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  Maidan’s doomsday: Fierce laws, farce amnesty and furiously faithful people in Ukraine

Andriy Tyushka, a postdoctoral research fellow at the European Neighbourhood Policy Chair, College of Europe (Natolin Campus)
2014 02 27

With renewed vigor, Ukraine turned to a Maidanian republic.

After a while of the declared truce, on February 18, 2014, clashes with police special units as well as internal battle groups, flaming tires, cars and buildings ‘habitually’ completed the image of antigovernment protests whereas revealing new shades and sacrificing new victims to the people’s fight against the regime. The government failed to become responsible and responsive. Maidan became diversified and uncontrolled instead. Lacking fidelity and mutual trust on either side of the revolution in Ukraine, obviously, could not have facilitated anything but balancing and confrontation instead of a wanted genuine political process. Within three days, the confrontation proved to be the cruellest fight for rights and freedoms since Ukraine’s independence, with nearly a hundred deaths and half a thousand injured citizens, who have fallen victims to the imaginary ‘anti-terrorist’ operations pursued by Ukrainian authorities.

Maidan’s second coming, its ‘doomsday’, inaugurated the fall of the much alleged dictatorship in Ukraine and commemorated hundreds and thousands of victims to the fight against the regime. There is much debate now on why Maidan ultimately did not tolerate the agreement on the resolution of the crisis reached by the president and the opposition leaders, under mediation of European and Russian representatives, and still demanded the immediate resignation of the president Yanukovych on the eve of February 21, 2014. The controversy, which surmounts the five-day February war and subsequent developments, dictates the necessity to unveil why the agreement on the resolution of the crisis did not work and why it was overruled by a Maidanian tenor.

Fierce laws, farce amnesty and lost fidelity

For almost three months of peaceful confrontation with the government, including scenes of forcible responses of Ukrainian authorities to the disobedience of the country’s citizenry, Maidan has experienced several forms of action and changed several revolutionary agendas, each time containing the clear message of each and every protesting individual: ‘stolen’ rights and freedoms granted to the citizens of Ukraine by the Constitution have to be ‘returned’.

Nevertheless, the core demand of the rioters protesting in the capital of Ukraine, as well as those protesting in the regions, remained unanswered, and personal safety (in both legal and physical meaning), including deprived rights and freedoms, had still not been guaranteed by the state.

Yet the quasi-amnesty law – adopted on December 19, 2013, and re-adopted on January 16/29, 2014, – had already worked for those who would have to bear responsibility for wrongful acts and forcible violence against the Maidan people. So, the criminal proceedings against the main figurants of the Maidan’s suppression on the night of November 30, 2013 (among them – the former head of Kyiv City State Administration Oleksandr Popov, Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council Volodymyr Sivkovych) were unconditionally closed already on February 12, 2014, upon the entry into force of the amnesty law...

However, the protesters were not fully and unconditionally subjected to the so-called ‘amnesty’ law, and hundreds of them had been accused of wrongful actions not only under the (seemingly abolished) harsh laws as of January 16, 2014, but also under the valid Criminal Code of Ukraine. It was exponential, in fact, that the ‘amnesty’ law (allegedly developed specifically for the protection of the rioters themselves) was not introduced into effect in relation to the protesters immediately and unconditionally, and was subjected instead to the fulfillment of series of requirements on their part, including the surrender of occupied positions as such. Hence, this quasi-amnesty law (in fact, an ultimatum law) envisaged first of all surrender – until February 17, 2014 – of administrative buildings on Khreshchatyk and Hrushevskogo streets and de-blocking of other seven streets in the capital of Ukraine occupied by protests. The law also allegedly supposed un-mounting of nineteen barricades erected on these nine streets, as well as releasing regional administrations in other four regions in Ukraine, as a pre-condition for its ‘activation’ and actual entrance into force. Otherwise, this ridiculous amnesty law was not deemed to been put in effect in relation to the protesting side of the conflict, the Maidanian people.

Although such a bifacial interpretation of the much-wanted law did not provide many reasons for hopes among the protesters, they still have tried to believe in best intentions of the government, and thus on the night of February 16, 2014, unblocked the previously occupied regional administrations in Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv and Poltava regions; moreover, on Sunday, the building of the Kyiv city state administration was vacated and handed over under the patronage of the Swiss Presidency in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Hence, as of Sunday, February 16, 2014, the formal conditions of the ultimatum-borne amnesty, as put forward by Ukrainian authorities, were fulfilled, and thus the road to a well-suffered amnesty for an articulated right to expression should have been opened.

Lost fidelity and Maidan’s renewed rise

As a law called to reduce social and political tension in the country, the amnesty law (and especially the way of its implementation!) has transferred the Maidan’s revolutionary mood into a state of standby and smoldering frustration instead.

Whereas anticipating an ultimate release and rehabilitation of 236 imprisoned citizens, as well as closure of criminal proceedings filed against another nearly 2,000 protesters across the country, the Maidan people received just a modest ‘promise’ from the Attorney General Viktor Pshonka. The regime’s main ‘punitive voice’ bade fair to release until March 18, 2014, all the participants of protest actions from criminal responsibility. Apparently, the Maidan’s Council and the Attorney General have had different understandings in terms of how to mathematically approach the quantity of ‘all’ the rioters concerned thereby. According to the general prosecutor’s view, immunity from criminal responsibility for actions committed within (sic!) December 27, 2013, to February 2, 2014, should have been granted to 234 activists only, who already had been incriminated ‘participation in mass disorder’ (under the article 294 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine); the last one of those 234 detained protesters was released from detention under house arrest by February 14, 2014. The filed criminal proceedings against the mentioned protesters remained active cases, though. Reportedly, the general prosecutor’s office was planning to close only 108 criminal proceedings, which meant that the rest of the already filed cases (plus potential future case openings) would have been re-qualified in administrative offenses, at best. No promised immunity from responsibility would have been thus granted to the people who defended their constitutional rights and freedoms in a state, captured by business and administrative groups (BAGs). A kind of ‘justice mathematics’ like that, offered by Ukrainian authorities, did certainly not correspond with folk mathematics and people’s demand to be safely heard in their own state.

