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26 December, 2019  ▪  Roman Malko

Movement to restrain

Who is behind the “No capitulation!” movement, why they are doing it, and how it could actually help Zelenskiy

It seems inevitable that the response of Ukrainians to President Zelenskiy’s “peaceful initiatives” – whose substance often can only be guessed at – would be massive rallies under the slogan “No capitulation!” that periodically took place in the capital and the regions. The earliest protests exploded almost naturally due to the initiatives of various community activists. But after the Ukrainian delegation to Minsk signed on to the Stein Maier formula, the formation of a network called the Movement to Resist Capitulation, shortened to ROK in Ukrainian, was announced. At the time, a large number of well-known Ukrainians signed up to the statement, calling on those who cared to join the movement and the Verkhovna Rada factions of Vakarchuk’s Holos, Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna and Poroshenko’s Yevropeiska Solidarnist to join forces to establish an interfaction bloc and opposition platform called No Capitulation. The very next day, ROK’s strategic council presented its “Ukrainian Doctrine for Security and Peace” as an alternative plan to resolve the conflict, which might have helped Zelenskiy figure out how to get out of the situation into which he had dragged the country.

Generally speaking, the appearance of such an initiative is no news for Ukraine’s political circles. Every time it starts look like the country is about to go up in flames, a committee is formed with the goal of countering the harmful initiatives of those in power. Of course, the chances of such a committee achieving anything are typically quite low. Still, this time things look a lot more serious because the stakes are far too high. It’s not just some political tangle that needs to be unknotted: the survival of the country is in the balance.

To coordinate actions among all those who were prepared to fight against steps by the government to capitulate, and to develop a single position on the future of Ukraine, ROK organized a National Forum of Dignity for November 15 in Kyiv. “There’s a broad-based ‘No Capitulation’ campaign underway now, involving many different groups,” says former MP Andriy Levus and one of the ROK coordinators, “such as parties including Yevropeiska Solidarnist [European Solidarity], Demokratychna Sokyra [Democratic Axe], Nationalniy Korpus [National Corps], and ROK, which is a platform that broadly encompasses the civil society sector. We’re working to ensure normal interaction between the party-based and the public protest segment. This was the purpose of the forum: to find common ground and formulate our demands, and to speak with one voice and one process.”

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Among the more than 300 participants from community activists and volunteers to veterans of the Russo-Ukrainian war, not many representatives of political parties were visible at the forum. Svoboda, National Corps, Democratic Axe and Holos were there, but European Solidarity and Batkivshchynawere not, although the organizers say they were invited, like everybody else. In the end, it was no different that all the other rallies and meetings with the strategic council. The Ukrainian Week was able to find out later, that ES and Batkivshchynadeliberately chose not to participate. Petro Poroshenko, it seems likely, was held back by lingering post-presidential syndrome, while Yulia Tymoshenko was in no hurry for a showdown with the “servants.”

Obviously, this behavior by potential allies was not seen as especially critical, say ROK activists. The activists see their platform as a state-oriented platform in which intellectuals and experts, as well as Ukrainian communities abroad, civic organizations and political parties will all find a place for themselves. ROK is, in fact, just one component of a broad-based protest movement—a moderating support system that does not claim leadership, but rather expects party leaders, especially those already in the Rada, to take a more pro-active position. Still, such a position needs to be balanced with the interests of the entire society, and not narrowly oriented on a party. The purpose of the movement is to expand the front of civic resistance to capitulatory moves by the new leadership as broadly as possible. For that reason it cannot, no matter what, become affiliated with members of any specific party, say activists. At the same time, they make no bones about the fact that they have noticed already that some political parties would like to lead the movement or to bring it under their aegis.

For instance Poroshenko is very envious of ROK’s activities and would not be against becoming its leader. Unfortunately, that is not in the interests of the movement and, ultimately, not in Poroshenko’s interests, either. If all the opposition is associated exclusively with the ex-president, Ukraine will be the loser. The same problem is brewing on the right flank. The National Corps, which boasts serious mobilization capacities, unlike most of the other parties, is also itching to be more integrated in the environment and obviously also sees itself in a leadership position. This would, of course, not only narrow the social base of the protests, but would also play into Moscow’s hands and leftist propaganda in the West. The latter is noisily claiming that the leadership of those protesting Zelenskiy’s policies is all neo-nazis and radicals of various stripes. It doesn’t help matters that relations between ES and NC are barely civil, raising temperatures that much more.

Within the movement, people reassure that all these disparities are not a problem. They say they are quite prepared to continue coordinating their efforts with all pro-Ukrainian parties, large or small, but this does not mean the movement could become someone’s private property. It’s important, they point out, to avoid egotistical attitudes and show Ukrainians that opposition to Zelenskiy is not a militant minority. 

“If we limit the role of supporters or the former president, who obviously has done much for the country, or some other party,” says Levus, “we will encapsulate and limit the protest to the level of trust in those parties. Unfortunately, those shares are not enough today to talk about protest. Meanwhile, 68% of Ukrainians, according to the Rating Group, consider Russia the enemy, want to join NATO and become members of the EU. That means that there are far more people who share our values. Rather than relying on one political party or come across as simply ‘anti-Ze,’ we don’t want to lose the opportunity to tap into this entire sector. Our objective is to win the hearts and minds of Ukrainians. For them to understand that this administration and this individual are not taking them to the EU and NATO and are not countering Russia as the aggressor.”

In the end, it will be possible to unite forces only on the basis of a positive action plan, say activists. At that point, minor issues will have to be left out. The success of the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 was based on the fact that politicians and the public found the limits of joint activities. Not everybody was happy with this: some did not like the anarchy, others thought the leadership was flabby. But a revolution needs a structure. It’s a process that needs to be organized. And we can see today what the result was. No one succeeded in rolling out an Anti-Maidan across the country in 2014: even in Odesa and Donetsk, there was a Euromaidan, as a result of the efforts of organized groups: UDAR, Batkivshchyna, Svoboda each made their contribution in different ways and places. This makes it clear that you can’t have a revolution without preparation and organization.

For now, revolution is not in the wind. The intermediate goal of the movement is to stop the turbo-speed capitulation and try to catch the president’s ear. As one member of the strategic council, Prof. Volodymyr Vasylenko, insists that ROK is not against Zelenskiy as an individual or his team. Its goal is to help the president in his dialog with Vladimir Putin and to strengthen Ukraine’s position during negotiations, regardless of the format. The proposed doctrine and other documents that the civic and expert community are working on are to provide the foundation for his arguments and to be grounded in the national interest, not repeat Putin’s whims. 

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“During negotiations,” says Vasylenko,” the president should announce: ‘I’m not a tsar and not God. My country is democratic and I have to listen to its demands. I have a parliament. I also have to listen to the opinions of the parliament. I can’t just approve of an arbitrary decision that is not based on the support of the people and the parliament.’”

ROK people say that as a responsible state-oriented force, they aren’t planning to simply call for a rebellion and anarchy, because they understand that this could lead to the collapse of the entire state. It’s far more important, they say, to form a unified front that can take over and stabilize the situation and help the country not fall apart if the president decides to walk on a leash for Russia, which wants nothing more than to see Ukraine descend into chaos. At this point, Zelenskiy has already crossed several red lines. But the main one is the sovereignty of the state and its security. If he decides to cross that line, Ukrainian society needs to be ready to give an active response.

Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj

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