WHY AUTO-MAIDAN BECAME THE FRONTLINE OF UKRAINE’S CIVIL PROTEST

WHY AUTO-MAIDAN BECAME THE FRONTLINE OF UKRAINE’S CIVIL PROTEST

(text and references prepared for interested international media)

Occupying and marching in the streets has long been a traditional form of public protest. But since the early days of Ukraine’s latest uprising, EuroMaidan, the pedestrian crowds on the central square, Maidan, have received support from another group which uses a more inventive approach. Several hundred car owners united into an “Auto-Maidan” and began organizing regular, swift raids to stage rapid protest events outside the occupied squares.

In their first missions, Auto-Maidan led about 1000 cars decked with national flags to protest at the doors of the luxury estates of the key government regime villains. The primary destination was infamous 137ga Mezhyhirya property of President Yanukovych, where activists travelled several times, trying to traverse multiple cordons of road police, heavy vehicles and armed forces. They also visited the estates of the General Prosecutor Victor Pshonka, Vice-Minister Andrey Klyuev, Interior Minister Vitalij Zakharchenko, and the notorious pro-Russian politician Victor Medvedchuk. A highly agile open group, they called themselves “Maidan’s cavalry.” In addition to protests near the estates, they started mobilising in response to calls for help from protesters in danger and patrolling streets to guard civilans from the “titushka” gangs, under the employ of local police.

Nobody was surprised when road police turned hostile to Auto-Maidan cars, detaining some of the activists, confiscating licenses and vehicles. But as of last week, Auto-Maidan has been demonstratively forced to fight a war on a new scale. On 23 Jan, Kiev woke up to the news that around 4 am dozens of Auto-Maidan activists were drawn in an ambush by a faked call for help. Video cameras installed in their cars taped how cars were blocked by the police, smashed by grenades, drivers and passengers battered and taken in an unknown direction. Most activists were arrested; many disappeared and are still missing. Since that day, Auto-Maidan has faced further traps at gas stations, other faked help alerts and, finally, another large ambush in the city of Cherkassy on 27 Jan, where Kiev activists travelled to support local protesters. Strikingly, one of the scandalous laws voted in on the 16 January explicitly prohibited “movement of cars in groups larger than five,” taking the war on Auto-Maidan to the level of national legislation.

The covert and hideous nature of these atrocities combined with its massive scale raises questions about why this particular activity triggered such a disproportionate backlash. The stand-off on Maidan and the street battles elsewhere were violent, but even if people wore masks, the fighting remained relatively head-on and earnest. Auto-Maidan must have touched a deep chord, which went beyond the reach of the stationary protest on Maidan. Beneath any authoritarian rule is the basic expectation of personal immunity from public dissatisfaction; at the emotional level, people are irrelevant. Dealing with their standing crowds is different from the agonising uncertainty over what would happen tomorrow in front of one’s own doors. Peaceful – but mobile – protest ruined that confidence and revealed the current government’s weakest spot.

Victor Medvedchuk, whose latest formal office as Head of former President Kuchma’s Administration ended in early 2005, but who remained active in Ukraine’s politics throughout further years, had been very discrete in his public statements, contributing to his public image of a highly shadow figure. He promoted Ukraine’s integration with Russia through the activities of his NGO and did not hide his personal links to Vladimir Putin, but had never highlighted any explicit participation in the current political processes in Ukraine. Yet, back in December 2013, when Auto-Maidan damaged the fence of his house, he wrote on his Facebook page: “Fools are bad, but active fools are even worse. (…). I understand they want a war? I can do that. I have enough power and possibilities to protect my views and values. And I will do just that.”

SOME REFERENCES:

BBC Ukraine report on the first ambush for Auto-Maidan on 23 Jan:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukrainian/news/2014/01/140123_berkut_automaidan_rl.shtml

Missing Auto-Maidan activists:
http://www.dw.de/автомайдан-шукає-своїх-активістів/a-17383543

The story of Medvedchuk’s fence
http://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2013/12/29/7008823/

1656052_10202241806680672_1455196359_n

This entry was posted in English, Maidan Diary, Pictures and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.