MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I am Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson, and welcome to Ethics Matter at the Carnegie Council.
Joining us in this edition today is Marci Shore, who is an associate professor of history at Yale and, more specifically, an expert on Eastern and Central European history.
Welcome, Professor Shore, to the program. Thank you for joining us. You are here today specifically because you authored a book called The Ukrainian Night: An Intimate History of Revolution, which vividly recounts the 2013-2014 Ukrainian Revolution.
Before we get deeply into your book, give us a little bit of a tutorial on what happened in 2013-2014 in Ukraine.
MARCI SHORE: First, thank you so much for the invitation.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You are welcome. Thank you for being here.
MARCI SHORE: I am very happy to be here.
The revolution of 2013-2014 was totally unexpected, I think, in a variety of ways. What happened was that the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was preparing to sign an association agreement with the European Union. The association agreement did not promise Ukraine ever eventual membership in the European Union, but it was a step toward what could potentially be eventually membership in the European Union. The expectations were that it was all ready and the signing ceremony was prepared and it was all ready to go.
Then, at the last minute, he abruptly changed his mind, it seems under pressure from Vladimir Putin, who would prefer that that not happen and that he instead ally with Russia.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And the Ukrainian people were keen on this. They really wanted to be a part of the European Union.
MARCI SHORE: There was a very strong feeling, especially among young people, that the future was becoming a part of Europe.
So when he abruptly declined to sign this, it was very sudden, and there was a sense that, even though the agreement would not have on the outset made such a big difference, it was symbolic, it was a foot in the door of Europe, it was a first step.
An Afghan-Ukrainian journalist named Mustafa Nayyem, a young journalist—he was 32, I think, at the time—posted on Facebook that afternoon when Yanukovych announced that he would not be signing the agreement, "Hey, if you're really upset, come out to the Maidan," which is the big central square in Kiev, "by midnight tonight."
And then he said, "'Likes' do not count," which to me was a remarkable sentence, because that sentence—and it translates precisely from Russian, "'Likes' do not count," a sentence that would have made no sense before Facebook. It would have been incomprehensible before Facebook.
But a couple of hundred people come out, mostly young people, mostly, but not exclusively, students. They are the ones for whom a future in Europe and the opportunity to travel and to study abroad and internships would have made the biggest difference. They protest. They call this "Euromaidan," Ukraine as a step toward Europe. They are there every day and through the nights, playing music and dancing and singing.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: To go to the point of "'likes' don't count," this is basically telling people that by clicking "like" on Facebook and saying you agree, that does not count. You have to be a part of this movement physically, we need to see you, power in numbers, and we need to see the number of people.
MARCI SHORE: Yes, exactly. One of the principles of Maidan was going to be you have to come out with your body. It is corporeal politics. You have to actually show up.
A few hundred people showed up, and they protested peacefully in a student-like atmosphere and in a somewhat not explicitly political way. It was not about political parties. It was about Europe, the idea of Europe, the opening of Europe.
This lasted until November 30, when suddenly Yanukovych decided that this was going to be put to an end. He sends out Berkutovtsy, which is his riot police, to beat up the students at 4:00 in the morning on the square. He is counting on the fact that now the parents are going to pull their kids off the street. That is when the extraordinary thing happens because rather than pulling their kids off the street, the parents join their kids there.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: So this is becoming a multigenerational revolution.
MARCI SHORE: Yes, in an extraordinary way. I have long been interested in family histories and generational histories, and so many revolutions—you can plot the whole history of communism from the 19th century as a series of Oedipal rebellions, each generation revolting against the parents in its turn; 1968 in both Eastern Europe and Western Europe was very much about this.
Now, suddenly, the parents come out en masse. The next day, from a few hundred students protesting, you have close to a million people on the streets of Kiev. No one has ever seen that many people on the streets of Kiev, and they are saying, "We will not permit you to beat our children," even the people who did not have children themselves.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Of course, because everybody became united. Now you are attacking our people. This was a surprise for Yanukovych. What was his game plan after this?
MARCI SHORE: It was often not so clear if he had a game plan, if he was waiting for instructions from Putin, if he was improvising. He is not a genius. One of the things that always struck me about Yanukovych was that Yanukovych was a gangster, and kind of nakedly, unapologetically a gangster. He was not even pretending—
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: To be something that he is not.
MARCI SHORE: No.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: He was very comfortable in his skin.
MARCI SHORE: Exactly. There was no grand narrative. There was no transcendent purpose. He was not telling the people a story, like Putin is telling them a story. No. There is no story. It is just that, you know, "I'm a gangster. Another gangster could be worse, so you should put up with me."
So exactly what he intended, aside from just making it go away in whatever way he could, was a little bit unclear.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And the reaction, though, was frankly gangster-like. To send out secret police or a police force to deal with people violently is very gangster-like.
