Guest post by William Risch
I was in Kyiv December 14-22 to witness what has now been called Ukraine’s “Euro Revolution.” While Western media focused on the toppling of Kyiv’s Lenin monument, I knew there was more to the story. Student protests that had stared this revolution had slogans like “Nobody represents us.” One friend posted on Facebook a meme – styled on the British World War II air raid slogan, “Stay calm” – that said, “Don’t stay fucking calm, start a revolution.” Unlike the Orange Revolution of 2004, centered around a contested presidential election, these were protests coming spontaneously from below. They took the political opposition by complete surprise.
The Maidan was bizarre: home-made barricades resembling 1848 Paris and seventeenth-century Cossack fortresses, guarded by men wearing orange construction hats, dressed in various kinds of military garb. Warming themselves around bonfires in empty trash barrels, they resembled characters from Mad Max films. Locals and visitors took pictures. During the day, the main stage became a forum for politicians, poets, scholars, and activists. At night, it became a disco for protestors of all ages.
Such scenes suggest the Euro Revolution could be as ephemeral as Paris in May, 1968, when students seized the Sorbonne, made barricades with wrecked cars, then went home for summer vacation, ending their revolution. Yet the 1968 revolts, the so-called “Year of the Barricades,” left long-lasting effects. Students became subjects, not objects, in university administrations. The personal became political. The Old Left lost its credibility as a political movement.
As I was to discover in Kyiv, new political forces are emerging outside the opposition parties, like the Student Coordinating Council and the Civic Sector of the Maidan. Yegor Stadny of the Student Coordinating Council talked about his organization’s plans to become Ukraine’s first independent, nation-wide student movement. It proposes granting autonomy to universities; making individual Berkut soldiers more accountable for their actions; having a live, televised roundtable between equal representatives of the state, the political opposition, and the public; and setting up an interim government to deal with the states’s urgent financial problems. These activists aspire to reach out to the more Russian-oriented eastern and southern Ukraine. The Student Coordinating Council is forming ties with counterparts at universities in those regions, and it hopes to have an influence beyond the student body.
Recent polling data from the Il’ko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Fund suggests that the Maidan is going to last beyond New Year’s Day. As reported by Internet newspaper Ukrains’ka Pravda on December 26, up to 80 percent of the Maidan’s tent city residents, and 74 percent of participants in demonstrations held on holidays and weekends, said they are ready to support the Maidan “for as long as it takes.” Besides that, there are organizations whose leaders say, in effect, that nobody represents them other than themselves. These people may carry the Euro Revolution beyond the barricades and change Ukraine in ways more profound than what the televisions have shown.