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PORA — It is high time!
“Children’s Crusade!” was the way a politician of the old — and now ousted— regime called the PORA movement in the fall of 2004. PORA (the word translates as “It’s high time!”) is a youth organization or movement which took a very active part in mass protests against the Kuchma regime and old government. The PORA activists were among the first to pitch tents in the main street of Kyiv Khreshchatyk, as a form of protest against the rigged election and those who were behind the rigging.
One of the PORA leaders, Vladyslav Kaskiv, was interviewed by Zinayida KUTSENKO.
PORA activists were out in the streets on November 23, the day after the run-off election. It was a very prompt reaction. The official results were not yet announced, only preliminary results were known. Did you immediately suspect the election was rigged?
I think it was obvious for millions of Ukrainians that Yanukovych got ahead of Yushchenko not by fair means — reports were pouring in about abuse of power, machinations, open rigging and falsifications. It was high time those in power had to go, corruption had to be eradicated. A No-to-the-rigged-election centre was set up at the University Kyiv Mohyla Academy, and thousands of students from Kyiv Mohyla and other colleges of Kyiv filled Maydan Nezalezhnosti, the central square of Kyiv, to protest. Thousands of students from all over Ukraine began to be coming to Kyiv, and no attempts on the part of police that blocked the roads to prevent their joining the protests, could stop them.
It’s hard to believe that it was all so spontaneous.
Between the first round and the second round of the presidential elections, an agreement about coordinated actions between PORA and the Nasha Ukrayina (Yushchenko’s bloc of parties) Headquarters, was reached. We did know that the government would use — or rather abuse — their power to rig the election in favor of Yanukovych.
In other words, you were prepared to launch demonstrations and engage in acts of protest?
Yes, psychologically we were prepared. In the evening of November 23, we formed a column of several thousand people, many of whom were chained together to show that they would not engage in any violence, and marched towards the building of the presidential Administration. We were informed that there were Russian special troops guarding the building from inside and that they were given orders to shoot to kill. We were not sure whether it was true or not but we went there all the same. Thousands of people from Maydan followed us. The street where the building is situated was cordoned off by the riot police and at one moment it seemed they would use force — but they did not. No one was hurt. I’m happy to say that the Orange Revolution proved to be peaceful.
It was not the only march that PORA was engaged in, was it?
No, it was not. We were at the building of the Cabinet of Ministers, and Kuchma’s dacha outside Kyiv, but that first march was a particularly memorable experience. There was a tremendous tension when we approached the police cordon. I asked a friend of mine from Lviv who was by my side — we had taken part in the students’ hunger strike in Kyiv in 1990 — “Are you ready for everything?” and he said, “Yeah, I’m ready for everything. May be it’s going to be the last time” and from the way he said it, it was not clear whether he meant that he was prepared to die, or that we would be able to storm the building that night and there would be no need to march again.
Was it then that this chant “Police are with the people” was first heard?
Yes. It came when we saw that the police would not charge at us. But it was not the street action that PORA participated in that was most important. People needed to know what was actually happening and PORA took upon itself to spread truthful information to all parts of Ukraine. We have built a rather effective system of spreading information. Kuchma and his regime were afraid of truth most of all, and we gave people this truth.
Who spread the information? Students?
It would be wrong to say that PORA is a solely student organization. There are a lot of young people in it who are not students, but college students were and are the most active force of the PORA movement. They propagate PORA ideas and ideals. The financial backing was and is provided by hundreds of businessmen who are also the PORA members but who are not students. Besides, there are many politicians and political scientists who were active in political movements of the early nineteen-nineties who are now the PORA supporters. There were public organizations who supported the ideals of democracy and society free from corruption, and who supported the PORA movement. But all the same, students were the most conspicuous the PORA supporters and that is why PORA was thought to be a students’ organization. Such an image was very useful in conducting “the information war” against the regime.
Students, and young people in general, showed they were not indifferent to what was going on in their country, thus giving the lie to the claim of those who said that they cared only for their own interests. They amply demonstrated their selflessness.
Can they be called then the avant-garde of the revolution?
Yes, to a large extent so. The youth movement began to gain momentum back in the early nineteen-nineties. I think it contributed a lot to Ukraine’s independence. But as it turned out later, it was only formal independence, without proper democratization. The youth movement failed to become a political force to be reckoned with. Those politicians who claimed to be “democrats” ceded the initiative to the communists who, under the guise of supporters of the national cause, became the political elite. It was these hidden and open communists who brought the country to a situation which erupted in mass protests in the fall of 2004. On the one hand, Ukraine can be proud of the Orange Revolution, but on the other hand it showed that Ukraine had not properly used the chances provided by its independence and had not found a proper place for itself in Europe.
In the nineteen-nineties the youth movement was in the lead, as you say, in gaining independence for Ukraine, but then , the older generation prevented them from obtaining any power and ruled the country in such a way that drastic measures had to be taken to change things for the better. Can it happen again that the PORA movement will be prevented from exercising any political influence?
We have gained a lot of experience, and Ukraine has considerably changed too. We’ve become wiser. We’ve studied the experience of such movements as Solidarity in Poland, the O’kay 98 movement in Slovakia, the Otpor (Resistance) movement in Serbia, the Kmary movement in Georgia, and of other similar movements. But the geopolitical conditions and the mere size of Ukraine are different than those in Georgia or in Serbia. We had to take that into acount. I believe we can say that PORA is one of the most effective popular movements in Europe.
Does it mean that the Ukrainian youth is more active than the European youth who are often accused of being politically passive?
Each country has its own specific conditions and it’s probably no good to generalize. In Western Europe challenges that the young people face are different from the challenges that the Ukrainian young people have to face. In Ukraine, we had to fight for the European values and put them into the foundation of Ukraine’s further development. The methods we used were different but the principles were the same — democracy, human rights, human dignity and freedoms. It does not mean that the results we have achieved can be taken for granted. There’s a lot to be done yet. And to do it, we have to have plans of action, good assessment of the situation, financial recourses, efficient managers and much else.
Does it mean that PORA will go through changes?
Now, after we have achieved our goal of successfully opposing the results of the rigged run-off election, we shall move on, and we’ll go through a major transformation. We have consolidated our strength rather than dispersed. Some of the PORA activists have gone into anti-corruption work, others into popularizing European values, or into protection of human rights. PORA has brought on the scene political figures of the new generation who will shape the political future of this country In fact, PORA has given rise to a new political force. In which way it will realize its potential the nearest future will show. It’s a natural and irreversible process. If the new government and president begin to forget who helped them to come to power, we shall remind them and we shall act accordingly.
Photos from the public organization Pora archives