As the European Parliament elections scheduled to take place in late May draw near, one should keep in mind the recent events in Ukraine. The protests that eventually toppled Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and his gang in late February were triggered by the government’s decision to prioritize good relations with Russia over the country’s possible integration into the European Union. Predictably, many Leftists reacted to the news about of the massive protests by patronizing the poor Ukrainians: How deluded they are to continue idealizing Europe, unable to see that Europe is in decline! They don’t understand that joining the European Union will just make the Ukraine an economic colony of Western Europe, much like Greece is today.
What these Leftists ignore, however, is that Ukrainians are far from blind about the reality of the European Union. They are fully aware of its troubles and disparities. Their message was, simply, that their own situation is much worse. Europe’s problems—its economic instability, its unrelenting unemployment—are still rich men’s problems. Remember that, in spite of the terrible predicament of Greece, African refugees are still arriving there en masse, fueling the ire of Rightist patriots.
A much more important question is: What does the “Europe” to which the Ukrainian protesters refer stand for? Europe cannot be reduced to a single vision: It spans the entire scope from nationalist and—even Fascist— elements up to the idea of what Étienne Balibar calls égaliberté, freedom-in-equality, which is the unique contribution of Europe to the global political imaginary, even if it is today more and more betrayed by European institutions. Between these two poles, only the naïve put their trust in liberal-democratic capitalism. What Europe should see in Ukrainian protests, therefore, is its own best and its own worst.
[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on April 8th, 2014. (full text).]