Maidan without the Maidan. In memoriam
The time has come when one may feel tempted to draw certain conclusions. The so-called “cleaning” of the Maidan, that is the removal of the tents that had stood there since winter, was a complete success. There is virtually nothing remaining in the Ukrainian capital main square to remind one of the “tent town” that used to be there barely a few weeks ago. For me, today’s “parade upon blood” was the final symbol of the reins of power having been taken by the new authorities.
Discussions on whether the Maidan should be removed from the city centre began long before its actual dismantling. Even as early as in March voices were heard saying that Yanukovych fleeing the country was the victory everyone had been waiting for – and that now it’s time to go home. Part of them went to the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, where even back then, the temperature was rising. But part of them stayed. Some stayed, because they had nowhere else to go; others – because they were convinced that the work of the Maidan had not yet been done. When asked of the final date for this unique Ukrainian structure, they most often responded: the Maidan will stand till the elections, the presidential elections of May 25th. Well, that sounded quite reasonable in view of the volatile situation in the east; but there were also those who claimed that the Maidan will disperse only after the new authorities have met all of the demands, such as the vetting process, putting the ones responsible for the death of the Nebesnaya Sotnya on trial, as well as introducing anti-corruption mechanisms. Against all that had been said over the preceding months, the activists dealing with these things were still in the Maidan.
Over recent months, the Maidan has become the rallying point for volunteer battalions as well as their supply coordination centre. It is true, it could have been located outside of the Maidan (and the system, after all, has not ceased to function), but the structure which has been in operation since winter was very strongly tied to the sotnyas and specific tents. The reasons were not only practical, where many soldiers set out to the ATO front from the sotnya tents and came back there when on leave. They knew they had the sotnya behind their backs, a place in the Maidan to come back to. And I think that was more important than the nice, clean city centre – especially that the tents were replaced virtually overnight by food and drinks stalls, kiosks, souvenir vendors and some random guys spilling their “hundred grams” by the fountain.
The discussion also revolved round the “degeneration of the Maidan” – alcohol abuse, brawls and the like. According to the Spilno.tv journalists, it was a purposeful “black PR”, which was supposed to prepare society for the Maidan’s removal and garner support for the idea. Yes, there was alcohol in the Maidan – but not ubiquitously, for example the Cossack sotnya was inexorable in its ban on drinking, and was not alone in it. However, word-of-mouth was relentless in repeating the clichés on “alcoholics and hobos”, which made me wonder – perhaps my colleagues from Spilno.tv were right? My suspicions grew even stronger after I saw the way the Maidan was “cleared”.
After the first riots, when the Kyiv-1 battalion attempted to remove the tents by force, the Miydan Council agreed with the municipal authorities that the former will clear the Khreshhatik driveway and the two adjacent streets. As agreed, as early as on the Friday night, the Maidan dwellers began dismantling the barricades. Saturday was the scheduled day of the ‘great cleaning’, which was to be joined by Kyiv citizens.
In the meantime, however, maintenance, police and “angry residents” appeared on the spot, who – in spite of the arrangement with the city authorities – started dismantling the property of the Maidan dwellers. At approximately noon, the first tents started to burn. Immediately the very same “angry residents” gathered around the fire starters, inciting them and explaining to the bystanders that “these are the Maidan guys themselves, sick of what’s been going on here”. The action was very quick and effective – and obviously meticulously planned. Almost immediately the fire brigade appeared, and alongside them volunteers equipped with firefighting equipment. As soon as the flames were put out, the maintenance services began to do their part, over a mere twenty minutes transferring all that was left into dustcarts, regularly shipping away the debris. I spent a whole day there, watching the process, and I am sure that the Kyiv citizens who joined the cleaning process spontaneously and out of their hearts’ needs were by far fewer than the “organised” ones.
After the infamous subbotnik, when the majority of the tents were destroyed and taken apart, I spent the night on the Maidan. The silence was eerie; with only the Cossacks camp remaining and, in another part of the Maidan, the Kolomiya standing their ground. There were the Spilno.tv domes and the famed Christmas tree. “The night watch” were taking apart the stage in silence. Around 11 p.m., cars started passing through the Khreshhatik. It was the most moving night. No-one slept, but everyone kept their silence. It was the beginning of the end, but something was still going on.
The next day, some people came to the Maidan. They took over the stage, led the weekly veche (general gathering). Spilno.tv kept on streaming, the Christmas tree was there. The sotnyas disbanded, but the people still gathered, especially in the evenings, and debated. The stage elected a new coordinator and, with its organisation and infrastructure, resembled a “mini-Maidan”. Attempts to remove it were expected at night, and so the guard posts were strengthened. Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon at around 3 p.m. the neo-titushki came – the same ones who took part in dismantling the Maidan – who brutally assaulted the Spilno.tv journalists as well as the activists defending the stage, and then took both the structures down. Meanwhile, maintenance crews arrived and helped remove what was yet left.
The breaking point came with taking the Christmas tree down. It happened almost without a word of protest – only Oleg, a Belarus who was in the Maidan virtually from the start, organised a one-man picket. That was the last symbol of the Maidan, and now it has gone. After that, preparations for the parade proceeded without any obstacles. It was also then that the majority of Institutskaya Street barricades were removed.
I am not saying the removal of the Maidan was clearly a negative thing. It became apparent that the work of Maidan may as well be done outside of it, the sotnyas reorganised and relocated, but they continue to support “their” soldiers in the battalions. They are all united in saying that, if need be, they will come back to the Maidan within a split second.
However, it was the way that the removal was performed which made me doubt the character of the changes that transpired. The Maidan had had the chance to become the beginning of systemic change, a spark to set off the civil society. And now it would seem that all we saw was a rotation at the top. The new rulers forcibly, by the same methods they inherited from the old ones, removed the people who let them take power. I will anxiously watch over the events yet to transpire.