MARCI SHORE: Yes. Even though gangster-like behavior was certainly not unheard of in Ukraine, there had been a kind of tacit social contract since the fall of communism that the government was not going to use force against its own citizens. That was part of the social contract in which the citizens were being exploited and abused in all sorts of other ways. They did not have the rule of law and there were whole regions of Ukraine that were basically ruled by gangster-like mafias, but that kind of violence against their own citizens was shocking. That shocked people.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Were they saddened or angry?
MARCI SHORE: It turned out to mobilize them. I think Yanukovych was counting on the fact that it was going to crush them, but instead it mobilized them.
The number of people who came out—one of the stories I tell in this book is a student of journalism at the time, Markiyan Prochasko, who was perhaps 22, 23, and he lived in Lviv, he went to the Maidan in Kiev after the first couple of days. He happened to leave just two hours before everyone got beaten up. He was asleep when this happened.
His father was hysterically trying to find him and the phone was turned off. When his father finally gets hold of him—his father is a very famous Ukrainian novelist, Taras Prochasko—his impulse is he gets in his car and drives all night and goes to Kiev. That is the moment where you have multiple generations, multiple ethnicities, people from all over, they come on the streets, they say, "We will not let you beat our children."
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Was there something that made this revolution stand out differently than, say, the various ones throughout the Arab Spring, because it seems as though we saw mostly men in the crowds, but this one seemed to be more family-oriented? Was that on purpose? Was this a reflection of the culture or of the history?
MARCI SHORE: That is a good question. I don't feel qualified to give a detailed comparison.
It is not that there was no gender element, there certainly was a kind of gender division of labor at various moments, but it was an extraordinary coming together of men, of women, of young people, of old people, of Jews, of Armenians, of Russian speakers, of Ukrainian speakers. The miracle of the Maidan in some sense was this transcendence of all these previously existing boundaries.
One of the questions I asked one of the 16-year-old kids who gets himself beaten up that night on November 30—he is 16, he is still living with his mother; I have kids, too—I said, "Your mother must have been really upset, but she let you go back."
He said, "My mother was making Molotov cocktails on Hrushevskyi Street."
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Wow. Explain the significance, the symbolism, of the Maidan.
MARCI SHORE: What the Maidan came to be—I would actually divide this into two periods. There was the period in November when it was largely young people marching in the streets.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: In November of 2013?
MARCI SHORE: November 2013, the first 10 days or so, before the students get beaten up, when it was really Euromaidan, and it was about the European Union, and it was about this kind of open future. It was about opportunities. It was about becoming a part of Europe and all that Europe symbolized.
That, I think, changed on December 1. On December 1 you have close to a million people on the streets, and that is the moment, I would argue, when Euromaidan becomes just Maidan and it is no longer just about the European Union. Now it is a revolt against what in Russian you would call proizvol, and it is a kind of untranslatable word that I try to work with in the book because it is a combination of arbitrariness and tyranny. Proizvol is the sense that you are rendered an object, that you are just vulnerable to the caprice of those in power.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Your humanity evaporates, is that it?
MARCI SHORE: Your subjectivity evaporates because those in power can play with you as they will, you are an object as opposed to a subject.
It is a word with a long history. In the 19th century, liberal intelligentsia in the Russian Empire is fighting against proizvol, a sense of arbitrariness. And what Europe came to be at that moment was the antithesis of proizvol. So it was not necessarily Europe in its particular empirical instantiation, it was the rule of law, it was human rights, it was human dignity, it was being treated as a subject and a citizen and not just an object or a plaything of those in power.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You lived this revolution in a very different way because physically you were not there—you were in Vienna, and yet this is happening. This is a very unusual way to write a book because it is very much firsthand experience without being firsthand experience. How did that come about?
MARCI SHORE: It came about in some ways very unexpectedly. It was a book I never intended to write. I was working on another book at the time in Vienna. I have long tried not to write about contemporary affairs because, as a historian, all your advantages come from the advantages of retrospect. Looking back, you can know more than any real actor ever knew at the time.
Hannah Arendt argues that the actor is never the author of his or her life history. It is only the historian looking back at how the consequences have unfolded who can say what it was all about.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: After the fact.
MARCI SHORE: After the fact. Because you can know not only what A said to B, but you can also know what B said to C and what C said.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And so forth.
MARCI SHORE: You can know more than anyone could know in real time, and those are the advantages a historian has.
So my perspective was necessarily limited. I was at this research institute in Vienna, in a very special place called the Institute for Human Sciences, which was founded by a Polish philosopher who was among the last students of the great Czech philosopher Jan Patočka.
