Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 10.12.2018
Street protests in the capital against a policy of the president – on the surface, the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protests in Paris happening now may look like the Revolution of Dignity (EuroMaidan) which happened in Kyiv at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014. But the similarities are superficial. Gilets Jaunes in France is not a “colour revolution” and will not become one. EuroMaidan in Ukraine was a Revolution of Dignity and it changed the Ukrainian nation from something it will never be again into something unprecedented.
Television news shows protestors and riot police and violence, because “if it bleeds, it leads.” What people see of Gilets Jaunes and what they saw of EuroMaidan looks the same. But what is the source of the violence? With Gilets Jaunes, it is agitators among the protestors who move against the police. With EuroMaidan, violence started when Berkut special police units attacked peaceful protestors – mostly students – who were on Independence Square, on the night of 30 November 2013.
Gilets Jaunes started as a protest against a tax designed to fight climate change caused by human activity. It has morphed into the presentation of a grab bag of grievances. It has attracted the far left and the far right, but has not garnered massive popular support. The Yellow Vests have evolved into an anti-European unity movement.
EuroMaidan started as a protest against Viktor Yanukovych’s sudden withdrawal from the Ukraine-European Association Agreement. It morphed into a fight for a normal life, free of corruption. It attracted Ukrainians from all walks of life and gained overwhelming national support. EuroMaidan ended up as a fight for freedom, and for becoming part of European civilization.
Emmanuel Macron is a French President facing the tumult of Parisian street politics as his predecessors have faced from the time La république was established. Macron is loyal to France and to France’s place in Europe – a leading nation of the European Union. In Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych was the head of a kleptocratic regime that was unprecedented in its corruption and venality. Yanukovych is loyal to Putin and to the idea that Ukraine is subordinate to the Russian Federation.
Gilets Jaunes is scheduled for Saturdays. EuroMaidan was a continuous encampment and non-stop series of rallies from 21 November 2013 to sometime after 21 February 2014 and the flight of Viktor Yanukovych from Kyiv. French protestors go home to their comfortable beds at night. EuroMaidan protestors slept in tents in the coldest months of a Ukrainian winter.
Gilet Jaunes is marked by looting. EuroMaidan had none of that, even though Independence Square sits on top of a large mall. There was even a branch of a Russian bank, Sberbank, in the middle of the protests – it remained untouched.
People participating in EuroMaidan were taking part in an ancient institution of Ukrainian direct democracy known as the “viche.” The protestors in Kyiv practiced self-government, and organized self-defence units known as sotnya (literally, “hundreds”). Spontaneous and genuine organization of free people in EuroMaidan was a stark contrast to the corrupt Yanukovych regime which became de-legitimized by the violence it used against Ukrainians on Independence Square.
Russian social media, Russian information warfare, and Russian agitation propaganda vilifies President Macron and blames French police for the violence that is actually cause by some of the Gilets Jaunes. With EuroMaidan, it was the opposite: the Russians vilified Ukrainian protestors and blamed them for the violence that was actually caused by the Berkut special police.
French people take democracy and freedom for granted. The last time they had to fight for it was at the time of the occupation of France by Nazi Germany and of the Vichy France regime. Gilets Jaunes is unlikely to be as 1968 for France, and it certainly will not amount to a Revolution of Dignity.
Ukrainian people never take democracy and freedom for granted. Foreign occupation of Ukraine by Muscovy only ended in 1991, and it was reimposed over two parts of the country (Crimea and some of Donbas) in 2014. Ukrainians made great personal sacrifices to confront the corrupt Yanukovych regime and to fight Russian invasion and partial occupation. They still do. Ukrainians honour the “Heaven’s Hundred” who were killed in the Revolution of Dignity – mostly by Yanukovych-Putin regime snipers. Ukrainians honour the over 3,000 servicemen and women in the Armed Forces of Ukraine who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the war of national salvation to stop the Russian invasion.
France is at peace, it is in NATO, and it is in the EU. Aggressor Russia is 2,000 kilometres away. Gilets Jaunes is a tax protest that has been hijacked by violent agitators, egged on by Russian propaganda. It is not a revolution.
Ukraine is at war, wrongly not yet a part of NATO, and unjustly not yet in the EU. Aggressor Russia is on the border, is invading Ukraine, and has been waging war on a battlefront in Donbas for four and a half years. EuroMaidan was a Revolution of Dignity – a genuine and spontaneous expression of the democratic spirit of the Ukrainian people. It changed Ukraine forever, and for the good.