These days is the 10-th anniversary of the anti-European coup d’état in Ukraine´s political course, caused by the election of Victor Yanukovych as a new president. The new course symbolized “close to Russia – away from Europe” regime strategy, which ended in ousting of Yanukovych out to where he was leading the country – to Russia.
Yanukovych introduced his revisionist, almost revolutionary reforms in cultural and educational spheres by the appointment of Dmytro Tabachnyk as a minister of education. As a response, wide-scale public and student protests ensued across Ukraine. This new political context lead to the emergence of the civic campaign against the new ruler, and it had huge influence over further developments. Massive voter dissatisfaction with new cultural and educational policies sensibilized the voters and contributed much to the protest potential. It put in motion certain waves of collective action and subsequent fall of the Yanukovych regime in early 2014. Tabachnyk´s persistence with destruction of existing educational system brought to streets even those who were not prone to active action. The undemocratic regime thus significantly contributed to its own demise and brought about most indispensable requirements for “colour revolutions”, which are not only the security forces sympathetic with protesters, but also a weak and unpopular state incumbent, largely divided elite, a meaningful opposition and active civil society.
Yanukovych was rather successful in monopolizing power, first, by going much further then did Leonid Kuchma (1994-2004) by not only returning to the 1996 version of the Constitution but also by taking control of the legislature, the judiciary, power ministries, etc. But in the end Yanukovych´s authoritarianism turned out to be quite fragile due to its particular radical anti-Ukrainian features, and the existence of formal electoral cycles – the hurdles to be periodically mastered, as well as the electorate´s specificities, such as identity, ideational preferences, etc., which undermined Yanukovych´s zero-sum power monopolization.
The positive changes enacted after the Orange Revolution, when Kuchma and Yanukovych lost to Yushchenko in 2004, were not properly institutionalized. Thus, most of Ukraine´s media remained privately owned by oligarchs and public broadcasting was not created. Yanukovych used his ultimate election, backed up by Putin and mobilized by the Russophone vote against Yushchenko in 2010 as an opportunity to alter the previous course of de-sovietisation and to take revenge on the “nationalists” – i.e. Ukrainian speakers and the nation state building policies as such. E.g., Yanukovych dissolved the National Commission for Freedom of Speech and Media Development, the National Commission for Strengthening Democracy and the Rule of Law and other institutions, “reformed” the Institute of National Memory to be headed by a convinced Communist, signed a decree cancelling the celebration of the anniversary of the Orange Revolution, obliged state radio and TV to broadcast the Moscow´s parades in Ukraine.
For its support Kremlin urged Yanukovych to appoint as minister of education Dmytro Tabachnyk, a convinced Homo Sovieticus, who previously headed Kuchma’s 1994 election campaign, subsequently became chief of staff of Kuchma’s presidential administration and after this new appointment became infamous for pejorative statements regarding Ukrainian intelligentsia, nation state, numerous corruption scandals, and re-writing of school textbooks to suit Putin. Furthermore, he cancelled the state exam in the Ukrainian language in universities, downplayed the 1933 Holodomor as a Ukrainian genocide or artificial famine, removed quotas on using the Ukrainian language in cultural spheres, revisited the role of the Ukrainian national liberation movement during World War II in Ukrainian textbooks, thus returning to negative Soviet interpretations, sought to reorganize The National Research Institute of Ukrainian Studies into “the institute of world history”, ignored the law on student self-government rights and independent student unions, tried to adopt the law for rigid centralization of education and to reduce the number of universities by 10 times…
Tabachnik has polarized the country in the cultural sphere. His and Yanukovych´s actions incited an opposition movement and widespread protests across Ukraine under the slogan “Down with Tabachnyk”, attracting thousands of demonstrators across the country. Some further factors which triggered the protests were the emancipated, post-independence born young population organized through civil society initiatives, the very nature of regime and elites, the existing political institutions, as well as national identity and modes of pressure on both sides.
by Alexander Svyetlov