Jan Patočka is arrested and interrogated in 1977 as a result of his role in the human rights petition Charter 77 in communist Czechoslovakia. He is an older man. He does not survive the interrogations. So he dies as a kind of Socrates martyr figure.
After his death, Krzysztof Michalski, who was one of his last students, started to arrange to have his papers smuggled out of communist Czechoslovakia.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: They had not been seized?
MARCI SHORE: No, they had not initially been seized.
Vienna initially became a site to which to smuggle out those papers. The Institute for Human Sciences, which Krzysztof then founded, with the support of, among other people, Pope John Paul II, comes about, in some sense, under the inspiration of Jan Patočka and his death.
All through the 1980s it was a meeting place for East European and West European intellectuals in the neutral site of Vienna. While that reason for existence lost some of its drama after 1989, the place is still very much existing under that ethos of the coming together of East and West.
So I was in Vienna, I was working on this book about philosophy in Eastern Europe, and I had several colleagues from Ukraine who that same year were also at the Institute on various fellowships or various programs working on their own projects. So they were constantly coming back and forth between Kiev and Vienna, going back to Kiev more than they might have otherwise, given the drama of events. So there was this sense of constantly—you know, Katia gets off the plane, and everybody jumps on her: "What happened? What's going on?" I felt it more intensely because of that contiguity.
And then, there were several additional layers. One was the fact that because those protests start out by being about European Union and will Europe ever be open to you, how the Europeans were receiving the protest—you know, was this unrequited love or not, essentially.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: How was it covered?
MARCI SHORE: Exactly, how was it covered?
The German press coverage tended to be cool—not negative, I would say, not hostile, but cool, a bit condescending.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: How would you read the condescension? How was that portrayed? How was that shown?
MARCI SHORE: For instance, there is a very hip weekly, a kind of Village Voice-style weekly, in Vienna called Der Falter. There was an article in Der Falter one week during the Maidan, which was in general a very sympathetic article. The title was something like "The Kids in Kiev." My Austrian Slavicist friend, Martin Pollack, freaked out. He was just like: "The kids in Kiev? You know, these people are getting shot at."
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Like it's a child's game.
MARCI SHORE: Exactly. Like, "Oh, isn't that cute?" It's sympathetic but condescending.
I saw how my Ukrainian colleagues—for them the German reaction mattered most, because it is the Germans who are most important to the European Union. A lot of the most influential Ukrainian intellectuals, whether coincidentally or not coincidentally, are Germanist by training. They are people who translate German literature, who translate Goethe and Musil and Freud, Walter Benjamin. They are people who lecture in Germany, who have careers that also go into Austria and Switzerland. So the coldness of the German reaction, that sense that Germans don't really understand, they felt it.
I think I experienced that more than I would have otherwise for the totally coincidental reason that my last book had just come out in German translation. So I was giving this whole slew of interviews to the German press that I normally would not be giving, so I was also constantly in contact with German journalists or Austrian journalists.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I am curious to know if the response to that type of coverage—did Austrian or German journalists know that the Ukrainians were feeling this way? What was the response? Was there any defense of how it was being covered? Was it sort of like, "Well, you're lucky we are covering this at all," or "Well, this is how we do it"? Do you know what the response was to that?
MARCI SHORE: That is a good question. I would say there were some exceptions.
Cathrin Kahlweit was writing for Suddeutsche Zeitung [Editor's note: corrected from Die Zeit in audio], and she was there and she was involved and she understood everything. There was a very good interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung with four leading Ukrainian intellectuals, a kind of group interview. So there were exceptions.
But there was a sense of frustration and a sense of not being understood, and I think I noticed this more because I was in the very strange position of being an American in Vienna, and I was watching Ukraine largely through Polish eyes because ultimately I found the best coverage was the Polish press coverage.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Why? What was the difference there?
MARCI SHORE: The Poles understood and the Germans didn't understand. I think it is not just a question of sympathy. The Poles have a very complicated, not necessarily very nice, history vis-à-vis Ukrainians. So it was not just that they were on the side of the Maidan and the Germans were cooler, or there were more Germans who did not want to ruin relations with Putin. The Poles fundamentally understood that they were watching a real revolution and the Germans didn't.
The live feed that Gazeta Wyborcza was doing, which is the main Polish daily, the New York Times equivalent, I thought was the best source. They had people there. They knew the languages. But it also spoke deeply to things that Poles had personal experience of in a way that I think it didn't to the Germans and the Austrians and the Swiss.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Just one more question again about the press that way, too: How were Ukrainian journalists covering the revolution? Were they also doing it in a fair way? Was there a lot of editorializing? And was there also analysis of how they were being perceived by the German press and the Polish press?
MARCI SHORE: One of the extraordinary things about this was the role of social media and how that expanded. The mainstream media outlets in Ukraine, like in Poland, were basically controlled by the government, and there was a sense that the government is winning in the mainstream media, but the way you get around that is you go to the social media.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And they were reporting directly from the site.
