Q&A: Leading Activist of the 2004 Orange Revolution on the Ukrainian protests.

January 24, 2014

by Carly Alvarez

Today the Albert Einstein Institution research team talked to a key leader of the 2004 Orange revolution about the current protest in Ukraine. Due to the situation in the country he has asked to remain anonymous.

How is the Ukrainian government using violence to disperse protesters from Independence Square?

They’re not only using the explicit force of their own enforcement agencies, but they’re also bringing people from different parts of Ukraine by paying them about 30 US dollars each. They are given different kinds of weapons and are told to break shop windows, burn cars, and hit whoever is wearing the European and Ukrainian flags. They are meant to destabilize the situation as much as possible. This is seen as the government’s way to introduce a curfew and a state of emergency, under which they will have complete control of everything.

How have the protesters reacted to these violent groups (known as titushki)?

People found out about the government’s plan so they started patrolling the streets to prevent the titushki from doing any damage. Protesters were catching these people, taking their weapons, publicly shaming them, and then letting them go. The amazing thing is that no one was beating or imprisoning them.

Why do you think that is?

Well, because the people of Maidan are trying to be peaceful. Two days before, things got violent because people lost patience. They have been standing on the square for two months and they haven’t heard any concrete plan from the opposition leaders. They decided they needed to take action into their own hands.

This week some protesters were throwing fireworks and Molotov cocktails into riot police. Are violent tactics being viewed as effective?

No, they’re definitely not effective. People are in total despair. They are not thinking logically anymore. Of course you cannot win using violence against the government, but people are so desperate and so disappointed that they have started using it as a last resort. The things the government is doing are completely beyond any understanding. The riot police have already beaten up dozens of doctors who were helping wounded people on the streets. They’ve also been explicitly attacking journalists wearing orange vests with press written on them.

Is there anyone who is continuing to promote nonviolent struggle?

Yes, there are many people that keep talking about nonviolence. For example, there was one activist who was abducted and tortured, Igor Lutsenko*. When he returned, he reconfirmed that the only way to fight against them [the government] is by nonviolent methods.

Why is he advocating continued nonviolent discipline?

He said that the police are stronger than us physically. But if you show them, even while being tortured, that you don’t hate them and you explain to them why you’re doing what you’re doing, it breaks the stereotypes in their heads. He said in his interview that the police are convinced that the people on the square are being paid by the Americans or Europeans.

Are there any indications that the reliability of the police is being weakened?

There are two types of police. One type consists of conscripts, and they hate being there. They are between 18 to 20 years old and are there because they have an order, if something were to happen I don’t think they would be violent. Then there’s the riot police called Berkut. They are pretty tough; I don’t think they would back down. Some are saying that these riot police need a guarantee of what would happen if the government changes. Because there is no single opposition leader who can promise them safety, it’s a dead-end situation.

Are you aware of efforts to develop a strategy for dealing with a transition?

Yes, the plan is to convene something like a people’s parliament. They want all members of parliament from the opposition parties, along with any pro-government members who are willing to join, to vote for a shadow government. This government would develop an action plan of what to do next, the people want a government that western powers will be able to recognize and support.