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17 December, 2013  ▪  Oleksandr Mykhelson

A Revolution of Experienced Youth

Does the EuroMaidan still exemplify the axiom that ‘revolutions are made by the youth’ now that it has become a movement against Yanukovych?

The answer is both yes and no. The Ukrainian Week looks at the generation of youth born and raised after Ukraine gained independence. We compare today’s youth with the generation that launched the history of independent Ukraine, a generation that had a chance to change Ukraine’s path but failed for various reasons. They were young members of Narodniy Rukh – the People’s Movement – a group that itself was young in the 1990s but was run by older people who had been freed from political imprisonment. This generation of youth staged the “Revolution on Granite” begun by Kyiv university students in 1990 that formed a crucial ingredient in the USSR’s collapse. They are MPs in their early 30s who arrived with the previous parliamentary convention and could hardly fulfil themselves anywhere but in politics. And they are the so-called “blogger generation” who didn’t trouble politics until politics troubled them.

A “political generation” is not necessarily about age; it is about one’s mindset and practices. The Ukrainian Week’s reporters were surprised to find that the average age of EuroMaidan protesters is well over 30. And it’s not simply ‘peasants’ from Western Ukraine, as pro-government propaganda claims. A joint survey by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation and Kyiv International Institute of Sociology has found that over 2/3 of EuroMaidan participants have university diplomas. Over 50% are Kyivites. Over 1/3 speak Russian in everyday life.

This leads to several conclusions. First, those who have taken to the streets are not the “extremists” that the Yanukovych administration claims them to be. They are people who have succeeded in life to a greater or lesser extent and have something to lose. Still, they stand in protest. One possible explanation is that they are yesterday’s students who participated in the Orange Revolution nine years ago. The sociological survey did not include such data, but some aspects suggest that the 2013 Maidan is partly a product of those who had been here in 2004. Back then, they were the crowd. Now, they are the organizers, instigators, managers and sponsors. Will they pass the test? Time will tell.

READ ALSO: After the EudoMaidans

What time has shown already is that the Maidan has changed. In 2004, Facebook was unknown to Ukrainians. Today, EuroMaidan is often called a “revolution of social media”. The exchange of information has become much faster, but so has the exchange of disinformation. Ukrainians hear each other better, but that does not mean that they understand each other better. The only undeniable fact is that the government has lost its monopoly on information and this is irreversible, whether those in power realize it or not.

Today’s Maidan is different from the Orange Revolution in many other ways. As this article went to press, the author watched protesters reinforce barricades on the Maidan following a failed attempt by the Berkut special police to dismantle them on the night of December 10-11. Some were welding metal bars into fences, others were piling sacks with ice and snow into barricades. The teams of volunteers mocked each other, each saying that the other was doing the wrong thing. Then they got together, gave it all a little thought and joined efforts. As a result, a huge barricade emerged on the road to the European Square, and another one on the road to the Maidan from the Presidential Administration. It doesn’t matter how long these barricades will remain on the Maidan. What matters is that the protesters acted independently but joined forces when necessary. This is something they may have borrowed from social media.

The world is changing, growing tighter and more interconnected. The international press hardly noticed the Revolution on Granite in the 1990s. The Orange Revolution brought Ukraine to its legitimate place in European geopolitics. Today’s EuroMaidan is a true test of European solidarity—a solidarity that has shown itself in horizontal social ties, but has not yet appeared in the world of top politics.

Top European politicians supported Yanukovych in 2010 and are now doing their best to keep from irritating Russia. For some of them, Ukraine is simply a bargaining chip. But things are more complicated than that. The blogger generation has a global, not just Ukrainian dimension. Western politicians today depend much more on public opinion at home where they have to struggle to maintain a positive image. We see Ukraine becoming a means of placing pressure on Western political elites by rival experts and politicians. A new solidarity is being born in the information era, and it has not yet uttered its final word.

READ ALSO: The Birth of the Nation

Why did Ukraine fail to become a more aware Eastern European state back in the early 1990s when Poland did? Will the current generation succeed where previous ones failed? Below is the debate amongst representatives of different “political generations” and a sociological analysis of this issue. This may help you find an answer of your own.

“Political generations”. Opinions

    Taras Stetskiv, 49

A leader of the Tovarystvo Leva (Lion’s Society) active in 1987-1988; a leader of the People’s Movement; Member of Parliament in several consecutive convocations; a field commander of the 2004 Orange Revolution

I came into politics just like many of my peers did: we were suddenly allowed to do politics beyond the Communist Party and the Lion’s Society emerged as a result. There were other organizations, too. We all stormed into politics and didn’t look back. Initially, it was only about culture. Then, we realized political independence was possible, too.

It was when Mykhailo Horyn, Viacheslav Chornovil (leaders of the People’s Movement) and Ihor Kalynets (a dissident poet) returned from prisons and exile. They were the Sixtiers; they actually served prison terms for Ukraine. They were absolute role models for us; moral role models. We had great respect for them, but were not in a “commander-subject” hierarchy. We even answered back sometimes. They still acknowledged us. When the People’s Movement emerged, they ended up on top but we young people got in as well.

Everything began to change once the People’s Movement turned into a political party. It’s natural. Its purpose as a civic entity was to a) gain independence for Ukraine and b) ban the Communist Party. Once these goals were accomplished, the need for the people’s movement vanished. Naturally, it began to transform into a party. It got almost 10% of the vote in the 1998 election. But in 1992, when Viacheslav Chornovil launched that transformation, some thought that we should follow the path of the Baltic States which dissolved their people’s movements and created several parties on their basis.

