The Long Walk to Freedom (Translated by Myron Spolsky)
The title of this article is borrowed from the book of memoirs by Nelson Mandela, the famous freedom fighter. He devoted almost half a century to the liberation of his people. In the week following his death, the main stories of the world media were the fineral of this great African and the millions of Ukrainian on Kyiv’s central square. The victory the seemed so close that Mandela’s cautionary statements about the long road to freedom was seen as irrelevant.
After a few exhausting weeks of fighting it became obvious that the regime will not fall quickly. The main source of the anger of tens of thousands of people was that the regime had seeminlgy not noticed this massive two-month protest. However, over time the opposition itself became a source of irritation for Maidan. The helplessness and confusion of deputies from the Batkivschyna, UDAR and Svodoboda parties in Parliament, at those moments, when the country was turning into a dictatorship shocked no less than the audacity of their pro-government protagonists.
Ultimately, the angered protesters unleashed their outrage. And so started the real war on Hrushevskoho.
Since then the Maidan’s main activities moved several hundred meters from the central area and the demonstration came back to life, coming out of a two-month fatigue. The “Bloody Epiphany” helped in the cleansing. Political intrigues dissipated on the burning barricadesunder the hail of bullets and grenades. The risk of losing life or health restored the original sincerity, and the new activity added fervor. This new Maidan provided us with a set of images, which forced even the most sceptical to feel pride and to help everyone sense that “…is not dead…”. The battle has entered a new phase and demands even greater sacrifice. We again surprised the world, which was reminded, that values are not simply declared, but are defended in battles in which blood is shed.
For me the most telling symbol of those days was the image of an elderly couple, both of them – far beyond seventy. I saw them at night when the square expanded its “estate” by moving the barricades on Instytutska to Olhinska. At 2:00 AM, with a temperature of -15this elderly couple had a difficult time climbing up the icy road. Each of them had one Soviet made ski poles. Uncertain because of their ages but lacking in determination, step by step the went to defend “our people from the Berkut”…
Since then, it is easy to see the changes of personalities on Maidan: the typical participants are armed with bats and shields; they are middle aged men in helmets (army, bicycle, motorcycle…). The changes are not simply external. The internal world of many of the protesters has changed. The appearance of those, who can be called, without exaggeration, professional revolutionaries, is noted: they have the cross the line of no return and understand that they face two ptions – victory or imprisonment. It is this category that became the main motivator for the protest.
The atmosphere on Maidan changed as well, where the epicentre of the protests returned after the fierce fighting on Hrushevskoho. It is no longer light-hearted as it was earlier. Instead it has been harsh and disquieting. The off-the-top creativity has been replaced by almost military-like discipline. Open faces are now hiding under black balaclavas; in place of diversity – the uniformity of camouflage. The Maidan has become a military camp. Its main actors are the soldiers. Everything else (the kitchen, stage and medical services) have become ancilliary services. Some people may like these changes, others – not. But the fascination and the rejection are based primarily on emotions.
I’ll try to rationally analyse the gains and losses on Maidan after 19 January, and to compare these to the previous events. In this manner we can respond to an important questions: are violent methods of battle really more effective than peaceful protest> This attempt at analysis does not deny in any way my respect for those, who in this battle have sacrificed their health and even their lives. In fact the oppositive – their sacrifice has inspired me to write this article.
The greatest achievement of protest prior to 19 January was that Maidan became a participant in the political process, a participant with whom all must reckon: the opposition, the government, and even a distant and often indifferent world. It is unlikely that any of them foresaw that a minor public disturbance in late November could profoundly change their agenda and plans for the future. Now, none of the three main players can be sure that they can make decisions behind the scenes and that the public will passively accept backroom dealings. All of Ukraine changed, showing a model of self-organisation, sacrifice and solidarity. These changes have affected people who were at Maidan (and there are already millions in general), those who just watched, and even those who do not support it. They realized that no one, even the most ambitious and expensive simulation of activity is not able to compete with the activities of people motivated by ideals.
