27 February, 19:54

40th VR Live Panel: Putting Ukraine before a Destructive Choice

Few people expected Ukraine, for many years perceived as one of the most peaceful areas of the former Soviet Union, to explode in violence as it did during the last two months. The country has seen more than 80 dead, several buildings in the capital Kiev burnt down, violent change of government and black lists of people who are not allowed to leave the country for political reasons.

Even during the not-so-peaceful, but still bloodless orange revolution of 2004 and 2005 people would not believe what we see on our television screens now – the picture would look too apocalyptic for them. Astute scholars, however, noticed the danger long ago. Back in the early 1990s, Samuel Huntington in his widely quoted book “The Clash of Civilizations” predicted that Ukraine could become an area of conflict since it lies on the border between Western and Eastern Christianity.

Religion does play a big role in Ukrainian society, but the clashes that we saw in Kiev were about something else than just the differences between various branches of the Orthodox Christian rite. For months and years before the clashes on the Maidan square, the Western press and liberal media inside Ukraine had been whipping up tensions around the scheduled signing of an agreement between Ukraine and the European Union in Vilnius, Lithuania. There was talk about a “choice of civilization,” about the Vilnius summit being a pivotal moment in the history of Ukraine and so on.

So, when the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich asked to postpone the signing of the document until a better moment in the future, passions exploded both in Ukraine and in the EU. There, the situation was seen by many as treason of epical proportions, a wrong choice between heaven and hell. In Russia, although passions around the scheduled signing were much less pronounced here initially, big parts of society also started to mobilize themselves, since the anti-Russian elements on the Maidan square were becoming more pronounced, some of them with neo-Nazi, openly racist slogans. Now both Russian and Ukrainian societies are in the state of mobilization now, and the previously empty talk of the media about a “choice of civilization” is dangerously close to becoming a reality.

But was the media right to put its Ukrainian audience before a choice between Russia and the EU? Does this alternative make sense in a country, where ties with East and West, Poland and Russia, are old and tested by time? Is it after all possible for Ukraine to turn its back to one side and just go East or West – as some hot heads in the media suggest? And isn’t the media putting Ukraine before a destructive choice that it does not want to make and is unable to make? To discuss this question we have Mary Dejevsky, Chief Editorial Writer and Columnist at the Independent in our studio in London, Alexey Pilko Director of the Centre for Eurasian Studies in our studio in Moscow and over Skype, Francis Boyle Professor at the University of Illinois College of Law.

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Ukraine, Mary Dejevsky, Alexey Pilko, The Independent, Francis Boyle, University of Illinois College of Law, World
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