31 July, 2016

Ukraine New YearBy Maryna Shevtsova, Doctoral Researcher at Humboldt University of Berlin, Associate at Ukraine Democracy Initiative, Senior Non-Resident Adjunct Fellow at Institute for Euro-Atlantic Сooperation.

“What was striking to me when I first entered Maidan was the highest level of self-consciousness and self-organization. There is, of course, no police, but you feel so calm and comfortable as you have not felt for quite some time. And only later, when you leave this ‘Island of Freedom’ and see people wearing uniforms again, you just feel physical disagreement: ‘why are they here?”  Roman [1] (personal communication, Dnepropetrovsk, December, 13th, 2013).


The article explores the evolution of governance and representation and decision-making practices among the participants of anti-governmental protests at the national level in the case of Ukraine in 2004 and 2013-14. For many students of social sciences recent events in Ukraine are part of the puzzle of the global mobilization for social change challenging existing political and social order. More and more scholars turn to the interrogation of the striking similarities that, in spite of the broad heterogeneity of the settings, are found in protest movements across the world (Della Porta and Mattoni 2014). This study, however, is built on comparison within one case and is concerned with the transformation of “representational space” (Feigenbaum et al. 2013), or protest camps, used by participants across time.

On December, 1st of 2013, as a response to the violent attack by the state security forces on the participants of the anti-governmental demonstration, several hundreds of people went out to the main square of Kiev – Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence square). To prove that their intentions were serious and that none of the protesters were to leave the square before the responsible for the attack were punished, a new protest camp emerged at Maidan. It remained there for more than eight months. During this period of time, the protest camp has passed through certain transitions. It turned from a protest camp carrying mainly an occupation purpose to what participants themselves define as “Sich” – the place of people’s gathering where the collective decisions are being taken and the common tactics and strategy of resistance and defense are being developed. Both public opinion and scholars reacted to the resemblance of this protest camp with the protest camps organized all over Ukraine in 2004, when the famous Orange revolution took place. It was almost instantly reflected in the mass media as well as in the scholarly literature on the topic[2]. However, in spite of this resemblance it is important to stress the rather external nature of the similarities and to concentrate more on the differences that make this particular protest camp an important object of theoretical and empirical research. Among those, there are new resistance practices used by the protesters, resource mobilization strategies and new approaches to the camp’s governance and representation in decision making process.

In the following sections I am turning to accounts of participants and eyewitnesses of the protests. Most of them were present at Maidan both in 2004 and 2013/14. I draw on more than 30 personal interviews I conducted in Dnepropetrovsk and Kiev in December 2013 – August 2014 and personal correspondence I had with the participants of the Kiev protest camp in 2004. I am using the data I collected as well as some secondary sources. I claim that acknowledgement and further study of the differences between protest spaces across time can contribute to the understanding of the nature of current transformations taking place in Ukraine, such as emergence of new civil society and core changes in political system. Linking together the (re)production of the space, newly adjusted spatial practices and social transformations I argue that detected particular characteristics of Maidan-Sich 2014 can be interpreted as the marks of evolving bottom-up democratization in Ukraine.

Before discussing my argument in more details, I will define, in the next section, the theoretical and conceptual framework of this study: the conceptual triad for space production developed by Henri Lefebvre and infrastructural approach. The second part focuses on the historical background of the events and on the explanation of the spatial and social similarities between the 2004 and 2013 protests. The third part provides the analysis of the shifts in the political context and domestic conditions of the protests and the differences in the protest camps characteristics. Finally, the article concludes with the summary of the main findings and with suggestions about their further implications.

Appropriation of Space, Spatial Practices and Social Transformations

A comparative study of protest camps and spatial practices should start with looking at the approaches employed by space theorists and scholars of social movements to tackle complex social transformation phenomena. This is a challenging enough task, since while the field is rich on attempts to unpack causal mechanisms, the process of shifts and developments of social structures into organized collective action remains one of the most puzzling issues in social sciences.

The notion of the relation of space to society is indebted to three broad theories referring to physical material and/or urban space from spatial (Hillier 1996), sociological (Giddens 1984), and politico-economical (Lefebvre 1991) perspective. The strategy I use below for comparative study of protest camps is inspired by Lefebvre’s statement that every society produces its own space which can be used by a researcher as an ‘object’ of analysis and further for overall theoretical explanations and inferences (1991: 31). He proposes the conceptual triad that can be employed as a framework for such analysis including representation of space, representational spaces and spatial practice.