MARCI SHORE: They were reporting directly. There are a couple of independent start-up-type news channels. There was Espreso TV. There was Hromadske, which is an amazing kind of news outlet, started with no money, no resources, by a handful of young, idealistic people committed to journalist ethics.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Not kids.
MARCI SHORE: Right, not kids, who were doing amazing things basically with no money.
The live streaming on the Maidan—the people on the Maidan set up cameras themselves. One of the things I push philosophically in the book is: What does it mean to set up cameras to have yourself filmed while being shot? What does it mean to willingly abdicate any kind of private space, any kind of intimacy, in an effort to assert your own narrative? So the precondition for the assertion of your own subjectivity becomes the violation of any kind of intimacy.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: That's interesting. That's an interesting perspective.
I am curious to know, following all of this, throughout it all, and as pretty much a spectator, was there any frustration on your part that you just needed to get on a plane and go there?
MARCI SHORE: Yes, every day. My husband and I talked about this every day, the impulse to go to Kiev.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Which you eventually make it to. And this is a region you know well, so it is not like you were writing about a place and a people that you didn't know.
MARCI SHORE: Right. No, we know Kiev. It is a place where we have spent time.
In some sense, one of my greatest regrets is still that I didn't go. At the time, I was still breastfeeding a baby and I had a toddler and I had never left them both overnight, and I thought, Well, I can't take a baby and a toddler to Kiev.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: That said, the book is being very well-received and appreciated, particularly by Ukrainians, it seems. I think it is a testament that you did the best that you could in the circumstances in which you were living.
I want to know how personal was this revolution for you?
MARCI SHORE: It became extremely personal. One of the things I think people have often misconceptions of—and maybe I can speak as a historian more broadly—is that when you go to some place, people tend to look at your race or they look at your ethnicity and they look at your nationality and they say, "Well, if you're Ukrainian and you're an insider, you're going to be biased, and if you are not, then you're not going to understand." There tends to be this reductionist assumption that you have subjective feelings or you have biases toward places or toward people when you share some kind of blood or some kind of ethnic background.
One of the things I tell my students is that one acquires attachments. Attachments to people are complex things. I have been hanging out in Eastern Europe for my whole adult life now, and in some sense it is not that the world is divided between people who are of my ethnic group and people who are not of my ethnic group. In some sense, your subjective world is divided between people you know personally and people you don't know personally.
It is not that the deaths of people you know personally have a greater moral value than those that you don't know personally, but of course you feel the suffering of people you know personally, and I think that is a variable that is often not taken into consideration, that when it is people that you know—I have been so involved in Eastern Europe. I am always going to be an outsider, but I am not entirely an outsider. For me, one of these questions was, like it deeply felt to me that these are people like me who are making a decision to risk their lives. Some of them I knew personally. Some of them were friends of friends or friends of colleagues.
The book started out as this much more modest essay, this portrait of a Ukrainian essayist and translator named Jurko Prochasko, who is my age, he is my generation, he also has two kids. He grew up in Soviet Ukraine in a Ukrainian Uniate family. I grew up in suburban Pennsylvania in a Jewish family. It seems that we have nothing in common. But in fact in our adult lives we hang out in the same circles, go to the same conferences, know the same people, read the same books, are participating in the same discussions. So it is not so foreign to me. That is my world.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: It's your wheelhouse.
MARCI SHORE: Yes. That is my adult milieu.
Another person I write about is Ola Hnatiuk, who is a middle-aged translator and professor of literature, a philologist, who is extremely elegant and refined and wears beautifully tailored clothing and I couldn't imagine ever raising her voice to anybody, and speaks in beautiful literary language in several languages that she speaks. The last time I had seen her before the Maidan was having breakfast at a fancy hotel in Washington where we both were for a conference. Ola is writing to me during the Maidan. She is out there crushing bricks and building barricades. Ola is not the brick-crushing, barricade-building type. She is no more likely to be crushing bricks and building barricades than I am, in some sense. And she has a lot to lose—she is a professor, she has a nice life, she has a lovely family—and I had a sense of just how much she had to be pushed to take her to that place.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Which comes back to the "'likes' don't count."
MARCI SHORE: Exactly.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You have to be in there.
Can you give us a couple more examples of some of the exchanges in your book with some of the people who were there who were communicating with you? What stood out? Were there moments where you were just on the edge of your seat with what was going on?
MARCI SHORE: Yes. There were moments certainly during February where I just couldn't turn away from the live streaming, and it was extremely disturbing because basically you are watching people be killed in real time. I was trying not to let my kids see what I was watching, and yet it was impossible to turn away.
