U of Washington, US, firstname.lastname@example.org
Maidan and Civil Protests
The Fantastic Normal: Inclusion, Exclusion, and the Praxis of Dignity at Kyiv’s EuroMaidan
On December 12, 2013, Liza Shaposhnik, a volunteer at Kyiv’s EuroMaidan, was interviewed by Radio Svoboda. “I came to Maidan to stand up for my rights,” she said. “The European Union is, for us, a chance to live well, to have a normal life” (zhit’ normal’no). This phrase, “to have a normal life,” was often invoked by EuroMaidan activists as they elaborated for me the broad goals they held for themselves and their country. This conscious push away from Soviet social paradigms towards a national community that embraces European values (and the ‘normal life’ these values are believed to engender) was a central tenet of the ‘declaration of dignity’ that the EuroMaidan protests embodied. This is paper explores the discursive enactment of “dignity” both within and outside of the EuroMaidan movement. Specifically, it considers how and why some Ukrainians became integrated into the movement and afforded meaningful personhood in the Maidan, while others were de-humanized, stripped of subjectivity, and excluded from the new society that EuroMaidan claimed to represent. This paper follows several acts of boundary maintenance, specifically, the exclusion of illicit chemical substances and, by extension, chemically dependent individuals, down to their ideological foundation, suggesting that the praxis of dignity post-Maidan Ukraine is not only a rejection of state corruption and violence, but also a potent form of bio-power, a social reckoning and policing of individuals’ inner psychological states.
Mychailo Wynnyskyj has written more than perhaps anyone else about what it meant to call the Maidan movement a ‘declaration of dignity.’ He reflected on this idea at the end of March 2014 with the following words:
Dignity is a concept that has its roots in the Western European Enlightenment, and is viewed as an extension of the concept of individual rights – fundamental to the paradigm of western liberal democracy. However, the concept of dignity as expressed on Maidan is distinctly different from Anglo-American individualism: dignity is a concept that can only be actualized in a relational sense. In order to have dignity, an individual must be recognized as having it by another. Thus, dignity requires more than an individualistic conception of the subject – dignity is only possible within a collectivity of persons…” (Wynnyckyj, 2014)
With this definition in mind, it should come as no surprise that the most potent icons of dignity to emerge from the EuroMaidan movement were individuals who were both successful within and made intelligible by the collective labor force that maintained the revolution. A prime example is EuroMaidan volunteer Liza Shaposhnyk, a kitchen volunteer from Donetsk who is living cerebral palsy. Liza’s activism was widely celebrated. Throughout the course of the revolution, the media paid a great deal of attention to her, and a meaningful narrative that cast her as an independent, hard working, and, above all, deserving human being was woven together out of scraps of things she said and details about her life. Liza held up by many as an example of the human dignity and broad social inclusivity that motivated the EuroMaidan movement in the first place. She was a person upon whom the movement could enact its own story.
Liza’s greatness as a representative of the Maidan movement was often articulated in terms of the quality of her character. Liza was described by many Maidan participants as humble, as a deserving person who wanted very little for herself. Many quoted her statement, printed in the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, that she longed only “to see a specialist once in [her] life…one who did not purchase their diploma…to have access to a health sanatoria, and to have a free massage” (Bereza, 2013). A popular website listed Liza as one of the “True Heroes” of Maidan, On this page, Liza is quoted as saying “I never imagined that I could be a needed and useful person. It's like I’ve been born again—not sick but healthy” (“#Євромайдан,” n.d.). In this key quote, she expresses hope and humility—two emotions very much at the center of revolutionary discourse on the Maidan.
Liza’s story is, above all, one of personal redemption. She overcame disability, oppression, even a “backwards” thinking family, as the story goes, to build an independent life for herself and contribute to an important social movement. She is viewed by the public as “deserving,” “humble,” “the most important drop of water in the ocean” (“Ліза Шапошнік - головна крапля в океані Євромайдану,” n.d.). Liza became a local hero, because she, despite the odds, achieved social acceptance and integration. She also, despite the odds, achieved the status of a married woman. In May, she wed a fellow Maidan activist in a very public ceremony, finding deliverance from her former life in this ultimate fulfillment of her gender. In sum, Liza was beloved because she overcame powerful obstacles to achieve not simply a successful life, but to achieve a fantasy-like normal life—one of work, marriage, community, and home.
This fantastic normality, so beautifully encapsulated in Liza’s story, stood out to me, because it was a narrative that I had been hearing for nearly a year—long before the EuroMaidan revolution began. By the time it did, I was already in Ukraine conducting research on methadone maintenance therapy for chronic opiate users. In interviews, many methadone patients portrayed their motivations for initiating treatment in similar terms: they wanted to live like normal people (zhit’ kak normal’nie lyudi). Just as popular media framed Liza’s narrative as a tale of redemption found in the fulfillment of social roles, opiate addicts also grounded their descriptions of this fantastic “normal life” in ordinary details. Normal people make a living wage. Normal people are able to receive good health care. Normal people are able to find work and raise their children.