Representation of space, according to Lefebvre, refers to the “order of the relations of production”, or in other words, to ‘frontal relations’ of the space with the outer world. Its purpose is to manifest the meaning of the space to both insiders and outsiders. Representational spaces embody symbols and codes linked to space’s social life or, sometimes, to art reflecting underground side of the space – these are (symbolic) values which space inhabitants produce. Finally, spatial practices relate to specific location and spatial characteristic of the social formation and guaranteed level of competence of each member of this formation needed for production and reproduction of a particular space (Lefebvre 1991: 35). It is a way in which the space is perceived and, correspondingly, used. These three elements of dimensions should not be read independently since it is their permanent interaction which is producing the space. As Milgrom (2008) observes, when the outer form of the space – representation of space – is initially produced, it already contains assumptions about the spatial practices of its users, their understanding of space and the symbolism carrying the intentions of the people responsible for the production of this space. At the same time, spatial practices around the space influence its production and inhabitants’ understanding of representational spaces (2008: 270). Spatial practices, therefore, “embrace production and reproduction, and the particular locations and spatial sets characteristic of each social formation” (Lefebvre as quoted in Milgrom, 2008: 271).

Adjusting Lefebvre’s theory for the purpose of cross-time comparison of protest camps, I employ the infrastructural research approach suggested by Feigenbaum, Frenzel and McCurdy. As they argue, protest camps are a “unique sociological phenomenon” functioning as symbolic and often representational space where “activists form individual and collective identities outside of institutionalized groups and organizations and the status quo” (Feigenbaum et al. 2013:15). Sticking, as well as Lefebvre does, to the centrality of the materiality issue the authors propose to look at the protest camps through infrastructural lenses distinguishing four key infrastructures: ‘re-creational infrastructure’, ‘action infrastructure’, ‘communication infrastructure’ and ‘governance infrastructure’ to observe structural differences and similarities of collective action within the camps (2013: 14).

I suggest using Lefebvre’s conceptual triad as a perspective for the comparative analysis of the Maidan protest camps in Ukraine. The development of new spatial practices together with gradual transformation of the representation of space at Maidan can be linked to accompanying Maidan events changes in mobilization and organization of Ukrainian civil society. This connection, in particular, is important for understanding how newly emerged infrastructure/resistance practices in the camp lead to the changes in the camp’s governance and representation in decision making process or influence the increase of internal tolerance for diversity. Integrating this perspective with the infrastructural approach described above, I examine the transformation of the spatial practices and representation of spaces in the protest camps at Maidan in Kiev across two cases comparing the experiences of negotiation of space, resource mobilization, communication and decision-making processes.

 Why Maidan?

“As Ernest Renan said once, a nation is not a religion, not a language and not a state apparatus. Nation means a daily referendum about common goals and aspirations. Maidan is the place where there is such a referendum, every single hour and every single minute” Roman (personal communication, Dnepropetrovsk 13.12.2013).

Normatively speaking, the word “Maidan” is used to refer to the territory of Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) in the center of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. It used to be named after the October Revolution since 1977 and got its current name after the fall of the Soviet Union together with the independence of the state of Ukraine. Already since then the space has been used for political collective action (for example, “Ukraine without Kuchma”[3] in 2000-2001). However, it was only in 2004 that Maidan emerged as a symbol of unity of Ukrainian people in the course of realization of popular will. In November 2004 as a response to the presumed massive electoral fraud at the Presidential Elections in Ukraine, the campaign of Viktor Yushchenko, the second candidate, called for his supporters to begin protests at Independence Square the following day. Beissinger (2011) quotes in his article that according to one of the observers, “what everybody expected was…much like the small demonstration of “Ukraine without Kuchma” four years earlier…What happened instead was a mass outpouring on the streets and swelling numbers, instead of diminishing ones” (2011: 26). According to various sources, the number of protesters on the streets of Kiev reached from half million to almost a million of people (Kuzio 2006). It was the first time so many people came out to the streets and occupied the tent camps in the central part of Kiev with the strong intention to stay until their demands were satisfied. Moreover, similar protest camps were soon built in all the biggest Ukrainian cities and remained there even after the new elections tour had been held.

“I would like to explain you, just in case, why the camp was so important for us. This is all psychology, this is support. This is not to let anyone tell that we stopped our fight at least for one day” Oleg, activist (personal communication, Kiev 04.12.2004).

