After being out on the Maidan all night, I spent the rest of the morning resting, figuring out my cameras, and summing up the previous day’s events. Admittedly it was a very dismal afternoon in Kyiv as I started to reflect further on what is going on with the Maidan. Klychko spoke to the crowd for about 20 minutes, took part in the singing of the national anthem at 1 a.m., sort of mumbled the prayers that followed, and then disappeared from the stage. One of my friends here wrote to Facebook friends about all the work going into keeping the Maidan alive. She and so many other women have kept the Maidan going by running the field kitchens for the protestors. Then there are all the problems with gathering wood for fires, running medical stations, getting medical supplies, running the stage and events there, and manning the barricades. It was either this morning or the previous morning that I’d heard a BBC report from Luhansk suggesting that local residents were mostly opposed to the Euromaidan movement (actually, even hostile in one case, with one man saying he’d like to go in there and bust up Maidan protestors himself if he could). While as a historian of Lviv, I welcomed all the flags from western Ukrainian towns at last night’s Maidan, I feared that the movement was becoming limited to regions that had supported the Orange Revolution in 2004.
Around 4 p.m., Valerii suddenly said to me, “Let’s go to Maidan.”
And so we left. On the way, he told me that the independent Internet TV channel – hromadske.tv, next to pravda.com.ua and Facebook pages, our staple for news here – was saying that “Maidan is dying.”
At the Maidan, it was growing dark. I filmed some of the scene, maybe for reasons of posterity rather than for news. The barricades seemed to have lost their charm after the snow melted. The initial photos of them, which I got to see before my trip, reminded me of 1848 in Paris. At this point, they looked like either replicas of Cossack forts (known as the Cossack Sich) or worse, toy forts made by children who dream of war. Onstage, a woman was speaking about the impact of Yanukovych’s negotiations with Putin in Moscow on Tuesday. Her speech was admittedly underwhelming. It reminded me of one of those speeches made at endless gatherings (vichi) in Lviv in 1998-2004: comparing negotiations to the Pereiaslavl Accords of 1654 which ended the sovereignty of the Cossack state, about “moskali-kholui” running the state, about the regime’s indifference toward Ukrainians and their culture. She was probably a historian, or a philologist. Still, I kept thinking about the journalist Mustafa Nayyem and the students who started this protest movement in the first place. “Nobody represents us,” was what at least one activist said back then. So what about this respected Ukrainian scholar and her nationalist tropes? Did she speak for them?
I had dinner plans with another scholar on the other side of the river, so there wasn’t much time to spend on the Maidan. Still, in some ways I was glad to get out of there.
At dinner, my friend and I spoke about our current academic interests, but politics dominated the conversation. My friend said that he thinks that the regime probably has survived Euromaidan, but he fears that the state hasn’t. I agreed with him regarding the state. Earlier that day, I’d read reports from Ukrains’ka Pravda that the Lviv Regional Council had decided to suspend its relations with the Lviv Regional State Administration, which basically means that it has cut off its relations with Kyiv (the central government appoints regional state administration leaders). About a week or so earlier, Ternopil’ had done the same. It’s possible that Ivano-Frankivs’k has also done this. So basically Eastern Galicia is breaking from Kyiv. Where is this going to go?
We also shared views on the Maidan. My friend, who’s also been to the Maidan, agreed that the Maidan has become limited in its number of participants. He said that maybe the movement should change its format and instead have large weekly meetings. Such meetings have been very successful. Experts disagree over the numbers, saying that there is no way you could fit 2.4 million people in Independence Square and Khreshchatyk Avenue, but no one really disputes that hundreds of thousands of people have come to these protests.
My friend Ihor had invited me to serve on Night Patrol, manning the barricades, but my body gave out. On my way home from dinner, I slept in the metro car. There was no way I could stand for hours.
I came home just as Valerii was making dinner for a friend, Yuriy. Yuriy is probably in his early 20s. He is from Lutsk, in western Ukraine. He was getting ready to go to the Maidan for the night (staying as late as 3 a.m.).
