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KW: The peaceful nature of the mass protests in Ukraine and society’s refusal to resort to violence as a way of solving political problems are a distinctive feature and even an achievement in Ukrainian political culture. But recently society has witnessed the forceful response of the powers that be against protesters. In your opinion, what can the people learn from such an experience?
T.L.: Institutionalized violence and the facts of cruelty that Ukrainians are currently experiencing are nothing new to Ukrainian nation. In his last work American scholar and specialist in the history of Eastern Europe Timothy Snyder calls Ukraine (along with Poland and Belarus) the “bloody lands”. It was in these countries that during the 20th century bloodshed was unprecedented, and as usual, the killing of people was unfair and unjustified. In general, the 20th century was a period of unprecedented violence that began with the two world wars. They devalued human life and dignity to historically low levels. In Ukraine, such a crime was committed by the Soviet totalitarian regime, the consequences of which all Ukrainians feel to this day. This experience lingers in people’s memories. It was inherited by our contemporaries and today exists at the level of social consciousness and collective memory. Therefore, by and large, violence remains a part of our lives. In short, unlike in the last century, this became impossible without the ritual of easing the shock from experiencing such violence in person.
KW: What ritual are you talking about?
T.L.: Violence in the modern world cannot exist without a legitimizing discourse that clearly defines its objectives and subjects, justifies cruelty and explains the measures of force that are applied. Such rituals of violence are widely broadcast through the media. Thanks to them we see mass protests, terrorist attacks or military operations in hot spots around the world almost every day. And in the actions of the protesters, terrorists, as well as the law enforcers or the military we can see a degree of production and staging. The fact is such actions are subordinated to a certain ritual logic and this does not go unnoticed by observers. The specific picture created in such a way makes some people think: “Maybe such actions are indeed justified and the use of force is the only solution?” On the opposite side, this only fuels the fire to take revenge and inherently perpetuates the vicious cycle of violence.
KW: Indeed, the government’s use of force meets the expectations of a certain part of society, which believes that this is the way to put things in order in the country. On the other hand, others clearly consider negotiations and roundtables a “spineless” policy. How can the resolution of conflicts in Ukrainian political culture through radical means be prevented?
T.L.: Despite the achievements of the mass peaceful demonstrations over the past few weeks, the level of public aggression towards fellow citizens that think differently remains high. This is clearly seen on the verbal level in the socalled hate or animosity speeches that infect the majority of Ukrainian society. If we do not want any radicalization of ways to resolve conflict situations, we should learn to take this approach. The therapy of language we use can easily be a way of preventing the escalation of physical violence.
KW: Has hate speech is becoming today a factor in the consolidation of society or strengthening of its spirit? Nationalist slogans as “glory to the heroes!” or “death to the enemies!” are often voiced by the people during the mass protests...
T.L.: Indeed, rightwing slogans are quite popular at the rallies. During demonstrations all participants willingly chant them. It is impossible, however, to say that rightwing ideas gain a critical mass of supporters sufficient to spark a bloodshed revolution. When protesters say “Glory to the heroes!” most of them will not be able to name those heroes. There is still no public consensus on this issue or other rightwing ideas. Nationalism is a risky way to unite the country. We must remember that the nation, using the terminology of political scientist Benedict Anderson, is an “imagined community”. It would be a major mistake to assume that all Ukrainians have to share your views and honor the same heroes. Yes, we have numerous ambiguous heroes, but it would be wrong to impose them by force, as the nationalists are trying. Nor it is possible to forcibly unite the country around the notions of freedom and democracy. Otherwise, we risk repeating the famous paradox of JeanJacques Rousseau, who believed that people acting against the “general will” should be “forced to be free”.
KW: Even liberalminded intellectuals tend to regret that the attainment of Ukraine’s independence and the “orange” Maidan were "velvet" and bloodless revolutions, and therefore are not correctly valued or appreciated in society. If, however, a radical scenario is implemented, how will it affect the society – will it “harden the spirit” or turn into a demoralizing trauma?
T.L.: Today, Ukrainian society is going through a difficult test. Its endurance and ability to maintain selfcontrol, despite the calls of hotheads for revenge and applying violent methods are being tested. Collective memory tells Ukrainians: one cannot build a better future through bloodshed. Demonization of the ruling elite and the use of force against it will not solve the problems that led people out onto the streets. The government did not come to us from without. It is a part of society and its reflection. Proper changes are possible only when transformation will begin at the level of public consciousness. And the sooner Ukrainian society realizes this, the sooner it will be conferred its certificate of maturity