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Revolution of faith: A tent-chapel was built in Maidan at the beginning of the movement. It was used by many denominations (credit: Getty Images)

Late on the evening of March 2, Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church called with the latest news from Kiev. March 3 would mark the beginning of Lent in the Eastern Christian churches and Bishop Gudziak, the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in Lviv and leader of the diaspora Ukrainian Greek Catholics in Western Europe, was in a reflective mood.

Western commentary on the drama of Ukraine continued to focus on Ukrainians' desire for integration with the West, which was true but often misunderstood, Gudziak said. The people of Maidan (Kiev's Independence Square) had not stood fast in the freezing cold, dodging bullets from former President Viktor Yanukovych's security forces, simply because of a craving for the lifestyles they saw portrayed on Western television programmes. "Blood is serious," Bishop Gudziak mused. "Blood makes people think." The blood shed in Yanukovych's February attack on Maidan — including the blood of a promising young faculty member at Bishop Gudziak's university, shot through the head — had led to a "palpable strengthening of resolve". The Maidan movement was not so much a question of accessing a cornucopia, he suggested, but of men and women reclaiming their dignity as human beings and as citizens. "Lady Gaga is very far from the minds of Ukrainians today," he concluded.

When I arrived in Kiev last July, things had clearly changed in Ukraine in the 11 years since my last visit. In 2002, my flight from Poland had been met at Lviv International Airport by a Soviet-era bus without an engine. Towed by a tractor, that relic of real existing socialism lumbered across the tarmac to a "VIP lounge", where two colleagues and I were kept waiting for an hour while the visas it had taken us the better part of a day to acquire were laboriously checked. In July 2013, the Kiev airport was spanking new, immaculately clean, and strikingly efficient. I was whisked through immigration and customs in five minutes — but then the totalitarian hangover reasserted itself. On the way into the capital, my driver was stopped by a motorcycle policeman for no apparent reason, and when the driver declined to proffer the expected bribe, the policeman proceeded to write a citation that seemed similar in length to Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 address to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, denouncing Stalin.

It was a harbinger of things to come, for in the days that followed, friends and colleagues spoke constantly of the minor and major corruptions that, under the Yanukovych regime, were eroding Ukraine's democracy and enervating its economy. One European Union official told me that it was considered a positive development that judges no longer set the price of the payoff they expected for a desired verdict; these negotiations were now handled by middlemen. Elections were rigged, blatantly; so were student admissions to universities. The internal security forces had critics of the Yanukovych regime under surveillance, their phones tapped and their emails compromised; trumped-up indictments of family members were used to silence dissidents. With a stagnant economy under the control of half a dozen or so oligarchs linked to Yanukovych, at least 10 per cent of the country's population had emigrated since Ukraine declared its independence in 1991; most of those émigrés did not expect to return.

It was hoped, last summer, that Brussels' insistence on legal and bureaucratic reform prior to Ukraine's signing of an EU accession agreement in November 2013 would compel Yanukovych to initiate changes in the justice system and in national and local administration, reforms on which a law-governed future could be built. And perhaps, if those reforms were institutionalised, the next round of presidential elections scheduled for 2015 would, under intense EU scrutiny, see off the Yanukovych regime and restore some of the hope, and the civic energy, that followed the 2004-05 Orange Revolution, which was squandered in the intervening years.

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Birdy
May 2nd, 2014
3:05 PM
Another excellent article by the knowledgeable George Weigel.

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