After the success of the Orange Revolution ‘Maidan’ became both a political and a popular concept used by politicians as well as among common people in various contexts: sometimes as an argument or a threat in power competition. It has been common among the parties in opposition to use phrases such as ‘We need another Maidan’, ‘You will have to give the answers to Maidan’, etc. ‘Maidan’ in the new context meant not just a square in Kiev or a protest camp set there but a large scale expression of a popular will-power which, should it be necessary, will hold the ruling elites accountable. The Yushchenko government was not so satisfactory to the majority of the population and for the following term Viktor Yanukovych won the race for Presidency. During all this time people continued to refer to the possibility of gathering another Maidan in reaction to any negative political or economic developments in the country[4]. In the following years indeed there were some attempts to call for a new Maidan: in April 2010 there was an attempt for “Maidan against Kharkov’s agreement[5]” and in November 2010 – Fiscal Maidan[6], yet those were small and insignificant in number and did not succeed after all.

Maidan 2013/2014 started with a small protest of student activists against withdrawal by Viktor Yanukovych of the application for the Association Agreement with the EU. A protest camp was spontaneously organized by not more than a hundred of people who consciously did not use any political symbolic and called themselves “Euromaidan”.

“Someone got four small tables and chairs from one of the offices…and put on them labels ‘FOOD’, ‘SECURITY’, ‘VOLUNTEERS’, ‘AGITATORS’…and we were standing there like idiots, alone. Then someone brought a thermos, somebody put a box for donations – we still keep it! People were throwing some money there, we decided to buy tea, bread and cheese and give it to people who were coming. In the night it was still cold and raining, but in the morning more and more people came and so camp’s infrastructure was started” From the interview with Egor Sobolev, one of the founders (Segodnya 2013).

The massive protest, however, was provoked by a violent attack of state security forces on peaceful protesters during the night on Noveber, 30th, 2013. According to the poll conducted on 7th of December, 70% of participants came to Independence Square as they were outraged by violence against protesters, 53.5% expressed aspirations for Ukraine to join the EU, 50% came there to “change life in Ukraine” and 39% clearly stated they wanted to change the current government (Democratic Initiative 2013).

Most of the sources describing the Maidan of 2013/14 commented that building its infrastructure the participants clearly followed the previous successful experience of 2004. One of the reasons for that was that many of the most active participants of the protest camp in 2013/14 were among organizers, participants or observers of the events of the Orange Revolution. Some of them were, in fact, invited by the self-nominated leaders of the new Maidan due to their previous experiences. For example, Andriy Parubiy, in 2004 a member of the Yushchenko team, successfully managed the protest camp in 2004. In 2013 it was due to his practical skills, rather than to his changed political commitments, that he was appointed by non-formal protest leaders as the commandant[7] of the whole protest camp. It was difficult, therefore, to avoid making reference and comparisons to 2004, especially in the early months of the protest. Nevertheless, as I further argue, there are important differences that make Maidan-Sich a rather unique phenomenon for the democratization of Ukrainian society.

To conclude the present section, the choice of Maidan as the heart of protests and location for the biggest protest camps seems logical considering its spatial, historical and symbolic meaning for Ukrainian people. As the findings of infrastructural analysis in the next section will show, there are many observable similarities between protest camps in Kiev in 2004 and 2013/14 which reaffirm the special meaning of this space for Ukrainians.

Orange Maidan vs. Euromaidan

Not surprisingly, as it has been mentioned above, the most striking similarities between the two protest camps could be observed on the initial stages of existence of the camp in 2013, when it was still referred to as “Euromaidan”. Both camps occupied the same space. Not to ‘reinvent the wheel’, protesters in 2013 seemed, especially in the very beginning, to follow Yushchenko’s 2004 campaign strategy of settling in the center of the capital. It was more difficult this time, though, as in 2004 the infrastructural basis of Maidan was substantially financed and provided by the political leaders of the protest – Yushchenko’s party “Nasha Ukrayina” (Our Ukraine). The orange tents (orange was the color of Yushchenko’s party) were brought by the trucks and installed over one nighttime, together with the blankets, food for protesters, sleeping bags and heat generators. Some Ukrainian celebrities were invited to sing and encourage the protesters from the stage; flags and posters with the slogans “Yushchenko – TAK!” (Yes to Yushchenko) were distributed. It was much more difficult for Euromaidan as in 2013 none of the parties being in opposition was strong enough and prepared to mobilize people for a large-scale protest. The infrastructure of Euromaidan, therefore, was created by protesters themselves rather chaotically and was very scarce before the 30th of November. After the general uprising in reaction to the violence against protesters in early December, though, a large number of volunteers arrived. Many small private companies as well as big business groups supported Maidan with money or material resources, providing food, clothes, medicaments, etc. The absence of a strong political leader, obviously, made the mobilization of resources for protest camp more difficult and the group of protesters less consolidated without a common political agenda. However, it also created opportunity for non-political space, without party labels and agenda, which was exactly what attracted many participants:

