Maidan, Ukraine … Tahrir, Egypt … the square symbolises failure, not hope

o13-iconSimon Jenkins writes: The experience was eerie. I was watching a documentary, The Square, on Netflix about the 2011 Tahrir Square occupation when the lead character, Ahmed, let out a cry of delight, “The revolution has been won.” At that very moment my radio blurted out a voice live from a different square, Kiev’s Maidan. “The revolution has been won,” it repeated.

Squares are famously potent political theatres. This year is a second showing for Ukraine’s revolution, and a third for Egypt’s. Western TV viewers have cheered them all on. We thrill to see young people hurling rocks at power. Fire, smoke, bloodstained flags, broken heads, water, gas and sinister paramilitaries are Les Misérables for slow learners. We can sit with a front seat in the auditorium of history. It beats polling booths any day.

Tahrir and Maidan squares thus join Istanbul’s Taksim, Tehran’s Azadi, Beijing’s Tiananmen, Prague’s Wenceslaus, Athens’s Syntagma, London’s Trafalgar and a dozen other urban spaces the world over as icons of modern revolutionary politics. Their furniture is the barricade, their tipple the Molotov cocktail, their tonic the tear gas canister. They gather people in their thousands to sacred forums and invite the world to witness the latest trial of strength with a supposedly oppressive regime. Sometimes they even win.

If I were a dictator I would build shopping malls over these places right away, as Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan tried to do last year in Taksim’s Gezi Park. At the very least, I would learn the message of Tiananmen: that a crowd once formed in a square is fiendishly hard to remove, and creates worse publicity worldwide than a dozen provincial massacres.

Vladimir Putin reportedly damned Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych for failing immediately to remove crowds from Maidan, at whatever cost in brutality. It is hard to imagine Putin allowing an occupation of Red Square. [Continue reading…]

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