After the Orange Revolution, Ukraine lost momentum, say writers Jurko Prochasko and Serhiy Zhadan. They're warning Ukrainians against complacency, saying it's the country's last chance for real change.
What's happened in Ukraine in the past four months wouldn't have happened over the course of four years, says Jurko Prochasko. He comes from Lviv in Ukraine's far west. "That was like a time-lapse," he says. So rapid were the events, so intense the experiences. It's clear that the events have touched him: the death, the bloodshed, the threat from the Russians. Frowning, he laments that Europe is wavering and, as he puts it, failing to see the reality.
"From the very beginning we wanted to start a revolution, not a rebellion, not an uprising, not a revolt, not a fascist coup," he exclaims.
He will be happy, he says, when the West starts referring to what is happening in his country as a "revolution" and not a "crisis." The protesters on the Maidan, Kyiv's Independence Square, had been fighting for nothing less than a revolution, he says. It was a push by civil society against the old system of corruption, nepotism and a despotic state, in favor of democracy, rule of law and economic reform.
Ukraine has already missed the chance to change on two previous occasions. The first came after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The second arose after the Orange Revolution in 2004/2005. Writer and rock musician Serhiy Zhadan comes from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. He still remembers the aftermath of the Orange Revolution. "Back then it was like a giant rock festival. Everyone was standing together on the Maidan, the president stepped down, Yuschchenko took power, and everyone went home."
Change below the surface
After the Orange Revolution, the country moved a step backwards, according to Zhadan. It was old wine in new wineskins: Power changed hands, but society did not change. Again there was kleptocracy - sometimes with old faces, sometimes with new.
Zhadan campaigns, sings, writes, and composes to make sure the same thing doesn't happen this time around. The fact that a pro-Russian mob beat him up in Kharkiv doesn't stop him. This time the Ukrainians aren't going home, he says. "They know the fight is nowhere near over, it's only just beginning." He believes civil society will stay awake this time around, because in 2014 the cost of the revolution is much higher. More than a hundred have been killed, and thousands injured.
Zhadan admits a lot of hard work lies ahead. "Now the tedious struggle for the country's reconstruction begins. We need to change the country."
The country's current situation should be viewed with a healthy dose of realism, he adds - its outlook is bleak, the economy is in ruins, and the state is as good as bankrupt. From this perspective, the likelihood of real change in 2014 is much lower than after the Orange Revolution. And now geopolitical problems have been added to the equation.
"In 2004, Russia didn't threaten Ukraine's independence," says Zhadan. Now Ukraine and Russia are effectively on the brink of war, he says. "Yes we have a difficult time ahead, but this third opportunity, in my opinion, is the last chance."
Both Jurko Prochasko (pictured) and Zhadan recently participated in a panel discussion at Berlin's Academy of Arts
The artist's responsibility
Jurko Prochasko, on the other hand, believes the Ukrainians will make more progress than in 2004. The people who occupied the Maidan made it clear that civil society is tuning in, and that politicians need to take a good look at themselves. This is where artists and writers come in. According to Prochasko, those working in the cultural sector have a special responsibility. And with that responsibility, he says, comes a sensitivity that serves as a kind of barometer of society's soul.
"They can sense when things are heading in the wrong direction and warn the public," he says.
The confrontation between political and social realities in the post-communist era has long been a common thread running through Serhiy Zhadan's works. But in the last four months he's adopted a much stronger position. "In the current climate it's important for my readers to know which position I represent. That's why I am so actively involved."
Artists in Eastern Europe have always enjoyed a special status as a political and social authority, says Zhadan. "I think those working in the cultural sector are more trusted than the politicians, many of whom have been discredited." Both authors agree: In a country as diverse as Ukraine, artists can and should play a special role in bringing people together.