The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s experts on Ukraine have pointed out that the ongoing “blue Maidan” demonstrations in downtown Kyiv’s Independence Square are incompatible with democracy. Although the Maidan-2007 demonstrations are taking place in the same location as those staged by the “orange” supporters of then-presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko in 2004, today’s gatherings are not voluntary. Rather, they are funded and managed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions through the use of so-called political tourism.
“It should be stressed that Maidan-2007 is not Maidan-2004. If the ‘orange revolution’ was based on broad popular support of faith in the improved running of the country and a better future, today’s demonstrations, on the whole, are artificially managed by both sides” (maidan.org.ua, April 18). Parliamentary chairman Oleksandr Moroz, whose Socialist Party (SPU) is a member of Yanukovych’s ruling Anti-Crisis coalition, admitted, “All of the coalitions, meetings, and actions in the last few weeks are the result of political technology and not examples of civic action” (maidan.org.ua, April 16).
Paid political tourism was condemned by President Yushchenko, who demanded that the prosecutor’s office investigate the tales of students and high school pupils pressured to give up their studies when they participated in the blue Maidan. A Tymoshenko bloc appeal to the prosecutor and Security Service complained that students and high school pupils were both losing out on their studies and being placed in physical danger. Earlier this month an illegally operating mini-bus organized by the Party of Regions crashed en route to Kyiv, putting the high school passengers in the hospital (byut.com.ua, May 4).
There is crucial difference between the 2004 orange and 2007 blue Maidans; namely, the former was largely the work of spontaneous, self-organized civil society while the latter is the product of a managed civil society that has emerged out of the managed, one-party democracy still prevalent in Yanukovych’s home region of Donetsk.
The 2007 blue Maidan is discredited by reports of blue supporters being paid to travel to Ukraine; similar reports about orange voters in 2004 do not exist. The Guardian (April 5) wrote, “However, it was clear that not all Mr Yanukovich’s protesters had willingly traveled to Kiev” and quoted “Lyosha” from Krivoy Rih in eastern Ukraine: “I only came here because I work at a metallurgical plant which belongs to an oligarch who supports Yanukovich.” “They sent 40 of us here in a bus and they’re giving us 100 hryvnia [$20] per day,” she admitted.
Maidan.org.ua (March 28, 31, April 5) reprinted information distributed in eastern Ukraine, offering the opportunity to undertake paid political tourism in Kyiv. Residents of Kharkiv were offered a full day’s “pay” of 150 hryvni ($30). Poltava students were offered 80 hryvni (without food) or 50 (with food). Senior political tourists obtain between 100-150 hryvni per day while students are offered 90.
Transportation by coach or train to and from Kyiv is free. The mass use of trains for organized political tourism was first undertaken in the 2004 elections when the Yanukovych campaign organized hundreds of thousands of its political tourists to vote with multiple absentee ballots in western and central Ukraine. Heorhiy Kirpa, then minister of transport, committed suicide on December 27, 2004, fearing that his role in the organization of election fraud would lead to criminal charges.
In 2007, similar abuse of public transportation is sanctioned by Socialist Minister of Transport Mykola Rudkovsky. Train tickets are in short supply and prices have increased. “Trains are headed for the capital with people who have little opportunity of earning a living at home, and obtain income for their participation in political activities organized by the pro-government coalition,” Tymoshenko bloc member Mykhailo Volynets said (byut.com.ua, May 4).
Oleksandr Chernenko, a member of the Committee of Voters NGO, went undercover on an organized train traveling to Kyiv with blue supporters (Focus.in.ua, April 23). He reported that 20% were genuine supporters, but they still took the stipends offered. Each political tourist, primarily students and teenagers keen to see Kyiv, was paid 130 hryvni ($26) for an overnight protest.
This per diem, plus the cost of train transportation, meant that each political tourist cost the Party of Regions 300 hryvni ($60). The Yanukovych government’s lack of transparency makes it unclear as to the source of this funding. In April Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Rybak appealed in writing to the directors of enterprises to provide donations to the Party of Regions, prompting the Tymoshenko bloc to accuse Rybak of abuse of office (Komersant-Ukraina and byut.com.ua, April 24).
Political tourism comes with two major problems. During the Orange Revolution, blue/Yanukovych voters stayed in Kyiv for one or two days and then either defected to the orange camp, which had arranged accommodations, warm clothes, food, and medical care, or returned to Donetsk. Few had the staying power of the orange voters whose convictions made them stay for 17 days in cold weather on Kyiv’s streets. The 2007 crop of political tourists stands for three hours on the blue Maidan and then real tourism takes precedence.
A second problem relates to depth of conviction of the protestors. The Guardian (April 5) quoted Lyosha: “But I don’t support him [Yanukovych]. I just didn’t want to lose my job. I’m for Tymoshenko.” Political tourists are not necessarily committed Party of Regions supporters.
The Party of Regions has learned from two mistakes committed in 2004. First, organizers now strictly ensure that no hard liquor is drunk on the way to Kyiv. In 2004, numerous film clips showed intoxicated blue supporters, while alcohol was forbidden among the orange crowds.
Second, political tourists are warned not to speak to journalists. The gang leaders remember in 2004 when intoxicated blue representatives gave outlandish interviews to the two independent television channels: Channel 5 and Era.
The 2004 orange and 2007 blue Maidans are different in another important manner. Crime dramatically dropped in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution whereas the number of crimes during the blue Maidan has risen by 65-70% and break-ins by an even higher amount (maidan.org.ua, April 19). It would seem that some of the political tourists have other things on their mind besides politics or even tourism.
Yanukovych’s U.S. public relations advisors are seeking to use Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis to portray him as a “re-born democrat” because he has allegedly undergone, “one of the most extreme makeovers in global politics” (Wall Street Journal, May 15). But PACE’s accusations, combined with Moroz’s public admission and evidence collected by NGOs, undermine this claim.