The first anniversary of Euromaidan in Ukraine

Fri, 21.11.2014 14:54

KYIV/Ukraine in Arabic/ Protesters who went out to Kiev’s Maidan Square exactly a year ago have their goal – a deal with the EU – achieved. However, they hardly expected the protest would also trigger a bloody civil war which has already claimed 4,000 lives.

The focal point for the protests that started on November 21, 2013 in the Ukrainian capital was Independence Square, or Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Ukrainian, which gave the revolt its name.

Initially, there were so few protesters that politicians and experts were unanimous that, unlike the previous Maidan of 2004 that became known as the Orange Revolution, this one would not last long. One could hardly imagine that several hundred people – 2,000 at the most – could spark a protest that would topple the government just months later.

By November 24, some sources estimated that as many as 100,000 people had taken to Kiev's streets and squares. On the night of November 30, a Berkut (Ukrainian special police) task force cracked down on a pro-EU rally prompting outrage that ensured that people would not leave the Euromaidan easily. As a result of a coup on February 22, President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from office.

Looking back at the events of the outgoing year, there is a new leader in Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, who has declared November 21 the Day of Dignity and Freedom; there is a new parliament, which is about to form a ruling coalition; the ill-fated association agreement with the EU has been signed putting the country on track toward EU integration. However, Crimea has been lost, a de-facto civil war has been raging in the southeast of the country since April, while the Kiev-controlled territory is experiencing serious economic problems.

This dubious "balance" leaves the question: has the Euromaidan achieved its goals? Is it over yet? And of course who stood to gain from it?

Experts analyzing the events of a year ago tend to agree that government corruption was the main cause that prompted Ukrainians to take to the street.

"The Maidan was triggered primarily by internal causes, internal stagnation, corruption, and the transformation of the political system into a system [run] by the family of President Viktor Yanukovycn and his elder son. Everyone was unhappy about that: the impoverished population, the middle class, and the oligarchs, whose assets were effectively seized by the 'family,'" Vadim Karasyov, director of the Ukrainian Institute of Global Strategies, said.

"So the coalition of elites disintegrated in favor of an informal coalition made up of the elite, oligarchs, the urban middle class, and the low-income strata, above all mostly from western-central, and western Ukraine," he told.

The external factor, which cannot be overlooked, came into play later. "Of course, no country lives in a vacuum, and there is external influence, external impact. However, it should not be exaggerated," he stressed.

His view is shared by Rostislav Ishchenko, president of the Center for Systemic Analysis and Forecasting, who is confident that the situation could not have been provoked entirely from the outside.

"Naturally, there was internal discontent. On the one hand, a significant part of society was unhappy with Yanukovych, because in the last two of years of his presidency he indulged in outright robbery," the expert said.

"On the other hand, his electorate, who in theory could have forgiven him his so-called economic policy in exchange for delivery on his political pledges, never saw that happen: Yanukovych did not join the Customs Union, he did not make Russian a second official state language, and far from suppressing the nationalists, he played up to them. So he simply lost public support," Ishchenko says.

The expert believes that Ukrainian oligarchs also played a significant role in last year's events, some of whom had reoriented themselves toward cooperation with the EU, and did not want to lose out on the potential benefits of such a move.

"The second reason, in my opinion, was the fact that a number of oligarchs had put their political and economic fate on the line over the EU association agreement. Therefore, when Yanukovych refused to sign it, he dealt a crippling blow to this group's positions. He effectively wiped out their political and economic future, and so they bet on a change of government," Ishchenko said.

"Nevertheless, the key role was played by Yanukovych's ineptitude, his inability to rise to the situation," he concluded.

The Euromaidan protest had a large number of goals, in fact too many to achieve, although change had already happened, the commentators admitted.

"The Maidan wanted to topple Yanukovych, and it wanted change. It has achieved these goals. As for the vector and pace of change and its impact – positive or negative – the jury is still out on that, but then the Maidan did not bring up such questions," Karasyov says.

"It [Maidan] wanted not so much an effect as a show of change. And it has achieved this. Now everything will depend on how the post-Maidan political system will be able to flesh out all these changes. But this question is not for the Maidan. It is a question to the new parliament," he said.

For his part, Ishchenko recalled that the Maidan protesters were an extremely diverse group and so their demands were different.

"Some demanded social justice, others demanded Ukraine for Ukrainians, still others demanded a nationalist dictatorship, some wanted Yanukovych to go, and so on," he said.

On the whole, the demonstrators simply wanted to state their dissatisfaction with the authorities, while initially no clear-cut proposals were formulated, not even when Yanukovych was ousted. "When you make unspecific demands, you cannot achieve a specific result," Ishchenko pointed out.

The Maidan is not over until all of its goals are achieved. It seems that this mood is shared by some, primarily far-right political movements in Ukraine. They have already vowed to stage protests on the anniversary of the Euromaidan with demands to establish a true democratic rule.

"We will act in line with the situation. So far there is no goal of seizing buildings, and we will use a large number of people to adopt a new declaration," Andryi Khom, a representative of the Maidan Coordination Council, is quoted by Vesti.ua as saying. His associates expect about 100,000 people to turn up at the square, while activists are willing to stay there for a long time and are already preparing tents and other equipment that was used last year.

The event's organizers want to adopt a declaration proclaiming the Maidan as the supreme authority, declare a two-year transition period, and form a national salvation government one of whose branches is represented by Maidan activists and the other by politicians and officials: the president, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet of Ministers and the Rada parliament.

"If the declaration is not adopted, we will defend ourselves by all available means," activist Vasyl Lubarets said.

Even though the present authorities will not adopt this document, another revolution on November 21 is unlikely. People today are not prepared to repeat last year's events. However it seems premature to say that the Maidan "season" in Ukraine is over.

"To be sure, there is not only a danger, but an inevitability of further exacerbation, of another coup," Ishchenko believes.

To avert such a scenario, the Ukrainian authorities will evidently have to change something, and not only on the personnel level. The need for serious institutional and economic reform is obvious, and if the country's authorities are not prepared for them, they could follow in their predecessors' footsteps.

"Prepared or not prepared… This is a matter of survival. Even if they are not prepared, they will have to be, or they will be replaced by others. This is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of necessity," Karasyov said.


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