Published August 19, 2016
During the EuroMaidan Revolution, if I remember correctly, one of the brave souls who stood fast in support of the promises of Ukraine’s independence said, “We came to the Maidan looking for Europe, and we found Ukraine.” By which I think he meant that Ukrainians found in each other the solidarity that had been previously missing in their country.
And from that solidarity, this man seemed to believe, a new Ukraine – a prosperous and democratic Ukraine, governed by the rule of law and taking its rightful place in the West – would be born.
I hoped he was right, then. And I still hope he was right. Because the general fecklessness of the West in the face of Russian aggression and Russian murder in Ukraine means that Ukrainians are going to have to “find Ukraine” without very much material assistance from those to whom they have a right to look for support – their neighbors in the democratic West.
This is, frankly, disgraceful, but the shame does not lie in Ukraine. It lies in Washington and London and Paris and Berlin and Rome, and everywhere else where Western political leaders have sought to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin’s appetite for empire by acquiescing in the invasion and annexation of Crimea and the ongoing Russian war in the Donbas. But the sad fact of the matter, on this silver jubilee of Ukraine’s independence, is that “the West” seems to have lost the will to push back, hard, against aggression in its neighborhood. So “finding Ukraine” will continue to be primarily a task for Ukrainians, with help from individuals and democratically-minded nongovernmental organizations in the West.
The paradox here is that, should Ukraine win through – should the process of Ukrainian national self-renewal succeed, economically and politically – Ukraine just might give the flaccid West a much needed jolt of moral and cultural inspiration. For Ukraine’s next 25 years will bring success only if the solidarity demonstrated on the Maidan holds firm and indeed grows, such that Ukraine shows the entire democratic world a path beyond the debilitating individualism and politically correct tribalism that are eroding the moral foundations of democracy throughout the North Atlantic world.
The “Europe” to which Ukraine aspired is now in crisis because of a solidarity deficit. In its current, wretched presidential campaign, the United States is embarrassing itself before the world because of a solidarity deficit. Yet in the face of these defaults in the West, men and women of character and conviction are working steadily to give the solidarity they experienced on the Maidan real effect in Ukraine’s economic, legal, and political life. Should they succeed, Ukraine will have taught the entire West a lesson it badly needs to re-learn: that democracy without solidarity – that profound sense of moral obligation to others who are not just “others” but who are also “neighbors” and fellow-protagonists in the drama of self-government – is impossible.
Solidarity can grow from social and cultural soil nurtured by different nutrients. Solidarity can grow from a commitment to the moral truths built into the world and into us, truths that we can know by reason. Solidarity can grow from religious conviction – and has notably done so in Ukraine, through the work of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and those Orthodox communities that have disentangled themselves from the Moscow Patriarchate’s entanglement with Russian state power. Solidarity can be nurtured by both reason and revelation: that is the lesson of Ukraine, especially in recent years; that is the truth that Ukraine needs to live more fully in the next quarter-century of its hard-won independence; and that is the lesson that Ukraine can teach the West.
Meanwhile, it is incumbent upon those of us in the West who share Ukrainian’s noblest aspirations to do whatever we can to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. We can and must bring whatever pressure we can to bear on our governments to resist Putin’s aggression, to counter Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s lies, to fight Russian propaganda in the communications media and cyberspace, and to provide the Ukrainian armed forces with the materiel they need to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression. In the coming years, we should work to create ever-broader networks of exchange between Ukrainian democratic reformers and their counterparts in the West. And we in the West can work to convince our friends and neighbors that Ukraine’s cause is our cause, the entire West’s cause – and that participating in that great cause can revivify our own democratic commitments.
As the shadows of totalitarianism lengthened across Europe in the 1930s, Pope Pius XI said, “Let us thank God that He makes us live amidst the present problems; it is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre.” Ukraine’s determination to live “beyond mediocrity” is an inspiration, and ought to stir the conscience of the West.
George Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.