“It is not the Orange Revolution, there is no politics here. There is no rightists, no leftists” Artem, active participant of Maidan (personal communication, Kiev 11.12.2013).

“Maidan is here not for NATO, not for the US or the EU. We are not for Bandera [leader of Ukrainian nationalist movement in early 20th century, symbol of Ukrainian right wing parties], Tymoshenko, Klishchko, Poroshenko or Yatsenyuk…We are here because we are fed up with politicians using our taxes to buy villas and yachts instead of building the roads, schools and hospitals” (from the flyer distributed by the activists at Maidan, December 2013, Kiev).

The everyday life of both Maidan’s was very similar from the beginning. It changed in winter 2014 when the need for self-defense emerged (I will elaborate on this in the following sections). Both protest camps lasted for several months, therefore, there was time to build very well developed infrastructure and organize everyday routines. Except for the functional units providing basic needs for protesters: field kitchens, medical points, heat generators, points of blankets, warm clothes and medicaments distributions, particular attention was paid to organization of cultural events and even to education. So, as the rectors of several Ukrainian universities openly supported the protesters and allowed the students to skip the classes in order to stay in the protest camps, there were University professors who came to Maidan and gave open lectures voluntarily. This idea has developed more in December 2013, when so called “Vidkrytyi Universytet Maidanu” (Open University of Maidan) was founded. For this initiative the alternative stage was installed from where people with university degrees, civil society activists, businessmen and artists lectured. If from the beginning the target audience of the Open University were students, the organizers soon found out that there were many older people who showed much interest in lectures and came to attend those even in late hours with freezing cold.

“We believe that the revolution is important not only on the streets, but also in the head…Having spent a lot of time at Maidan we understood that what was missing here is intellectual content of high quality” from interview with one of the organizers (Ukrains’ka Pravda 2013).

An important issue that was raised by the participants of both camps is what Feigenbaum et al. (2013) define as ‘crafting a homeplace’ and ‘camp media representation’. The common concern of the participants of the camps was not only to create “home” for the protesters but also to refute negative arguments of the opponents of the camps’ existence and to prevent disreputable portraying in the media. So, among the voices demanding to dissolve the camps were those arguing for spread of unsanitary conditions in the center of the capital.

It was very important, therefore, for the protesters, to take care of garbage in the camp and invest significant efforts in organizing cleaning teams. There was also a strict ‘no alcohol’ rule in the camp. As commandant of Maidan, Andriy Parubiy commented in his interview to ‘Argument’ on 24.12.2014:

“We have the highest level of self-organization…When we were attacked by ‘Berkut’, they stole our portable kitchen, many things and left behind total chaos. I went to the stage and asked people to clean. And people, like ants, found somewhere the brooms and started cleaning…

There should be no drunken people at Maidan. We tried to negotiate with all the alcohol sales points in the city center for that. Of course, we cannot control everyone. But there is an order to take all drunken men outside the camp…

We fully control the metro station under Maidan. Come there at 5 am and see yourself that it has never been so clean before. We make all homeless people leave the place at night…and during the night we clean and wash the station completely”[8]

At the later stages of Maidan in 2014 there was less infrastructural similarities as, opposite to the situation in 2004, the conflict between the government and protesters escalated and passed to the stage of armed opposition. The increasing degree of the situation led to the emergence of new resistance practices and pushed the transformation of Euromaidan to ‘Sich’. The formal infrastructural similarities of the two protest camps – spatiality, everyday life routine and choice of the protest camp as a main form of organization of the social movement – cannot be overlooked and have potential for further study. Yet the differences I further discuss allow me to argue that it might make sense to analyze the new Maidan as a separate protest event.

