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Jurij Halajko

Genesis and Aesthetics of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution


The events following the second round of Ukraine's presidential elections at the end of 2004 still need a theoretical examination. Although more than a year and a half has passed since then, there is still no single explanation of this phenomenon. There are basically two interpretations of the 2004 revolt in Ukraine. For many Russian political scientists (as well as for their colleagues in Ukraine having Moscow-centrist worldview) "that all" was a result of an inspired or conducted by America and its allies special, "geopolitical" operation aiming at pulling Ukraine into Western sphere of influence and turning it into their satellite, hostile towards Russian Federation. On the other hand, Ukrainian analysts, those being rather enthusiastic about this political action, believe that it was a genuine revolution. However, a term revolution is applied by them as used in public or media discourse, hence without serious grounds. Therefore it is worthy to find out if this diagnosis is appropriate for classifying the Orange Revolution.
For Charles Tilly, a revolution emerges in a situation of political conflict that causes the occurrence of several centers of power , when a government has to compete for power with its contenders. It is easy to see such a situation in Ukraine after the second round of presidential elections of 2004. Their results were not accepted by opposition, which claimed that there were malfeasances and falsifications during the voting process. After the electoral commission declared Victor Yanukovych a winner, the supporters of Yushchenko did not recognize this. Moreover, several local and city councils announced Yushchenko the president. After days of protests in Kyiv and throughout the country it became clear that Yanukovych would not acquire power in the capitol. Consequently eastern regions, inhabited mostly by his supporters, undertook steps aiming at either secession or at declaring autonomy. In certain point of time there was a clear situation of multiple sovereignty. Firstly, Leonid Kuchma as acting president still held his office, he controlled the central apparatus and loyal Interiority Ministry. Secondly, the announced president-elect and at the same time acting Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych, feeling the support of eastern regions, began to play a more independent political role. Finally, a contending, "people's" president Victor Yushchenko, with a support of several regions including the capitol, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators and presumably having sympathizers within state apparatus, was consequently rejecting the official results of elections and laying his own claims for power. On the other hand, mass mobilization around the person of Victor Yushchenko and his political allies was nothing else than an ad hoc political movement, which aim was not only an expression of support for the political leader, but also a desperate act for protecting democratic rights and values. During revolutions such movements are in fact key actors.
It is important to answer a question what caused people to organize themselves into such a movement? Probably a strong rejection of personality of Kuchma's would be successor Victor Yanukovych was one of the causes of mobilization for political resistance. For many Ukrainians to have a president with a criminal record was completely unacceptable. Others feared his promises of introducing a double Ukrainian-Russian citizenship, integration with Russia and official language status for Russian. That was considered as a direct threat to the existence of Ukrainian state. Therefore, it is likely that there would be no Orange Revolution if there were no threat to identity of a part of Ukrainians, at least those closely tied with Ukrainian culture and fearing the strengthening of processes of Russification. Thus, a national movement was one of the component of larger social movement that was the most important actor of the Orange Revolution. In this content it is worthy to refer to the diagnosis of the Orange Revolution made by Serhiy Hrabovsky. He considers the Orange Revolution to be merely a sequence in a chain of events, a part of the Ukrainian Revolution, the aim of which is a creation of an independent Ukrainian state. The thesis about continuity of the Ukrainian Revolution is backed by the evidences of its participants. For example, some of "field commanders" of the Orange Revolution, as Taras Stetskiv, were involved in the activities of "carnival revolution" in the Western Ukraine back at the end of 1980s. Therefore, one can speculate that in 1989 a revolution began in the West of the country and after years it finally reached its central part. Hence one can see a more distant origin of the Orange Revolution: its outbreak is related, at least to some extend, to the emergence of Ukrainian independence movement back in the end of 1980s. Perhaps, that is why the most of songs sang during protest activities of the Orange Revolution were in Ukrainian language, even though among protesters there were both Ukrainian and Russian-speaking people. Singing Ukrainian songs was first of all a manifestation of a group identity. For, to quote Alberto Melucci, "the 'innovative' component of ethno-national movement (...) has a predominantly cultural character. The ethnic appeal launches its challenge to complex society on such a fundamental questions as the goals of change and the production of identity and meaning. The conflicts (...) express themselves through the social relations and symbols supplied by the 'ethnic nation' ".
In regards to its aesthetics the Orange Revolution is very similar to Central European velvet revolutions. These similarities are so striking that we can quote a description of the velvet revolutions absolutely true when applied to Ukrainian case. For example, Padraic Kenney, when he summarizes the common features of central European "carnival revolutions" mentioned their joyful character and the use of irony and grotesque for political struggle. Obviously this was also a case of Ukraine in 2004. Another common feature was, on the one hand, the lack of anger and despair and, on the other, a sense of impunity among the revolted crowds, the exhibitionist and festive character of protest activities, accompanied by a musical "soundtrack". In both cases a carnival or most precisely carnivalized protests, were perhaps a single way to interrupt a monologue of those holding power. Kenney noted, that what began as a carnival ended up as revolution, is it not true about the Orange Revolution?

(1) Charles Tilly, "Rewolucja i rebelia", w J. Szczupaczynski, opr., Wladza i spoleczenstwo, Warszawa, 1995.
(2) Serhiy Hrabovsky, "Tak, revolutsiya!", Suchasnist', 3/2005.
(3) For more on this see: Padraic Kenney, A Carnival of Revolution. Central Europe 1989, Princeton University Press, 2002.
(4) Alberto Melucci, Nomads of the Present. Social movements and Individual needs In Contemporary Society, Hatchington Radius, London, 1989, p.92.
(5) Padraic Kenney, A Carnival of Revolution. Central Europe 1989, Princeton University Press, 2002. Polish translation: Rewolucyjny karnawal. Europa Srodkowa 1989, Kolegium Europy Wschodniej, Wroclaw, 2005, pp. 13-14, 26-27.