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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
"What does Maidan mean?"
Brussels, 11 September 2014
President Kwaśniewski, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
This is my fifth time to attend the annual meeting of the Yalta European Strategy, but regrettably, following the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, we're not in Yalta. Allow me to stress very clearly here and now– we have not forgotten about Crimea, it will always remain on the radar of our policy until international law is fully restored.
As I was reflecting on the topic of this evening's discussion, I recalled my visits to the Maidan and my thoughts immediately turned to the brave people that I met as I walked among the tents in freezing temperatures of minus 20 degrees - people showing huge discipline and solidarity.
I recall sipping hot tea with them and warming our hands over a fire in a barrel. I recall walking on Maidan in the peace of the night, the air filled not only with the biting smoke from the makeshift stoves but also filled with the determination of the people not to let go the chance of a better future.
My thoughts also turned to people injured in the clashes that I met in the hospitals; to the people beaten for expressing their views and also policemen injured in an action ordered by their failed superiors.
If you ask me what Maidan means, I would say it was first of all about dignity. Lack of accountability and accumulation of wealth in the hands of few at the expense of the prosperity of the whole country made people to show massive support for reform and modernisation. They demonstrated for a better future for their own country, a future free of corruption and where rule of law and human rights are respected. For many, this corresponded with a future based on European values, which as Europeans themselves, they share.
Maidan happened at a time when in the European Union, there are some who express scepticism about the European integration process, tending to take its benefits – peace, democratic accountability, respect for human rights – for granted. Maidan reminded us all that the value of democracy can never be underestimated – you have to take care of it and, sometimes, you have to take strong stance and defend it.
The wish of Ukraine to develop closer ties with the European Union was a sovereign choice. Yet instead of respecting this choice and accepting that it was not at the expense of Russia, Moscow opted for confrontation, creating the most serious crisis in Europe since the end of the World War II.
We have been witnessing economic coercion, threats and open military aggression, meant to dissuade the Ukrainian people from taking up new opportunities, but also meant to dissuade us from defending their freedom of choice, to convince us to drop our policies, values and principles, and accept the logic of the spheres of influence. But this would equal to ignoring the lessons of the last century on this continent. The logic of zero-sum games is outdated and has no place in today's world. We have to find ways to explain to Russia, that respect can be regained if we work jointly on a vision of cooperation on the European continent without dividing lines. Is it possible or realistic? I think yes! Our European house is broken and the time has come to fix it – not at the expense of anyone but with the involvement of all.
Let me also want to use this opportunity to send a strong message of support to the people in Eastern Ukraine who have suffered so much during the conflict. No matter where you are, be it in Kharkiv, Mariupol, or Donestsk, our thoughts are with you and all those defending the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
I also strongly encourage the Ukrainian authorities not to lose contact with the people of Eastern Ukraine, many of whom are fearful and anxious to know what is happening. In some cases friends and families are split because they feel under pressure to choose between two sides in the conflict. They need your understanding of their suffering and reassurance that there is no need to make such a choice. Because Maidan has never been about dividing the country but about uniting people in their aspiration for a better life.
They also deserve capable and accountable self-government to efficiently manage the economic and social development of their regions and cities.
Maidan has created a chance for a better life. Ukrainians will be able to use all its potential only if its spirit of dignity, unity and accountability accompany your actions throughout the whole country.
We in the European Union do not run revolutions. We have neither the intention nor the capacity. But we have strong political will and powerful instruments to help people to deliver on their expectations and make sure that the ideals of revolution are not stolen.
Regardless of how many difficulties lie ahead of us, I am sure the values Maidan has fought for will prevail and Maidan itself will be remembered as one of Europe's defining moments.