Changing mass mobilization: social media and diversity at Maidan

The absence of a clear political leadership and substantial material support created an important difference between the ways protest camp infrastructure was organized in 2004 and 2014. Even though, as Wilson (2006) argues, the team of Yushchenko had not initially counted for such a powerful public reaction as they got, the protest was planned and calibrated carefully: twenty-five tents (one for each of Ukrainian oblasts) of orange color with the party symbolic and stage in the middle of Maidan carried a specific message[9] (2006: 123). This consolidated from the very beginning the protest camp as a place of action around a common goal and common leaders. When, after the first wave organized by the Yushchenko team, large number of people headed to Kiev or started settling in protest camps in their cities, they already were installing not just tents, but orange tents, raising orange flags with party’s symbols and slogans. It is worth noting that the opponents of the protest in 2004 were widely using the argument “this protest is staged, the protest camp infrastructure is bought with party’s money and participants are paid to remain in the camp”. This controversial point has not been proven though.

Of course, there were political parties and non-governmental organizations that participated in planning and organizing the protest camp and action events, but my point is that the political parties are, so to say, a top-structure of any civil society. I can testify that so many people were self-organizing chaotically, they called their friends on cell-phones, were buying orange cloth with their own money to make tents, flags and banners, collected money for food and cigarettes for those staying in the camps” from personal correspondence with the participant, Dnepropetrovsk, December, 2nd, 2004.

Internet and social networks in 2004 were, of course, far from being a powerful means for political communication and disseminating of ideas – only 8% of population were using Internet (Podrobnosti 2004). Ten years later social movements scholars observed that new technologies created opportunities for mass mobilization and organization for the movements that do not have in their possession material resources. Internet could also be used as means of self-representation and communications by protesters. Finally, it allowed influencing public opinion offering an alternative to traditional media (Eltantawy and Wiest 2011; Della Porta and Mosca 2005). All these claims proved to be true in the case of building and maintaining the protest camp at Maidan in 2013/2014. Most of the interviewees mentioned that they knew about the protest rising and camp at Maidan being set again through Facebook, Twitter, or VKontakte (the Russian analogue of Facebook). The social networks were used, first, to mobilize people, and then to provide the protest camp with the material resources. Multiple groups were created, such as ‘Maidan SOS’ were the volunteers were constantly updating the lists of food products, clothes items, medicines, tools, etc. The use of social networks, in such a way, allowed a large scale mass mobilization without material support from political elites and, therefore, without particular political leadership. Such self-mobilization and longing of camp inhabitants to create non-political environment with high level of tolerance can be taken as a sign of an evolving democratization process.

As my interviews and numerous sociological surveys have shown, the absence of political overtone in the camp was particularly important for people there: according to the survey conducted by Gorshenin Institute in December 2013, 92 % of protesters stated that they did not support any of the political parties who tried to be represented at Maidan later (Gorshenin 2013). One of the examples of the clear expression of the protester wish to stay away from political elites was the case of the Christmas tree traditionally installed in the center of Maidan to celebrate the New Year Eve and Christmas (which comes on 7th of January). The representatives of “Bat’kivshchyna” party tried to put the portrait of their imprisoned leader and former Ukrainian Prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on the tree. Almost immediately it was decided by the people in the camp that the portrait had to be removed as the camp was there not for any of the parties but to express the will of all ‘people of Ukraine’. This came as an obvious surprise for many politicians that still remembered portraits of Tymoshenko and Yushchenko around Kiev during the Orange Revolution.

During the interviews, when the question of heterogeneity and apolitical environment in the protest camps was discussed, several interviewees pointed out that they felt positive impact of diversity at Maidan to the general level of tolerance and acceptance among the participants. So, I have conducted several interviews with the LGBT activists. Two of them remained in the protest camp for months. Considering the homophobic rhetoric used by pro-Russian actors linking LGBT community and European integration, I wanted to find out whether gay people could be open in the camp about their sexuality and if they faced any harassment there, since, according to photos and video available, there were no rainbow flags in the camp. As the activists explained, it was a common conscious decision of the Ukrainian LGBT community not to use international LGBT symbols in the protest camp in order to avoid provocative actions and sabotage from the side of the opponents of Maidan which took place in Kiev. The LGBT organization in Kiev reported about the on-line call for actors or representatives of LGBT community who would agree to wear provocative clothes and make-up and carry rainbow flags and for certain amount of money perform a ‘Pride parade to support EU integration’ in front of the camp[10]. The event took place on January 11th, when the group of people imitating LGBT persons appeared with rainbow flags dancing in front of the camp and shouting provocative sentences to the protesters. Some LGBT activists, therefore, went to talk in advance to the commandants of the camp and told them who the real LGBT people were.

