Happy birthday independent Ukraine!
Thanks to the country’s new geopolitical trajectory and the current administration’s revivalist approach to bilateral ties with the Kremlin, Ukraine’s Independence Day celebrations this August will likely carry added political potency and symbolism. But while parades and pomposity are likely to dominate proceedings in the capital city Kyiv, Leopolitans will be treated to a more cultured holiday programme which reflects Lviv’s status as modern Ukraine’s spiritual capital.
Ukraine’s independence holiday celebrates the declaration which the country’s Soviet-era legislature issued on August 24, 1991 following the failure of a KGB coup in Moscow. By the summer of 1991 the Soviet empire was in total disarray, with Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempts to reform the USSR from within having resulted in a collapse of central authority and unleashed a Pandora’s Box of pent-up grievances against the totalitarian regime. Eastern Europe had been lost in the previous two years, and instability was seeping into the heart of empire. In this environment of imperial disintegration Ukraine’s declaration of independence was actually just one of many and as a result it came to be seen by some as merely a fait accompli rather than the final stage in a glorious struggle for national sovereignty. This lack of historical pathos accompanying the independence declaration of 1991 robbed the holiday of its punch for much of the 1990s, a period when the collapse of the USSR quickly became associated primarily with the poverty and lawlessness which followed in its wake. Independence Day made something of a comeback after the Orange Revolution when it became an opportunity for President Yushchenko to promote his own brand of modern Ukrainian patriotism. With ‘Brand Ukraine’ experiencing a sudden surge in credibility following the success of the 2004 prodemocracy uprising, Independence Day enjoyed a cache it had earlier lacked. Curiously, it was also the prodemocracy President Yushchenko who brought the largely mothballed Sovietera concept of military parades back onto the Independence Day agenda. His predecessor Leonid Kuchma had initially favoured military parades and had been personally behind the biggest show of weaponry since independence during events to mark the 10th anniversary in August 2001. However, after a brief pause in full-scale military parades in the mid-2000s the tradition was cranked up once more by President Yushchenko himself in 2008 when he caused controversy by olding a massive Independence Day military parade in what was widely interpreted as a show of strength following Russia’s August 2008 invasion and occupation of Georgia. This year’s celebrations in Kyiv are likely to be rather grand as the new administration seeks to allay fears that it is too closely aligned to the Kremlin by putting on a powerful display of Big State patriotism. The Yanukovych administration has never sought to hide its admiration for Soviet-style pomp and circumstance and this 24 August is unlikely to prove an exception. Meanwhile, Lviv will no doubt meet the holiday in a more laid back manner with street-level festivities and a number of international festivals. In recent years certain little quirks have appeared as part of the Leopolitan approach to the annual Independence Day holiday, not least the clever trick of dressing up statues in traditional embroidered Ukrainian shirts. This trend has recently been spotted in Kyiv – another clear example of how Lviv patriots continue to lead the country when it comes to innovative ways of demonstrating a sense of national pride and Ukrainian uniqueness. The Lviv Today team are proud to help showcase this kind of Leopolitan creativity and we would like to wish all readers a very happy Ukrainian Independence