Now we take a look on how the EuroMaidan movement started with a call by a journalist after Yanukovych denied signing the Associate Agreement.
In the previous Chapter 4 — Match in a tinderbox — the Associative Agreement, we have seen what kind of a deal president Yanukovich didn’t want to sign.
It all startes on November 21st with something that is worth one line in The New York Times: “On Thursday, several hundred protesters gathered in Independence Square in Kiev. Carrying European flags, they chanted, ‘Ukraine is Europe!’”
On this day the parliament, named Verkhovna Rada, passes a bill for halting the signing process. At this time the Rada can find a convenient majority with Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, the Communist Party and a large number of independent representatives. Now Arseniy Yatseniuk enters the story. He is the leader of the Fatherland Party (Batkivshchyna) and second to Yulia Tymoshenko who is lying in a Kharkiv prison hospital with severe backpain. He is 39 at the time and already a seasoned politician.
In 2005 president Yuschenko appoints Yatseniuk minister of economy at age 31, later becoming speaker of the parliament and foreign minister. In 2013 he leads the largest opposition party that holds 103 out of 450 seats in parliament. On November 21st he gives a parlamentary speech in a white sweatshirt with the imprint ‘Ukraini volju — Ukraine liberty’: “President Yanukovych is personally responsible for stopping the movement of the Ukraine towards Europe. Because Yanukovych didn’t want this law, his party didn’t vote for it.”
The small, balding, bespectacled Yatseniuk has a voice that is stronger than his physical appearance, he repeatedly points his finger with force. Over the many public speeches over the next few months, his posture and his position will grow stronger.
The first to get people on the streets is Afghan-born Ukrainian journalist Mustafa Nayyem who often reports on crime and corruption in his country. “The morning it happened, I was covering parliament in Kyiv. It was ironic that the defeat happened on November 21–10 years after the Orange Revolution”, remembers the journalist. “The outrage needed an outlet. Around 8:00 p.m., I posted on Facebook: ‘Come on guys, let’s be serious. If you really want to do something, don’t just ‘like’ this post. Write that you are ready, and we can try to start something.’ Within an hour, there were more than 600 comments. I posted again: ‘Let’s meet at 10:30 p.m. near the monument to independence in the middle of the Maidan.’ When I arrived, maybe 50 people had gathered. Soon the crowd had swelled to more than 1,000.”
In the evening between 1000 and 2000 people appear in Kievs center on Maidan Nezhalezhnosti, Independence Square which has already been the meeting ground of the Orange Revolution.
Apart from Yatseniuk, two other oppositional politicians threw speeches on this night: Vitaly Klitschko and Oleg Tyahnybok. Klitschko is a former boxing world champion and the leader of Ukraines second largest oppostion party UDAR (“Punch!”). He twice participated in local Kyiv elections without much luck. Tyahnybok is a politician with far less votes but far more experience. He is the leader of a fringe party called Svoboda (“Freedom”). The party was formed by a mix of ultra-right-wing radicals and outright antisemites leaning towards fascism. Tyahnybok has cleaned his party from the most outrageous members, has since refrained from open antisemitism and has just kept a strong nationalist approach. These three will be the main players from the oppostion in the Verkhovna Rada.
Yatseniuk was among the first who used the social news network Twitter to rally his supporters. On the 21st he twittered:
— Arseniy Yatsenyuk (@Yatsenyuk_AP) November 21, 2013
“Come to #Euromaidan!”
#Euromaidan is a so called Hashtag, a keyword under which one can receive Tweets (newsposts) by whoever uses it in his up-to-140 characters long broadcast. The more people using the Hashtag in their tweets, the more important it becomes. In this case the Hashtag Euromaidan became the name of the first stage of the revolution.
The protestors walk to the presidential adiministration on Bankova street where they are held back by riot police. They bind (EU-)blue stripes on police busses to remind the forces that they already had protected Yanukovych during the Orange Revolution.
The three politicians as well as former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko, recently released from prison, call the people to return the coming Sunday for a mass protest. But already the following day sets the tone for the things to come. On November 22nd, activists install a makeshift tent on the square. City administratives appear immediately (where are they, when you need them?), reading a Kyiv court decision from the same day, banning the installation of tents. Again, we can note how quick a government can act in preventing a rerun of the Orange Revolution on legal grounds. Shortly after that, some 70 officers from Ukraines special police force Berkut remove the tent.
