Part of the ad-hoc assembly “Civil resistance: cohesion, growth, representation”. Author: Olga Zelinska
In the winter of 2013/2014, Ukraine got into the headlines of international news. (Euro)Maidan was the second, after the 2004 ‘Orange Revolution’, all-national contention in the country’s short history. In both cases people were driven to the streets by the sense of growing injustice (disrespect of the authorities, ignorance to people’s needs and flourishing corruption), accompanied by a deepened socio-economic crisis.
Before the actual events, sociologists revealed high and stable levels of dissatisfaction and readiness to protest. These were ignored by Yanukovych. Earlier attempts of protests (against taxes, language policy, police cover-ups and judicial corruption) had no chances of expanding under his repressive regime. In the spring of 2013, the opposition failed in getting sufficient support for the ‘Raise Ukraine’ campaign. So, when people actually took to the streets of Kyiv, it came as a surprise to the government, the opposition, and the analysts.
The postponement of a EU-Ukraine deal was the trigger for the first ‘civic’ Maidan on the Independence Square, which brought together civic activists, students, and ordinary Kyivites. The reaction of the opposition was quick – it could not ignore such a promising element of a pre-electoral PR. Few days later, a ‘political’ Maidan emerged just 300 meters down the street, on European Square. For a week, the leaders of both Maidans discussed plans for joining the efforts. In the end, it was the brutal beating of the students which brought them together, as well as thousands of others, arriving from numerous protesting cities of both the East and the West.
As the regime hardened its grip with police attacks and legal repressions, protesters persistently arrived to Kyiv, took shifts, build barricades and learned self-defence. Surveys show that 70% of Kyiv Maidan participants came there on their own, 12% through NGOs, and only 12 to 13% (in different periods) through a political party. They were, thus, not inclined to obey any institution and, at the same time, bore the responsibility for own actions.
The opposition had to ask Maidan for a ‘mandate’ to negotiate with the authorities. This was no easy job. 83% of the protesters were determined to stay on Maidan until all the demands were met. The claims were quite extensive, especially after the police opened fire on the demonstrators, and included the resignation of the President, the Parliament, the Government and a major ‘power reload’ through snap elections. Considering the authorities were ready for minor concessions only, the negotiators faced a ‘mission impossible’. So it happened.
After the opposition-presented ‘round table’ results were booed by the crowd, the leader of one of the Maidan units got on stage and announced an ultimatum to the President – ‘resign by tomorrow, 10 a.m’. Yanukovych did not need to be asked twice – he fled the country the same night.
It was no ‘happy end’, however. The Maidan is over, but the Revolution of Dignity goes on. The country went through presidential and parliamentary elections, and there have been struggles with the Crimea annexation and a sore conflict with Russia in the East. Reforms are going slowly, expectations border disillusionment. If the underlying reasons of protest keep being ignored, Maidan-3, the experts say, is possible.