The strengths and weaknesses of Ukrainian youth movements
At the beginning of 1990, the Ukrainian SSR elected its Supreme Council, the Verkhovna Rada, on an alternative basis for the first time. Despite the emergence of opposition, Communists maintained a majority in Parliament. In the middle of the same year, four young people from Ukraine held several meetings in Lithuania. Their goal was ambitious – to coordinate an action plan for civil disobedience that would aim to dissolve the recently elected Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian SSR. The four people who met in Vilnius represented two organisations: the Ukrainian Student Union (USU) and the Student Brotherhood. This was the start of preparations for the student-led Revolution on Granite, which for years to come would be a shining example of civic engagement among Ukrainian youth.
In the future, students would play a major role in various campaigns, starting with Ukraine without Kuchma and the Orange Revolution, ending with the Revolution of Dignity. However, they have never been more organised than during those 15 days in October 1990.
One of the students who attended the meeting in Lithuania was Oles Doniy, then the chairman of the USU and later one of the three leaders of the Revolution on Granite. Alongside him, the protest was coordinated by the head of the Lviv Student Brotherhood Markiyan Ivashchyshyn and the leader of the local USU in Dniprodzerzhynsk (now Kamianske – Ed.), Oleh Barkov.
"The Student Brotherhood in Lviv and Kyiv USU were two of the most powerful structures. The former was the most numerous and the latter suggested the demonstration. We deliberately involved the small Dniprodzerzhynsk structure because it was important from the point of view of the Ukrainian myth. It was supposed to represent the East," Doniy recalls. "The leadership stayed in place from the first to the last days and only it had the right to make decisions about both the negotiations and the technical aspects of the campaign: where demonstrations should take place, where to pitch tents and so on."
According to Doniy, this is precisely the distinction between this campaign and other ones that students have participated in. Although other social strata from different spheres and age groups also joined the student revolution, they only provided assistance. One more feature of the campaign was the protesters' clear demands formulated in five points: dissolution of Parliament and multiparty elections, nationalisation of Communist Party and Komsomol property, refusal to sign a new "union treaty" with Moscow, military service for Ukrainian men within Ukraine and the resignation of government chairman and Communist Party representative Vitaliy Masol. According to Doniy, there were three demands from the beginning and the last two were added by representatives from Lviv on the eve of the campaign’s start.
Twenty-three years after these events, a somewhat older Ukrainian was planning to go to Lithuania to meet with a number of representatives of EU countries, as well as partners from the former USSR – Azerbaijan, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova. In addition to meetings, the man had an ambitious task – to sign the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. However, his plans changed dramatically a few days before the scheduled signing. An old friend and the man's
STUDENTS PLAYED A MAJOR ROLE IN VARIOUS CAMPAIGNS, FROM UKRAINE WITHOUT KUCHMA, THE ORANGE REVOLUTION TO THE MAIDAN. BUT NEVER HAVE THEY BEEN MORE ORGANISED THAN IN THE OCTOBER 1990 REVOLUTION ON GRANITE
colleague signed a government decree to suspend the process of preparing the agreement. That is how Viktor Yanukovych and Mykola Azarov triggered the EuroMaidan protests.
Young people and students again formed the basis for these protests. Although this time they did not have strong and sizable organisations on hand, nor enough time for thorough preparation.
On the evening of November 21, 2013, Andriy Pryimachenko, a student of Journalism at the Lviv Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), was returning to his hall of residence after class and following the news on social media. On one of the photos, he saw his friend Oleksandr Argat. He was holding an EU flag in front of the Christmas tree framework on Independence Square [the Maidan] in Kyiv. Andriy was already aware of the government's decision on the agreement with the EU. The further progression of events was clear: Ukraine would once again be drawn into the Russian sphere of influence with no certainty that it would be able to escape this time. Pryimachenko shared the photo on his profile and left his room to look for groupmates. Coming from Kyiv, Andriy did not really know where people in Lviv usually meet for a Maidan. However, he clearly decided that he should go there right now. On the way, Andriy and his friends decided to go to the Shevchenko Monument on Freedom Square in Lviv.
