The radical youth group and anti-Leonid Kuchma youth movement PORA! (It’s Time!) has been acclaimed for its contribution to Viktor Yushchenko’s victory in Ukraine’s recent presidential elections. The two wings of the group, known as “Black” PORA and “Yellow” PORA, held a united congress on January 28-29 to reflect on recent events and to decide where to go from here. The significance of PORA’s contribution to Yushchenko’s election victory could be seen from the high-profile guests who attended it, namely Chief of Staff Oleksandr Zinchenko, likely foreign minister Borys Tarasiuk, National Security and Defense Council secretary Petro Poroshenko, businessman and financial backer Davyd Zhvannia, Mykola Tomenko, and Socialist activist Yuriy Lutsenko.
President Yushchenko sent a greeting to the congress stating, “Together with you I underwent a difficult path of struggle. Together with you I stood on Independence Square (Maidan), Every day I saw alongside other flags the flags of PORA! This gave me, and all of those who rose up, confidence and strength. We knew in those days that wherever there was PORA there would be victory” (pora.org.ua, January 31).
PORA was organized in 2002-2003 from the hard-core activists who had participated in the “Ukraine Without Kuchma!” and “For Truth!” movements in 2000-2001, the 2002 parliamentary elections, and the “Arise Ukraine!” protests of 2002-2003. In 2003 they established links to Serbia’s OTPOR (Resistance), a youth group that had played a central role in mobilizing Serbs in the October 2000 democratic revolution against Slobodan Milosevic. In fact, OTPOR activist Marko Markovych was denied entry into Ukraine in October because of his assistance to Black PORA, then accused of being “terrorists.” He returned to Ukraine for the PORA congress and announced his intention to become a Ukrainian citizen.
OTPOR established links with the group that became known as “Black” PORA (kuchmizm.info). Mykhailo Svistovych, editor of the maidan.org.ua website that also grew out of the Ukraine Without Kuchma movement, provided key backing and is one of the wing’s founders (Lvivska hazeta, February 1).
Black PORA’s main financial support has come from domestic sources, despite Russian claims to the contrary. Interviewed in the 2000 newspaper (January 21) Vladyslav Kaskiv, leader of Yellow PORA, also denied receiving funding from abroad. However, Yellow PORA was able to tap into Western funds sent to the Freedom of Choice Coalition, a bloc of NGOs created to combat election fraud. Freedom House helped train the Coalition’s election monitors last August in the Crimea, an event that also benefited Yellow PORA.
Black PORA first showed itself publicly in March 2004, when it posted leaflets throughout Ukraine calling upon Ukrainians to remove “Kuchma-ism” from Ukraine. One month later a second group, Yellow PORA, emerged as a component of the Freedom of Choice Coalition.
Both Black and Yellow PORA underwent baptism by fire in the April 2004 mayoral election in the Trans-Carpathian town of Mukachevo. Although Yushchenko’s candidate won the election. the authorities declared their candidate victorious and backed their words by dispatching organized crime skinheads to intimidate and beat up officials and destroy evidence.
The Mukachevo elections were a precursor to the fraud attempted in round two of the presidential election on November 21. Then Yushchenko won, but the authorities attempted to impose Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych upon Ukrainians. This time their scheme failed. PORA played a crucial role in providing a dedicated, hard-core group of activists who were the first to hit the streets on November 22 and put up tents to wait out the election dispute. These hard-core PORA activists, together with other NGOs such as ZNAYU! (I Know!) and Chysta Ukrayina (Clean Ukraine), helped mobilize over a million Ukrainians in Kyiv and the provinces to participate in the Orange Revolution.
PORA’s unified congress split over where to take PORA now. Black PORA has remained the more idealistic and better respected of the two, and it has resolutely opposed creating a political party. They know that the party created by OTPOR flopped after it obtained just over 1 percent in subsequent Serbian elections. Another reason is the fear that the creation of a party would dissipate energy away from the vital task of continuing to “de-Kuchma” Ukraine, a task that both wings of PORA see as important for entrenching the Orange Revolution. Both PORAs support the introduction of lustration to weed out officials who have committed crimes, and both wings compiled “blacklists” of officials who were involved in election fraud (pora.org.ua, January 20 and 26). Yanukovych’s Regions of Ukraine parliamentary faction has already asked the Security Service to ban PORA because of these blacklists.
Yellow PORA advocates creating a political party and appointed Andriy Yusov, regional coordinator of Yellow PORA, to be the main organizer of the new party (Lvivska hazeta, February 1). Yellow PORA also seeks to continue its activities as an NGO and thereby continue the same activities as Black PORA.
The group also plans to establish a Center in Support of Weak Democracies, an initiative clearly geared towards Russia and the CIS. A Russian version of PORA has already been established (pora.org.ru), which has a website suspiciously similar to that of Yellow PORA (pora.org.ua).
When asked last week about the lessons Ukraine’s revolution could offer to other CIS states, President Yushchenko replied, “I think the Orange Revolution has set a very good example for many citizens outside Ukraine because it showed a way to protect one’s rights. It’s an example applicable to any country where human rights are not respected” (AP, January 29). Is Russia next?