By: His Grace Bishop Borys Gudziak, bishop of Paris for Ukrainian Catholics in France, Benelux and Switzerland and as president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.
Today things in Ukraine resonate far and wide and have import for Western Europe whether she knows it or not. The opposite, of course, is also true.
It is with this in mind that I would like to propose a column of some regularity sharing perspectives from Paris. Paris, arguably, is the cultural capital of Europe.
Many salient characteristics of modernity as well as those of the postmodern world have their intellectual, social, political, cultural origin or focal point in this city of rationalism, revolution and chic, of Rousseau, Renoir, de Gaulle, de Beauvoir, Ricoeur, and Derrida.
The EuroMaidan seeks many of the values that Paris, France, and Western Europe represent: rule of law, equal justice for all, social freedoms and guarantees.
What the EuroMaidan and Ukraine should gradually discover is that Paris and the European Union have a need for what today radiates from Kyiv’s Independence Square and the new Ukraine emerging before our eyes–hope, fellowship, solidarity, and authentic joy.
Since the beginning of the EuroMaidan over the last six weeks, I have had an opportunity to visit countries and continents witnessing the enthusiastic spread of the Maidan phenomenon. There are many Maidans, not only throughout Ukraine.
People in Paris and Brussels, London and Rome, Warsaw and Berlin, other European capitals and towns are standing up for Ukraine and Ukrainians. Nine eventful days in Kyiv, Dec. 8–16, gave me a privileged taste of developments on Independence Square.
Day and night, between the revolutionary energy of the main stage with its musicians and politicians and the reverence of the ecclesial tent served by priests, sisters and seminarians, amidst the students and entrepreneurs, Afghan veterans and Crimean Tatars, white collar workers and villagers, taxi drivers, police and Berkut riot troops, through meetings with those who run the country, those who want to run the country, and those who have been run over in this country a distinct antinomic identity emerges: the Maidan is wide and vital, internally structured yet open-ended.
Open to every person of good will but also to provocateurs.
Fragile yet strong.
Local and global.
It has clear principles and even barricades, but its permeable perimeter invites a constant exchange and encounter of personalities and ideas, of frustrations and inspiration, of people’s despair and the nation’s hope.
In these weeks, the Maidan has been the heart of the country pumping new blood and galvanizing Ukrainians internationally. With its middle class and student majority of which over 92 percent are there of their own initiative, the Maidan represents the creative drive and future of Ukraine. Some 64 percent of the people on Independence Square have university level degrees.
At the same time, the Maidan is open to those for whom opportunities are closed – Ukraine’s everyman, the little person, bereft of power or privilege. It invites those at the margins who convene to participate in the pageant, in the pilgrimage of a nation on the move.
For Paris with its prototypical bourgeoisie, history of revolution and present left-leaning government and cultural inclination the Maidan presents an image of social challenge.
Yet it remains a rather distant one. Paris and other capitals, towns and villages of the European community have only a vague sense of the complexity, profundity, and import of Ukraine and its Maidan movement. So too the Maidan is only slowly coming to appreciate its potential contribution to Western Europe and the world-at-large.
In an age of power and personality, the subtlety of principles impresses only slowly.
The values, non-violent social action and work of reconciliation of Gandhi, King and Mandela—all who ultimately influenced continents—hardly made a sudden splash. A movement of dignity of everyman, of the little person cannot prevail immediately.
Political circles in Ukraine, international observers and ministries of foreign affairs focus on the political chess match in Kyiv and the country in relation to Russia, the EU, and the USA.
In the shadows is the underlying, fundamental dynamic—the reassessment of the human condition in a land tormented by a past of tyranny and totalitarianism and troubled today by fundamental injustice.
Ukrainians in different walks of life, in diverse geographical locations, Paris included, are claiming their basic human dignity, owning their God-given identity.
If this indeed happens, the rest will follow and Europe will take notice.
Much realignment and rediscovery is occurring in Ukraine but much much more is needed. At the same time Ukraine has no monopoly on a need for rediscovery of values, fundamentals and identity.
The political, military, social and commercial competition of the global world leaves millions, billions dispossessed, on the margins, alienated, fragmented, and lonely without a central maidan for heart-to-heart encounter, a forum effectively to voice their concerns.
Herein lies the Maidan’s attraction. Its spirit speaks to a need encoded in our spiritual DNA: each person deep in their soul knows that he or she is called to a life of dignity and a life of relationship. This truth is sacred despite being so often violated.
That is why its violation calls forth such passionate reaction throughout history, today, and will do so in the future.
Christmas, celebrated these days in Ukraine relates directly to this innate verity.
Christians believe that God created the world with its billions of galaxies each comprising countless solar systems of which ours is but an infinitesimal reality and that this great God—to restore dignity, to bridge a gap, to reestablish relationships—becomes an infant, a little man taking on a common life with its mundane tasks, simple joys, and ordinary challenges.
The intimacy of God and humanity, the personal encounter of distant, often disparate realities is the Maidan experience. May each of us in the manner that is given to us live the hope, warmth, peace, and joy of the Maidan, which today has much to say to us in Paris, in the European west and in the world at large. God bless you in the New Year!
Borys Gudziak serves as bishop in Paris for Ukrainian Catholics in France, Benelux and Switzerland and as president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.