Another UCU student, Ihor Feshchenko, was among those who joined the demonstration: "Students from two university programmes, the School of Journalism and Media Communications Programme, mobilised first of all. We were the first to go onto the square in Lviv in an organised manner. Then we were the first to go to Kyiv. Afterwards we were scattered around a bit. Some joined defence squads, others went into structures like the Lviv EuroMaidan and others still worked with foreign journalists." On November 24, the largest rally outside Kyiv took place in Lviv with students at its core and on the night of November 26, a bus with Andriy, Ihor and other Lviv EuroMaidan participants was blocked by traffic police when trying to leave for Kyiv.
A participant in the Kyiv EuroMaidan and at the time a history student at the Borys Hrinchenko Kyiv University, Vitaliy Kuzmenko, also says that at first he protested with classmates or friends who had the same views. On the night of November 30, Vitaliy was by the Independence Monument on the Maidan. He was beaten by members of the Berkut special police under the pretext of clearing the square of people to erect the Christmas tree. Now, Kuzmenko is recorded as a victim in the respective criminal case.
"After November 30, we formed a student coordinating council, the Hrinchenko Society. Activists of the protest movement joined it, including representatives of student government. I was then elected as the coordinator of the society. We set a few main priorities. Firstly, to combine our efforts and support students of our university and secondly, to cooperate with other Maidan student movements and the university administration," says Vitaliy.
From the very beginning, the student campaigns did not have a centralised leadership. When strike committees and other organisational structures were formed at universities, they united into the socalled Student Coordination Council of the Maidan (SCC). However, the SCC never became a clear structure. Formally, it included representatives from the largest universities whose students were taking part in the protests. However, there were no leaders of the SCC and hardly anyone would be able to recall at least one representative of this council. For the general public, the SCC existed as an impersonal account in social media. Additionally, at first there was some confusion regarding demands to the government. Following the November 29 summit in Vilnius, the demand to sign the Association Agreement there became meaningless. However, a night later the protesters were assaulted and a request to punish the perpetrators was added. On December 5, the SCC issued its demands, which were divided into four "immediate", four "systematic" and three "main" ones. Subsequently, the function of representing the protesters was almost entirely taken over by the National Resistance Headquarters led by Batkivshchyna’s OleksandrTurchynov, UDAR’s Vitaliy Klitschko, Svoboda’s Oleh Tiahnybok, Front Zmin’s Arseniy Yatseniuk and other politicians.
However, at the beginning ordinary protesters tried not to link themselves to politicians. After the first large-scale demonstration on November 24, when more than 100,000 people took to the streets of Kyiv, the Maidan practically split in two: the "political" one stayed at Yevropeyska Ploshcha (European Square), while the "non-political" or "student" demonstration stayed on Independence Square. The unwillingness of students to stand alongside politicians and, conversely, the desire of the latter to take advantage of youth protests is a common feature in all times.
According to Doniy, in 1990 their relationship with politicians, even the then opposition, was also far from serene: "Some People's Deputies came (to see the student protesters – Ed.). There were not so many of them and most of Narodnyi Rukh (People’s Movement) members were actually jealous of our campaign. A group of MPs headed by Stepan Khmara came to support us. Our conditions were as follows: here are your tents and sleeping bags, you can go to the microphone and say what you want, but you have no influence on the leadership. To the honour of these deputies, roughly 12 of them, they agreed to these demands."
As for the lack of coordination and structuring in the Ukrainian student movement at the beginning of the EuroMaidan, the problem actually arose long before that. Myron Hordiychuk was one of the coordinators of EuroMaidan at Shevchenko Kyiv National
AS FOR STUDENTS' PROTEST POTENTIAL IN GENERAL, IT IS OFTEN EXAGGERATED IN THE PUBLIC IMAGINATION. ACCORDING TO SOCIOLOGISTS, YOUNG PEOPLE ARE NOT THE MOST PROTEST-MINDED GROUP IN UKRAINIAN SOCIETY
University. Prior to that, he had a long history of participating in various protests as a member of the Vidsich [Rebuff] movement. In particular, Hordiychuk participated in the Anti-Tabachnyk Campaign for the resignation of then notorious Minister of Education and Science Dmytro Tabachnyk serving in the Yanukovych Government. He does not recall any completely coordinated student action since 2009. "Even the anti-Tabachnyk movements included representatives from three parts of the political spectrum: Vidsich, whose members did not have a set ideology and were non-partisan, the left wing with its socalled Direct Action and "right-wing" youth – mostly the youth movement of the Svoboda party, who also joined the campaign for one reason or another. Many people had different motivations," Hordiychuk says.
