How Euromaidan helped democratisation in Ukraine

Euromaidan Revolution; Photo from : facebook.com/ruslana.lyzhychko.5

Euromaidan Revolution; Photo from : facebook.com/ruslana.lyzhychko.5 

2016/10/07 • Analysis & Opinion, Maidan, Ukraine

Article by: Maryan Pokhylyy

Numerous theories try to explain the causes for Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine: some blame Viktor Yanukovych for refusing to sign EU Association Agreement in 2013 while others argue that root of the problem be more long-term, originating from the Orange Revolution or even before that – from the Soviet regime.

This essay will show how the protests can be explained as a critical juncture, in aiding Ukraine to consolidate democratisation that started with the collapse of USSR.

In Ukraine even after the widely regarded as ‘legitimate’ elections in 2010, a consolidated democracy did not fully emerge as Ukraine spiralled into authoritarian rule, which was soon followed by the events at Maidan.

After the Orange Revolution, Ukraine was strengthening democracy as the support for civil society, media freedom, and free elections were on the rise. However, afterwards, political crises and economic downturns resulted in mass apathy and increased in negative views towards the pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko rising in support for the pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych.

Euromaidan protests played the role of critical junctures that were brought about by modernization in Ukraine

Taras Kuzio, a current day Ukrainian scholar from England, proposes that due to Yushchenko’s multi-vector strategy – the dialogue with both protesters and the old regime – created divisions among pro-democratic camps. This resulted in Yanukovych winning the election in 2010 followed by a rise in the level of corruption, reaching those of Leonid Kuchma.

Hence soon the country collapsed into a soft-authoritarian regime, maintained by a few clans of oligarchs surrounding Yanukovych and his family. This system, favoured by oligarchs interested in supporting this government without it turning into authoritarianism as the latter leads to rising international concerns for the country resulting in losses of profit and potential trade partners in the West.

Euromaidan protests played the role of critical junctures that were brought about by modernization in Ukraine. Modernization suggests that if the authoritarian government experiences a long-term economic growth, the society will increase the levels of socioeconomic modernization causing people’s actions repertoires to widen, making freedom more desirable to make use of a wider action collection.

Yanukovych had a neo-Soviet nationalist identity, inherited the conservative-Russophile wing of the Soviet Communist Party in Ukraine, and undermined democratic values

Steady economic development alters views on the regimes, advancing skilled and coherent public opinions that become increasingly effective at challenging authoritarian elites. Welzel and Inglehart experts on democratisation suggest that the commercial success could be used in the short-term to legitimise authoritarian regimes in front of the public. However, it will fail to do so in the long-term.

In the case of Ukraine, economic development caused higher levels of socioeconomic modernization from 2000 until Euromaidan, during which period GDP per capita increased steadily from $635.71 (in 2000) reaching $3891.04 in 2008. During the economic crisis, GDP fell in the short term, but rose soon after reaching its usual rate (according to the World Bank) – thus increase in people’s income works to confirm the theory.

Thanks to the Orange Revolution, Ukraine managed to create a politically conscious civil society that is more vigorous than at any other time in Ukraine’s almost 20-year independent existence

After the 2010 elections, Ukraine was experiencing a fall-back to the authoritarian regime since Yanukovych won elections. Kuzio suggests three main causes for this; firstly, Kuzio highlights that Yanukovych had a “neo-Soviet nationalist identity” – he prioritised stability and economics over democracy. Secondly, “inherited the conservative-Russophile wing of the Soviet Communist Party in Ukraine” and hence the biggest threat to Ukrainian democratic rights as the state politics curtailed political liberalisation and unleashed political repression. Thirdly, Yanukovych undermined democratic values by imprisoning opposition leaders, infringing numerous constitutional articles and legislation and acted like “he never intended to leave office”. Under Yanukovych, the elections which had been held in 2010 and 2012 were condemned by Western governments and international organisations as a result of the growing influence of oligarchs and big businesses (OSCE report).

