At a recent round of negotiations on 25 January, the Government representatives were Andriy Klyuyev, Head of the Presidential Administration, his deputy Andriy Portnov and Justice Minister Olena Lukash.
At a recent round of negotiations on 25 January, the Government representatives were Andriy Klyuyev, Head of the Presidential Administration, his deputy Andriy Portnov and Justice Minister Olena Lukash. The Maidan protest movement was represented by the three opposition leaders – Vitaly Klitschko, leader of UDAR (‘punch’ in Ukrainian), the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform; Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the Ukrainian nationalist party Svoboda (‘freedom’); and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, de facto leader of Ukraine’s largest opposition party, Batkivshchyna or ‘Fatherland,’ whose nominal head, Yulia Tymoshenko is currently imprisoned on corruption charges.
At the end of this round of negotiations, it was clear what concessions the Government was prepared to offer in order to quell the protests spreading throughout Ukraine. At a press conference afterwards, Andriy Portnov explained what had been agreed:
‘In response to the opposition leaders’ demand that detainees be released, the President has asked the Prosecutor General to instruct the judiciary to suggest alternative measures for pre-trial detention, as long as the cases are unrelated to previous charges. In return, opposition leaders must immediately clear the protesters from Hrushevsky Street and put a stop to all illegal activities.
'The Opposition’s next demand was for an amnesty granting absolute discharge to all those involved in street protests throughout the period of political crisis. The President gave his consent to this, and in our opinion the proposal would be supported by a majority of parliamentary deputies, on condition that all the buildings, which have been occupied in various parts of Ukraine, including Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), are cleared.'
Government concessions are unlikely to sway the protest movement's more radical members, who have seized and occupied government buildings. Photo (c) Andre Stenin/RIA Novosti
The President also agreed to set up a working group to oversee a return to the 2004 version of the Constitution, which would significantly reduce presidential powers and increase the decision making role of Parliament. There was agreement to reconstitute the Central Electoral Commission, and amend the laws of 16 January, which had substantively limited citizens’ rights and freedoms. The opposition stood its ground, as a result of which the President consented to repeal the hated laws. This was rubber-stamped by the Parliament. The government of Mykola Azarov then resigned.
Viktor Yanukovych had also offered two of the three opposition leaders government positions: ‘The President offered Arseniy Yatsenyuk the position of Prime Minister....Vitaly Klitschko was offered the post of Deputy Prime Minister for Humanitarian Issues. The President is convinced that working with the Opposition will help the country to unite, and introduce the reforms which are so necessary for both the state and society,’ stated Olena Lukash at the end of that round of negotiations.
The Maidan position
At the end of May 2013 the Maidan activists had themselves been considering the possibility of a government of technocrats. One of the short-term objectives of their manifesto, which was approved on 29 December, was ‘the resignation of Mykola Azarov’s government and the formation of a pro-European parliamentary majority, the basis for a new technical Cabinet of Ministers. Its objective would be to lead the country out of its systemic crisis, ensure the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU, and oversee fair and free parliamentary and presidential elections.’
‘we are on the verge of bankruptcy, because the government has bled the country’
By Saturday 25 January this prospect no longer inspired the Opposition. ‘We are not abandoning the proposal, but we’re not accepting it either,’ said Arseniy Yatsenyuk. ‘We are less than enthusiastic about it, to put it mildly. I see very clearly what is happening in Ukraine: we are on the verge of bankruptcy, because the Government has bled the country dry over the past three and a half years, and the coffers are empty. The country has been reduced to complete and total chaos, and this is why the Government is trying to avoid responsibility, and is waiting to hear if we will take it on or not.’
Even if Arseniy Yatsenyuk accepted the offer to become prime minister, the poisoned chalice would guarantee he could never become president. Photo CC Aleksandr Andreiko
The opposition leaders are facing a complicated choice: by offering them positions in the government, which ostensibly puts them in a position of some influence, Yanukovych is clearly trying to offload responsibility for his failures on to their shoulders; and then there is Maidan, which would never consent to this particular kind of victimhood. For people standing in the freezing cold, the proposal to form what amounts to a coalition government would represent a betrayal of the Maidan aims. They had one main objective: the resignation of the current government. Anything else would simply have been regarded as unnecessary and a harmful compromise. Although the government has indeed resigned, there is still a strong movement to force President Yanukovych to call snap parliamentary and presidential elections. The mood in Maidan is not to accept ad hoc solutions so that objectives can be achieved gradually. Maidan wants it all, and wants it now.
Maidan wants it all, and wants it now.
But, even if Maidan were to accept Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister, he would have to bid farewell to any idea of being the country’s next president. Holding such a poisoned chalice, he would in effect be agreeing to be universally unpopular, constantly upbraided, and blamed by the head of government for every failure. A difficult personal decision, then, when personal ambitions have to be forgotten and popularity ratings sacrificed on the altar of prosperity and peace for Ukraine.
Fewer and fewer people now believe in the possibility of, or need for, compromise. This is mainly down to the upsurge of protest movements in the regions. Maidan is no longer just a Kyiv phenomenon: people have gained courage and started seizing hold of the organs of power in the western and central parts of the country. Government demands to stop the confrontation, ‘wrap up’ Maidan in Kyiv and in the regions look simply unrealistic, whatever the wishes of the Opposition might be.
The opposition politicians are in a minority position, and they understand, and even perhaps accept, that they do not have a leading role in this struggle. They are weapons in the hands of an enraged people; negotiators who have been delegated some powers. On the other hand, it is easier to control the masses than it is to convince one person. Thus, the quest for the ‘golden mean’ between people’s demands, government machinations and the wishes of the Opposition is as important as ever. Without it, the situation in Ukraine will not be returning to normal any time soon.