ARCHIVES Danyliw Seminar 2014
Mohyla U, Kyiv, Ukraine
Maidan and Civil Protests
Changing Civil Society After Maidan
Driven by the forms of self-organization created on Maidan Ukrainian civil society has, throughout 2014, taken over spheres of the state’s emergency responsibilities in responding to war, humanitarian crisis and separatism.
In the classical state model two functions lie at the core of any political regime’s stability: first, legitimate violence (defense from external danger, law enforcement and information policies critical to political order, i.e., propaganda); second, transition of power between elite groups (elections and public officials’ careers). But since the flight of President Yanukovych and the transition of power into the political leaders of Maidan, these undisputable attributes of government have been functioning with the support and sometimes even the leadership of civic post-Maidan groups. Partially in the quest for governmental efficiency, partially in the quest for governmental legitimacy, the Ukrainian temporary cabinet (February – October 2014) has allowed civil society to participate in the following five functions:
Defense sector: volunteer battalions fighting Russian intervention and separatists’ upraising;
Internal security: self-defense groups policing cities and towns of Ukraine;
Propaganda: activists groups fighting Russian propaganda and promoting the post-Maidan case;
Elections: attempts to create alternative activist networks controlling honest count of votes;
Lustration: promoting the idea of the necessity of changing elites in power.
In all these cases, civil society organizations have played an ambivalent role. [editor’s note: by “civil society” we refer to Civil society, civil society organizations] On the one hand, they enforced society’s chance at surviving the crisis of post-revolutionary fragmentation and war. Ukrainian civil society was therefore fulfilling its ‘raison d’être’: civil society advocated in the public interest and made public institutions act more efficiently in addressing this interest. On the other hand, civil society transcended the limits of advocacy, and began to act directly; civil society resolved issues instead of the government. This direct action and civil society’s unprecedented political role have created a paradoxical situation: civil society lessened certain challenges for the nation, but created new challenges for Ukraine’s political order.
This ambivalence has provoked behavioral change in two groups that define Ukraine’s development, i.e. the political class and oligarchs. Traditionally, the Ukrainian political class has treated civil society as either agents of the West or counter-elites undermining its rule. At the same time, civil society trusted neither government nor politicians. But with the inability of the political class to adequately respond to the critical situation in Ukraine last year, this mutual enmity has become competitive cooperation. Ruling groups and some members of civil society have established certain forms of cooperation to solve problems critical for collective survival.
Oligarchic groups have long detested the third sector as their dysfunctional rivals in dealing with public issues. After the ‘Orange Revolution’, the rent-seekers created ‘private philanthropic organizations’ that successfully competed with major NGOs in their impact on government, local communities and international donors. In 2014, however, oligarchic groups recognized the functionality of civil society organizations and attempted to use them either for increasing rent-gain, or defending existing power-property.
In my analysis, I review cases of both encounters: ruling groups vs. civil society, and rent-seeking groups vs. civil society. I show that the political development of Ukrainian society in 2014 has made civil society critical to state building. The success or failure of political, judicial and economic reforms is now far more dependent on Ukraine’s civil society then ever before.
Civil society and Government:
Competitors and Collaborators
In post-Maidan Ukraine there are five functional domains where civil society has gained a deep impact on political order: defense sector, internal security, propaganda, elections, and lustration. In each of the domains we can see a rationale for change, a short-term result, a risk for mid-term stability of political order, and ruling groups’ strategy towards civil society. [editor’s note: Dr. Minakov’s presentation will go into detail on each domain, but this blog post streamlines his empirical case studies]
Defense and national security
Separatist uprisings in Crimea, Odessa, Mykolaiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv, as well as un-declared Russian intervention have challenged Ukraine’s very existence as a political entity. Responding to the legitimate public interest of self-preservation, as well as to a deficit of adequate response from the government’s defense agencies, ‘volunteer battalions’ were created. These groups were organized based on the Maidan self-defense networks. Today, there are approximately 38 volunteer battalions with about 13,500 personnel fighting Russian troops and separatists groups in southeastern Ukraine.
Tactically these battalions were effective in fighting separatist guerilla groups in Donbas. However, there is a risk for political stability: because these are autonomous militant groups with weak control from government agencies, there is a probability of these groups challenging both public order and national unity.
The government has attempted to control these volunteer battalions through affiliating them to various institutions: the Ministry of Defense, National Guard, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Volunteer Ukrainian Corps, or involving the battalions’ chieftains into newly established political parties.
Most of the departments of the Ministry of Interior proved inefficient at law enforcement. They were also directly involved in the limitations of civil rights and liberties in 2013-14. Public opinion saw the police as an oppressive and corrupt corporation. Given the failure of police reform after the Vradiivka case in summer 2013, the massacre in February in Kyiv, and the May events in Odesa, civic self-defense groups attempted to replace law enforcement networks.
The Maidan self-defense network (samooborona) was organized on December 1, 2013. On February 7, 2014 it included local self-defense groups outside Kyiv creating a nation-wide network. Divided into ‘hundreds’ (the sotnia), these groups policed the borders of Maidan in Kyiv as well as protesters’ camps in other cities. Later, after February 22, 2014 (there were 42 hundreds by that time) they were substituting for the police in Kyiv until March 11. Outside Kyiv, these groups still function today as local police or ‘druzhyna’ groups.
