Coincidence or not, but the 21st of November is again the beginning of a new revolution in Ukraine. You remember, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians all covered in orange standing on the central square of Kyiv and other cities? Yes, back in 2004, exactly on the 21st of November. On that day, people started gathering to protest for what was the official kick-off of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
The next day the whole world was already reporting about massive protests across the entire country. The demonstrators, reaching on some days an estimated million people, were patient; they stood for more than a month on the streets in freezing weather, fighting and hoping. Fighting for their rights and freedoms. Hoping for a better future: a democratic one, a European one.
Many things went wrong since then. And here we are again: exactly 9 years later, the 21st of November 2013, Ukrainians gathering again in the same Independence Square. A place of historical significance for the entire 46 million nation. Déjà vu á la ukrainienne: again, fighting for the right to decide the future of the country. Again, with hopes to be closer to European democratic standards and values.
The manifestation and explosion in Ukraine’s social media environment is a reaction to a fateful decree to “halt the process of preparing the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between Ukraine and the EU”, released by the government earlier that day. This comes precisely a week before the long-awaited Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius. After months of Euro-rhetoric voiced by all: the President, government and opposition, after the fulfilment of almost all EU requirements before signing, after constant consultations and negotiations with European partners this decision strikes the population of the country. Mobilized spontaneously via social media in a couple of hours only, up to two thousand Ukrainians went out to express their indignation with the actions of the leadership, demonstrating the potential of Ukrainian civil society on the rise.
Unfortunately, there is not much room left to manoeuvre. Neither the Ukrainian side, nor the European side wants to give in. The EU does not wish to loosen its political requirements in order to avoid creating a negative precedence for future occasions. The Ukrainian side is much more twisted and complicated though. The country’s fate is dependent on an ongoing rivalry between government and opposition; both caring solely about their own narrow-minded political interests in the light of future presidential elections in 2015, not seeing the broader political picture – namely the fate of their nation. The President, not seeing beyond his pocket (being the centre of the so-called “Family” – a prototype of a Ukrainian mafia) and Putin blackmailing with traditional economic and energy arguments, those two pose the largest threat to Ukraine nowadays. After their recent secret talks during the last two weeks, the rhetoric and, respectfully, the actions of the majority in Ukrainian Parliament, the Government and President Yanukovych have made a U-turn. The decree confirms the desire to restore lost trade volumes with Russia and other members of the Russian-led Customs Union.
Now, Ukraine – undoubtedly the most important country in the Eastern partnership (without which the project is a failure in any case) is, almost certainly, out of the game. With Armenia having backed out already 2 months ago (under the same Russian pressure) and Belarus facing punishment by EU’s sanctions for being Europe’s last dictatorship, the Eastern Partnership stands naked on the eve of its summit.
What we can do now is congratulate Putin: he truly deserves the title “world’s most powerful man”. He won the geopolitical battle. And not against Ukraine (this country obviously cannot stand against Russia’s pressure alone), but against the EU: its ambitious Eastern Partnership project, its desire to promote democracy and human rights, its soft power in the end. As Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted yesterday straight away after the release of the decree: “Ukraine government suddenly bows deeply to the Kremlin. Politics of brutal pressure evidently works”.
However, Ukrainians do not lose their hopes. Especially young people, a potential driving force, willing to live according to European standards. Time has come for a new peaceful uprising. Arab spring over? Viva Ukrainian Autumn!