Among the reasons for this situation he lists the apathy and disappointment in society after the breakup of the "orange" camp and comeback of the Party of Regions following the Orange Revolution. He adds as an example that the number of people who went out to protest the controversial KivalovKolesnichenko language law was paltry for a city the size of Kyiv.
"Even during the Revolution, the student movement was not fully coordinated: there was no single structure or authority that everyone could agree with. This caused many unpleasant moments and quarrels. However, they somehow managed not to air their dirty laundry in front of the cameras. The unity of the student movement in 2013 was rather hypo-
thetical. When students entered the Ministry of Education and Science building in February, there were people from the SCC, anarchists, several students from Belarus and the right wing. There was a big risk that the right-wingers would fight the left-wing students already inside the ministry. Frankly, it was like a playground squabble," adds Hordiychuk.
The USU and Student Brotherhood, which played a decisive role during the Revolution on Granite, had lost their credibility by the 2000s. Asked why this happened, Doniy replies that there were several parties interested in this. After a successful campaign of the students, the authorities tried to take control of the organisation by changing its leadership. This succeeded in putting Kyiv and Lviv activists at loggerheads.
"Not only the secret services, but also our competitors were interested in this – not only communist political forces, but also, strangely enough, some of the Narodnyi Rukh. At that time, we were actively discussing the creation of a political force based on the student movement. In March 1991, at the USU congress, we even adopted a resolution on the foundation of such a party. However, a wedge was then driven between the student leadership of Lviv and Kyiv," says Doniy. Subsequently, the Verkhovna Rada adopted the first Ukrainian law on the election of People's Deputies. It included raising the age limit for candidates from 18 to 25, which effectively excluded student leaders from participation in the political struggle. This law was adopted by Parliament prior to the 1994 parliamentary elections.
As for students' protest potential in general, it is often exaggerated in the public imagination. According to sociologists, young people are not the most protest-minded group in Ukrainian society. For example, a survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in February 2017 suggests that protest potential of different age groups is roughly the same. Similarly, the figure for those who are not prepared to participate in any mass protest actions at all is similar – 42-45% in different age groups (only the 70+ group has more such people – 56%). In addition, the figures are not very different from the perspective of education. Although among those with incomplete higher education (3 years or more) there are actually slightly more people willing to collect signatures, participate in legal demonstrations and strike.
"I remember that from 2009 the only thing that united students was the introduction of some tuition or fees in education, their "vested interest". This made it possible to mobilize 1,000 students, while targeted resistance against Tabachnyk or the Law On Higher Education* was attended by 200-300 students from the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and several dozen more activists from around Kyiv," says Hordiychuk.
Pryimachenko from UCU remembers that upon arriving in Kyiv during the EuroMaidan, they and other activists went to Kyiv high schools with appeals to join the protests. He says that many students did not understand this. "They did not believe that anything depends on them. Well, it's true that if you're taught how to bribe lecturers with food and drink at university and pay to pass exams, then why should you show initiative?" he says.
During the EuroMaidan, the position taken by university administrations was also very significant. For example, the leadership of UCU, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and Hrinchenko University supported the protesters, and sometimes representatives of the administration participated in demonstrations themselves. The administration of Taras Shevchenko National University did not adopt a clear position, but often also helped student activists on a personal level.
The Ukrainian Week's sources named different reasons why students were unable to organise a single structure and definitively lead the 2013 protests. In addition to the apathy and contempt in society at the time, as well as the passivity of students, it is also because over the past 20 years Ukrainian politics and society have undergone dramatic changes.
"The point is that we could make a revolution relying on our own funds and could earn additional money by selling newspapers and badges. It sounds strange, but then was a time of relative financial wellbeing," Doniy says about the 1990s and adds that today, society has no financial means to independently support public movements and parties. Therefore, in order to participate in politics, it is necessary to make a compromise with some financial-industrial group, which then dictates its conditions and puts its own leadership in charge of the country. This, he said, is what is catastrophic about the current situation. Another problem is often the excessive ambitions of some civic activists who cannot put their personal goals aside for a common purpose.
However, the lack of a single structure and clear demands did not stop dozens of people from joining protests in 2013. They subsequently turned into rallies attended by thousands. Under such conditions, the student movement, albeit not too organised, serves as an excellent indicator of the average temperature of public sentiment.
The critical assault. The beating of students by the Berkut in the first phase of the EuroMaidan turned the local protests of young people into a massive social movement against the government