While glancing last night at the pictures from Nelson Mandela’s memorial in South Africa, I came across an altogether more extraordinary panorama of the protests in Kiev. The photographer had rotated the camera to show many thousands of demonstrators stretching in every direction. A few days ago they tore down the statue of Lenin, and this morning they are pouring cold water on the riot police who are trying to drive them out.
These Ukrainian demonstrators are determined to join the European Union rather than become a vassal state of Russia. And I wondered what I would think if I were a Ukrainian. It seemed to me pretty certain that the EU would represent western freedom and civilisation, while Putin’s Russia would look like a relapse into barbarous oriental despotism. I too would probably be waving an EU flag with its circle of stars.
While living in Berlin in the late 1990s, we had a Ukrainian cleaner who came once a week to sort out our rather chaotic flat. After she had gone, one could always find everything one needed: her approach was so intelligent that nothing got hidden.
She was a highly intelligent woman, and also highly educated. In Ukraine she had worked as a food scientist, but her wages were seldom paid and the electricity kept going off. So she had left her daughter with her parents and come west in search of a better life, from which she would send remittances home. Cleaning in Berlin was a stage on a journey which she hoped would take her to a career worthy of her talents in Seattle, in the United States, where she was planning to join one of her siblings.
The separation from her child was heart-breaking. The demonstrators in Kiev do not want to attempt that kind of individual escape: they want their own country to be a place where they can enjoy the freedoms those of us born in this country accept as our birthright.
How does this affect a British eurosceptic’s idea of the EU? Our inclination is to regard Brussels as a mortal threat to our ancient liberties and our right to remain a self-governing nation. It seems to me greatly to the credit of the Conservative party that it continues to regard this as a vital issue. But although Brussels is a threat, one cannot place it on a par with Moscow.
The only way for Brussels to stop being a threat, while remaining a beacon of liberty, is for the EU to develop into a community of sovereign nations, which any country with a commitment to constitutional liberty can hope to join. In this form the EU can help to entrench democracy, whether in Spain or in Ukraine.