Revolutions and the Public Square

800px-Tahrir_Square_April_8_2011

Ukraine is the size of Texas, but for the last three months its burgeoning protest movement has largely crowded into the space of 10 city blocks.

The name for the movement itself, Euromaidan, is a neologism fusing the prefixeuro, a nod to the opposition’s desire to move closer to the EU and away from Russia, with the Ukrainian (and originally Persian and Arabic) word maidan, or public square. And the term is about more than situating the demonstrations in Kiev’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti). Ukraine may be located in Europe geographically, but many of the protesters also see Europe as an idea, one that “implies genuine democracy, trustworthy police and sincere respect for human rights.”

The name speaks to an increasingly universal phenomenon as well: the public square as an epicenter of democratic expression and protest, and the lack of one—or the deliberate manipulation of such a space—as a way for autocrats to squash dissent through urban design.

—Matt Ford, writing on the revolutionary dimensions of public space in a The Atlantic.  According to Ford, although the use of urban design for political purposes dates back to early 19th century Paris, the symbolism of the public square gained new potency during the Arab Spring. His piece also explores how public space influenced events in Tahrir Square and Tripoli. Read more from The Atlantic in the Longreads archive. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

***

We need your help to get to 5,000 Longreads Members.

Join Longreads now and help us keep going.

Julia Wick is a contributing editor for Longreads.
Get the Longreads Weekly Email

Sign up to receive the Top 5 Longreads of the week, delivered every Friday.