We didn’t, and we had objective reasons for that. Independence was a super-goal in the post-Socialist East European and Baltic States. It wasn’t in Ukraine. We have to admit one thing: the People’s Movement was fundamentally popular in Western Ukraine, Kyiv and some parts of Central Ukraine. That’s all. So, when we struggled for independence, it came to a compromise. The Communists publicly supported independence in exchange for a silent consent of National Democrats that the Communists would remain in power. As a result, we now have one Maidan after another.

Still, I absolutely believe that the current generation will complete this cause. They are somewhat like us, but they are different, too. They have much stronger principles because they know what they want. They are immersed in the European world and realize what Europe is. I believe it is people like them that our generation lacked.

    Oles Doniy, 44

A leader of the “Revolution on Granite” in 1990 that contributed to Ukraine’s independence. He is currently a non-aligned Member of Parliament

I felt that I was a Ukrainian back in middle school, and by high school I had decided that the purpose of my life would be to struggle for an independent Ukraine. I entered Shevchenko State University hoping to learn the Ukrainian language there and find the remaining fragments of the underground student movement. My first year at university showed me that there was no underground movement, nor education in Ukrainian.

It took me several years to find like-minded people. The first organizations emerged in 1988. Luckily, someone reported me to the police. This someone was Dmytro Vedeneyev, currently a well-known historian, SBU (Special Service of Ukraine – Ed.) Colonel, and Deputy Director of the National Memory Institute. He reported how I was undermining the USSR and described me as a Ukrainian bourgeoisie nationalist. This had an unexpected effect. After three years of searching for them, like-minded people from different departments suddenly began to seek me on their own … Then we began to organize rallies, including the student-led Revolution on Granite.

Our generation found itself involved in the struggle for independence. Another thing was that we established the successful youth rally as a trend for young people to follow. Today’s protesters have borrowed an external element of our rallies – the tent cities. But the psychological aspects, such as the ability to coordinate efforts, to sacrifice and volunteer, and readiness for a struggle, are much deeper and matter much more than tents.

When I look at rallies today, including EuroMaidan, I am sometimes surprised. It is called
a “student Maidan”, yet there is not a single student among its leaders. All the leaders are between 30 and 40. When we were 19-20, we thought and did everything on our own. This is the difference between our generations.

Nobody could supervise us. We didn’t ask anyone like people do today. They say there’s no leader. We didn’t have that problem. When we started our struggle, we couldn’t name a single political prisoner. None of us know who Viacheslav Chornovil was. My impression is that the youth matured a little faster at my time.

  Lesia Orobets, 31

Member of Parliament from the Batkivshchyna party. Daughter of MP Yuriy Orobets, who was killed in a car accident in 2006.

People bring their kids to EuroMaidan today just like my father brought me to rallies when I was seven. That was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Politics has mattered to me ever since. I began to look closer at what was happening on TV, trying to understand what was happening and why. That’s how politics entered my life.

I was twelve when my father was elected to parliament. Before that, he had gone through at least three rounds and each was declared invalid… So, I was very young when politics came into my life.

My belief is that our generation managed to do the most important thing: we persuaded everyone that we are not the “inert generation” in contrast to the wide-spread concept that has been around for the past 23 years. I hope there will be no party in the future that will ignore the young and their problems. Before EuroMaidan, the generally-accepted voter target group that politicians paid the most attention to were pensioners because they are the most proactive voters. But this revolution was made by the young – my generation and even younger ones.

It used to be an insult to be called “the Facebook generation”. Now, there is not a single faction meeting where Facebook is mentioned less than three to five times. People discuss what has been posted on it and why. In fact, there is not a single decent MP at the Rada who does not use social media.

The Facebook generation is a proactive generation. The first Maidan on November 21 was organized through Facebook. I really hope they succeed; we have no other options.

   Roman Shreik, 39

Founder of Durdom (Madhouse) website, non-partisan blogger, one of the ideologues behind EuroMaidan

Before 2004, my interest in politics was confined to reading news. The Orange Revolution not only brought me to Maidan but to the Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth) online publication as well. It was there that I got my idea to develop Durdom where I would collect all the funny things people write and draw about politics.

The new generation is a web generation, it does not recognize the “I’m the boss, so you’re nobody” hierarchy common here. It prefers cooperation, is ready to support ideas rather than lousy cronies, and believes that problems can be solved by joining forces rather than waiting for orders from above.

Clearly, differences between young and old will always exist. Young people learn faster while older people use skills developed earlier. I believe this is reflected in attitudes towards independence, the orientation of integration (young people lean towards Europe), and the semi-soviet state of today’s Ukraine (young people want change here and now, older people are willing to wait patiently).

The key accomplishment of those who protested in the USSR was Ukraine’s independence. They may have only been drops that wore away the stone. That stone eventually broke apart because it was already hollow inside, but they should be seen as heroes. The new generation of politicians should work for Ukraine to win democracy; not to get it as a bonus, but win it. Then, democracy will be valued and better immunized against fools.

This new generation is making itself seen on the web. It can be scorned for some things and praised for others, but it is here and it wants to have an influence. I think the best way to do this is to participate in Kyiv elections. But that’s a goal for the future. Right now, we have to fight to ensure that there will actually be elections in our country.


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