Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Show on Maidan Must Go On?

Ever since over half a million of Ukrainians gathered in Kyiv to peacefully protest 2004 electoral fraud (events that later became known as Orange Revolution), country’s main square Maidan Nezalezhnosti (en. - Independence Square) has remained a powerful symbol of peaceful civic resistance, tolerance and democracy. Moreover, the events in Kyiv were so unprecedented that they inspired similar episodes in many cities and towns across Ukraine.
Orange Revolution participants on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv, photo by Fotoart.org.ua
And although Ukrainians have grown largely disillusioned with leaders and outcomes of the Orange Revolution, the experience itself and values manifested on maidans (main squares) around the country are still remembered. For instance, a leading Internet hub of civic activism in Ukraine is called Maidan, and genuine popular protests are still commonly referred to as “maidans” by both people and the media.

However, it seems that those memories as well as the symbolic power of Kyiv’s Maidan have recently come under intense attack from the side of certain authorities and the media. After mass tax protests of late 2010 – when participants have set up a tent city on the central square much like 2004 “orange” protesters – it has become clear that having Maidan Nezalezhnosti in its current role of a powerful emblematic and physical center of civic resistance may not be so desirable  in a country, where the protest sentiments are said to run rampant among 45.3% of the population and government's popularity continues to decline [ru].

After a partial victory on the side of tax protesters, their tent city has been quickly removed by municipal workers and law enforcement at dawn (see this GV post). Afterwards, city authorities have explained that ahead of winter holidays a country’s main Christmas tree had to be installed on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [ru], while the square itself had to be prepared for New Year’s celebrations.
Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv around New Year is occupied by a tree, two stages and a skating ring. Photo by LJ user denmes 
The holidays have passed, but the issue of what to do with the crucial space in the center of Kyiv remained. In February, a “reconstruction” of the square has been carried out to replace tiles damaged by tax protesters’ tents (an offence for which several of them faced criminal charges [ru]). The state of Maidan Nezalezhnosti during that time had been captured on camera by LJ user gk-bang, who ironically pointed out that the extent of the damage and reconstruction activities hardly required encircling the whole square with a solid Soviet-style wooden fence (see this GV post).
Reconstruction of Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Feb. 2011, photos by LJ user gk-bang
 However, it was clear that a more permanent remedy to “Maidan issue” was needed. In March a new grandiose dance show ”Maidan’s” has been started in Ukraine, during which teams of 500 dancers from different cities compete on the main square while being broadcasted live on a national TV channel “Inter” (associated with the head of Ukraine’s state security service Valeriy Khoroshkovsky). On my recent trip to Kyiv, I have witnessed how because of the show Maidan Nezalezhnosti remains fenced and is blocked for access by regular public on weekends. 
Maidan Nezalezhnosti in May of 2011, photos by Kateryna Krasynska

News agency UNIAN attempted to investigate the funding of the show, officially organized by “Inter” TV channel and Kyiv city administration. According to their findings [uk], such show must cost at least $250,000-300,000, but its financial profitability for a channel whose main audience constitutes of pensioners is highly questionable.
Curiously, organizers of “Maidan’s” refer to it as a “dancing revolution”, and try to present it as a real “people’s show” [uk] by sharing stories of pregnant or elderly participants that volunteer to dance. The show itself, as well-observed by Taras of Ukrainiana, sometimes reminds of Soviet-style choreography (see his video below). 


“Maidan’s” performances often look fun, but they also serve a purpose of occupying both symbolic and physical space that recently played a crucial role in a formation of Ukrainian nation-state. However, the question of whether the phenomena of Maidan could be transformed into a simple show-business event replacing the memories and values symbolized by the square for the last seven years remains open. As does the question of how much longer Maidan Nezalezhnosti can be kept “occupied” in such a manner, and whether with time it could possibly lose its symbolic significance and be turned into a regular city square.

5 comments:

  1. The voice of the people, right?

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  2. waiting and waiting for a bright light at the end of the tunnel...

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  3. Patience and optimism - that's my recipe to keep your sanity when dealing with Ukraine)

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  4. That's an awesome show, so many people, such a big audience! It puts hope in the hearts of thousands of people and brings them together for in achieving for the welfare of their city. It’s constructive, goal-oriented, well-planned and fun.
    About the choreography, god knows what you mean; which soviet choreography are you talking about??...there were no Maidans in the soviet time anyways… I don’t understand why you name the relations of the channel and bring the state-men in and how much it costs… Those who want to protest can do it on the other days of the week or some other place.(Kiev has so many squares. Some of them are bigger that this one. I don’t think the show is made for the purpose of occupying the symbolic square. I also think that it is not going to go on forever. (in the winter not a lot of people would want to dance in the cold, I recon)

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  5. Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for your comment. I agree that the show itself is not bad at all. But I still believe that it serves a purpose beyond simple entertainment and that its location is not accidental. As for the ‘Sovietness’ – I was referring to the pioneer attire of the dancers in the video and observations made by Taras on Ukrainiana (link included in the text).

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