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Ukraine back en vogue

09.05.2014 | By Natalia Davydenko

Our country has factually monopolized protest discourse, or at least its visual component, for years to come

The dramatic events of recent months helped Europeans to look differently at Ukraine and people from remote parts of the world to learn about existence of the state, which they associate with something that has to do with Klitschko brothers and footballer Andriy Shevchenko. With all the contradiction of opinions and assessments, one thing is clear: recognition of Ukraine grew sharply and its image on the international arena changed dramatically. There have been some internal conditions for what happened now.

IN SEARCH OF CULTURAL CODE

Over the past two decades Ukraine has earned an unpleasant reputation. Ukraine was associated with a country of eternal chaos, where parliament members fight like the fighter on the arena, but the girls are beautiful and easily approached. Extreme poverty, however, was the key attribute of the foreign image of our country. In fact, the EU residents believe that the Ukrainians have been cultivating such reputation because they cry poverty and do not respect themselves.

The Orange Maidan could shake off such image as it was widely covered by western mass media. Despite expectations, however, its magic soon faded away. Besides the color range and vague slogan for fair democratic elections! the majority of Europeans have no recollections, which is why the customary system of stereotypes living in the European conscience returned to its place.

It became clear seven years later why, when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs got involved in creation of the presentations brand book of Ukraine on the eve of Euro 2012 and failed totally. Cartoon characters Harnyunya and Sprytko, allegedly typical Ukrainians, were not accepted by the public. The residents of the country criticized not only the artistic solution, but also the ideas placed in the mascots. Why openness and friendliness are the most important things? Are these the main traits of Ukrainians character? asked the people in social networks and on forums. In order to create constructive alternative the Ukrainians first need to answer the question about how they see themselves and only then how they want to be seen from abroad, said famous designer Artemiy Lebedev in the course of a discussion in the internet. Neither Orange Revolution nor Euro 2012 gave answers to the Ukrainians to these questions. It is true that the majority of western tourists who visited the country for the European championship, highly valued the benevolence and hospitality of the local population and over 40% of them even admitted that Ukraine deserved to be an EU member in the nearest future (results of the study published in July 2012 by the World Policy Institute and GfK Ukraine). That, however, ended the list of positive messages that we managed to send abroad. Ultimately, not only Ukrainians can boast hospitality.

THE LAND OF FIGHTERS

After the winter revolution the Ukrainians, it seems, saw their own image of inspired patriots, citizens who are ready to defend their rights and freedoms and build a new society based on democracy, social responsibility and transparency of the government institutions. This ideology shift was noticed by the world community. Ukrainians started to act and filled with pride for themselves, for their country. Only the people that are proud of themselves have a chance to gain respect of others, commented one of the Twitter subscribers of John McCain under a photo from Maidan, which the U.S. senator took in Ukraine.

Escalation of violence in the streets of Kyiv and other cities, however, played a bad joke on this bright image of the builders of democracy. In the conscience of foreign audience Ukraine turned from a quiet country aspiring towards Europe into a hot spot. The stage of armed conflicts in the center of Kyiv lasted much less than peaceful Maidan, but it is the dark side of the Ukrainian protest movement that stayed in the memory of the world community. The dark side was with blood, smoke and gas, burning tires, Molotov cocktails, masks, dismantled pavements and burning buses. Mutated EuroMaidan created a new image of the fighter for democracy a violent defender of ones ideals capable of anything to achieve the ultimate goal. Methods of fighting (particularly those used by the right radicals) often went against the European values, which Maidan initially stood for. Ironically, however, the revolutionary picture managed to attract much more attention of the world than huge peaceful demonstrations. Opinion of the residents of the West got divided. Germans started to speak about Ukrainian protesters more as about extremists and about Ukraine as about a country of reigning chaos. The majority of citizens of western countries, however, saw Ukrainians as a people who were brought to despair by actions of corrupted government and thus dared to protest. This caused, if not approval and respect, then at least understanding.

PROTEST ICONOGRAPHY

Neither Lebanese, nor Egyptian nor many other protests managed to produce, at least for the Western world, such an effective picture of peoples fight for their rights as Maidan did. Ukrainians managed to create a perfect protest iconography, a well-shaped system of visual images of peoples fight for better life. Today, it is actively being exported by Ukraine to the most remote places on the Earth. Moreover, Ukraine has factually monopolized protest discourse, or at least its visual component, for years to come.

Confirmation of popularity of a phenomenon should be sought in mass culture. Ukrainian protest iconography penetrates deeper and deeper into it. Maidan became a new western fashion, which was preceded by a comprehensive PR campaign: articles, photos and videos in mass media, continuous flow of reports from the front in social networks, exhibitions of artifacts from Maidan and works of art dedicated to Ukrainian protests in the European capitals.

It is hardly surprising than that Molotov cocktails with Petrykivskiy paintings, barrels with cornflowers, Bandera in the halo of poppies and willow canes and other symbols on the T-shirts, flags and posters became the in-things, which Europeans and Americans love to boast about now. British rockers play concerts in such outfits saying they are for freedom at any price. Dutch artists wear scarves from Maidan at their exhibitions, because Ukrainians are our brothers. It is hard to tell whether Ukrainian protest fashion goes beyond the western advanced class. Already now, however, you can find hundreds pictures of foreigners in social networks inspired by Say Yes to Ukraine, in which they use Ukrainian protest symbols.

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