There were some people who were with me in Kiev, like my colleague Mykola Riabchuk, who appears in one of the opening scenes of the book. During the shooting he gives a lecture in Vienna in this library explaining to people what is going on in Ukraine. And his 26-year-old son is out there while he is talking—and I know he is, but most of the people in the lecture don't know he is—and I know that Mykola knows that at any second, while he is very calmly trying to explain to this largely Austrian audience what is happening and what the political stakes are, he knows that any moment he could get news that his son has been killed.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Oh, dear.
MARCI SHORE: I sat there and I thought, How is he maintaining his composure? I could barely maintain my composure vicariously on his behalf.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: What happened?
MARCI SHORE: The son survived. I got to talk to the son in the book.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You bring the philosophy of phenomenology into the book. That is very much a part of your expertise, of what you know, of your passion. How does that fit in? Please explain the philosophy of phenomenology.
MARCI SHORE: What I was doing when I got distracted by the Ukrainian Revolution was I was working on a book about phenomenology in Eastern Europe.
To give a very oversimplified version, phenomenology enters into the debate about whether the world exists, which had been a big question in philosophy beginning with René Descartes: How do I know the world exists and that it is not just a projection of my conscience? How do I know that that glass is there and that I am not just seeing it from inside my head, because I can never step outside of my head to know how the world looks mind independently? This is what philosophers call "the problem of the bridge"—how do you get form inside to outside, from subject to object, from consciousness to world, from mind to being? They are all different ways of stating the same problem. Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, comes along as the Obama figure and says, "Yes, we can. Yes, there is a bridge."
To make a long story very short, phenomenology was very much focused on a validation of the experience of the world, the world as it is given to pure subjectivity. It involves a lot of kind of exhaustive descriptions of the world as it appears to you and a lot of technicalities which I will leave aside.
But the way in which phenomenology structured how I approached the book was that when I did decide to write, I thought I can't write about policy. I understand it too poorly. I understand international finance too poorly. The way in which Ukraine ends up with Yanukovych as a president has everything to do with post-Soviet oligarchy. Well, how does oligarchy come about in a transition from communism to capitalism? How does kleptocratic oligarchy work? What is the role of Western banks? What is the role of offshore accounts? What is the effect of sanctions? I fundamentally do not understand international finance. I could never intervene on that level.
But I thought what I could do is write a phenomenology of the revolution which is revolution as pure experience given to individuals, what did it mean to experience the revolution. That was what I thought—voyeuristically, by exploiting my friends and their friends—I did have access to.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: So living vicariously through their experience?
MARCI SHORE: Yes. And I would say it is not just vicariously in the sense of—I talked before about voyeurism in my previous book. Writing history is an act of faith that some kind of understanding of other people is possible, that the reader can make an imaginative leap into a time and a place, into the lives of others.
Of course, you never have complete access to somebody else's experience, but the fact that you don't have complete access does not mean you don't have any access. Good history does what novels are supposed to do. All novelists understand this. You make this imaginative leap into somebody else's life and you understand somebody else's experience.
The precondition for that kind of empathy and understanding is voyeurism. In a novel, you are making up the people, so you don't have to worry about the invasion of their privacy, but when you are writing history, history is profoundly voyeuristic. Normally, I write about people who are dead, and then it is more comfortable, although they may have children or grandchildren or people who may still be upset. But this book was all about people who are living in real time and who made an incredible leap of faith to trust me.
The book involves lots of intimate details about experiences that were very personal. I think what they understood when they made the choice to go on record—and all of the people I talked to made a conscious choice to go on record, and the book is informed by many other stories of people who didn't decide to go on record—they made the decision that they were willing to subject themselves to that kind of invasiveness to have the story told. So it is a book that is profoundly voyeuristic in that sense, that owes everything to the people who talked to me.
It is precisely those little details about their lives that make the stories human. My goal was not to tell people that you should put sanctions on Russia, you should put sanctions on Ukraine, you should do X, you should do Y, my goal was to give the revolution a human face, the revolution as experienced by people: Why do people make the decision that they are willing to risk their lives? What pushes them? What are they thinking? What are they feeling?
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: When you eventually made it there, were some of the experiences confirmed by what you saw?
MARCI SHORE: Yes. I always did feel like I had good access, in part because the Maidan was about access. One of the people I write about is a young filmmaker named Oleksiy Radynski, who made an excellent short documentary about the Maidan. He was out there with his cameraman from the very beginning. I said: "Was it ever difficult to be filming people? Were people ever self-conscious?"
He said, "No. Everybody was filming, even if just on a cellphone, because the mainstream media was controlled by the other side in some sense. There was a sense that the only way to assert what was happening was to turn the cameras on yourselves."
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: When Yanukovych eventually leaves, what did that mean? Did that conclude everything and is everything fine? It is a very simplistic way of putting it, but what prompted the departure?
