Actors and revendications in the Ukrainian protests

24 March 2014 by Szymon Martys


CC- Protests across Ukraine

At 21 November 2013 when president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych did not sign the association agreement with the European Union in Kiev and several other cities popular protests began. They soon gained the title Euromaidan. Initially, demonstrators gathered mainly under pro-European banners but then there were also demands for various social problems affecting the citizens of Ukraine every day life like unpaid salaries, corruption and poverty. Along with the developments the attitude of demonstrators were getting more and more radical. The demands of the removal of the president and changing the general situation in the country were getting popularity. The movement from this moment could be characteristed as a revolution.

The brutal crackdown of protests in November 30, 2013 by riot police caused a wave of indignation and led to the popularization of the movement. Protests have spread across the country, and the central square of Kiev - Independence Square, transformed into a place of permanent protest rallies. The biggest protests took place on Dec. 1, 2013 , when the number of demonstators in Kiev reached to 800,000 and after that stabilized in the range of 50-200 thousand protesters during demonstrations. In the western part of the country there has been a seizure of government buildings and local government by protesters, similar attempts in the east, however, met with only limited success.

Street fight 18-20 February 2014 cost the lives and health of hundreds of people and was a turning point in the development of the situation. Viktor Yanukovych, under pressure from Western opinion, as well as a wave of indignation in the country has decided to restore the constitution of 2004, and lead to early elections. February 21 militia has been removed from the streets of Kiev, Yanukovych left the capital. February 22 parliament removed him from office.

Changes after Eurmaidan

Kyiv events were the biggest wave of demonstrations and protests in Ukraine overflowing from the time when the country’s independence in 1991. This was in essence the democratic movement, definitely placeing itself against the government of the Party of Regions, representing mainly the interests of the east Ukrainian oligarchy. Although almost from the very beginning of the demonstrations activists and leaders of the main opposition parties - the center-right Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and UDAR and the far-right Svoboda (Freedom) - participated in it they had never been recognized by the people as the leaders of the protest, even though world’s media and the American and Western European political elites portrayed them in this way. Not only that, they were repeatedly booed and their calls for avoiding radicalism in conflict with the authorities fell on deaf ears. Also the former prime minister and former leader of Batkivshchyna party Yulia Tymoshenko was not supported by the Maidan.

Self-organization on the Maidan was very strong, which is surprising given the lack of such tradition in Ukraine. Protesters organized meals, distributed clothes, you could get free medical treatment. There was a prohibition on drinking alcohol in the square, anyone who has violated this was removed from the Maidan (the prohibition was eased during the Christmas and New Year). People collected money for the maintenance of the camp, the fee for renting the stage, sound system, and even the House of Trade Unions where the protesters organized there staff. Maidan had also their own security forces called the self-defense. Although the workers and trade unionists were not the majority their participation was visible. There were for example miners, members of Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine from the Donieck Region.

The spirit of self-organization has not disappeared with the overthrow of president Viktor Yanukovych. All major politicians, now aspiring to take power, had to appear on the Maidan. In many cities, demands of the introduction of a radical version of direct democracy went even further for example the Maidan in Lviv (western Ukraine) postulated that the municipal and regional authorities must regularly report on its activities at the city square in front of the people.

Ukrainian left

Left in Ukraine was very divided about the Euromaidan. Activists of the trotskyist Left Opposition organization took part in the demonstrations appearing under the slogan “Europe without capitalism” and the flag of the EU (where the blue color was changed to red). The anarchist groups also participated in the protests. Leftists appered at the Maidan even though they were repeatedly objects of verbal and physical attacks from the extreme-right. Other groups, such as Borota`ba (Struggle), distance themselves against both - the protests on the Maidan and Yanukovych (though they later joined the pro-Russian demonstrations in the east and south of Ukraine ).

On a completely opposite extreme were the Communist Party of Ukraine and a number of smaller, mostly stalinist parties such as the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine. KPU itself was part of the ruling coalition as a smaller partner, the Party of Regions and it perceived Euromaidan as a “coup” aimed at overthrowing legitimate authority and replace it with a pro-Western regime. The communists organized their own (quite small) antMaidan demos demanding Ukraine entry into the Eurasian Union formed by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This party (KPU) is also known for his strong social conservatism (the activists wanted for example to include outlawing homosexuality).

