Europe to the rescue | Power to the People | DW | 10.05.2013
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Power to the People

Europe to the rescue

Is the West responsible for other countries having failed to follow a path to democracy? Ukrainian Serhij Zhadan is irritated by the passivity of his fellow citizens, and their tendency to see Europe as their savior.

Citizens of the so-called democratic world would be surprised to learn just how much hope the likes of Ukrainians invest in them. Sitting pretty in their European democracies they are oblivious to the watchful eyes trained upon them from the far-flung, inscrutable east. They are unaware of the extent to which their eastern counterparts believe in them, speculate about them and even feel disappointed by them. For the citizens of Europe, Ukraine is a distant place at the end of the modern railway tracks and decent roads.

But how are the residents of Berlin, Vienna or Zurich, tucked up in the comfort of the Schengen Area, to know that there are 40 million Ukrainians hoping for a better future - partially using funds from European taxpayers?

Europe is paradise on earth

The word "Europe" has long since acquired a proverbial meaning in Ukraine. It is used both as a metaphor and a brand, and stands for top quality cars (even if they are now manufactured in China), healthy food (even if it is grown close to the Ukrainian-Polish border), high wages, an efficient rule of law, tolerance, multiculturalism, freedom, liberalism and the fight against the old communist regime.

A large number of my fellow citizens are convinced that the air on the far side of the Hungarian border has a different consistency and that problems are solved more easily - mostly by not existing in the first place. For liberally minded Ukrainians, Europe is the Promised Land. They see themselves as part of a family of sister nations that share their values and intentions. But for other Ukrainians, the ones who yearn for the Soviet age of old, Europe is evil and a spur on the path to civilization.

What is indisputable is that Europe is more present in Ukraine than one might think - even in politics. Across the board, politicians talk about Europe - albeit in different ways. Those in power are afraid, and don't mind flaunting their fear. They know they are dependent on Europe because where else do the majority of the country's new loans come from? The opposition looks to Europe because they have no one to turn to or rely upon within Ukraine. They use Europe to make their arguments - and Europe is instrumentalized. From Europe they expect hard, but fair sanctions.

Europe as a birthday cake

We are generally European when being so is in our interests, and that applies to representatives of the current, anti-grassroots regime and politicians of radical parties. Allies of the power deposit their fortunes in European banks, old communists keenly support the leadership in implementing reforms initiated by Europe, and young idealistic democrats prefer to ski on the beautiful slopes of the Alps. Even hardcore nationalists are cautiously opening themselves to the western realm of influence.

Ukrainian politicians talk about Europe like children about a birthday cake that has been in the kitchen for a long time and which they cannot decide whether to eat immediately or a day later. We live on illusions and in the deceptive hope that foreign attention and foreign protection will be forthcoming. We rely on the explanations of foreign city guides in the hope of pushing beyond banal economic interests to catch a glimpse of the bright rays of a globalized democracy.

But where does it all stem from? Probably from a sense of insecurity and debility, from apathy, fear, and from living in a non-supportive community. A society that doesn't believe its own prime minister is forced to believe a different one. Many people wouldn't even trust their own premier to momentarily hold their place in a queue - out of a fear that he would use that moment to sell it to someone else.

A mutual lack of trust and of realistic perspectives for change are the reasons for all these desperate efforts to win the support of stronger countries. The inability to solve problems alone increases the need for a strong and just defender. A savior motivated by democratic principles who is willing to fight all the wrongs we are subjected to.

The hope placed on developed democracies is as profound as it is ineffective, and that inevitably leads to reproach. But what demands can we make of Europe? Can one accuse Europe of working with the criminal state power that we elected ourselves? Could we claim it is not doing enough to fight the system of corruption we all work so hard to uphold? Or can we criticize Europe's failure to overcome our internal problems of language, religion and ideology?

More responsibility

In brief: Europe seems to owe us big. Europe is to blame for not resolving our conflicts, not taking our side, not freezing bank accounts, imposing sanctions, and ultimately for not issuing us with unlimited Schengen visas so that we can leave our country with all its flaws and contradictions forever.

As far as I can tell, the main problem is the inability and unwillingness of contemporary Ukrainian society to take responsibility for its own actions. We quickly and blithely blame others for our own stupidity and mistakes, as long as we don't have to take responsibility ourselves. We tend to break out in hysteria and desperation, yet we are always willing to forget the way our politicians insult and lie to us (for the umpteenth time), and happily put our trust in them again. If we take a sober look at our political problems, who should we rely on if not on Europe? Even if Europe has no idea that it is our great white hope.

Serhij Zhadan (39) is an author. His poems and novels examine societal developments in Ukraine since the end of the communist era. In 2006 Zhadan was awarded the Hubert Burda prize for young poets. He took to the streets to join the protests during the Orange Revolution

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