Also happening on the same day are the first demonstrations in cities throughout the country: Lviv with about 1.500 people, Chernivtsi, Sumy, Vinnitsya, Kriviy Rih, Donetsk, and Kharkiv with 100 to 500 each.
One day later director of the Institute for Practical Politics, Bogdana Babich publishes the first voiced demands of the protestors. In lengthy words it comes down to: “We demand from the president to sign the association agreement”
Good protest weather
November 24th. Sunday. First important day of protests. Will there be enough people coming? It is questionable, Ukrainians have been quite apathic in recent years, they have been disappointed by the Orange Revolution that failed after winning. And there is already an Anti-EU rally on Mikhailovska Square with several hundred participants. It is said that they will be broadcasted via TV. Nina Pavliuk, a Kiev teacher who was interviewed by the Kyiv Post claimed that the Anti-EU-activists were paid 150 Hrivnas (15 Euros) for standing around with a flag. Some protesters on the pro-Europe side wear stickers saying that they are not paid. This allegation will be made all over the next months by all parties. The question of how much was paid and by whom will also be asked when protesters are going to be tortured by still unknown assailants.
But today the fears for a low turnout are unfounded. Depending on the source, between 20.000 and 100.000 people attend the demonstration. It’s a numbers game played in every demonstration in the world. Organizers like to double the figures, police likes to cut it in half. Truth usually lies in the middle. When one just sees Kyivs Maidan on television or a live web stream, crowds look much larger since the square is actually quite small and confined. I found it massive on TV and then was a bit disappointed when I first saw it in reality. Although I had been to Kyiv before, I haven’t made it to the square back then.
Among the protesters are many students. Roman Rybakov, a graduate of Taras Shevchenko University in Kiev says: “While most of those who promised to come to Maidan didn’t do it, we still have big crowd here and we’ll keep on demanding a European future for Ukraine. It will be better if universities can offer their students a place to warm up.”
Some days later Lviv historian Yaroslav Hrytsak will summon up the difference with the previous revolution — the age of demonstrators: „This is a revolution of the generation that we call the contemporaries of Ukraine’s independence who were born around the time of 1991. It’s a revolution of young people who are very educated, people who are active in social media, who are mobile and 90 percent of whom have university degrees, but who don’t have futures.“ And further: „This is their rebellion, this is an uprising of people who should be part of the middle class but because of their disposition they resemble more and more the proletariat. The only way out of the situation for them is not to change politicians but to change the nation.“
But today there are still speeches by members of the old political establishment. Memorable is the one of Yuri Lutsenko who was pardoned from a prison term after a politically motivated trial that February. He had played a key role in the Orange Revolution and says with gravitas:
“When I left prison I said that I left a smaller prison for a bigger one. Truly, for the last years, Ukraine has been in the darkness under Yanukovych as president.“
His speech is warmly received.
Some 10.000 of the protestors then walk again to the president adminstration where they are met by riot police. While on the day before the autorities made it clear that they would use force if they had to, the protesters use provocation as a tactics. There are reports of minor clashes with the use of teargas by both sides of the fence.
One more precedent of the day is the beginning of ridiculous games of obstruction that will become more and more violent over the coming weeks. Vitaly Klitschko claims that his private jet was held from landing and later his car was stopped time and again on the way to the city center while the state border control claims that he evaded customs control.
Tents are errected and people spend the night in the heart of their capital city. „We came because we want normal education and no borders. We slept in tent city on European square,“ says 20-year-old student Uliana Kyrch. „It wasn’t dangerous — just cold. The police wouldn’t be able to remove the tents. They’d have to kill everyone to do it.“
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov sets the authorities tone that day: „We know that these types of actions are financed. But if it is done with a violation of law, then the government will not act like it did in 2004, when before our eyes what was happening was a technical dismantling of a lawful government. We won’t play around here.“
The Next Chapter 6 introduces Artisto, the rapper and composer of Maidans inofficial anthemn.