Phase 1: Euromaidan and the Orange Revolution

Jeff Stepnisky

In a March 6 post I described research on what I called “The 4 Maidans.” In this post I consider elements of “Phase 1.” I look at the initial development of the Euromaidan movement and in particular its association with the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. I am interested in the ways that Euromaidan was framed during the first week of protests. More specifically, relying upon news articles collected through, I describe the techniques used to connect the burgeoning Euromaidan movement with 2004’s Orange Revolution. The idea is that, at least in its earliest moments, the Euromaidan movement gained significance and legitimacy through connections that protesters, organizers, politicians and journalists made between the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan. Similarities between the Euromaidan and the Orange Revolution may seem obvious or apparent, especially for those involved in the protests. However, the sociological point is that consistent efforts, both in speech and practice, to connect Euromaidan to the Orange Revolution helped to constitute the movement; that is, to give it form, significance and meaning both for participants and for outside observers.

On November 21st, 2013 then President Victor Yanukovych declared his intent to suspend signing a long-anticipated association agreement with the European Union. This lead to protests on the 21st and 22nd on the Maidan, and a large rally in the center of Kyiv on the 24th. News sources immediately connected the protests of the 21st and 22nd to the Orange Revolution. The Telegraph described “scenes reminiscent of the 2004 Orange revolution” and the BBC made an explicit connection between the Maidan, the Orange Revolution and the current protests: “Independence square is a focal point for protests – just as it was during 2004’s so-called Orange Revolution.” In the same piece, the BBC also noted the widespread use of the twitter hashtag “euromaidan” as early as the 22nd . The name of the movement, of course, suggested a connection between the Maidan and the frustrated desire for association with the EU.

Yet these connections to the Orange Revolution were accompanied by skepticism. The Global Post wrote that “It’s unclear whether Ukrainians, who have suffered from a sense of apathy after the Orange Revolution failed to produce meaningful change, are prepared to rally en masse around another political issue.” And the BBC quoted Olexiy Solohubenko saying: “Many people talk of protest fatigue, and many believe that not just the number but the spirit of the Orange Revolution will hardly be repeated – whatever the tools.” Even following the very large rally of the 24th observers remained doubtful. Eurasianet quotes Ukrainian journalist Natalya Lihachova saying: “An Orange Revolution is impossible now. There are no politicians for whose sake people would be ready to take to the streets for days and weeks.”

November 24th was the first large rally of the Euromaidan movement. Protesters marched from Shevchenko Park, through Maidan and rallied at European Square. Though perhaps unintended, the route symbolically traced a movement from the nationalist past (Shevchenko Park), through the events of 2004 (Maidan), to as of yet unrealized hopes for European association (European Square). Indeed, despite earlier media references to the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, this first rally centered on the European Square where a stage had been set up in front of Ukrainian House to host political speeches.

At this rally, the Orange Revolution was explicitly invoked by Yulia Tymoshenko’s daughter Evgenia when, from the stage, she said “We need to complete what we didn’t finish after Orange revolution back in 2004” . At the same rally opposition politician and former Minster or the Interior Yurij Lutsenko apologized for the failures of the Orange Revolution, suggesting that Euromaidan was an opportunity to correct those failures. Igor Moskalenko, a 56 year old engineer expressed a similar sentiment when he said “I was here for the Orange revolution and I’m now here again and will stay here until Yanukovych signs the deal.” In each of these examples, Euromaidan is depicted as a continuation of an unfinished revolution.

Connections to the Orange Revolution were made in a number of other ways. For example, images of Yulia Tymoshenko, heroine of the Orange Revolution, were carried as part of the march and later installed as a central image on the Maidan.

Protestors carry image of Yulia Tymoshenko, Nov 24, 2013

Protesters also connected themselves to the Orange Revolution through song. The Guardian reported that “the protesters marched through the streets of Kiev as part of a nationwide day of protest chanting the slogans ‘out with the gang!’ and ‘Ukraine is Europe’ and singing songs popular during the Orange revolution.”

News articles also connected Euromaidan to the Orange Revolution temporally. These protests, it was pointed out, were occurring on the 9th anniversary of the beginning of the Orange Revolution. Reporting on events of November 22nd, the Global Post refers to the Maidan as the place “where the democratic Orange Revolution kicked off exactly nine years, ago today” and noted that “It was the same day Ukraine marked as the anniversary of the Orange Revolution that overturned a fraudulent presidential election and brought a western leaning government to power.”

In addition, news agencies compared the size of the protest on the 24th to the Orange Revolution. The Orange Revolution attracted up to 500,000 protesters to the Maidan. On the 24th, news sources reported numbers ranging from 22 000 to 100 000 thousand protesters. According to the BBC “The protest is said to be the largest since the 2004 Orange Revolution, which overturned a rigged presidential poll.” The Global Post said “Opposition leaders have joined, and some say are leading, the demonstration, which is said to be the largest since 2004’s Orange revolution.” Reuters noted: “The huge turnout – many observers put the figure at around 100,000 demonstrators – made it the biggest protest rally in Kiev since the Orange revolution of 2004-5.” And the Guardian said: “tens of thousands of Ukrainians have flooded the streets of Kiev in the biggest anti-government protest since the 2004 Orange Revolution.”

