University students rally on Nov. 27 on Independence Square.
© Christopher J. Miller
Ukraine is having a second revolution in less than a decade. But despite the obvious similarity of having thousands of people in the streets, their social fiber is quite different. The Orange Revolution was extremely political: organized by politicians, it had purely political demands and politicians as leaders.
EuroMaidan, many believe, might reflect a more profound social shift in Ukraine. It's a grassroots movement where politicians are having to play on equal footing with civil society and even students, whose organization is just as strong as older peers or even stronger. And it hopes to bring about new rules for the game that younger Ukrainians stand for – if it succeeds.
Some academics say that they are seeing a new citizen emerging. They are often in their 20s, highly educated, harbor middle-class values, and have more in common with their counterparts in Paris than with the older generation at home.
If the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004 was about one person – Viktor Yushchenko who initially lost a rigged presidential election to Viktor Yanukovych before winning a repeat vote – and the hope that he would change the nation’s corrupt system, this year’s protests are about values, said Balazs Jarabik, project director of PACT, a civil society development project.
“A new citizen now is demanding that responsibilities come with having certain rights in society,” said Jarabik at a Dec. 3 conference organized by the Kyiv Post, referring to protesters who are calling on officials to resign and be held accountable for their actions.
Unlike the 2004 mass rallies that were driven by mostly middle-aged people, university students are the key force this time around, observed Iryna Bekeshkina, director of Democratic Initiatives, a policy research center.
What brought them first to the streets was the dashed expectation of Ukraine signing a landmark political and free trade agreement with the European Union.
They came with slogans and shouts that didn’t personify anyone in particular, and with flags not of political parties, but with national and EU colors.
“At first the student’s demands were somewhat vague and very broad, ‘like give us a chance to live in Europe,” said Bogodar Kovaliv, a student leader and Kyiv Mohyla Academy alumnus.
Then early morning on Nov. 30 police violently and brutally cleared their relatively small numbers from Independence Square. It was the catalyst for their numbers to swell on Dec. 1 and come out en masse that triggered their radicalization overnight.
“No doubt we became radicalized…the whole radicalism is about the government trying to impose its own rules, but the students rejected them,” continued Kovaliv. “When students want to live in Europe, they go peacefully into the streets to demonstrate to prove that actually they are a big, organized force.”
They say they will remain on the streets until President Viktor Yanukovych and the Cabinet of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resign. Now a million-person march is scheduled for Dec. 8.
Kovaliv added that the students “aren’t foolish” and don’t want to simply replace those in government, but a “reformatting of the government”
Thus, a new movement was heralded.
Along with it, the nation’s “generation gap” has been brought to the forefront, according to historian Yaroslav Hrytsak.
“They are a new generation with quite a different set of values …This explains a large extent what is happening in the country,” said Hrytsak, adding they have more in common with their peers in Rome or in Warsaw than with their older compatriots. “They are trying to articulate their values and raise their voice.”
The Lviv-based historian observed that although they behave like the middle-class and have the same values, they are not “because their career opportunities are handicapped, arrested, or curtailed.”
He labels them instead as the “intellectual proletariat.”
The reason is that society is set up in such a way that “only a certain amount of people, only a certain strata society lives rather well,” said Kovaliv.
So the movement is less about identity along linguistic or religious lines, according to Hrytsak, and more about “politically modernizing the country.”
Yanukovych is seen as preventing that step forward, and to a certain degree the political opposition.
“It is clear to us that our president is part of the past,” said Oleh Rybachuk, one of the pro-European rally leaders within the civil society group. “For him value slogans are economic and financial terms, for him family values are taken literally, but his actions, his way of management actually help us identify ourselves as a European nation which defends our right to vote, one which demands their choice and the constitution must be respected.”
Hrytsak concluded: “I’m afraid our opposition thinks in identities (but) the people at protests think about values…it’s a developmental shift..a shift from identity to values, and that shift is changing the rules of the game.”
Kyiv Post editor Mark Rachkevych can be reached at email@example.com.