Independence anniversaries are celebrated annually in many countries with much fanfare, but very often without spiritual content. This is not a criticism of these nations. Independence is routinely celebrated because people are confident about their future and nothing threatens them. Their borders are safe and although there are political opponents or even enemies, they are not threatening or dangerous – at least not for the moment. In these countries, the celebration of an independence anniversary is simply an occasion for a holiday with fireworks.
But not for Ukrainians. Ukrainians, perhaps like few others, view their independence as the basis of their nation’s existence. If there is a danger to the independent state, the question of the existence of the nation also arises. This is a very real feeling, because although the Ukrainian nation has existed for centuries, it had to persevere as a stateless entity. As such, Ukrainians value state independence differently from other nations. The 32 years celebrated this year is the longest span of our state since medieval times.
My late father, who passed away long before Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991, wrote as follows in the early 1960s:
“The idealistic pillars, deeply rooted in the spirituality of the Ukrainian people from the earliest times, became the basis of an idealistic worldview with the central focus being the concept of nation; namely, its independence and the free development of its strengths and values in a legal and political structure – known as a state. Only a state can ensure freedom and equal justice for every person within the framework of the general good of the nation, which is an essential and inviolable law of all social existence. The state represents the (essential) good of the entire nation, encompassing all its generations, living, dead and unborn, bound by a common origin, language, history, culture, territory…
“In a state of political enslavement, the prime postulate for the Ukrainian nation is the creation of an independent Ukrainian state, and the duty of every person of Ukrainian blood, regardless of whether he has a second, chosen homeland or not, is to serve the Ukrainian nation, especially when it is engrossed in a struggle for its existence and for freedom against a most heinous and barbaric enemy.”
An independent state is the culmination of the aspirations of the people. If it is both independent and democratic, the state is the best protector of the rights of its people and all residents of its territory, whether they are indigenous or not. Over time – depending on the traditions and culture of the indigenous people – all feel part of the country’s culture.
This is clearly manifested in the tradition of building a state by the Ukrainian people over the course of more than a thousand years of history; even in medieval times, when the head of the Kyivan state was not elected, but laws were implemented that ensured the rights of the population (Ruska Pravda). In the Cossack era of free people the leaders were elected. This tradition was halted by the culturally authoritarian Moscow horde after the Treaty of Pereyaslav, but the basic principle and desire for choice and rights of the people remained. Ukrainian culture and traditions allow for the fact that the best president of Ukraine so far is a Russian-speaker of Jewish origin. And there is no better Ukrainian in the world than today’s president of Ukraine.
Here is the true understanding of our state independence leading into its 33rd year amid the struggle for our existence in the second year of a very difficult war. The enemy challenged us. We accepted this challenge and managed to overcome it. But it remains for us to prevail ultimately, not just for the sake of victory but for our own existence. The whole world is assisting us, but only in a moderate and relative manner. The decision at the Vilnius NATO summit gave us a clear answer: Only we are responsible for our future.
And that’s probably how it should be. This is yet another lesson for us. We have had allies in our history who betrayed us, as well as our own traitors. We have learned that friends will come to help but not shed their own blood. Only our and enemy blood will be spilled on our lands.
In this 33rd year of independence, I have more faith in the spirit of my people than at any time in the past. The concept of “Little Russians” has been abandoned entirely, the Ukrainian language, which is the heart of the nation and the state, now resounds from the Carpathians all the way to the Donbas. Ukraine is becoming stronger every day, even with bloodshed and physical destruction.
Transcarpathian poet Ivan Irlyavskyi wrote that often life – which is born in the fire of an existential struggle – blooms on top of the dead. And so it is! Our nation and our state are built on the heroism of our people. All the more so today when this nation and state is the recognized champion and defender of its destiny and of Europe’s future, if not the world’s. A champion and defender of good over evil.
On this anniversary of our independence, each of us should remember today’s heroes, who gave their lives for all of us, and resolve to do everything within our abilities and circumstances so that the Ukrainian people and their state persevere. Everyone should bear in mind that the fortune of millions rests upon each one of us and we must answer for the fate of millions. So wrote our great poet Ivan Franko, and this is how we should approach the anniversary of our national independence, with love and selfless dedication to a greater good.
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