The hysteria around the final rally of the Rise Ukraine! campaign in Kyiv (which later turned out to be interim and not final) began early last week. The Party of Regions announced an “anti-fascist march” on the same day and at the same place as the opposition’s rally and the day was packed with other rallies as well — a gay parade, a rally to legalize soft drugs, and a generous helping of entertainment for Europe days on Khreshchatyk, and more. Overall, over 100,000 people were supposed to take to the streets according to the Kyiv City State Administration. Headlines buzzed of “upcoming bloodshed”, “massive clashes” and Kyiv “plunging into an ordeal”. In fact, the opposition’s rally turned out to be hardly worth the noise.
Opposition activists lined the stretch of Khreshchatyk from Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) to Yevropeiska Ploshcha (European Square) half an hour before the rally kicked off. There seemed to be few paid protesters – most said they came for ideological reasons. Despite efforts by the police and other authorities to keep people from other parts of the country from visiting Kyiv, many protesters made it to the capital and the march stretched from Sofiyska Ploshcha (St. Sophia Square) to the Maidan. Before the rally, an armoured personnel carrier with provocateurs drove through Maidan. Orchestrated by the little-known TV hosts Liosha Durnev and Vova Petrov, both working for the Presidential Administration, they stole the spotlight that day.
The organization of the rally was far from perfect. Athletic opposition activists walked in front of the opposition leaders pushing back anyone around. This almost led to a clash near the main stage at St. Sophia Square as the security team refused to allow reporters to get closer to it, brusquely pushing them away and almost breaking a camera. “How will you organize a revolution when you can’t even arrange for the press,” someone shouted.
After all, there was no answer about how the revolution would be organized. The protesters heard yet another series of slogans about “overthrowing the regime” and about the inevitable “victory of democracy”. “Did we come here all the way for this?” some wondered.
Things went the same as always. The showcase revolutionary Oleksandr Turchynov alternated with the melancholic Vitaliy Klitschko who speaks in short, curt sentences, the calm Arseniy Yatseniuk whose revolutionary rhetoric is worse than Turchynov’s, the decisive Oleh Tyahnybok and others.
As a result, those present did not get answers to their key questions: who will be the single opposition candidate in the presidential election and in the mayoral election in Kyiv that will probably take place this summer; and what agenda is the opposition offering to overthrow the current regime.
According to The Ukrainian Week’s sources, opposition leaders asked Yulia Tymoshenko to record a video address to protesters before the rally, and she refused. Apparently, she has realized that her allies mostly pretend to struggle for her release while actually fearing this scenario. Still, sources claim that the united opposition will nominate Tymoshenko as candidate in the presidential election – they are aware that she has currently no chance of being elected.
The nomination of a single candidate in the mayoral election is more challenging. According to several inside sources at the united opposition, Mykola Tomenko is currently the main candidate in the running to be nominated by Batkivshchyna’s Kyiv city branch. Meanwhile, a large share of the faction supports the nomination of Petro Poroshenko. The Ukrainian Week found that this confrontation stems from a conflict between Batkivshchyna’s old guard and newcomers from Arseniy Yatseniuk’s Front Zmin (Front of Change). The former refer to Tomenko’s extensive experience in the opposition while the latter praise Poroshenko’s financial resources.
The net outcome of the rally was a pledge to support whoever ends up running against Yanukovych in the second round of the presidential election as its single candidate, or to nominate a single candidate if the Constitution is changed and the election has just one round.
If they do stick to this pledge, the President will not even have to arrange the national referendum to amend the Constitution. Sunken in internal confrontation before the first round, the opposition will hardly manage to come up with a single agenda ensuring victory of its candidate in the second round, let alone communicate it to voters effectively.
The provocation involving the APC on the street parallel to St. Sophia Square added some spice to the protest. Svoboda activists stopped the APC and tried to get the provocateurs out of the vehicle. Shortly thereafter, several dozen athletic “anti-fascists” from the Party of Regions’ rally came to the scene. The sides clashed, both throwing bottles of water and pepper spray back and forth. The police just watched, even when the anti-fascists began beating Channel 5 and Kommersant reporters.
Meanwhile, an ex-girls band vocalist turned pop-rock diva shouted “No war is all that matters!” from the Party of Regions’ stage at a nearly-empty rally on European Square.