Either way, the amnesty law – which was eventually ‘activated’ in relation to the protesters on February 17, 2014, – covered by scope only those rioters who were detained in the second wave of protests in Ukraine (27 December 2013 – 2 February 2014). The impressive rest of the protesters who have fallen out of authoritarian justice’s favour, who were suspected in ‘mass disorders’ or already had been detained on those grounds, did not really have many reasons to hope for rehabilitation. The more so because expecting from the government that it will comply with its own promises and rules (set lately by the ultimatum-borne amnesty law) and hoping, that on March 18, 2014, not only 234 Maidan activists, but about 2 000 participants of disobedience actions throughout the country would be granted immunity from criminal (and/or administrative) prosecution, meant waiting for miracles rather than counting on justice. 

Regrettably, it very quickly became apparent.

The loss of an irrationally buried remainder of the trust to Ukrainian authorities was facilitated by the government’s inadequate move, again. As said, after vacating Kyiv city hall and de-blocking several regional state administrations, the anti-government protesters fulfilled the conditions of quasi-amnesty law on their part, and have been waiting for the adequate reaction on the government’s side. It failed to follow. Instead, the very next day, on February 17, 2014, internal forces and police special units ‘Berkut’ returned to their positions down the Hrushevskogo street. As if this was not enough, the situation was even further amplified by parliamentary failure to undertake the long-wished changes to the Constitution that day. Having interpreted such actions of the Ukrainian authorities as a revealing breach of the agreements, the Maidan people started to restore their positions, in response.

Maidan rose again. Maidan mobilized again. Maidan acted again.

As of early 18, 2014, the governmental quarter in the Ukrainian capital city was ‘habitually’ smoky from burning tires, clashes between protesters and police special units and internal troops also ‘habitually’ accompanied actions of civil disobedience and opposition to the current government. The authorities called again for ceasing protests. This time, in a habitual ultimatum-mode, both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Security Service of Ukraine were threatening to use force, if the protests were not ceased by 6 p.m. on February 18, 2014. The morning of the next day quite dramatically revealed that the force was used. Twenty-five more victims to a renewed wave of the revolution in Ukraine have fallen over the night of February 19, 2014. The day after, revealed that from 70 to 100 more lives were ‘needed’ to make both the internal and international authorities react on the brutal killing of civilians in Ukraine.

One couldn’t have expected another scenario of developments. In a situation, when the tension approached the critical benchmark, and any fidelity and mutual trust on either side of the Ukrainian revolution was lost and became even unthinkable any longer (at least, on the side of the citizenry), dangerous tactical balancing pursued by the president Yanukovych and governmental security agencies had only reinforced the wave of popular indignation and even more frightened the irrational power in terms of consequent responsibility…

Short but significant ‘idling’ of the revolution, which marked the period of exponential tactical balancing on the part of the ruling authorities, has over-heated the engine of civil resistance; it therefore burst again with even greater force. No less great was be the forcible reaction of the authorities, which this time justified their inadequate reactions and open fire against the people of Ukraine by an alleged ‘anti-terrorist operation’ on the country’s main revolutionary stage. Nearly a hundred death and half a thousand citizens have fallen victims of the alleged ‘fight on terror’ since February 18, 2014.

As a matter of fact, farcing amnesty against the backdrop of probably the most fierce and repressive laws adopted on ‘black Thursday’ and re-adopted short thereafter, prevention of constitutional re-transit by illegal manipulations, as well as forcible suppression of the protests on February 19/21, 2014, were obviously far from a rational response a yet virtually totally de-legitimized authority could have provided to the Ukrainian people. As a result, the agreement, which was reached by the president Yanukovych and the opposition leaders on the eve of February 21, 2014, and was served to Maidan as a recipe for crisis resolution, did not really have a real chance to be legitimized and implemented. It cost, in fact, too much, and was too little worth instead in terms of revolutionary goals. Given the previous ‘inclination’ of the ruling authorities to break their own rules and promises, as well as given the substance of the agreement itself (which did not, in fact, correspond with people’s demands, even if it somehow satisfied the ambitions of the opposition parties concerned), the crisis settlement agreement was actually doomed to fail and thus become overruled. The more so against the backdrop of people’s rising de-legitimation of the regime by that time via the ‘social re-capturing’ of state administrations, as well as of other governmental buildings, nationwide – not only in western and central parts of Ukraine, traditionally oppositionist to the Yanukovych’s rule, but also in some eastern and southern regions (except the Crimea).

Therefore, the visibility of a genuine political process, instead of the real one’s feasibility and thus respected people’s demands, has a priori diminished the value of the crisis settlement agreement as such and deprived it of any chance to be accepted and respected by the protest movement. The rising support of the protest movement which shortly followed on the side of members of the parliament from within the president’s party as well as governmental agencies, including the army, only enhanced de-legitimation of a still legal then (and probably now, as well) power and made Maidan’s second coming, its ‘doomsday’, to legitimately succeed in overruling the Yanukovych’s authoritarian regime in Ukraine.

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