In my view, however, the most interesting connections between Euromaidan and the Orange Revolution were through infrastructure. Organizers and protesters invoked what we might call a material memory of the Orange Revolution. In addition to the speeches and songs, protesters and organizers began to reconstitute the physical space of the Orange Revolution.

For example, during the Orange Revolution protesters set up camp on the Maidan. They erected a central stage and put up tents so that protesters could occupy the space both day and night.

Tent city on Maidan during Orange Revolution

On the second day of the Euromaidan protests, November 22nd, students attempted to set up tents on the Maidan. The Kyiv Post described it like this:

“Activists installed a makeshift tent at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti square. City administration representatives appeared and read the Kyiv City Court decision from Nov. 22 banning the installation of tents or any similar constructions during the rallies. Shortly after that a column of around 70 officers of police special force Berkut entered the square from Horodetskoho Street, removed the tent and left the square.”

On November 25th tents set up in public squares in Chernihiv and Odesa were also dismantled. These reports suggest that both the protesters and the city officials understood the significance of tents and encampments. Indeed, the battle between protesters and government forces over space would become a central theme of Maidan.

On the 24th, rally organizers on European Square drew on the practices of the Orange Revolution when they set up a central stage for political speeches.

European Square on Nov 24, 2013

In addition, as they had attempted to do on the Maidan earlier in the week protesters set up tents in European Square.  

Tents on European Square, Nov. 24, 2013

CTV news made a direct connection to the Orange Revolution

“As during the Orange Revolution, the opposition set up tents and encouraged supporters to spend the night. It was unclear how many would stay, with temperatures in the single digits Celsius (40s Fahrenheit) and rain forecast.”

 Reuters referred to this as a “tent city”:

“The demonstrators, some of whom carried a huge blue flag by its side and corners that bore the Ukrainian national emblem within the traditional EU ring of yellow stars, marched 2 kms from Kiev’s central Taras Shevchenko park to the city’s European Square, half a mile (one km) from Yanukovich’s office…There they set up a tent city as their headquarters and vowed to stay there until at least November 29.”

The Kyiv Post described encampment support systems that echoed those developed during the Orange Revolution. Describing volunteers on the Maidan, the Kyiv Post writes that it is:

“…just like nine years ago during the Orange Revolution when people carried food and warm clothes to the city’s main square and volunteered their time and money to coordinate the activity of the protesters.”

Despite these connections, some sources (Eurasianet, Radio Free Europe, The Day) described a split between two protest camps each of which had different relationships to the Orange Revolution. One group was comprised of opposition political parties who were located on European Square. The other group was a collection of  non-partisan students, civic activists and journalists located on the Maidan. While the split was not clear cut, the political parties clearly drew support from the spirit and memories of the Orange Revolution. In contrast, the students and civic activists were more likely to align themselves with the global and cosmopolitan politics of the Occupy Movement. Indeed, an article published in Kyiv’s The Day criticized the political parties’ reliance on “old slogans, political campaigning [and] forming of columns to break into the main administrative buildings” and called for a newer, forward looking Ukraine. Though there is plenty of evidence to suggest that memory of the Orange Revolution played a significant role in defining Euromaidan in its early stages, the spatial division between those at European Square and those on the Maidan suggests that the relationship to the Orange Revolution was not simple or uncontested.

In his research, social movements scholar Charles Tilly introduces the concept of “repertoires of contention.” Repertoires of contention are the various techniques or “performances” that are used when making political challenges or claims on the state. Historically, these have included collective actions such as rallies, sit-ins, and violent conflict, among others. Repertoires of contention are generally familiar and may even be connected to national traditions of protest. Here, in the first week of Euromaidan, we see the activation of various repertoires of contention, in particular those drawn from the Orange Revolution. Early protests and rallies were reconstituted through familiar songs and performances by familiar opposition figures. The protests included infrastructure reminiscent of the Orange Revolution. The continuity between Euromaidan and Orange Revolution was also signified through temporal and spatial markers.

The activation of repertoires, I think, can also work to conjure identities and feeling associated with those repertoires. In the early stages of Euromaidan, one of the effects was to generate a sense of celebratory hope, at least among some, that the Euromaidan would lead to the same peaceful political change that was so heavily praised during the Orange Revolution. Marketing Manager Serhiy Ginsgeymer, interviewed by the Kyiv Post at the rally on the 24th makes the connection like this:

“I am here now and I’ll be here after work if needed. And I do believe all this makes a lot of sense. Such protests change people’s self identification and consciousness. Many say that the Orange Revolution didn’t have consequences. It did in our heads. Even if nothing happens right now, changes in our heads will lead us to something good in future anyway. Ukraine will be in Europe. This is just normal development in this country.”


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