Is Zelenskyy’s presidency a rollback of Euromaidan values or their continuation?

Maidan

Writer Yuriy Andrukhovych: “Zelenskyy is sometimes forced to speak as if he’s standing on the Maidan stage!” Photo: president.gov.ua/photos/social-activities 

History, Opinion, Ukraine

Article by: Dmytro Bobrytsky
Translated by: Christine Chraibi

When comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy rode to presidency upon anti-elitist sentiments in 2019, many saw his landslide victory against incumbent President Poroshenko, elected in the wake of the Euromaidan Revolution, as a defeat of the pro-EU, pro-democracy uprising. Others were overjoyed at the overturning of what they saw as the corrupt elites. On the eighth anniversary of Euromaidan, three Ukrainian intellectuals ponder the connection between Zelenskyy and Euromaidan.

On November 21, Ukraine celebrated the Day of Dignity and Freedom, created by presidential decree on November 13, 2014 as the beginning of two historic events: the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-14.

NV addressed three authoritative intellectuals with one question: Is President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy committed to the true values of Euromaidan?

Historian Yaroslav Hrytsak

“We will remember Zelenskyy as the president who invented the slogan “What difference does it make!”

Maidan

Historian Yaroslav Hrytsak: Euromaidan was generated by a strong demand for change… and in 2019 it was projected on Zelenskyy.” Photo: theukrainians.org

It’s hard to imagine what else connects Zelenskyy with Euromaidan besides the words “Glory to Ukraine!” We see that his lexicon contains no words or phrases that were so important to Euromaidan, namely “values” and “dignity”. I believe we’ll remember Zelenskyy’s presidency through his much-cited words “What difference does it make?”

I think that he doesn’t even understand who the biggest enemy of Euromaidan was – and this enemy was not Viktor Yanukovych, but Vladimir Putin. Putin was and remains the enemy of Ukraine, regardless of the Euromaidan.

In my opinion, the only thing that connects Zelenskyy with Euromaidan is his presidency. If there had been no Euromaidan, neither he nor Petro Poroshenko would have had the chance of becoming president. Euromaidan was generated by a strong demand for change, and when Euromaidan won, this demand was multiplied many times over. However, the demand remains, and in 2019 it was projected on Zelenskyy and his short period of “turbo reforms”.

Zelenskyy’s election saved Ukraine from a counter-revolution – the possible election of the pro-Russian Opposition Platform-For Life. But, we already see that Zelenskyy is repeating what Putin and Yanukovych did before him, and to some extent even Poroshenko in his last months of tenure – i.e. building and surrounding himself with an authoritarian system.

We all know how it ended in 2004, 2014 and 2019. Therefore, the popular wave that gave birth to Zelenskyy can easily turn against him. I wouldn’t want that for Ukraine. I don’t know if Ukraine can survive another revolution. But, no one chooses revolution. You can choose a president, but the revolution happens on its own, without anyone actually choosing this option… although it often happens during an election.

KIIS General Director Volodymyr Paniotto

“Zelenskyy is trying to implement the values of Euromaidan.”

Maidan

KIIS General Director Volodymyr Paniotto: “Zelensky is trying to implement the European model of development, one of the values of the Revolution of Dognity.” Photo: DR

What are the values of the Maidan? Today, they can be interpreted differently, but we can go back and look at the three polls that KIIS and the Democratic Initiatives Foundation conducted on the Maidan in 2013-14.

The first poll was held during the largest rally in the history of Ukraine on December 7 and 8, 2013, the second on December 20, 2013, and the third on February 3, 2014.

Sociologist Iryna Bekeshkina noted the radicalization of Maidan, and aptly named the three poll periods “Maidan Rally, Maidan Camp and Maidan Sich”. In addition to tactical short-term demands (release of arrested Maidan activists, Yanukovych’s resignation, early elections, etc.), there were certain long-term demands that can be interpreted as values: ensuring the European model of development, limiting presidential power, fighting corruption and improving living standards. The last demand was supported by less than half of Maidan respondents, so I don’t think it can be cited as a specific value of the Maidan; I’d say that it’s a universal value.

Ensuring the European model of development

I believe that Zelenskyy is trying to implement this principle. According to our data, in June 2021, if there was a referendum on joining the EU, 73% would vote “yes” and only 27% “no”. This is about the same ratio as during Poroshenko’s tenure.

