Maidan-2: November-December lessons
At the peak of the first Russian Revolution, the tsar made concessions. His Manifesto proclaimed civil rights and liberties, the freedom of assembly and political parties. The liberal public was hilarious, but there were all those others who took a dim view of the situation. Pavel Milyukov, the future lasting leader of the Kadets Constitutional Democratic Party, made a totally unexpected statement: “Nothing has changed, the war continues.”
I believe this historical example serves to accurately describe the situation that has developed after the president of Ukraine vetoed the Tax Code bill, followed by a cosmetically repaired version thereof passed by the Verkhovna Rada. The politicians who joined the Maidan protesters in Kyiv called this a victory, albeit interim, to suit the crowd’s moods.
In reality, the protesters had suffered a defeat.
A detailed analysis is still to be made, but there are several clearly apparent inferences.
First, in regard to achievements — the Maidan as a political phenomenon is something far more important than what has been snatched from the grip of those currently in power. Second (subsequent to the first point), given the importance of what took place on the Maidan, Kyiv’s central Independence Square, there is the important fact of such rallies of protest in the outlying regions and large industrial centers. This left the local authorities scared stiff; they didn’t know what to do, what public statements to make. The vertical chain of political command once again demonstrated its glaring inefficiency. Worse still, the local ranking bureaucrats turned out completely unaware of the causes and consequences. It became apparent to one and all that those currently in power actually have no power.
One other thing. Maidan-2 finally refuted the myth about the incompatibility between the east and west of Ukraine; they all have the same problems, irrespective of geography or other factors. It was in Kyiv that Donetsk had actually joined hands with Lviv, so now any effort to antagonize them will be futile. Before long this will become a political factor, something to be reckoned with by all.
Such massive efforts should extend from the Maidan all over Ukraine, but they must be a coordinated effort. This is a mandatory prerequisite for success. On other conditions further on.
The second doubtless achievement was the emergence and assertion of the first shoots of a civil society. It is only by pressuring those in power, acting under the Constitution and other laws, that one can reach certain goals. The so-called strong government doesn’t seem to realize this — and nor is it likely to do so, ever. Therefore, it is doomed to repeat past mistakes.
In regard to mistakes, the first and foremost one was broaching the Tax Code subject on a trade-union basis, without politics. This approach was erroneous from the outset and reactionary. This confrontation was futile and the outcome was well to be expected. Those at the head of protesting efforts took their time realizing that any economic reforms are essentially political ones, while the masses are largely in the dark. This is precisely how those in power succeeded in splitting up the protesters, by going through the motions of making concessions.
Therefore, the economic aspect of the issue didn’t allow to form a single resistance front, with just small and medium business people protesting on the Maidan. They weren’t supported by pensioners and those soon to retire. No one bothered about canvassing them, what with the draconian pension bill soon to be deliberated by the Verkhovna Rada, followed by the Housing and Family Code bills.
They shouldn’t have rallied for the president’s veto, for this is a purely technical function. No one needs this kind of Tax Code. What everyone needs is an entirely new one, worked out in conjunction with other laws. The point is not the arbitrary rule of the tax authorities, but the existing political system that has to be changed, which spells big-time politics rather than trade-union economic efforts. This problem can’t be solved by spontaneous Maidan-like rallies of protest, even if staged on a large scale.
At a certain point many of the Maidan-2 organizers must have become aware of the necessity of making political demands, but even then their actions were not systemic but rather reflective. There is also on objective reason: none of the political parties, in opposition or in power, are trusted by the people. That was precisely why no dialog could be organized. What kind of elections did they call for? What did they wanted as a result? Most likely, another hot-air session.
Ukraine’s middle class needs political organizations of its own, ones capable of protecting its interests. Otherwise no protest rallies will help. There must be a political party, but there is none. Two conclusions follow.
First, no early elections should be demanded until such a political force is formed and asserted. Second, this kind of party should have a clearly formulated ideology, something many shy away from. They shouldn’t. Because of the absence of such clear-cut ideology Ukrainian parties are in their current condition: distrusted by the general public.
Maidan-2 has served to heighten the feud within the Party of Regions, with various groups battling over their spheres of influence. All of a sudden we started hearing about Firtash and his Mafia links and talks with President Yushchenko. The presence of such documents on the WikiLeaks website is a technical matter, largely a coincidence. Without this major leak, there would be others. What we have is a mounting inner party struggle, something the Maidan protesters failed to comprehend and use to their advantage because of lack of organization. Otherwise this could have been easily prognosticated. Also, one must bear in mind the fact that the go-vernment can learn from its mistakes, although this inference would seem too optimistic at the moment.
Last but not least, there is the pressing necessity of forming a single front made up of all social segments. Remember the Chilean Popular Unity’s motto? El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido! (The people united will never be defeated!) This is the mandatory precondition of victory.