In their own stories of personal redemption, many addicts also frame their treatment seeking behaviors as a concerted attempt to exit a social position that has been thrust upon them. Like Liza, they saw their situation as cruel, difficult, and unfair and resolved to take deliberate steps towards improve their situation and achieving normalcy in their lives. In yet another parallel with the Liza’s popular narrative, addicts generally define the normalcy they seek as the fulfillment of the social roles and social obligations that once defined them. Their ability to act as as spouses, parents, friends, and neighbors becomes a measuring stick against which to measure their progress. According to them, they aim to be a part of regular society once again, to “live like normal people.”
The great irony is that methadone patients, who clearly harbor the same goals and values as many of those who gathered on the Maidan to protest government corruption, were unwelcome inside the barricades. From the earliest days of the protests, signs were hung by the gates of the barricades indicating that alcohol and narcotics were unwelcome in the square. Not long after, these same notices announced that alcoholics and narkomany (drug addicts) themselves were not welcome. Though such a rule is never one hundred percent enforceable, the regulations on abstinence on the Maidan were largely maintained. I once observed that EuroMaidan was probably the largest gathering of completely sober people I had ever laid eyes on in my entire life. Abstinence from drugs and especially from alcohol became a point of pride for many protesters—especially men. I heard, on countless occasions, male volunteers speaking with pride about how strictly they abstained from alcohol, even during the most euphoric periods of the revolution.
Like addicts, Anti-Maidan activists were also categorically turned away from the barricades. According to Maidan protesterss with whom I spoke, Anti-Maidaners represented a government that did not serve them and willingly did so for the sake of a few hryvnyas. Maidan activists perceived them as weak in conscience, weak in spirit, willing to turn over their goals and ideals for almost nothing at all. People called them cattle. People called them slaves. People called them prostitutes. I even heard the portmanteau “prostytushky” used disparagingly against them. Similar epithets were launched against Berkut officers. Those people were brainwashed. They were zombies. They were animals, not even human. Both in Maidan and elsewhere, addicts were often characterized in the same ways ways: as weak in their moral constitution, surrendering their human values for meager incentives, as brainwashed or brain damaged, incapable of acting like humans, or, worst of all, as not even human to begin with. They are depicted in the public imagination as truly Pavlovian creatures, having little to no control over themselves, little to no control over their behaviors. They can not contribute to the collective, because they are spiritually empty vessels, tools to be manipulated by those in power for their own nefarious purposes.
None of this is meant to criticize or offer a moral reckoning of the interpersonal discourses that emerged from EuroMaidan. Assessing the rightness or wrongness of coping strategies and methods of social management during a time of such intense crisis requires a far more delicate, nuanced, and thorough consideration than can be offered here. However, I do suggest that meaningful observations about generalized patterns of social integration, distinction, and exclusion can be made. In sum, I argue that the discourse of dignity that appeared on the Maidan was not only an expression of social collectivity and integration; it was also an integral part of a unique form of social exclusion that polices the boundary of the collective. By making claims about the liberty with which people are able to use their own minds, the degree to which they are able to think freely, a clear determination is made as to whether such individuals can be integrated into the collective, can be situated within what Wynnyckyj has called dignity “in a relational sense…within [the] collectivity of persons” (2014).
Through both the exclusion of drug users and the gorgeous, popular narrative of Liza Shaposhnyk’s social redemption, we can see quite clearly the social value of a “normal life”—the adoption of a socially intelligible “dividual” subjectivity (Dunn, 2004) enacted through the fulfillment of social obligations and gendered familial roles. We also see that this “normal life” deviates from the neo-liberal ideal in that it self-determination and self-actualization alone are insufficient. To achieve a “normal life,” one must also volley with a system of social distinction that that equates socially acceptable forms of sobriety and self-sacrifice with spiritual cleanliness and deservedness, that renders those with socially unacceptable behaviors undeserving and even inhuman.
Though this phenomenon appeared during EuroMaidan, it is certainly not unique to EuroMaidan. The revolution has allowed me to articulate this in new terms, but I have seen this very mechanism at work in my own research among Ukraine’s drug using and HIV positive population for many years. It is likely at work in many more social, professional, and political spheres as well. As Ukraine is in the painful throws of (re)establishing its national identity, coping with militant forces within its borders, manifesting political transformations, and attempting to shift the practices of the powerful away from corruption and towards accountability and transparency, it will be necessary to track the discursive work of coalition building and identity formation. It will be necessary to recognize exclusionary efforts, to examine them and understand their consequences. It will be necessary to keep this particular pattern of social distinction in the front of our minds, for it surely has a role to play in Ukraine’s future.
Bereza, A. (2013, December 16). Volonter Liza. Chelovek neogranichennykh vozmozhnostey. Ukrainska Pravda. Retrieved from
Dunn, E. C. (2004). Privatizing Poland. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Wynnyckyj, M. (2014, March 21). Philosophical thoughts from Kyiv - 20 March 2014. Retrieved from
#Євромайдан: історії справжніх героїв – Inspired. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Ліза Шапошнік - головна крапля в океані Євромайдану. (n.d.).
Jennifer J. Carroll is a medical anthropologist who researches drug use behaviors and the implementation of addiction treatment in Ukraine. More broadly, her work focuses on current global health paradigms and critically engaged public health policy. She is currently earning a Ph.D. in Socio-cultural Anthropology and a concurrent M.P.H. in Epidemiology at the University of Washington.