Throughout the weekend Ukrainians were mourning the victims of the Maidan – more than 70 people were massacred on Thursday morning by squads of snipers who took positions on buildings overlooking the area. It is still not quite clear who ordered the blood-bath that day but the fact is that most victims got very precise shots into their heads or chests – a clear proof that the main goal of the “operation” was killing.
The very labelling [Ua] of the protesters as “terrorists” was actually brand new in Ukraine. Until Yanukovych’s return from Sochi, the protesters were smeared as “radicals“, “fascists” and “putschists” in the pro-government propaganda machine, but the top officials refrained, in most cases, from employing this language. As long as they negotiated (or pretended to) with the leaders of opposition, they preferred to distinguish the “fascists” and “radicals” from the “healthier” part of protesters, prompting the latter to distance themselves from the former.
The sudden emergence of the Putinesque term “anti-terrorist operation” in Yanukovych’s post-Sochi parlance was highly ominous. It meant that everything was permitted and one should expect the worst. In 1999, as Anne Applebaum points out, “[t]he term granted Russian soldiers carte blanche to destroy Grozny, the Chechen capital”. This is why so many reacted with horror when the Ukrainian defence ministry warned that the army “might be used in anti-terrorist operations on the territory of Ukraine”.
The path to violence
The ruthless killing of peaceful protesters with no firearms has completely delegitimised the regime – both domestically and internationally. Despite the regime’s expectations, the protesters in the Maidan did not run away after the bloodshed but stood defiant. New people from all over the country rushed to support them bypassing police cordons and transport blockades. Local councils in western regions took over local government, subordinated the local police, and renounced obedience to the capital.
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The prospect of civil war in a 45-million country [Ua] has finally forced the EU to move from words to deeds and impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials. This – predictably – triggered the split within the ruling party as more and more of its members rushed to distance themselves from the criminal policies of the government. Within a day the regime fell down as a house of cards, resembling the split within the Soviet leadership in 1991 and that of their East European satellites two years earlier.
Back then, the Ukrainian democratic and national liberation movement was hijacked by the communist nomenklatura who got rid of their party membership cards but not of old habits. In 2004, Ukrainians made a second attempt to complete the unfinished business. They staged a spectacular non-violent Orange revolution that brought new people to power but failed to enforce the much-needed institutional changes. They allowed their leaders to play with the rules rather than by the rules. This lawless, dysfunctional democracy compromised itself to such a degree that the orange electorate punished the leaders by staying at home and watching how the supporters of Yanukovych voted him by a slight majority into office.
The result was disastrous. In a less than four years, the president and his team destroyed all the trances of an independent judiciary, privatised the police and security service and effectively monopolised both Ukrainian politics and economy. The country fell in the hands of the “Family” – the president, his two sons and their close friends, mostly natives of the Donbas region.
Under these circumstances, the third Ukrainian revolution turned regretfully violent, following rather Romanian than the Polish, East German and Czechoslovak pattern of peaceful transition. This was actually what Alexander Motyl, a political science professor from Rutgers University, predicted a year ago. He wrote that violence is very likely to occur when “the society is humiliated and exploited, when oppressors look vulnerable and weak, and when individuals or groups with violent agendas exist.”
The way forward
The cleaning up of the house is the major task for the new Ukrainian government. As Motyl foretold back in 2013:
“Following the extensive institutional destruction wrought by Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, Ukraine will have to be reconstructed from top to bottom. Mere reform will no longer be enough. Even ‘radical reform’ may not quite accurately capture the magnitude of change that Ukraine will have to endure to emerge from the ‘Yanukovych Ruin’ politically energised and rejuvenated, rather than enervated and ossified.”
But the problem is that the new Ukrainian government faces not only this strategic task but also numerous mundane issues like paying domestic and international bills, keeping the order and curbing attempts at mob justice against the most hated members of the ancien regime.
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The EU further guardianship is highly important in these circumstances, but probably even more important is advance of new people with no tails of corruption, nepotism, or dubious business activity in the past.
The old politicians like Yulia Tymoshenko or Viktor Yushchenko should stay off the political process. They had a chance to build a new Ukraine in 2005 but pathetically failed.
Today, after the bad experience of two previous revolutions, Ukrainians broadly believe that the Maidan should stay – at least for some time – and watch the new government. The real threat to the revolution comes not from Moscow or Kremlin-sponsored Crimean separatism. Nor does it come from the far-right groups that got some prominence during the struggle.
The biggest threat comes from within: from old habits and old-boy networks, from sophisticated corruption schemes and shadow funds accumulated by oligarchs, from lack of much needed skills on part of the revolutionaries and lack of political will on part of the politicians.
The rapid fall of ancien regimes are often deceptive. In most cases they are as resilient. The two Ukrainian revolutions – of 1991 and 2004 – rather pitifully illustrate the rule.
The new revolution, however, was not that peaceful. It cost the lives of so many bright and courageous people that Ukrainian politicians have simply no moral right to spoil it by pursuing their selfish, partisan, and parochial goals.
Mykola Riabchuk is a political and cultural analyst in Kyiv and visiting EURIAS research fellow at IWM in Vienna. His last book “Gleichschaltung. Authoritarian Consolidation in Ukraine, 2010-2012” was published in both Ukrainian and English.