What other victories came after Hrushevskoho? Most believe that “government became frightened and had to come to the negotiating table”. Both elements of this thesis are questionable. Indeed, despite the determination and perseverance of the protesters, three killed during these events and several more after them, hundreds of thrown “cocktails” and cobblestones, the parliament, Cabinet of Ministers, and Presidential administration were not occupied. The front line on Hrushevskoho after more than a week of fighting did not shift by even a metre. The negotiations also brought no results – the government too part in them before and after. And also saw them as a tool to divide and conquer.
The resignation of the Azarov government was presented as a trophy of the new stage of the battle. This event is connected to the events on on Hrushevskoho. Fundamentally however this step did not change anything. The government is now acting, while Zakharchenko, Tabachnyk continue to work, and led by Arbuzov, who is directly connected to the “Family”.
Active mass protests finally moved beyond Kyiv and Western Ukraine. In 10 regions of the country regional administration offices have been occupied, and protest rallies have taken place throughout most of the country, with the exception of two regions. The detonator was indeed violence, but not the violence of the protesters, but that of the goverment: people stsrted to protest as a result of the terrible information of deaths on the barricades, of the kidnapping and torture of activists.
The Western media again started to write more about Ukraine, again the politicians of the world without any doubt remembered us again. It really is a fact! But these statements more and more often include watning about “the unacceptability of the use of force by protesters”. Morever, some publications, of their own initiative or with the support of our eastern neighbour, referring to information about the battles on Hrushevskoho, are writing about “the danger of right radicalism in Ukraine”, “fascists behind the protests on Maidan”. During the period of the most dramatic confrontations, the division of opinions between those supporting and those opposed to Maidan, for the first time in three months was evenly divided.
Finally, the key achievement of the violence on Hrushevskoho is the repealling of the main cause of the protests – “the laws of January 16”. In fact, dictatorial laws were repealled, but quite possibly because they performed their provocative role, leading some of the protesters to resort to violence. If “A” is intended to cause “B”, then the existence of the first being makes sense only to this point. Then “A” can get be disposed of, creating a vehicle around which a readiness for apparent compromise and dialogue can be signalled.
Therefore, the gains and victories of Maidan’s new phase are far from being mixed. But apart from these there are the obvious losses. For their analysis one should highlight the key points for the protest movement, without which it can not win. Thus, the prerequisites for the unarguable fall of the regime are:
a) broad mass resistance movement, reaching the widest spectrum of society;
b) a transition to the side of the protesters of a portion of the pro-government elite and especially of the representatives of law enforcement bodies, which the regime uses as a tool to curb the protesters;
c) support for the movement, even just moral, by the international community.
I will begin with the last point, already partically covered in this article. Events on Hrushevskoho both attracted more international attention and made international observers question the appropriateness of its support for Maidan. I am writing this based on the analysis of the foreign press and interviews with Western politicians and journalists who were here. I am certain, that if not for the “Wild Dances” of the past two months (so despised by the radicals), world opinion about events in Ukraine would have changed dramatically to support the position of the Ukrainian and Russian government side.
The narrowing of the social base of the protest, which began on 19 January and is visible to the naked eye, is being recorded by sociological polling. In contrast to the participants of peaceful actions, those protests, who choose violent actions, have a much higher “entry threshold”. This threshold can be crossed on by those protesters capable of using force, which means primarily middle aged men. Other categories of people find themselves largely out of protest, and have become observers.
Even worse, a gap in understanding between participants and observers is gradually increasing. The first burned all their bridges behind them, they have nowhere to return, they are determined and provide the protest with its dynamics and further radicalise the entire protest, and increase its uncompromising position. In this manner, they believe, the are leading Maidan to victory. But radicalization scares away those are wavering. They become more distant, although they had earlier taken an active role. Thus the events of 19 January, entrenched each group’s roles: some on Maidan, others in their armchairs. Each group is afraid to leave their place for security reasons.
Maidan is thus gradually isolating itself from society. Its residents are beginning to resemble the desperate rebels of the mid-1950s, which in the eyes reflected their determination, perseverance and at the same time anger directed against others, who are “not here and hence are not with us”. Maidan has turned into a rebel hideout, impossible to attack, but which practically has little influence on the situation beyond its own borders.