“Some people might have had issues with our sexuality. Some people might have had issues with Armenians, Georgians or Roma people in the camp. But we did not feel particular intolerance or hostility. Probably because people did not have time for that: we were scared, we were preparing to resist and to fight for our space, so nobody cared about your sexuality or ethnicity that much” Oleg, LGBT activist, (personal communication Kiev, August 2014).    

Common everyday practices, participation together in the fights and the common enemy seemed to create certain solidarity between people who in their regular, “out-of-the-camp” life used to have strong homophobic or nationalist positions. One of the leaders of the LGBT organizations commented that among other consequences of Maidan they expect an improvement of attitudes towards minorities (both ethnic and sexual) in public opinion surveys following the protest. He mentioned that even the representatives of “Praviy sector” (right wing organization active in the protest camp) were openly defining Armenians and Tatars as ‘ours’ after they had fought together. It remains to be seen, however, how stable and reliable these trends will remain, especially in the light of turmoil in Eastern Ukraine started in the second half of 2014. Yet another aspect of the diverse environment of Maidan was the difficulties it created for producing common strategies, agreeing on a list of demands and decision-making. I will discuss it in more details in the next sections. Before that, nevertheless, it should be stressed that although widely available internet technologies and social media provided free potential resources for mass mobilization, it also brought certain problematic issues for the protesters. While activists in the camp could use Internet to communicate directly to the people in Ukraine and abroad information about their goals and needs, the same could be done – and has been done effectively – by the opponents of Maidan. For example, almost every day there were posts in social networks from eyewitnesses telling that people in the protest camp were being paid, that money donated by people for the needs of Maidan were used by the commandants for their own purposes, that Russian speaking people/women/LGBT people/Georgians, etc. were insulted or beaten up in the camp. The ideological diversity of Maidan in this case was, basically, used by its opponents to disseminate negative information about the protest and create new controversies and trust deficit from certain groups of society. It is impossible to claim, therefore, that Internet technologies have a purely net positive effect in empowering protests taking place without financial support and political backing. At the same time, it is worth noting that most of the attempts of the opponents of Maidan to disseminate negative information online did not work in the camp itself due to the constant interaction and communication between different groups and communities present there.

 From Euromaidan to Sich: new resistance and decision making practices

An important distinguishing feature of Maidan in 2013/14 was its transformation, or, it is better to say, evolution from the protest camp that was settled according to the model from the recent past, into Maidan-Sich. This transition followed the beginning of the armed confrontation in February 2014. While the events of the Orange Revolution in 2004 had a peaceful character (there were no serious clashes in the protest camp), in 2013/14 the government decided to reject the demands of the protesters and use state special security forces to dissolve the camp at Maidan. The residents of the protest camp responded to it by transforming the camp into an improvised fortress. As it was winter time, people built barricades out of stones extracted from the Maidan pavement, tree parts and other available objects and covered them with freezing water. The conditions of constant alert required the creation of a new structure inside the camp which would be in charge of the camp’s defense. Special groups or detachments were organized and, following again the experience of Cossacks, they were named ‘sotnyas’ (this was the name of Cossack’s detachments containing 80-150 warriors at Sich). The word “Sich” has no literal translation and comes from the times of The Zaporizhian Sich, existing in 16-18 century fortress and settlement of Cossacks, free people on the territory of modern Ukraine and Russia, who were members of self-governed military communities. Having played an important role in the historical and cultural development of Ukraine, they became a symbol of freedom and independence. It is difficult now to define exactly after which point the residents of the camp started to compare it to Sich, yet at later stages of the camp’s existence both in the interviews that I conducted and in the official interviews and articles in Ukrainian media the comparison with the old Sich and Cossack’s practices came up more and more often.

