THIS IS AN UPDATE FROM A FRIEND:
The other night (to be specific, Sunday night) I was watching the real conflict start, as buses started going up in flames and there were constant explosions from stun grenades, fireworks, gas canisters and molotov cocktails.
The demonstrators have been very careful not to damage private property, and were trying to physically manhandle a parked car out of the way of one of their hastily-erected barricades.
It’s also interesting (and potentially dangerous, I’m aware) that in these things you find yourself edging ever-closer to the front line (and it is dangerous here now); then find yourself hoping the guys you are standing behind can hit that cop vehicle, aim that molotov well, knock out that high-pressure water hose.
I’m going to pop back to Hrushevskogo a bit later – it looked set for an almighty bust-up, with many more people than ever before, the entire front barricade on fire with well-organised gangs feeding the flames tyres, bringing up sacks of half-bricks, rebuilding barricades in strategic spots.
It is starting to look like a well-organised business.
The shame is that I feel the opposition should be engaging with as many people as they can on the other side, to encourage defection and isolate Yanukovych and gang, rather than just chucking stuff at the cops.
I’ve been talking to a lot of people recently – this morning I was so disappointed and a bit angry with the failure to organise something concrete on the back of the deaths that I found some Svoboda organisers in a tent (all wearing combat gear, as most people are now) and kind of bollocked them for not getting their act together.
I was suggesting a well-publicised 6 pm to 7 pm march, that the public could come to and spend an hour at (rather than just hanging around in minus 10 snowfall), with a minute of silence for the dead and if enough people (say, 50, 000 or so) a non-violent walk up to police lines.
They keep on failing to get momentum and follow up on opportunities, and failing to engage the public outside the Maidan area.
And the ‘leaders’ are doing the same at a higher level – with ten defections they could force a vote of no-confidence in the Rada, with the aim of early elections in March.
These Svoboda guys, especially younger ones, were nodding and agreeing with me but said ‘we do not have a leader’ – at that point I just said straight out ‘look, you don’t need a leader and in fact it will not help you to change the system – if you want a pluralistic democracy then you yourselves need to take on these responsibilities’ (I used more or less those words).
That was kind of new to them, they find it very hard to function outside hierarchies – so they are OK at having some role in building a barricade but when it comes to flexibility of action they just get stuck.
The cops are actually even worse, they just follow orders and can’t cope with a change of tactics from the demonstrators (who will then stick to the new tactic well past the point at which it no longer works).
As I expected, there was a big crowd on Maidan this evening (maybe 100, 000) – I showed up at about 4pm and stayed until about 7.30pm; but after a few hours of not a lot going on, except speeches, the majority of middle-class office-worker types drifted away.
However, I do think that this is something Ukraine has to go through, to leave one of the ugly sides (represented by Yanukovych) behind it.
I always felt that they had never really recognised and rejected the totalitarian part of their history, including the population’s general passivity and inability to voluntarily take on responsibilities, and poor ability to work with others to reach shared goals – in the Orange Revolution ‘the leaders’ just told them what to do.
So this lack of ‘leaders’ might actually be the hard, but needed, lesson.
I’ve been hearing much more mature political ideas over the last few days.
My pal’s other piece on events today is here