The key argument that Euromaidan was a part of the democratisation process in Ukraine was due to protesters having a non-partisan view of politics. Kuzio suggests that Yushchenko had failed to repress Yanukovych adequately after the 2004 elections hence “the ancien regime” retained a counter-revolutionary support base.

The support base enabled it to return to power as these ‘ancien regime’ parties, were backed by a large group of voters and in 2012 they were more united and organised than their pro-democratic opposition. However, Alexander Motyl, an American-Ukrainian historian, highlights that thanks to the Orange Revolution, Ukraine managed to create a politically conscious civil society that is more vigorous than at any other time in Ukraine’s almost 20-year independent existence.

Euromaidan was not a reaction to elections or a political mobilisation but a more long-term process with a goal of overturning the ancien regime

This played a crucial role in creating differentiation between the political elites and the masses, which resulted in creating tension to fuel the protests and keep the protestors non-partisan. In contrast to the Orange Revolution, it is possible to argue that Euromaidan protests caused further democratisation as the protests involved the whole country unlike during the Orange Revolution when the protests remained mostly in Kyiv. Thus it is possible to suggest, that protesters had a higher level of diversification and represented all regions of the country, showing that democratic values had increased throughout Ukraine as a whole.

Modernization played a key role during the Euromaidan protests

The rising importance of social media during the protests adds to the argument that modernization played a key role during the protests. As more than half of protesters used various social media sites to find out more about the Euromaidan protests – gives evidence of modernization, which in contrast to Orange Revolution, was far less significant as suggested by Olga Onuch.

Joshua Tucker, an expert in democratisation, identifies electoral fraud as a key to why people would protest as collective action and uses this to explain the cause of Orange Revolution as elections created unity amongst opposition leaders. Euromaidan had a similar effect as the political party opposition managed to remain united throughout Euromaidan and attempted to shape the protests. However, they had little influence in the actual protests as the civil organisations and societies took charge hence promoting a more stable democratisation growth.

Euromaidan performed the role of critical juncture that aimed to set Ukraine back on track toward democracy through the increase in democratic rights, freedom of speech and economic development

Euromaidan was not a reaction to elections or a political mobilisation but a more long-term process with a goal of overturning the ancien regime. Students went to the streets due to Yanukovych not signing the Association Agreement with the EU.

Hence again Euromaidan differed from the Orange Revolution as Sergiy Plokhy in his book The Gates of Europe states: A History of Ukraine suggests that as the protesters were initially lead by changing the countrie’s foreign policy rather than the electoral fraud;thus the desire to accept the democratic principles, as Euromaidan evolved, the demands shifted to more a social sphere; reform of the police and clearance of corruption. The opposition to Party of Regions which at the time had been passing through undemocratically anti-democratic laws, for example, the controversial laws about the ban on large gatherings which were adopted by raising hands and skipped all parliamentary procedures; condemned at Euromaidan as being authoritarian.

The fundamental argument is that Ukraine moved towards a more consolidated democracy after the Orange Revolution and Yanukovych reversed the process due to usurpation of power thus Euromaidan performed the role of critical juncture that aimed to set Ukraine back on track toward democracy through the increase in democratic rights, freedom of speech and economic development.

Maryan Pokhylyy is a Glasgow University student in Politics and Central and Eastern European Studies. He is an active member and volunteer for various NGO organisations and societies.

Edited by: Viktoriia Zhuhan

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  • zorbatheturk

    Vladolf get lostsky.

    • Quartermaster

      Perhaps we can pen him up in a bunker with a pistol and he’ll do the decent thing.

      • Thomas Ferree

        Qm — Don’t hold your breath on that idea ….. only someone decent would do the decent thing. I can’t find even ONE decent thing about Vladolf (as zorbatheturk has christened him!! Vladolf, such a well deserved moniker!)

  • Alex George

    A great endorsement of the Ukrainian people – it is their determination to explore new values that has led Ukraine to where it is today, and the bright future that awaits it.