Another reason for Maidan’s demission from the negotiating process is directly related to the events of 19 January. It then became very clear: the opposition leaders, appearing on stage, do not represent the people in the square. The further radicalisation of the protest further deepened the gap between people who have joined in the action, and the politicians not ready to take responsibility for such actions. Unfortunately, the leadership vacuum was not replaced by the radical activists, because of their unwillingness to become instruments of public policy. Thus, Maidan has not gotten rid of its unworthy representatives and has not gained other leaders. Therefore, one of the greatest achievements of the protest in recent months – the transformation of Maidan into a separate element of politics, is today, at its most critical moment of development, under threat.
And one last question: how has the violence of the protesters affected the opposite camp? Among the pro-government politicians the number of defectors is more than modest. Inna Bohoslovska, who supported the protest in December, was openly joined by little- known People’s Deputy with the symbolic name Hrushevskyi.
Even more elusive was the likelihood of support of Maidan by the police. THe radical activities on Hrushevskoho angered them as a unit. They were not defending either Yanukovych nor Zakharchenko, but themselves and their colleagues. Look at the video posted by the Interior Ministry, where a young soldier in the internal army talks about being hit by a Molotov cocktail and of being rescued by his colleagues. He appears confused and hesitates when trying to describe some of his political motives for their actions (“for stability”, “against extremism”), but very openly speaks about the details of his own salvation. He now will stand to the end not only because of orders, but also because he is supported by his rescuers. On the other side of the barricades are not just strange people now – these are enemies who were trying to kill him. These protesters became the enemy of not only soldiers on Hrushevskoho, but also for their families. No political explanation is adequate when the life of your son is at risk. The crimes committed by those who call themselves “law enforcement officials” – humiliation, torture, murder, became the additional “glue” that holds them in indivisible unity.
And the major loss in the period after 19 January was the death of the protesters. Victims are inevitable in a decisive struggle, regardless of its form. In Ukraine, members of both violent and peaceful protests are killed and mained. In the first case, the victimisation of demonstrators is perceived to be a positive for the government (one or more fewer demonstrators, others won’t be so bold). On the other hand, the killing by the regime of peaceful protesters delegitimises it, causing his political cause irreparable damage.
Thus, the phase of violent protests includes few victories. However, for many, there is no alternative to forceful actions, because non-violent methods have shown themselves to be ineffective in Ukraine. So we will attempt to determine whether indeed peaceful protest is ineffective, and if so, why.
For this we consider the tools of the non-violent resistance movement, used in Ukraine since the end of November 2013. The most obvious method of protest last month is the Maidan itself, the Ukrainian form of the worldwide movement “Occupy”. Protesters occupied the city centre. It is impossible to overlook or ignore this protest; it causes financial and moral damage. However, the effectiveness of this form of struggle depends on its ability to expand the territory controlled by protestors. However, its expansion did not have the same positive effect as the strengthening of Maidan. In defending their territory, the Maidan protesters built majestic barricades, the boundaries of which were extended only once. So the necessary dynamics came to a halt. Events outside of Kyiv after 23 January strengthen Maidan: the methods used by “Occupy” were used or attempted in almost all regions of the country. But because of the absence of a coordinated efforts, the occupied administrative premises were quickly lost.
In 2004, blocking of administrative buildings especially was an effective method. This time this method was used to a limited extent.
On 2 December at 6:00 AM, I. together with a group of EuroMaidan Public Sector activists, went to block the two entrances of the Cabinet on vul. Sadova – we were acting in accordance with a previous agreement with other community and political groups. Unfortunately, our group of about two hundred activists were the only ones at the Cabinet of Ministers building. The rest either did not come at all or came late, after the beginning of the working day. The blocking in effect did not take place. Entrances to the Cabinet of Ministers (other than that which we handled, and the central entrance, which was blocked by law enforcement agencies) functionned practically in their normal manner. The same also occurred on the following days, the same also occurred near the presidential administration and other government buildings. Subsequently, opposition leaders reported that a “partial blockage” too place. This approach to the issue created the result that active protests to date are simply as “partial revolution”. However, the blocking of army units in the Kyiv region and in other centres of the country were effective because they weren’t partial.
