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In Ukraine: Independence From the People

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An empty pathos: Impressions from Independence Day in Kyiv

KYIV, Ukraine – A sudden rain chases the few tourists from the streets. Kyiv looks abandoned except for the central square where several hundred people await the military parade. Along Kyiv’s main Khreschatyk throughfare, there are a few lines of spectators, consisting mostly of paramilitary nationalists, low-ranking military and civilian officials mobilized for the event, and the relatives of parade participants. Apart from them, there are groups of hired people in white T-shirts, hired for six euros to wave national flags until the evening. Many Kyiv employment agencies offered this “job” for August 23 and 24.

Just before Independence Day on August 24, Ukrainian authorities announced that a military parade would take place in order “to show our resolve to Putin”. So the entire show, it turns out, was designed for a single spectator. An island of triumphant nationalism in the semi-abandoned city looks a bit surreal. Groups of paramilitaries in camouflage uniforms hope that all the military vehicles will head east to Donbass soon – to “kill all the separatists and sovoks” [pejorative term for pro-Soviet Ukrainians] there.

There are dozens of the U.S.-supplied Humvees on display, along with the very tanks and missile systems which are targeting almost daily the towns and cities of the people of Donbass in eastern Ukraine, punishing civilians and local militias there for their ‘wrong choice’ in rejecting the ultra-nationalist Ukraine born of the “Revolution of Dignity” on Maidan Square two and a half years ago.

Also on parade are several units of the notorious BUK missile system. This shocked some international observers because Ukraine’s top military brass tried to convince the world’s media two years ago, following the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014, that Ukraine had no BUKs. They said the last BUK system in Ukraine had been sold to Georgia.

Militarist rhetoric and promises to punish “terrorists and separatists” dominated the speeches of officials, fueling the next wave of civil strife in the country. Unlike paramilitaries and officials, however, the hired flag-wavers seemed bored and half asleep after long hours under the careful supervision of parade organizers. They avoid any comments and shyly turn their faces away from cameras. Pathetic speeches about “outdated socialist stereotypes” and “our insidious enemies” of Donbass “terrorists” and Russian “invaders” are largely met with silence.

As a rule, the more dependent a country becomes, the more hysterical is its government’s patriotic propaganda. An ‘independence’ of most semi-colonies, economically suppressed by imperialist powers, is nominal at best – restricted to a national flag, an anthem and other emblems. That’s what we witness in today’s Ukraine: patriotic slogans such as ‘Ukraine above all’ and ‘Hail to the heroes’ (of the anti-Russia crusade) are omnipresent, along with other national symbols. Meanwhile, all the important aspects of the country’s life have been and continue to be decided externally. The only remaining aspect of ‘sovereignty’ is in symbols; hence, they are constantly emphasized by all media.

During the 25 years of post-Soviet ‘independence’, Ukraine has been losing its sovereignty steadily. Most Ukrainians, even some ultra-nationalists, realize this all too well. That’s why national holidays such as Independence Day or Constitution Day (June 28) have never been very popular compared to the holidays of Soviet times or religious or regional holidays. People perceive that they live in a country ruled not by themselves but by authorities appointed or approved by the United States or European Union.

Prior to the Maidan counterrevolution of 2014, Ukraine had lost ten million of its population, some 20 per cent of the 1991 total. Today, Ukraine’s GDP still hasn’t reached the level of 1990. The people are keenly aware that international financial institutions such as the IMF are imposing harsh and unpopular austerity measures. The popular attitude to national decorative symbols and holidays is thus very skeptical.

The official parade is followed by another one, consisting of a column of far-right paramilitaries and NGO volunteers (involved in supplying military equipment). They march while shouting “Hail to Ukraine”. Meanwhile, the crowd of hired flagwavers disperses.

A woman selling patriotic symbols asks people to buy a small flag or at least a ribbon of the national colors as she hardly sold anything during the day’s events. An elderly man jokes while asking for money from passersby. Independence day? Independence from the people; nothing depends on us anymore. Do you have any spare change?

This article originally appeared in Junge Welt’ (Germany) on August 26, 2016.

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