My name is Maria Spirova. In January, through euronews’s Global Conversation programme , I met a 16-year old Ukrainian called Timur from Kiev. Together we conversed with Viviane Reding online and Timur asked his almost prophetic questions about the EU’s stance on the situation in Ukraine.
I dedicate this open letter to him, and to all Ukrainians feeling that special Eastern European desperation which can be produced only by chasing the democratic ideal for a quarter of a century only to arrive at a riot police cordon.
Timur, to begin with, I just want to say I am sorry.
I hope you are safe, I hope your friends are safe, I hope you are not shell-shocked beyond redemption, although very likely you are. I know I would be in your shoes.
I am sorry I write to you from a country in the European Union, in which your generation had (do you still have it?) such faith.
I am sorry because we are, frankly, a bunch of irresolute shrimps. European governments seem to be entirely made up of people who honestly have no clue what you and your people are going through right now. Forgive them, if you can – they think benignly humouring a person like Putin is an appropriate foreign policy strategy. You see, until recently they thought the same thing about Gaddafi.
Mumblings about “possible sanctions” are not going to help your fight against a rogue government and a neo-imperialist ambition of global proportions. I know it, you know it, Baroso knows it. Moving on…
I especially want to apologise for my own country, whose foreign minister Mr Vigenin nearly sprained his tongue trying very carefully NOT to condemn the violence visited upon you by your president and your own police force. Concerted EU stance, did you say? Nah. Bulgarian officials and institutions trespass against EU regulations about 14 times a day, but none of them would even dream of crossing Putin.
Because, you see, Timur, we are in this together. We are listed in bulk on the menu of his sprawling geopolitical buffet. Ukraine seems to be the main course. Bulgaria is more like a light dessert.
Consider: in 2011 we stopped negotiations over the oil pipeline which will enable Russia to bypass your country and apply even more extortionist tactics to influence your politicians. On the day of the worst violence on the Maidan, the new Russian energy minister said the Burgas-Alexandroupolis project is back on. Just like that – no need to discuss it with the country that actually dropped the deal. He is that sure we will play along.
We are in this together, Timur, because the breath-taking arrogance of the oligarchic circles that masquerade as our governments really knows no bounds. They share the same tactics in dealing with democratic dissent, learned from the same source.
Our Prime Minister Oresharski and Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovych even shared the same table in Sochi, symbolically and publicly sealing their shameful political kinship.
Listening to the stilted, cruel propaganda that flows out of official Ukrainian sources gives me a sick sense of déjà vu. Because governments like ours have figured it out cosily – if dissenting individuals refuse to get bored, pay some testosterone-fueled packs of provocateurs to start a squabble or two, then make sure the police overreacts in order to outrage peaceful protesters as well. Then immediately invoke some sort of emergency powers and let rip.
Just like Yanukovych, in the summer of Bulgarian protests on our own embattled Independence Square, Oresharski called thousands of protesting men, women and children “extremists” and felt that this justified the rounding up of tens of thousands of gendarmes to crush the rally. Just like Yanukovych, Oresharski condoned it all – protesters beaten and overwhelmed with sheer numbers, journalists intimidated and attacked.
There is, of course, no comparison in the scale of events – Kyiv went up in flames and people all over Ukraine showed a lot more spine, a lot better social organisation and a lot more sheer nerve then we had in our hour of darkness.
Yours is a trial by fire, ours was an exercise of despair. Your barricades withstood, ours didn’t.
And the world was watching and tsking in dismay both times, too. Western media now authoritatively expostulate how Ukraine is a “divided country”, as though it is possible to have a country without deep political and cultural divides these days. They said it of Bulgaria, they said it of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as if that explained everything. They will say it ad nauseam about any nation in the post-Soviet orbit striving to find its way.
Pay them no mind. You are certainly not alone, and you are certainly not outnumbered. You have faith and firewood and an adequate Internet infrastructure. Don’t agonise over the silent majority as we did in Sofia and just ignore the outright love-songs to the lamented USSR that we hear from some corners.
The worst thing you can do to thugs is show them how inconsequential their ideas are.
And yet! We live in a funny world with little logic, Timur! Have you noticed? Every protest movement nowadays is immediately put down as “non-representative”, as though this is somehow a drawback. If it was representative, widely backed and totally consensus-based, it wouldn’t be a protest, would it? Protesters everywhere are, by default, a minority until they succeed. I wish the world remembered that, don’t you?
And don’t you mind the British expats in Kyiv who tweeted their snooty “opinions” at the BBC. So much righteous squeamishness – “Let’s face it, our own police will never allow such a mess in front of Whitehall”. Is this something to be proud of, gentlemen? The fact that you have allowed your systems to have such complete control as to confidently and off-handedly preempt any effective form of protest?
Yes, we would have liked to protest with music and flowers exclusively, wouldn’t we, Timur? But Ukrainians quickly realised something Bulgarians were too afraid to acknowledge – peaceful protests can only hope to influence at least semi-legitimate, semi-independent and semi-fairly elected governments.
Internationally-allied mobsters, albeit sitting in ministerial chairs, have no concept of citizenship or the rule of law. Demonstrations and investigative journalism do not correct or scare them, just occasionally irritate them enough to whip out the giant fly-swatter. Or water cannon, as the case may be.
So there we are, multiple borders apart, a quarter of a century after our euphoric release from the Iron Curtain, back to square one. Captives of our home-grown oligarchs. Two confused, exhausted Eastern European nations, hijacked like aircraft on a forcefully changed course to some crude and unapologetically grabby Pax Putiniana. And they dare call you and your compatriots ‘terrorists”, Timur.
Timur, they hijacked us because they think they can get away with it. Frankly, the fraction of the world that can be bothered to care a bit about our situation thinks so, too. We have been left for dead too many times before.
The future looks grim, my too young friend. It looked grim for our parents, who went through their own baptisms by fire facing down batons, Molotov cocktails, repression, lies and misery every few years since the early 90s. It will look grim for our children, if we can bring ourselves to have them in that messed up world, where our region seems to be marching in a circle, ever more alone and desperate.
One would think we aren’t asking for much. If we cannot be independent – which history has shown us many times – can we at least be allowed to choose our own dependencies?
Can we stop suffering the dishonour of being legislated upon by actual criminals? Can we – for once! – get the undivided attention and decisive support of our aspirational model – the European civilization in its latest guise?
Call me silly, Timur, but I still think we can. You know the cliché – freedom belongs to the brave. But do you know why? Because no matter what happens with #Euromaidan and #ДАНСwithMe, freedom is ours, because we demanded it. And this is all it takes.
Hang in there. Wrap up and don’t get killed. I want to see you grilling EU politicians again, soon.