MARCI SHORE: This is an interesting story.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And what leads to that?
MARCI SHORE: What happened was gradually there was an escalation. The Maidan becomes, after December 1, when I would argue that it is no longer quite appropriate to call it Euromaidan, it is really just Maidan, and it is about much more than that association agreement. It is really about what does it mean to live with human dignity under the rule of law with some kind of respect for human rights.
All that winter people stay on the Maidan and they create a whole parallel society. They create a whole parallel polis with an extremely elaborate infrastructure as a kind of feat of civil society and self-organization. There were kitchens, there was clothing distribution, there were musicians, there was a stage, there were speeches, there was an open university, there were medical stations. There was a whole parallel world going on. People were living there. Some people were living there in tents. Some people were coming every night. Some people were coming in shifts.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Who is controlling this place? Is there a leader of this?
MARCI SHORE: Interestingly, no. Interestingly, it was real spontaneous self-organization.
As a feat of self-organization, I was blown away. They created hotlines. I asked my friend Katia one time when she was coming back from Kiev—right after she got off the plane, I asked her about the SOS hotline, because at a certain point people started getting kidnapped. Activists would get kidnapped. Yanukovych's thugs would take someone to the forest, beat them up, chop off part of an ear as a kind of threat to other people. There was then an SOS hotline. Katia said, "Oh, you know, that was an LGBT hotline that was transformed."
I thought that was actually very interesting because it suggests that it's helpful to have an infrastructure. You have some kind of a nascent infrastructure. Even if you have a kind of modest LGBT hotline that is being used by relatively few people, you've got something in place. Once you have a few things in place, you can then expand them.
It was an extraordinary feat. It was all volunteers. The doctors were volunteers, the cooks were volunteers, everybody was doing something.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Families were there basically intact.
MARCI SHORE: Families were there together. Some people were walking around all night so that the Maidan would always be inhabited. There was an intricate division of labor.
The violence continues to increase. Then, in mid-January, by an illegal show-of-hands vote in parliament, Yanukovych declares what are then called these "dictatorship laws," which essentially make any kind of public assembly or any kind of public protest unlawful.
He is also then counting on the fact that that is going to pull people off the street because it means that anyone who is there could be arrested. But what it really does is raise the stakes, because now everybody knows that he has to go, otherwise they are all vulnerable.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: How many people are we talking about approximately?
MARCI SHORE: Hundreds of thousands.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Impossible to arrest hundreds of thousands of people anyway.
MARCI SHORE: Impossible, but significant numbers of them could be. And people were being tortured in subfreezing weather, they were being hosed with water cannons, they were being kidnapped, they were being beaten. There were various particularly graphic acts of brutality. When people would get injured by grenades and sent to hospitals, Yanukovych then started having his people kidnap people from hospitals, so it became dangerous to go to the hospital, and that was really when the medical stations and a whole network of secret clinics evolved on Maidan. There were also people who would maintain guard at the hospital to try to prevent the patients who were injured from being kidnapped. So it was very elaborate.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Oh, from being kidnapped. I see.
MARCI SHORE: From being kidnapped, from being taken away. There was the sense of that's the nature of terror—it's arbitrary, you take a few people and make examples of them.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: It is interesting, though, if you can replay a little bit the role of social media in all of this, because it seems, for all of the carnage there may have been and the brutality and the suffering, it also probably saved more lives than not, no?
MARCI SHORE: I would like to think that. I am not enough of an expert to make a judgment about that. But certainly there was a sense in which information was moving really, really quickly. I had never been on Facebook so much as I was during the Maidan.
Many people I knew, Ukrainian colleagues who I had known for a long time but who were also never particularly active or self-disclosing, suddenly you were on social media 24 hours a day, and that is how you found out if people were safe or if they weren't safe, if they were alive or if they weren't alive, exactly what was going on minute to minute. It was something that would not have been possible before social media.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: The fact is you are a historian and politics plays a huge role in this period and in this book. Yet you are able to skirt the issue of politics, you are not getting too political, you are just reporting. How do you try to stay neutral? How do you stay away from the politics and really underscore the fact that you are a historian in telling this story, because at one point they do kind of mesh?
MARCI SHORE: Yes, they definitely mesh, and I think it is very obvious that I am very sympathetic.
That actually was not that difficult, in the sense that I was not writing about policy and I was not intervening so much in the first person saying, "And we should do this" and "Obama should do that" or "The United Nations should do this." I was trying to evoke these people's stories and I wanted them to speak for themselves in some sense.
So the approach was in some sense much more like a novelist than a political scientist. So it is not that the book is non-political. The book was certainly influenced by the work I do on history of philosophy. One of the things that fascinated me was that at a certain point I noticed people started telling me, "And it's strange, and then I lost track of time."