The short-term result was providing communities with some security in Kyiv. In smaller communities these groups partially merged with local police for public security. However, lacking proper training, institutional supervision and discipline, these self-defense groups became a danger themselves. By mid-summer 2014 the self-defense groups on Maidan – having lost their most active participants for the volunteer battalions – became a source of risk for wealth and health of Kyiv residents.
From May – July 2014 there were groups controlled by Andrii Parubii, Serhii Pashynskyi and other politicians for the interest of their respective political parties. Some self-defense groups were used in illegal direct actions against competing candidates during parliamentary elections in 2014 (such as the cases of “trashing” candidates in September 2013).
On March 11 the militant members of the self-defense hundreds were incorporated into the National Guard or themselves formed volunteer battalions. On May 5 it was transformed into semi-political, semi-policing network of right-wing militant groups recognizing the authority of Andrii Parubii, at that time Secretary of National Security Council. In addition to policing, the Samooborona groups participated in strikes against courts, local administrations and mid-size businesses. By September 2014 most of these self-defense hundreds not involved in the ATO (anti-terrorist operation) have merged with Batkyvshchyna political networks.
In order to increase the level of crisis in Ukraine, the Russian government has been using diversionary networks and propagandist media outlets established after the ‘Orange Revolution.’ Russia’s success in acquiring Crimea, and the delayed and limited reaction of Western powers into the Ukrainian crisis, is connected to the efficient propaganda campaign against Maidan and Ukrainian political elites. There were (and still are) no effective governmental policies/institutions able to cope with the coercive impact of the Kremlin propaganda in Ukraine.
The public interest in having different opinions and accessing first hand information is a legitimate civil right. There was also a need to cope with moral and psychological damage inflicted by the Kremlin media on the disoriented Ukrainian population. Ukrainian Civil society responded to this issue in many forms.
For example, the most visible and enduring is the Inforesist project [ This group publishes information disavowing Russian propaganda materials on its website with effective short-term results. However, this campaign also disavows Ukraine’s official propaganda. Although ruling groups attempted to buy the site via major media holdings, the group currently survives with public financial support.
Defense of Electoral rights
The Ukrainian parliament did not manage to approve an electoral code or change the rules for parliamentary elections. During the campaign, voters have observed that the campaign behavior of candidates in majoritarian districts did not change. There is some civic support for direct action groups intervening into the electoral process at its two first steps (registration and campaign) and controlling the ‘integrity’ of vote day and count night.
Despite the of high levels of trust accorded specialized electoral monitoring NGOs like Pora, the grass-roots direct action initiatives have support in local communities. The impact is hard to measure but in certain districts the self-defense groups are used as part of illegal competition among candidates. These groups’ involvement could be used for legal cases against recognition of election results in the given districts. There are no ruling group strategies for dealing with these initiatives.
Ukrainian citizens want responsive, transparent and law-abiding public service. In Ukrainian public opinion lustration is believed to offer insurance that after Maidan-2014 the quality of public service will change.
On February 24, 2014 the Ukrainian parliament approved a decision to prepare lustration. On April 9, 2014 the Law on Lustration of judges was approved. By October 9, 2014 the process was delayed and criteria for lustration was limited formal presence in the public service during Yanukovych’s rule.
A civic committee on lustration was organized on Maidan on February 28, 2014. It was based on involvement of volunteers into cooperation with all branches of power to control preparation of lustration laws, their implementation and change of personnel in courts and the Ministry of the Interior. Formally 2 laws were approved. Some change of personnel in Cabinet, Presidential Administration, Ministry of the Interior and court system took place. At the same time, the criteria for lustration are unclear; in some cases the committee’s involvement was used by competing elite groups to get to higher governmental posts.
Lustration committees in Kyiv and other cities created a network of civic groups impacting the rules of competition between different groups of power elites. This may limit representation of Russian-speaking citizens and populations of the southeastern regions in government and local governments, thus promoting separatist ideas in major cities of Ukraine. While national and local elite groups have invited leaders of the lustration committees to join them, there are no clear results.
Rent-seekers and Civil society:
In 2014 oligarchic groups recognized the functionality of civil society and attempted to include public activists and leaders of major Civil society.
Financial-political groups advocating interests of major rent-seekers changed their methods of dealing with civil society during Maidan. Already by December 2013 there were cases when representatives of oligarchic groups personally joined Maidan and provided unconditional financial support.
After Maidan those linkages increased due to the urgent need to provide volunteer battalions with ammunition and personal security. Patriotic behavior provided oligarchs with new legitimacy. Today, the usual toolkit of oligarchs’ behavior includes support to volunteer or army detachments, as well as some local civic initiative of Self-Defense and/or local lustration committees.
There two major risks here: (1) independence of volunteer battalions from the central government that undermines the political order, and (2) independence of oligarchs from legal order. In case of Ihor Kolomoiskyi, for example, his group’s activities create an enclave of businesses, local administrations and self-defense groups in southern Ukraine that constitute an alternative political order. There is no cohesive response from Ukrainian government.
The cooperation of civil society organizations with oligarchic groups constitutes a systemic risk for the integrity of Ukrainian civil society itself. The coercive impact of rent-seeking strategies may make civil society a part of systemic corruption, as was the case with local self-administration.
A strengthened civil society results in a paradox: government and power elites are somewhat more responsive to citizens’ needs, but the creation of alternative structures in exclusive domains of government hinders political stabilization.
Mykhailo Minakov (PhD, Kyiv Institute of Philosophy 2007) is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Ideology and Politics. He is the author of three books and 70 atricles in Philosophy, Political Science and History.