Based on my study of two protests camp results, I suggest that two key differences – new forms of mobilization of participants and resources, and a need for new resistance practices and permanent regime of alert in the camp in 2014 led to the change of the organizational form of the camp towards a self-governing model with wide involvement of protesters into the decision-making process. Staying in the protest camp in 2013/14 was not only a matter of peaceful expression of disagreement with the government politics but a question of the autonomous camp survival including all the elements of the organization management: material security, camp defense, camp governance and decision-making processes. The need to cope with these issues on every day basis served as a boost for the development of civil society in Ukraine and for the emergence of new leaders within it. As one of the interviewees comments:

“In 2004 I was a student and it was a lot of fun. We were driving in my friend’s car around the city during the day waving with an orange flag and spending nights in the tents at Khreshchatik with other fellow students. It felt like freedom. In 2013/14 there was no fun anymore, every evening I went to the camp after the day in the office and my wife and my daughter did not know if I would come back. But at the same time I felt I was changing something, the destiny of my country depended on me. It was not that I was supporting one candidate against the other [Yushchenko against Yanukovitsch]. This time I was making decisions, and people next to me were making the decisions, and other people, who were not in Kiev, but supported us the way they could from other places, trusted us and trusted the choices we were making, for them, too” Bogdan (personal communication Kiev, August 2014).

Sich was not the only reference to the past times of pre-Soviet Ukraine in the new protest camp. Another novelty introduced in 2013 was so called ‘Viche’ (the term comes from old Slavic language and refers to general assembly of the citizens of the cities in Ancient and Medieval Rus’ to discuss common issues and take political decisions. Viche was one of the first forms of direct democracy on the territory of Slavic states). Starting from December, 22nd 2013, thousands of protesters were gathering every Sunday around the stage installed in the middle of the square, from where the speakers were delivering their speeches. In the beginning of each Viche the Anthem of Ukraine was collectively performed and if the motto of Maidan in 2004 was “Razom Nas Bahato, Nas Ne Podolaty” (literal translation would be “Together we are many, we cannot be defeated”), in 2013/2014 every speaker greeted the people at Maidan with “Slava Ukrayini!” (Glory to Ukraine!) to which people would respond “Geroyam Slava!” (Glory to the heroes!), which was borrowed from the Ukrainian Nationalists Congress of early 20th century.

These weekly gathering at Maidan was, according to many interviewees, among the most important means of democratization introduced at the protest camps. As one of the camp residents commented, “we, people who were taking part in Viche, and not those sitting in Verkhovna Rava (Ukrainian Parliament) were real representatives of the people of Ukraine”. Unlike in 2004, when the gatherings around the stage were mainly followed by speeches by someone from the team of Yushchenko, anyone could speak at Viche and the decisions that were taken there were considered the decisions of the people of Ukraine. The importance and power of Viche could be illustrated, for example, by the fact that the First Cabinet of Ministers after Yanukovich’s abandonment of the post had to be completely approved by the people at Maidan: every candidate was named from the stage and if people voted against him or her, the person could not be appointed. Several Maidan leaders who did not have any political career in the past were appointed, too. The Viche was not dealing, though, with everyday camp organization issues that were mainly in commandants’ responsibility and were rarely brought up for the larger discussion on Sundays.

Beissinger claims that “participation in the Orange Revolution was more a short-term fluctuation in activism than a long-term general shift in societal values and behaviors” (2011: 41). I argue in the present piece that participation in Euromaidan followed by the building of Maidan-Sich, the high extent of self-organization and self-management at Maidan, the introduction of new modes of governance and of decision making can be considered as evidences of a or development of civil society activism. The example of protest camp at Maidan in 2013/14 remains, also, a good demonstration of new opportunities for mass mobilization and organization emerged with the development of Internet and of potential for large-scale collective action not led by of political elites.


