled “Euromaidan: Revolution in Ukraine?,” was led by Yury Avvakumov, Nanovic faculty fellow and assistant professor of theology.

The slideshow prepared by Avvakumov began with a slide that changed the title of the discussion to say “Euromaidan: Revolution in Ukraine!,” which he said reflected the emerging conviction that the situation in Ukraine is indeed one of revolution.

“I thought that I would start with this title because when we discussed this event and its title, three days ago, a question mark after the title was still appropriate. Now you have to replace the questions mark with an exclamation mark,” Avvakumov said. “The revolution in Ukraine has happened. This is absolutely clear.”

Avvakumov said the term “Euromaidan” originated from a hash tag used on Twitter in reference to the protests. The “Euro” refers to the Ukrainian people’s demands for an alliance with the European Union and “maidan” refers to the name of the Independence Square in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, where the protests have taken place.

Since November of last year, Ukrainians have been protesting the corruption of their government, Avvakumov said. Mass protests began after former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who recently fled Ukraine, abruptly rejected a landmark association agreement with the European Union in November 2013, just one week before the anticipated signing of the agreement.

Ukraine by Grant Tobin, LaFortune Center, Maidan, Montgomery Auditorium, Nanovic Institute, Notre Dame, Protest, The Observer, UkraineGRANT TOBIN | The Observer

Avvakumov said the rejection came as a direct result of Russian pressure exerted on Ukraine in order to prevent the nation from starting the process of integration into the European Union.

Although this issue has greatly angered the Ukrainian people, Avvakumov said, they are demonstrating against the corruption of their current government as much as they are protesting their former president’s reluctance to sign an agreement with the European Union.

Avvakumov said such corruption includes everything from nepotism and bribery to disrespect of human dignity and the authoritarian style of the former president and the ruling party.

“In the eyes of millions of Ukrainians, Russia, in its present condition, embodies these vices of the political system. By contrast, potential membership in the European Union can help fight the new authoritarianism and promote transparency, the rule of law, independent media and respect of human dignity,” he said.

Avvakumov said the protest began with young Ukrainians, though it includes a broad spectrum of middle-class citizens who are students, intellectuals, artists and representatives of small and mid-sized businesses.

“These are people who perceive that the political system forcibly takes away their freedom and their professional and personal future. These are people for whom Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are indispensible everyday tools,” he said. “These are intelligent people with a clear sense of human dignity and civil courage. They call the revolution ‘The Revolution of Human Dignity.’”

The Euromaidan protest has swelled in number from 700,000 people in November to one million people more recently, Avvakumov said. The demonstrations began peacefully, but have since turned violent.

On Feb. 17 the Ukrainian government called for the use of military weapons, in an attempt to put an end to the rioting. Avvakumov said over 70 people have been killed and hundreds have been injured, but the protests have nevertheless continued.

“Euromaidan will not go away until they are convinced that the whole thing really functions and really works, and they get real transparency with their government,” Avvakumov said.

Michael Gekhtman, chair of the mathematics department and a Ukrainian citizen, also spoke briefly about the crisis in Kiev. Gekhtman said he is worried the protests will have the same result as similar protests in 2004, which occurred in response to perceived corruption in a presidential election, and is concerned for the safety of his parents.

“What I am worried about is that it’s going to revert to what happened shortly after the Orange Revolution because the main players are the same — same politicians,” he said. “These are very dangerous times. My parents still live in Kiev. I was there in October — no one expected this to turn out this violent this fast.”

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