The innovation of this revolution, the AutoMaidan, which picketed the suburdan estates of those in power, as well as to block selected sites. The movement of an automotive caravan, which included from several tens of cars to several hundred had a major impact on observers. Its most impressive action was the march to Mezhyhiria. Additionally, the AutoMaidan played an important role in protecting protesters and some sites from attacks the by so-called titushky. The rapid movement throughout the city of a large number of people frustrated several provocations.
Generally, the self-defence system – both physical and legal – has been very effective. Despite the scope of the repressions (murder, kidnapping, assault), this system was able to save a lot of activists and , finally, provide continuity to the protest.
Another classical method of the nonviolent resistance, which established itself during the EuroMaidan, is the boycott of companies owned by pro-government deputies. This self-initiated action began with primitive leaflets, and now has, amongst its instruments, special smartphone apps, which “recognise” such products and services. It is difficult to determine the extent of the boycott movement, but an educated guess shows that the losses that the companies experienced, appears to be quite substantial.
A few weeks ago the opposition, on Maidan’s stage, announced the creation of the People’s Council as an alternative to the discredited parliament after the vote on 16 January. The next step was to be the creation of councils in other regions and their coordination by the central People’s Council. That is, this was about the creation of alternative centre of leverage. The establishment of parallel bodies that are to gradually take over the powers of the current government, is an important and effective method of dealing with the regime. Unfortunately, the People’s Council established in Kyiv did not actually establish it operations. Its members (Ukraine’s MPs) returned to the very Parliament that they had previously tried to deligitimise, and were drawn in the usual political routine. There were no visible results from efforts to coordinate the activities of the People’s Councils in the regions. It is important to note, that the process of creating People’s Council began with a noticeable delay. It seemed that the formal leaders of the protests did this very reluctantly, and only under pressure from the public.
As a result, we can say that Maidan has used a wide spectrum of instruments typical of non-violent protests. Then, why are we not yet celebrating victory? The problem is that none of these methods has been fully used. In fact, most of them only have piloted and then called ineffective. Moreover, no effort was made to use these instruments simultaneously.
During the three months of protest no effective leadership organs were created. The National Headquarters of the Protests, which includes representatives of the three opposition parties has never functionned as a central coordinating body. Despite repeated announcements from the stage the HQ never built a network across the country. It could not reflect the real structure of the protest, which from the beginning went far beyond the opposition parties. Furthermore, the Council of the All-Ukrainian Association “Maidan”, which includes, in addition to party members, representative of public organisations, did not became that centre of power. It never assumed this power because its formation was an imitation of the consolidation process. The council did not even meet even in the most critical of moments, and for this reason, at the local levels, protests were organised without its coordination, and in fact, we know nothing about the role of this council. The formalized opposition did not use the advantages at its disposal, did not impose its own agenda on the government, and did not show a proactive initiative.
Thus, the problem at hand was not the poor performance of the tools of nonviolent resistance (that they are dangerous to the government was acknowledged by the laws of 16 January which banned these actions), but the failure to fully take advantage of them. There was an absence of organisation and action.
And these are things that we can still catch up with. Another reason why we are not celebrating victory, is that nonviolent struggle will not provide fast results. It takes more time than solving the problem with violent methods. But at the same time it is much more efficient: researchers estimate (Erica Chenoweth, Maria Stefan: “Why nonviolent resistance is effective”) for the period between 1900 and 2006 peaceful resistance movements succeeded twice as often violent.
The problem in Ukraine is not only the participation in government of criminal elements, with whose elimination everything can be solved. We need to change the whole system so that it could no longer create new Yanukovyches and Zakharchenkos. A component of this system that needs to be changed is we ourselves. Prolonged nonviolent struggle changes not only governance but also the people, teaching them responsibility and solidarity.
The removal of the Yanukovych regime and his team should not be the end of the revolution, but its beginning. After this, changes need to be initiated to change society as a whole. Again, as the study of world revolution shows, the start of the path to reform after armed conflict is much less likely than with mass non-violent resistance.
So we must understand that the fight will be long. It is worth remembering Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”. On the one hand, it’s hard to hear about the long struggle ahead, because we have experienced nearly three grueling months. On the other – this gives us a chance to repair all of the errors and, finally, be victorious.