Is Maidan 3.0 possible, and what would it look like?
“The clock is ticking – #push the button”. Activists successfully rally for the Parliament to pass laws necessary for visa liberalization
Strange as it may seem, but on the second anniversary of the Euromaidan, people were once again speculating about the next revolution. The ghost of a third Maidan has been wandering about Ukraine and more than one analyst has judged the chances of such an outcome as high, arguing that reforms are stalled, the economy is in a constant crisis mode, prices keep rising, corruption has done anything but disappear, and the criminals of previous years remain on the loose. In fact, conditions are pretty favorable for a social explosion. Moreover, the country has tens of thousands of people with frontline experience now and the number of weapons in private hands is not being tracked in any way.
At the same time, a third Maidan, unlike the previous two, is unlikely to find broad-based support among Ukrainians. Permanent revolution is the fetish of radicals, not of ordinary folks, which is why, so far, the only people calling for upheaval are the marginal forces for whom the process is the goal, not the outcome.
The dark Maidan
In contrast to the revolutions of 2004 and 2014, any hypothetical future Maidan will threaten the very existence of the country. Whereas previous confrontations in the capital were between national democratic forces oriented towards Europe and pro-Russian oligarchic clans oriented towards Putin, this time it will be a clash between liberal democratic forces and radicals. And the decision on whose side to stand will not be so obvious for Ukrainian society as before. Against Yanukovych, nationalists, liberals, the poor, the middle class, business, and intellectuals stood as one, whereas the leaders of a possible third Maidan cannot count on this kind of consensus. Any likely insurrection against the current government will most likely end up in a confrontation among different classes and social groups, and bury Ukraine into chaos.
The clearest example of this antagonism was a recent scandal involving businessman and once-influential politician Yevhen Chervonenko. The one-time advisor of Viktor Yushchenko and member of his inner circle of “dear friends” was very critical of the way the latest anniversary of the Orange Revolution was celebrated in Kyiv. He was particularly harsh about the radical nationalists from UNSO, whose members echoed anti-semitic slogans on the Maidan. Chervonenko promised to track them down and cut out their tongues.
The campaign involving UNSO really did come across as something of a brown-shirt rally and, as usual when such an opportunity to discredit Ukraine arises, was reported in the Russian media in great detail, complete with quotes from fringe elements that were repeated with relish.
There’s no doubt that those in forces on the fringe will actively support potential mass protests against President Poroshenko and will be the vanguard in any such demonstrations. However, it’s not clear whether anyone else is prepared to lead a revolution besides them. The absence of proper leaders is the main problem with any hypothetical third Maidan. Historically, the presence of such leaders and clearly defined action plans has always distinguished revolutions from mindless and merciless uprisings. If we return again to the Maidans of 2004 and 2014, we see that there were both clearly identified and widely accepted leaders in these insurrections whom people wanted to replace Viktor Yanukovych, and clear demands on the part of those in revolt. The ill-defined nature of a possible third Maidan so far makes it impossible to answer two key questions: who will lead this revolution against Poroshenko and PM Yatseniuk, and what is their plan of action.
Those criticizing the current Administration for “betrayal” and for the unsatisfactory work of deputies and ministers are generally quite right. But they seem unable to propose anything beyond righteous anger, unfortunately, that might offer ordinary Ukrainians a real alternative. Realistically, who might replace MIA boss Arsen Avakov or Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko? What reform plans does the shadow Economy Minister have to offer? What ideas are there to overcome the economic crisis and cope with the budget deficit? So far, no one has provided any answers to these and other key questions. There is not even a hint of a shadow Cabinet in Ukraine today, unless we are to consider the Opposition Bloc, a force that is not worth bringing up in a dignified society. In short, there is little constructive that a new revolution would likely bring Ukraine today.
Besides such basic problems, even a successful third Maidan is unlikely to resolve the fundamental problems damaging Ukraine today but will more probably lead to the same outcome as the previous two. We cannot honestly say that the revolutions of 2004 and 2014 brought no recovery or progress to the country. But their outcomes were immeasurably less than expected. So, simply bringing down the government is not enough to improve the situation in Ukraine. The more important point is to be able to make good use of the fruits of the revolution and that’s the one thing that Ukrainians have not yet learned to do.
The Euromaidan of 2014 did not establish its new party or movement but simply took power from one group of politicians and transferred it to another. The field commanders, opinion makers and moral beacons in whom Ukrainians had placed so much hope proved unable to join forces and establish a qualitatively new political movement. All of them were absorbed into various existing oligarchic parties and blocs, and were dissolved in an ocean of populists and political prostitutes, instead of setting up a single “hammer” of activists, anti-corruption campaigners and journalists that would have been constantly aimed at the existing system. Only now has a group of deputies formed in the Verkhovna Rada who have announced their intention to combat corruption. This is the “Anti-corruption Platform” within the Petro Poroshenko Bloc. However, it’s not clear how serious the declared aims in fact are.
Separate attempts to set up new-style parties involving community activists and a new generation of politicians are taking place at the grassroots level. Here, the still-modest achievements of young parties like the Democratic Alliance and Syla Liudey (People Power) are noteworthy. Both parties distinguish themselves from older parties in that they report on their sources of financing and have worked on reaching voters without the help of television advertising, on principle. Remarkably, Syla Liudey has made headway even in large industrial cities such as Kryvyi Rih and Mariupol, where no one else would have imagined such new forces being elected. If this new generation of politicians is able to prove itself in local governments, in the future they will most likely be in a position to go for global goals and run for the top offices in Ukraine.
The 451st deputy rules
Not only can Ukrainians change their government, put pressure on it and insist on reforms—they absolutely must. And they must have a clear approach and an understanding of how to reach the goals they set for themselves. Today, a country’s citizenry has a multitude of instruments at its disposal that will help them get their demands met. The key is to make proper use of these instruments.
The Ukrainian segment of Facebook has long ago turned into the 451st deputy in the legislature. Opinion-makers with no political authority at all have been able to get certain corrupt officials dismissed and even to get important bills passed. As just one example, when members of Samopomich did not want to vote for the bill that forbade discrimination against minorities, the party found itself virtually lynched in the social networks. After a wave of outrage expressed by influential bloggers with thousands of followers, it finally helped pass this important bill. Such examples of constructive work show that even the “armchair army” can be more effective than street fighters with Molotov cocktails.
To be successful in bringing about real change in Ukraine, civil society needs to follow precisely this kind of constructive course. That means, first of all, having a serious plan for bringing the economy out of its current crisis. Secondly, it means acting in unison and, if possible, establishing a single organization. Thirdly, it means using lawful instruments that can help change the realities on the ground in Ukraine: social networks, the press, elections, and political parties.
Each of these instruments has been separately proving its effectiveness. Journalists and opinion-makers have often forced politicians to agree to compromises and fulfill the promises they made earlier. And money is no longer the factor that determines everything in elections in Ukraine. To reach a decisive victory, civil society needs to simply reach consensus and make the most effective use of existing instruments in a coordinated effort, something that has certainly worked in other countries.
Obviously, the path to progress is not a straight or simple one. Typically, it’s long and thorny, and simplistic decisions are most often proposed by populists. Ukrainians have little choice but to take this long and winding road because other roads will take them into dead ends from which they may not be able to emerge again.