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WhatsApp in the Ukraine–When Masculine Paradigms Collide

What will you stand up for, what are you willing to die for? How is this question being played out around the globe.

Like many in Europe, I am cheering on the people who are changing the face of their country through their own personal power. I am cheering for the individual who has made an enormous fortune through the success of his entrepreneurship. Finally I am cheering on the end of the old guard who thought that, today, they could still rule by force and domination.

First, I honour the achievement of Jan Koum, the CEO and joint owner of WhatsApp, who has sold his business to Facebook for an enormous sum of money while retaining control. This is no mean achievement. What makes this success of his more interesting is his background in the context of what is happening right now.

Jan was born an only child in the Ukraine, in a rough, rural village outside of Kiev. “Society was extremely closed off,” he recently told Wired. “You can read 1984, but living there was experiencing it.” When he was 16, he emigrated to California with his mother.
In doing this he fought back against the oppression of the Russian Empire (Soviet Union) by getting out and showing that in America you can make it no matter what your background is.

For those he left behind there was a long struggle to right the wrongs created by Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference in 1945. (Interestingly, Yalta is in the Ukraine.) The post-war settlement allowed the Russian Empire to dominate half of Europe. Some of the people put under Russian dominance are still fighting to free themselves.


Recently President Yanukovich of the Ukraine refused to sign a deal with the European Union, against the wishes of most of the people of the country. He thought he could continue to run the country by diktat, dominance and force. The people stood up and said no.

The conflict that ensued came to a head last Thursday, February 20th, when government forces started shooting the protesters with sniper fire. 76 people were killed while the world watched with horror. The world stood up and said no.

Today, Saturday, the President has gone, the police are supporting the protesters and even Russia seems to have forsaken the country’s leadership. the President slipped out of Kiev, the capital, under cover of darkness, showing the lack of courage and responsibility that sits behind dictatorship and domination.

What’s most interesting is that the protesters have taken control of the, now empty, Presidential Palace, protecting it from looters and from destruction. They are holding it safe for the next President to occupy. They are taking responsibility for their actions and ensuring sanity will take over again in this country that came so close to civil war and destruction.


In the work I do, coaching men, one of the questions I ask is “What will you stand up for, what are you willing to die for?” In the safety of the western democracies most of the men live in, including me, this seems a moot question. But here on the edge of Europe the question is very much alive.
Ordinary men and women gathered in the Maidan, Independence Square in Kiev, and stood up for their freedom, many of them died for that freedom. They died for the right to be heard, for the right to be listened to. They died because they were not willing to be stamped on any more.

What I applaud is the way they did this with dignity and responsibility. Yes, there was violence and a great deal of bloodshed, but they fought hard to stop it spiralling out of control. When it was at its worse, police from outside the city came in to support the protesters. By today, Saturday, the forces of the government have disappeared, unable to resist the power of reason and responsibility.

Where are the lessons for men here, how do the events over the last week demonstrate the enormous shifts, today, in masculine paradigms?
Firstly, the old masculine paradigm is dead. Force and domination no longer work and are no longer accepted. It is slipping away under cover of darkness showing its hollowness and lack of courage. Men can no longer dictate to people what will happen and how the world will work. The world is looking on and standing up, saying no.

The new masculine paradigm of strength with responsibility is alive and growing. Men are growing in their power, not against others, not against women, not against the weak but against the old masculine paradigm of domination. Men are fighting to rid the world of the masculinity that no longer serves, that destroys.

Behind it all is the sense of freedom that comes from men dedicating themselves to better themselves and the world at large. The inspiration that comes from the success of men like Jan Koum.

To paraphrase what they used say on the death of a monarch, “Masculinity is dead, long live masculinity!”

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