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And I wanted to bring up time, exactly. Tell me a little bit about this, because hours became days, weeks. No one could remember. They lost track. When people say "I lost track of time," people really did lose track of time.
MARCI SHORE: Yes. That grabbed my attention as a historian. One person loses track of time, you think, Oh, that could easily happen, but when it becomes a pattern, when day after day people are saying, "And then something strange happened" or "I can't remember, was that yesterday, was it last week, was it two weeks ago?"—or that sense of day and night blurring.
One of the things that happened is suddenly it no longer matters what time it is. You can call people at 3:00 in the morning. You can call people who are 70 years old at 3:00 in the morning. It doesn't matter because the distinction between time and day has faded because anything could happen at any moment. So people developed a fear of falling asleep.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Really?
MARCI SHORE: The principle of revolution is that everything can change at any given moment, everything you thought was fixed could be undone at any given moment, so you are afraid to fall asleep.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Because you want to monitor everything that is going on, too.
MARCI SHORE: Right, and you could wake up in an hour and find you are in a totally different world. That sense of losing a sense of chronology, time becoming distended—
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Was that something with everyone that you were communicating with at different moments? Was that the common denominator amongst all of them?
MARCI SHORE: It was one of the common denominators. Again, that is not political. But again, from a phenomenological perspective, one of the things I was interested in is the relationship between the particular and the universal.
I have been coming to Eastern Europe for 25 years. I have never seen a real revolution in real time. I have written about things that happened before my time, before I got there.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: As a historian.
MARCI SHORE: As a historian. But I had never seen a real revolution in real time. So one of the things that interested me as a historian is where is the boundary between a protest and a revolution. When do you cross the border from something that is about politics to something that is an existential transformation, what makes every revolution really a revolution?
I started thinking that one of them is the experience of time, the temporality changes, I became completely preoccupied by that.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Obsessed with it, really.
MARCI SHORE: Right.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: It sounds like an obsession, but it is an interesting one.
Indeed, what was the trigger for you that made it become a central part of the book in many ways, this idea of time and losing track of time? What does that mean?
MARCI SHORE: It was a central part of the experience of these people going through the revolution. I wanted the book to be not just about why you should support this side and not that side, I wanted the book to be a study about what does it mean to experience revolution in your own skin. It is not just a political decision, it is a kind of existential transformation, it is a human transformation. In order to make that experience real, it is not enough to tell people, "Well, Yanukovych should have signed the association agreement or not." You have to explain to people what it actually meant to go through it.
One of the things I became interested in—you know, Hannah Arendt has written a lot about time, Sartre writes a lot about time. Philosophers have long been preoccupied with time. One of the problems of time philosophically is the problem of the present, because the present has no duration, the present cannot be grasped, and how do you talk about the present as if it has any duration, because as soon as you try to capture the present it is already past. So in some sense there is only past and future, and that infinitesimally punctual moment of the present can never be captured. So philosophers have long been interested in this problem of the present.
One of the things that Sartre comes in on the debate about what does time mean is he says that the present is essentially a border, and the present is a border between—you're a French speaker—what he calls the en-soi and the pour-soi, between the "in itself," which is facticity, which is what is and cannot be changed, what is fixed, what has already happened, who you have been up to now.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: The border is ephemeral, right? It just vanishes as—
MARCI SHORE: The border is ephemeral, but for Sartre the border of time is the border between facticity and transcendence, between the en-soi and the pour-soi, between what is and cannot be changed and the potential to go beyond what has been and who you have been. The present at every moment is that border.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Were you seeing that during these experiences that were being communicated to you?
MARCI SHORE: What I saw that I started thinking was a universal element of revolution is revolution is the moment when that border between facticity and transcendence, that is the present moment that is generally not perceived, that one is generally not conscious of—it is like you suddenly cast a shining light on it. Suddenly that border becomes illuminated. The present as a moment in which you have the possibility of making a choice to go beyond what has been and who you have been, it suddenly glows, like that moment of decision-making in which you have to make a decision in that strong—
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Is born. It's a birth.
MARCI SHORE: Exactly. Arendt calls it "natality," the potential of rebirth.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: To buckle things a little bit, where are we today there?
MARCI SHORE: Ah, yes. Not in a very good place, unfortunately.
Oh, so what happens—I lost one of the threads of your question—what happens afterward, after the dictatorship laws, is things get progressively more violent, and I think Yanukovych is under more and more pressure from Putin to end it.
It climaxes, in a sense, in February between the 18th and the 21st with the massacre.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Of 2014?
MARCI SHORE: Of 2014. Altogether, including all the deaths, a hundred-some people are killed.
