Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Between Mob and Multitude: Youth Ambivalence toward Mass Mobilization in a Ukrainian Protest Movement

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Between Mob and Multitude: Youth Ambivalence toward Mass Mobilization in a Ukrainian Protest Movement

Article excerpt


From the Orange Revolution to the Euromaidan

In the space of ten years, Ukraine witnessed two major episodes of mass protest: the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity, or Euromaidan.1 The first episode arose as a response to electoral fraud that had put presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych in power, while the second emerged as a response to then-President Yanukovych's unwillingness to sign a trade agreement with the European Union. In the Orange Revolution, the perception of corruption was exacerbated by fraudulent elections; the Euromaidan protests began as protests against the government's perceived movement away from the West and toward closer relations with the Russian Federation, and later evolved into an anti-corruption movement.2 In both episodes, protesters exhibited a relatively strong commitment to a future European orientation in terms of European values and/or living standards,3 although, as Bessinger has shown, there were some fundamental differences in attitudes among Orange Revolution participants over the direction to be taken in relation to the West (e.g., whether or not NATO membership was a desirable outcome).4 In both revolutions, youth (especially, but not only, university students) of the post-Soviet generation were instrumental in initiating and sustaining street action: members of the civic youth group PORA were the first to protest in 2004,5 and students were also active in the early Euromaidan protests,6 though young professionals constituted a larger share of protesters in 2013-2014.7 (This can be explained in part by the fact that some young people who were active as students during the Orange Revolution came back to the Maidan in 2013 to push for political change.)

Yet the two episodes of contention are distinguished by the intensity of state repression. The Orange Revolution was largely peaceful: Ukrainian authorities refrained from using force to disperse the protests,8 which allowed participants to keep to a non-violent protest repertoire. In contrast, the Euromaidan saw a violent crackdown by security forces early on (November 30, 2013) that left young protesters severely injured; crowds swelled as older citizens flocked to the Maidan to defend "their children." On January 16, 2014 then-President Yanukovych signed a set of "anti-protest" laws that criminalized all forms of protest, and clashes between protesters and security forces took place later that month. Rightwing organizations (including Right Sector [Pravyi Sektor]), which constituted a small group within the opposition forces on Maidan, turned to a more violent repertoire,9 throwing stones and incendiary grenades at police.10 Some scholars stress that only a minority of more radical protesters used violence and that "the images of fighters, walls of fire, and masked young men did not and do not represent the peaceful, larger groups that turned out well into February to join evening demonstrations in city squares."11 It has also been pointed out that the tactics of Euromaidan's Self-Defense Brigades, including the barricades and the burning of tires on Hrushevskoho Street were de-escalation tactics that successfully prevented police violence for weeks.12 In late February, confrontations and street warfare with pro-government forces resulted in significant losses on the side of the protesters.13

Despite clear differences in the intensity of the "two Maidans," one could argue that their outcome was similar in some respects. In both cases, the antigovernment protests brought to power politicians who professed commitment to democratic principles and pro-European foreign policy, and in both instances, citizens soon expressed disillusionment with their new leader's ability to deliver on his promises.

Scholars have pointed to a certain degree of distrust of collective action among some state actors and ordinary citizens in post-Soviet states,14 and clashes during the Euromaidan raised questions-especially (though not only) for threatened elites-about the extent to which the protest collective had itself been responsible for the violence. …

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