Ukrainian and Russian language

One of the important aspects of the divisions in the Ukrainian society is the language issue. The only official language in the country is Ukrainian, but for nearly 29.3 per cent of residents the home language is Russian. This means that in Ukraine there is largest linguistic group whose language is not recognized as an official in Europe.

Interestingly, the Russian language is spoken not only the Russians (who constitute 56 per cent of Russian-speaking in Ukraine). The others are Ukrainians (5 million 545 thousand), Belarusians (172 thousand), Jews (86 thous.), Greeks (81 thous.), Bulgarians (62 thous.), Moldovans (46 thous.), Tatars (43 thousand .), Armenians (43 thous.), Poles (22 thous.), Germany (21 thous.), Crimean Tatars (15 thous.) and other minor groups.

Russian speaking people constitute the majority in eastern and southern Ukraine. And so, in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea 97 percent speak Russian as there native language, in Donetsk region - 93 percent, in Luhansk region - 89 percent, in Odessa Region - 85 percent, Zaporizhia Region - 81 percent, in Kharkiv region - 74 percent, in Dnipropetrovsk Region - 72 percent and in Mykolaiv Region - 66 percent . Russian is the language of informal communication in Kiev , it also used by about 4-5 percent of residents of central and western Ukraine.

Ukrainian and Russian far-right

Ukrainian far-right (Svoboda and Right Sektor) were very visible during the Maidan and but also often overestimated in the Western media.

The All-Ukrainian Union “Freedom” (Svoboda) was created October 13, 1991 under the name Social-Nationalist Party of Ukraine . It was founded by members of the veterans of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, members of the youth organization Spadszczyna under the leadership of Andrij Parubij , members of student fraternities from Lviv gathered around Oleh Tyahnybok and members of the Warta Movement, under the leadership of Yaroslav Andruszkiw and Yuri Kryworuczka. The official party registration was made on 16 October 1995. The first party leader was Yaroslav Andruszkiw. The party had it`s own newspaper called „Social-Nationalist”. On 14 February 2004 the IX congress changed the party name to the present one. In July 2012 the party got 38 out of 450 seats in the Ukrainian Parliament, most votes came from the west part of the country, the historic Galicia region.

Right Sector Ukrainian is an informal nationalist movement, consisting primarily of the youth organizations of the far-right and neo-fascist views. The movement does not have a permanent organization and hierarchy, but the main leader is Dmytro Jarosz. Rigt Sector consist the Social-National Assembly also known as Patriots of Ukraine, the Tryzub organization, White Hammer, UNA-UNS , C14 – the neo-nazi wing of Svoboda and football ultras, mostly from Dynamo Kiev. They support the ideal of Ukrainiana nationalism of Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych, Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Insurgent Army and criticizes the Svoboda considering them beying the „part of the system”.

Much less is said about the influence of the extreme right of the Russian-speaking population, and they are quite significant. At least two important persons participating in the “Russian Spring” (as some call protests in the east and south of Ukraine) are or have been associated with such extremist groups. Prime Minister of Crimea is Sergei Aksyonov, an activist of the nationalist Russian Unity party (which has only 3 Mps in the Crimean parliament). Meanwhile, the self-proclamed “People’s Governor of Donbass Region” Pabvel Gubariew was in the past an activist of anopenly neo-nazi Russian National Unity.

When the Crimeans, under the supervision of Russian troops, conducted a referendum in favor of the incorporation of the region to Russia Moscow sent invitations to parties of the European far-right who were the only willing to serve as observers. Among these observers where Enrique Ravello from Plataforma per Catalunya. Luc Michel, a former member of Fédération d’action nationaliste et européenne and Béla Kovács from Hungarian Jobbik (also a treasurer of the Alliance of European National Movements). Among those who praised the pro-Russian referendum in Crimea were also the National Front from France and Danish Peoples Party.




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