There are sent out, on the side of the government, snipers, for instance. For instance, there is a sniper massacre, where they are just shooting at people. There are attempts by various people, including the Ukrainian rock star Slava Vakarchuk, who kind of runs to parliament, and they are trying to plead with the parliamentarians to condemn the violence and stop the massacre, and there is a resolution passed in parliament, but it is symbolic.
Then Radek Sikorski, who was the Polish foreign minister, convinces the European Union that he should go to Kiev to try to negotiate together with his French and German counterparts. But the impetus really comes from Radek Sikorski, who has seen a lot and knew Yanukovych a bit and knew exactly whom he was dealing with.
One of the things that fascinated me from Radek's story is like: "So you get there, you smell the smoke, you're going into this building. They're shooting people a few meters away from where you're sitting in the presidential palace talking to Yanukovych. You know that every minute that goes by more people are being killed. You are trying to convince him to agree to some kind of ceasefire. You know you are talking to someone for whom the lives of those people being killed mean nothing. How do you deal with that?"
I could not have dealt with that. I could not have maintained my composure.
Radek has been in politics a long time, and he is very smart. He is not sentimental—I would say he is ethical but not sentimental. He had no illusions about Yanukovych. He said, "You know, Yanukovych is not particularly bright. He doesn't have much of an emotional imagination. Those people being shot didn't mean much for him. You just focus."
Eventually it did work. There was a ceasefire agreement that involved Yanukovych holding early presidential elections later that year, in December, but still remaining president for some time.
Then the Ukrainian political opposition and Radek Sikorski had to convince the representatives of the Maidan to sign the ceasefire agreement, which was very tough because they are watching their people die. There is this clip on video of Radek saying to the representative of the Maidan, "If you don't sign this, you are going to get the army, martial law, and you will all be dead." In the end, they sign it.
He very much appeals to them from the point of view of a Pole who grew up during Solidarity and who watched Solidarity lose and Poland come under martial law in 1981, who understood—
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Sure, he understood where he was.
I think the fact that he was allowed and welcomed to the negotiating table probably said a lot also about Ukraine in general, to let this person in, this outsider, to come and negotiate with Yanukovych.
MARCI SHORE: I thought it was very brave on Radek's part.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: What prompted Yanukovych to accept this negotiation?
MARCI SHORE: That is an excellent question, and I don't feel qualified to answer that because I have no access to what Yanukovych was thinking.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: This is again where you're the historian.
MARCI SHORE: Right. It is clear that he is not a particularly bright person. It is also clear that he was from moment to moment being influenced by Putin's instructions. There was one moment during the negotiations in which he kind of disappears for a 45-minute phone call with Putin. What Putin says to him during that phone call we don't know. Radek said he found Yanukovych more receptive to negotiating than he would have expected.
After that agreement is signed and the massacre stops, a young man gets up on the stage who had been fighting on the Maidan together with his father. It was a young man who was in his maybe mid-20s and the father was around 50. They are carrying these coffins through the crowd with the bodies of the people who have just died. This young man gets up on the stage and gives this very emotional spontaneous speech, saying, "No, no Yanukovych, no way, not until December, not until next week. No, we will not continue to live in this country with this man who has just killed our people."
Whether for that reason or whether because he was cowardly or whether because he didn't care, Yanukovych flees the country afterward. Yanukovych flees the country and there is an interim government.
Immediately the Kremlin decides to annex Crimea, encourages separatist rebellions in the East. The separatist rebellions are encouraged by Russia on the alleged logic that what happened in Kiev was a Ukrainian nationalist-fascist coup sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and that there were Ukrainian fascists coming to kill all the Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine. You don't even have a chance to catch your breath.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: That's what it sounds like. It sounds like you don't have time to breathe.
MARCI SHORE: It was crazy.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: It is like it's this expressway to this end.
What is your next book, because the story is continuing it seems? Are you thinking about it?
MARCI SHORE: I have not been thinking about writing another book about what is happening in Ukrainian politics.
I would like to go back to my book on phenomenology and write about some of these encounters among philosophers in Eastern Europe and some of these ideas that I care about and people who are dead rather than alive.
But I do feel like it was a gift to have written this book. I never intended to write it. I was not convinced I was the right person to write it. I was not there while people were being shot. I only get there afterward. It was only in time that I became more and more persuaded that this was what I needed to do, that this was a thing I could do.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You certainly did not follow a traditional approach to writing a book. But, in the same sense, this is probably what inspired you and informed you and made it a better book, by coming after and being in touch with everyone while it was going on. It is amazing to live it that way, and particularly through the philosophy of phenomenology, which is probably what helped you succeed in getting what seems to be very successful.
MARCI SHORE: Thank you so much.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Thank you very much for being here, and we will have you again on Ethics Matter for the next book.
MARCI SHORE: Thank you.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I'm Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson, and we will see you next time on Ethics Matter.