As we introduced ourselves, I discovered that my poor students aren’t alone in their ignorance of world geography. “Georgia?” he said. “Is that near Washginton, DC, and New York?” Yuri didn’t really know English, and he was surprised that I knew Ukrainian. “Where did you get Ukrainian?” he asked. “From L’viv,” I said.
Yuriy lives in Lutsk, and he comes to Kyiv for business. Judging from what he said over his cell phone, it had something to do with delivering meat (kielbasa).
Yuriy and Valerii were drinking vodka, and I asked for probably 3 shots that evening. I told them both that I was worried about what was going to happen on the Maidan. I was worried because, while the scholar speaking there today seemed a bit too nationalist for me, she said that students were being questioned by the General Prosecutor’s Office and that the SBU was forming lists of people who organized the Maidan and who helped run the Maidan. Would the fall of the Maidan be about more than a party ending? Would Ukraine become Belarus?
Yuriy said that he supports the Maidan, and that he thinks Ukraine should join the EU. He didn’t offer economic arguments for this. He said that Ukraine’s future with Russia was not so bright. He gave an example of this from his own family. Yuriy’s aunt left her husband and annnounced that she was a lesbian. She is currently raising her child with another woman. On December 1, at a family gathering (somebody’s birthday) in Lutsk, Yuri’s grandmother said that she didn’t like the EU, that Ukraine should be with Russia, because “Russia has morality (U Rosii ie moral’).” “What morality!?” Yuriy exclaimed with a smile. He said that not long ago he or someone from his family traveled to different parts of Russia. “Everybody drinks,” he said.
Yuriy asked Valerii if he was at the Maidan on the night of 10-11 December, when Berkut and national guardsmen tried to break it up. Valerii said he wasn’t there, that he was home asleep. Yuriy said that he wasn’t there, but that he’d been there the night before, “And I could tell that something was going to happen.” He said that he knew from run-ins with the cops and with Berkut that when you see Berkut, you run away. However, he admitted that if Berkut was to go after entire groups of people, “Then I’d stand in the front row,” he said. “It’s on the edge of reason, true, but I’d do it.”
Yuriy said that he really likes the Maidan. People speak Ukrainian. He gets to meet all kinds of people. He feels pride in being a Ukrainian when he’s there.
As Yuriy left at around 10 and Valerii accompanied him to the metro station, I thought about Yuriy, Valerii, and others who are a part of this movement. While the regime may still hold, the movement is there. The Maidan still stands, and it already has a revolutionary tradition behind it. In 1990, students here set up a tent city and went on a hunger strike to remove the prime minister, and they succeeded. In 2000, the “Ukraine without Kuchma” movement, the forerunner to the Orange Revolution, began its protests here (Ironically, December 18 was the 13th anniversary of this Maidan protest movement).
This movement, if it survives, if it does not lose hope, can change Ukraine, can transform people’s consciousness. I haven’t been able to visit the pro-Yanukovych “anti-Maidan” organized around the Mariynskyi Palace since Saturday, but what the media and friends on Facebook have reported give me good hints about what is going on there. Already on Saturday night, a crew from hromadske.tv stopped by, and two workers there said, “We’re here to get something to eat after work (My perekusim posle raboty.).” Last night, I saw another report from the scene. A woman in her 60s read a poem against the Maidan where she referred to “The Fascist (Tiahnybok), the Boxer (Klichko), and the Carpathian Kike (karpatskii zhid, aka Yatseniuk). The poem talked about doing something to the protestors’ “asses” (zhopy). Some middle-aged woman who to Valerii resembled a crazy vulture went on about how there needs to be “one party” and “one people” and no trouble making. Lots of incoherent rants about the government being bad, yet the Maidan protestors making things worse.
If these remarks from the anti-Maidan are representative of the pro-Yanukovych forces, the Maidan people have a chance. They can defend their claims that the truth and justice are on their side. They can win over people by fostering human dignity (instead of making cracks about “kikes” and people’s “asses”). But to sustain itself, the Maidan will need to organize. It will need leaders.
For the moment, I think both organization and leadership will emerge eventually. Thus, I’m eager to get back to the field and observe.