During the night of 28 March this year, a new website was launched in Ukraine by campaigners calling for the country to become a true democracy. This year’s presidential elections could have proved to be the ideal moment for that to happen. The campaigners for democracy united in a new organisation named Pora (“It is time”). This week, Ukrainian activist Oleh Kyriyenko visited the Netherlands and took time to speak to Radio Netherlands‘ Margreet Strijbosch.
According to communications consultant and activist Oleh Kyriyenko (27), the Pora movement is decidedly not a movement which backs Viktor Yuschenko, the man who thousands of demonstrators in Kiev’s Independence Square are currently claiming should be declared the victor of last weekend’s elections for president.
“Pora has declared from the first days of its existence that it is not affiliated to any political party or person in Ukraine or in world politics. The campaign has declared that its activists are fighting for a democratic Ukrainian society, for a transparent electoral process. The long-term goal is a democratic, active civil society in Ukraine. The short term goal is democratic elections.”
Mr Kyriyenko goes on to explain that there was no single person or mastermind behind the creation of Pora. The moving force came in the shape of young people, who believe it is high time Ukraine wakes up. When asked how the election campaign has caused the group to believe now, particularly, is the time, Oleh Kyriyenko says:
“We had information from all over Ukraine about violations, about people being forced and threatened to agitate for the Prime Minister, Mr Yanukovitch. They were threatened they would loose their jobs if they didn’t vote for the “right” candidate. One month before the elections there were massive arrests of activists, of people in general who would support Mr Yuschenko. There was a lot of provocative material printed against Mr Yuschenko. There were hundreds of violations.”
Pora has received training inside Ukraine, but also from foreign campaigners from groups such as the Serbian student movement Otpor and the Kmara group in Georgia. The kind of training they received included techniques for campaigning in the streets, peaceful resistance, raising awareness, agitation and how to create a network. Pora also has its own ‘bible’:
“The bible of Pora has been the book of Gene Sharp, also used by Otpor, it’s called: From Dictatorship to Democracy. Pora activists have translated it by themselves. We have written to Mr Sharp and to the Albert Einstein Institute in the United States, and he became very sympathetic towards our initiative, and the Institution provided funding to print over 12,000 copies of this book for free.”
Oleh Kyriyenko says Pora was and is aware that achieving its goal would probably not be an easy task:
“Everybody knew that the victory will not come the easy way. We know that people who have been in power in Ukraine until now have everything to lose. It’s not as in democratic systems, where the change from one party to another doesn’t mean death in all meanings, politically, economically, to the people who leave power. In Ukraine power means money […] business and politics have grown too much together, are interdependent. So for these people, losing access to power meant losing their businesses.”
According to Oleh, Wednesday’s announcement in Kiev that Mr Yanukovitch by no means marks the death of the campaign for a democratic Ukraine:
“I am sure actions of resistance will not stop. What’s happening now in Ukraine has never happened before, it’s incredible. The level of activity of people is unprecedented. The people really have had enough. People are coming from all over Ukraine, by buses, trains, airplanes, to Kiev. They had enough of this life. They want to change their lives for the better. And finally they’ve started to believe they can do it.”
For more information: radionetherlands.nl