Yesterday in my rueful and lamenting post relating to the decision by Ukraine to postpone the EU Association Agreement signing next week in Vilnius, I wrote “Perhaps those millions in favour of the agreement will turn out en masse with a policy of civil disobedience in numbers reminiscent of 2004/5 and panic the National Security Council and President Yanukovych into a different decision over the next week? Time will tell.”
In all honesty, I wrote it firstly to cover an obvious possibility, but secondly as a paragraph boarding on a wish – but with little hope that in reality it would occur in sufficient numbers and over sufficient duration to be effective in the days remaining.
I deliberately wrote civic disobedience, rather than anything opposition led, quite simply because as 47% of Party of Regions voters support the signing of this agreement according to a recent GfK poll, any opposition led rather than civic movement may very well keep them away – and it will be numbers that count and not political party preference.
Anyway, around 8pm, the Ukraine Truth political journalist Mustafa Nayyem on both twitter and Facebook called for a spontaneous protest in support of the signing of the agreement.
The twitter hashtag of #Евромайдан (Euromaidan) was born and became the top ranking hashtag on the Ukrainian twitter rankings within an hour.
Numbers vary as to those who turned out in Kyiv, ranging from 500 to 1500 according to those present and tweeting.
An impressive number for a 2 hour lead-in time of such a spontaneous call – or considering that the call was made via social media alone, the place where millions of Ukrainian “20 – 30 somethings” who all undoubtedly “get it” when it comes to European integration, maybe not as impressive as you would expect?
A subjective question that could probably only be answered by the academics in the very niche area that study social media behaviour and associated civil demonstrations.
Needless to say, despite not calling the protest, the opposition leaders eventually turned up together with Yuri Lutsenko and hijacked an event that was not of their instigation.
Credit must remain with Mustafa Nayyem. Particularly so if this protest is to continue. It will need to retain a cross cutting cleavage through political lines. To garner sufficient momentum and numbers, the demographic of the social media savvy 20 – 30 somethings, rather than political supporters of party X or Y would generate the biggest turnout.
It would have been good to see Klitschko or Yatseniuk call upon the pro-Eurpoean integration Party of Regions MPs to turn up to support the protests. Firstly to prevent it becoming an “opposition event” likely to exclude pro-European Regions voters, and secondly, it would either force a split within the Regions party, or prove invaluable election material should none turn up despite months of pro-integration rhetoric after such a plea.
Sadly neither Klitschko nor Yatseniuk were that strategically sharp, obviously preferring the usual zero sum political stance and ignoring the fact that a split in the government back in 2004/5 was part of the reason for the success of the original Maidan.
If ever a case for the absence of zero sum politics, and the insertion of inclusiveness across an entire demographic was a political necessity amongst the Ukrainian constituency, it is now, when a genuine cross cutting cleavage exists.
Kyiv was not the only city to answer Nayyem’s call. Lviv, Donetsk, Lutsk and Kharkiv all did the same, all be it in far smaller numbers. Again, the twitter and Facebook photographs would underline the “20 -30 somethings” as the demographic with momentum.
Thus, when the political class of all sides has failed the young people of Ukraine once again, it has fallen to them to act for their own benefit by direct action at the last minute.
Can the demographic that “gets it” with regard to European integration find the numbers, momentum, continuity and will to overcome domestic political alignments, to panic Yanukovych and the National Security Council into a last minute change of mind?
This article was originally published on the Author’s Odessatalk blog.