report on the days of violence and unrest that led to the fall of Ukraine’s president—and analyze the forces vying to impose their authority.
UKRAINE’S PRESIDENT Viktor Yanukovich appears to have been driven from power after the mass protest movement that has occupied Kiev’s Maidan (Independence Square) since November survived a deadly crackdown last week. In a matter of days, the country’s corrupt and autocratic regime was overwhelmed.
The parliamentary opposition to Yanukovich—dominated by center-right and even far-right parties, backed by the European Union (EU) and U.S. government—is moving quickly to establish its authority, ahead of new elections planned for May. Their goal is to head off any further action from below that might undermine their claim to speak for the uprising—and that might target the country’s elite beyond Yanukovich and his ruling party.
Contrary to this aim, however, the Maidan occupation grew larger over the weekend as masses of people celebrated reports that Yanukovich had fled the capital late Friday night. In scenes reminiscent of insurrections past, demonstrators poured into Yanukovich’s abandoned private estate in Kiev, complete with a luxurious residence, zoo and carefully manicured golf course.
The masses of people who participated in the Maidan movement did not endure months of encampments during a frigid winter and repeated assaults by the regime’s riot police in order for a new political leadership to take charge and preside over the same neoliberal policies that have impoverished ordinary people. Whatever happens now, the memory of how mass resistance forced out a tyranny will stay burned in the minds of Ukrainians.
Nevertheless, at this point, the conservative, pro-Western parties that have claimed leadership of the movement are pressing their advantage.
As a consequence of the upheaval last week, Yulia Tymoshenko, the imprisoned leader of the opposition Fatherland Party, was freed from jail. The Western media showcased a sympathetic image of Tymoshenko, frail from years behind bars and speaking to 50,000 people in Maidan. But more honest reports noted she got a “cool reception” from the occupiers. According to the Wall Street Journal, a volunteer security officer admonished her, saying: “Yulia Vladimirovna, remember who made this revolution.”
Tymoshenko herself is no stranger to political power or corruption—she is a former prime minister, and she became one of the richest people in Ukraine by brokering insider deals in the energy industry. Other leading figures of the former opposition parties have similar backgrounds.
Equally menacing is the high profile of the far right—in the form of both Svoboda, a political party with representatives in parliament that has ties to the British National Party and France’s National Front; and the extra-parliamentary Right Sector, a tightly organized street force that reportedly took the lead in the confrontations with riot police when the crackdown came last week.
The far right doesn’t care about democratic rights or challenging the power of the wealthy oligarchs—any more than Yanukovich did, or the more conventional conservative parties that have taken control in parliament.
… At the front of the Maidan, leaders of center-right parties dominated the speakers’ platform, and the far right controlled its self-defense units. But a large majority of the rank-and-file participants in the Maidan have legitimate greivances—against the impact of neoliberal capitalism, against state repression and their lack of a political voice, against endemic corruption that ultimately serves to amass more wealth for the oligarchs—which put them at odds with both the mainstream right and the far right.
Building on the basis of these grievances, around the principle of solidarity, offers the hope for confronting both the agenda of a new government led by the mainstream conservative parties and the threat of a further growth in influence for the fascists—and for creating the conditions for the emergence of a future revolutionary movement.