EuroMaidan is the biggest protest since the Orange Revolution. Ukrainians seem to be overcoming the 2004 syndrome – disillusion and apathy
In November 2004, the Orange Maidan began with a semicircle of tiny tents, located around the Stele of Liberty. Tens of thousands of people only appeared on the following day. In November 2013, the people appeared first. Around 100,000 people gathered in downtown Kyiv to protest the decision of the Ukrainian government to refuse to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. The scale of the action came as a complete surprise to both the organisers and the participants, not to mention the government. Everyone thought that after the Orange fiasco, Kyivans would never create another Maidan.
The chaos in the actions of politicians can be explained by their unpreparedness for the scale of the rally on November 24. As popular blogger, Roman Shraik, said, hot on the trail of events: “The worst expectations of the opposition came to pass: 100,000 people came out”. The tents were put up by the stage in front of the Ukrainian House only next night, with hand-written posters saying The people’s deputy’s reception office hastily attached to them. In 2004, such a sign was a formal ban for the police or utility company workers to take them down since the law allowed MPs to conduct meetings with people anywhere, other than on the territory of secret facilities.
The Law On the Status of People’s Deputies has not really changed since then. The reality has. In Viktor Yanukovych’s Ukraine, where MPs are stripped of their mandates on the order of his Chief of Staff, no-one would pay any attention to the signs on the tents.
This time, the government decided against an escalation of violence. The tent city near Ukrainian House was only attacked once by the special police on the night of November 24-25. The police pushed away the rally to make way for traffic at Yevropeyska Ploshcha (European Square). Then, clashes were reported on November 29.
There are reasons for such a peaceable disposition. On the one hand, decision-makers did not want to appear like authoritarian leaders dispersing a pro-European meeting, in the eyes of the West (with which they are still toying). On the other hand, it appears that the government counted – and still does - on organizational impotence of the protesters.
When the government first announced suspension of preparations for association with the EU on November 21 also labelled as Black Thursday, several hundred people gathered at Maidan Nezaleshnosti, the Independence Square, to start a timeless rally demanding that President Yanukovych signs the Agreement at the Vilnius Summit on November 28-29, in spite of Russia’s blackmail. And another decision was made: politicians would not be involve in EuroMaidan and no party symbols or flags would be present.
This comes as no surprise. The profound discrediting of the opposition during Yanukovych’s rule is the consequence of not just well-planned provocations on the part of the government, but the lack of orientation - or betrayal - by this very opposition.
The EuroMaidan was no exception. It is still not clear why, on the afternoon of November 24, when the amount of protesters at Yevropeyska Ploshcha reached 100,000, Oleksandr Turchynov and Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on the protesters to go to the building of the Cabinet of Ministers. At that point, it was surrounded by many units of special police and athletes hired to cause provocations and beat protesters - opposition leaders knew it. As a result, the athletes or radical protesters attacked the police and started a series of fights.
As soon as the first clash erupted, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Yuriy Lutsenko and several Svoboda MPs stood between the police and protesters, calling on the latter to remain calm. This signals that there was no “planned provocation” on the part of opposition leaders. Nor was there coordination for the huge rally.
This gave the civil Maidan every reason not to trust politicians. However, without politicians, the speeches of civil activists were doomed to fail and disdain from those in power. On Tuesday, the political and civil Maidans announced that they pursued a common goal. The same thing happened in Lviv, the second largest rally after Kyiv, where already on Sunday, students and activists did not allow politicians to speak at a crowded rally with up to 30,000 people according to various estimates.
Today, all EuroMaidans face a question: what is their further strategy? The opposition submitted a draft law to dissolve the Cabinet of Ministers, as promised, but it will never be passed – and everyone knows this. The dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada and the impeachment of the president, which opposition leaders called for at Yevropeyska Ploshcha on November 24, is even more unlikely. Despite this, politicians are once more calling on people to gather by the Verkhovna Rada on December 5, when MPs will (or maybe not) possibly decide on a motion of no confidence to Azatov’s Cabinet of Ministers.
The participants of the EuroMaidan that set the goal of forcing Yanukovych to sign the Agreement seem to be even more disoriented. They don’t know what to do after the predictable failure of their mission. Most of these people are journalists, experts and public activists, in other words, those who understand the hopelessness of the opposition’s “plans” and at the same time, do not accept the vision of radicals.
The latter, on the other hand, are in their element. After Yanukovych officially failed to sign the Association Agreement, everyone on EuroMaidans – and beyond - will have to decide for themselves how they will act under these circumstances.
EuroMaidan is the biggest protest since the Orange Revolution. Ukrainians seem to be overcoming the 2004 syndrome – disillusion and apathy. The EuroMaidan could be the start of a serious confrontation between the government and the pro-European majority