Stu­dent force

The strengths and weak­nesses of Ukrainian youth move­ments

The Ukrainian Week - - SOCIETY - An­driy Holub

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


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


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

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