Limiting presidential power

This question should be addressed to lawmakers. However, for many years and under different presidents, almost every single Member of Parliament has advocated for a law to impeach the president and lift parliamentary immunity. But, when it came to the crunch, to the actual vote, they always cast their ballots against the bill.

These laws were passed during Zelenskyy’s term. So, some steps have been taken. But, I cannot assess the quality of these laws.

Fighting corruption

When Maidan activists talk about fighting corruption, they mostly refer to the higher echelons of government. Corruption is tolerated on a daily basis by the population as it’s a convenient way to solve everyday problems.

We’re currently studying cases of corruption that the average person encounters. We haven’t conducted a definite analysis, but I have the impression that so far there are fewer high-profile cases of corruption in the upper echelons of power than during Poroshenko’s term. Moreover, the law on oligarchs is also aimed at reducing the level of corruption in the upper echelons of power. However, I cannot assess the quality of this law.

Improving the living standard

It hasn’t happened. Poverty has grown. It’s difficult to say whether Covid has had anything to do with this. It’s also difficult to confirm that it’s due to Zelenskyy’s actions or the incompetence of the government.

I believe Zelenskyy is trying to implement the values of the Maidan.

One more remark. The poverty level increased in 2014 and 2015, and then stabilized. It returned to pre-war levels, although people believed that poverty had risen sharply. The media and, consequently, Ukrainian society have treated Poroshenko unfairly. The same thing is happening with Zelensky today. I think that the last two presidents of Ukraine are much better than we imagine.

Writer Yuriy Andrukhovych

“Zelenskyy is sometimes forced to speak as if he’s standing on the stage of Euromaidan

Maidan

Writer Yuriy Andrukhovych: “In 2013, actor and TV producer Zelenskyy ridiculed the Maidan.” Photo: Nina Andrukhovych

As Supreme Commander-in-Chief, President Zelenskyy is forced to use the popular slogan “Glory to Ukraine!” But, this does not mean that it’s close to his heart. He’s obliged to do so because he’s president, a position that he seems to be enjoying more and more every day. So, it’s quite possible that we’ll be hearing “Glory to Ukraine!” more and more often.

In 2013, actor and TV producer Zelenskyy ridiculed Euromaidan; his notorious sketches and specific sense of humour have long become popular memes on social media. In a nutshell, the Maidan and the ensuing events were alien both to Zelenskyy and his comedy show team (Kvartal 95).

Zelenskyy and his team grew up in a Soviet environment and were part of the KVN, a Russian, and formerly Soviet, comedy TV show. It comes as no surprise that such people saw the Maidan as a “gathering of Nazis”.

It was much easier for such people to understand Yanukovych and his regime, who were closer to them both mentally and socially, as they used to say. Of course, it’s obvious that Zelenskyy and his boys from the Kvartal comedy show would never bite the hand that fed them. After all, the corporate parties commissioned by the odious members of Yanukovych’s regime were nothing more than way for Zelensky and Co. to integrate the power circle.

The Kvartal team loved Yanukovych and his acolytes, and if they did mock someone, it was done gently and in a friendly manner.

But today…. and I’d like to emphasize this again and again, Zelenskyy is President of Ukraine, and he must – at least from time to time – publicly mention the values of the Maidan. If he fails to do so, his main political opponent will take advantage of this.

Not everyone in Ukraine shares the values of Euromaidan, but among the people that still support Zelenskyy, there’s a significant percentage of voters for whom the values of the Maidan are very much alive and important.

Zelenskyy is pretending, simulating. He never stood on the stage of Euromaidan, but sometimes he’s forced to speak as if he’s still there, as if he’s spent days and nights on the stage, as if his custom-made vest and shirt still reek of smoke from burning tires.

Translated by: Christine Chraibi

Ukraine needs independent journalism. And we need you. Join our community on Patreon and help us better connect Ukraine to the world. We’ll use your contribution to attract new authors, upgrade our website, and optimize its SEO. For as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month, you can help build bridges between Ukraine and the rest of the world, plus become a co-creator and vote for topics we should cover next. Become a patron or see other ways to support. Become a Patron!

Tags: , , ,