In this article, I have contrasted across time the two cases of protest camps in the center of Kiev in 2004 and 2013/2014. I have applied the conceptual triad for space production and infrastructural approach to examine protest camps as a unique organizational form of social movements. I have studied several characteristics that I consider of key importance for the camps existence and maintenance – spatiality, social infrastructure, resistance practices and decision making processes – aiming to explain their similarities and point out the differences. The critical review has focused on two dimensions: mass mobilization through Internet and social networks, and attempts to create deliberative democracy in the camp. First, the wide usage of Internet and social networks for mass mobilization allowed formation of the heterogeneous protest movement without political connotation and positively influenced the increase of a tolerant environment in the protest camp. At the same time, however, the absence of common strategies and instrumental utilization of differences of opinions and identities among the protesters by the opponents of Maidan to produce negative discourse around it is important. It illustrates how new modes of resource mobilization and communications can present not only additional opportunities for the social movements that do not dispose of own resources but also a challenge. Second, the unrest of the country built, traditionally, around the choice of the foreign policy vectors for Ukraine (Europe vs. Russia) followed by the armed confrontation with the government forces pushed the residents of the protest camp, unlike it was in 2004, to turn to the heritage of the past and reproduce the resistance practices of Cossacks and their fortress, Sich, which used to be associated with the heart of Ukraine. Such a rise of a nationalist spirit allowed, on the one hand, the clear presence in the camp of radical right wing forces, and, on the other hand, created the conditions for the emergence of an alternative form of governance and decision making that could be observed in the process of appointment of the leaders, in the way they interacted with the participants and managed the everyday routine of the camp, and at weekly gatherings in the camp called Viche. Being part of the Viche gave to many participants of the protest the feeling of involvement and personal responsibility in the state building process. This evolution of Maidan-protest camp into Maidan-Sich turned the space in the center of Kiev into a self-governing organizational structure, which, according to many protesters, was considered truly democratic environment where fair decisions were taken presenting the will of the people of Ukraine. The mentioned events, in such a way, had a positive impact for the development of civil society in the country and birth of new leaders.

In summary, I claim that the described transformations of the 2013/14 protest camp in Kiev make of it an important object of study for those who want to grasp the essence of the changes of political and social order in Ukraine. While this article was concerned with the way this protest camp related to the Orange Revolution in 2004, the question of the impact of the global wave of anti-austerity protests on the events in Ukraine remains open. Finally, studying the diverse activities at Maidan, scholars should not restrain themselves by using only one or two approaches as it is unlikely to bring adequate answers and explanations. I am confident that introducing dialogue between various approaches and using alternative research methods while exploring still overlooked protest camps in Ukraine will bring numerous theoretical and practical insights to the democratization and social movements scholars.

[1] Due to confidentiality reasons the names of the interviewees have been changed. However, with their agreement I provide the real name of the organization they represented (if any)

[2] See, for example, Salnykova, A. 2014. „Barriers to Inter-Group Deliberation in Divided Ukraine“ in Democratic Deliberation in Deeply Divided Societies: From Conflict to Common Ground; Palgrave Macmillan; Wilson, A. 2014 „Ukraine’s 2014: a belated 1989 or another failed 2004?“ ODR, 18.02.2014.

[3] „Ukraine without Kuchma“ was a protest campaign in Ukraine in 2000-2001 after mass media made public audio records proving the involvement of then Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma to several crimes, including the murder of a journalist Georgiy Gongadze. The campaign involved members of 24 political parties and was followed by the dismissal of the interior minister

[4] It is interesting that the opponents of Yushchenko and Maidan also employed this concept but in negative context, for example, referring to people involved into the protest action or expressing support for it as ‘maydanutiye’ (literally – badly affected by Maidan) or saying something like “We could have done without another Maidan!”

[5] The attempts of protest were initiated in April 2010 after then-president Yanukovych signed an extension agreement on the lease of Russia’s Black Sea naval base in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, which is of Russia’s most important military installations. While the agreement was to expire in 2017, Yanukovych extended it for twenty five years more, with the possible further extension by another five years. In return, Russia was to invest in Sevastopol’s economic and social development, and, most importantly, to cut prices on natural gas exports to Ukraine by about 30% of the market price.

[6] Protests in Kiev in November 2010 against the new tax code project, which, among other, in order to satisfy the demands of the IMF increased the tax burden for the small businesses. The President met the claims of the protesters and vetoed the Tax Code in spite of the IMF’s objections.

[7] “commandant” (комендант, ukr.) was a title given to the (non-political) leaders of the protest camp. His duties covered quite a wide range of aspects, starting from construction of camps, arranging regular food and medicine supplies and cleaning to the self-defense and military trainings of the security groups. The commandants were invited/appointed by the non-formal leaders of the protest, spontaneously elected at the spot in the course of the protest action. Not all the commandants were constantly present at Maidan, some of them were mobilizing resources and trying to negotiate with the government outside of the camp and in Parliament

[8] The metro station itself was shut down during the protest, however, the underground passage was open

[9] Later, when the success of protest was obvious, there were also the tents of the smaller cities. In the camp in 2013 the participants followed the similar logic and there were many pictures in the web showing visitors of the camp next to the tent representing their home-town. During the day the tents could remain empty but normally somebody was there during the night.

[10] The official statement of Representatives of LGBT community concerning the possibility of paid provocations and their joint decision not to expose their sexuality during the protest is available in English at