Ukraine's Euromaidan: What's in a name?

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Ukrainian protesters gather to march to Independence square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. Thousands are expected to march in Kiev streets towards the Independence Square despite the fact that Kiev district administrative court has banned any rallies on Independence Square. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

MOSCOW (AP) — Soon after the current wave of protests arose in Ukraine, a new word appeared to describe them: Euromaidan. Already in wide use as a hashtag on Twitter, it's an intriguing invention — linguistically rooted in both East and West, elusive to translate and an insightful glimpse into the country's troubled politics. Who coined it isn't clear, and it's become so popular that it seems almost to have sprung from the collective unconscious.


The first part, "Euro," is clear on the surface: Europe. "Maidan" is obscure to Western ears — it's a word of Persian origin, which likely entered Ukraine via the Ottomans, meaning "square" or "open place." However, translating it as "Europesquare" would be technically accurate but emotionally impoverished because both elements mean much more.


Ukraine is part of Europe geographically, but for the demonstrators and their supporters the concept of "Europe" has the resonance of a vision, vivid and frustratingly out of reach. To them, Europe implies genuine democracy, trustworthy police and sincere respect for human rights.


In this usage, it refers to Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), the central plaza of Kiev. Reconstructed after the devastation of World War II, the approximately 8-acre square is a rare Stalin-era public space — neither bleak nor bullying, ringed by buildings tall enough to be impressive but not intimidating. The square's agreeable nature echoes in how Kievans talk of it on a sort of first-name basis: "Let's meet at Maidan."

But as with Europe, Maidan is as much an idea as a place. The square was the focal point of the Orange Revolution, the 2004 mass daily protests that forced the annulment of a fraudulent presidential election. In that role, Maidan became a two-syllable encapsulation of peaceful resistance and determined action. The symbolism is powerful enough that Ukrainian media have taken to referring to all the current demonstrations as Euromaidan, even if they take place on a "ploshcha," another word for square.


However thrilling the 2004 protests were, the hopes attending to the spirit of Maidan were largely unrealized. The leaders who came to power after the demonstrations plunged into years of bitter quarreling, so severe that the government was frequently paralyzed. In 2010, disappointed Ukrainians chose Viktor Yanukovych as their president, the very man who was the nominal winner of the annulled election in 2004. The heroine of the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, was thrown into prison after being convicted of abusing her power while prime minister. In an ironic commentary, Oleksandra Shevchenko of the topless activist group Femen produced a series of videos incorporating social commentary and breast-flashing under the rubric of PMS — Post-Maidan Syndrome.

Euromaidan's ultimate meaning is yet to be fixed — whether it will come to mean achievement or failure.