Day three of the beginnings of a national uprising. “Students choose Europe”, says the banner. Certainly, increasing numbers of Ukrainian students are choosing European universities, although this is a reflection largely of the poor reputation – and disappointing reality – of Ukrainian higher education. Still, the higher education question is another matter.
What is important, however, is the role of students in this potential revolution. Although the first to set down their tents in squares around the country’s cities have been students, they are hardly visible on the streets, at least in Ivano-Frankivsk where the university authorities remain silent over support for students. In Lviv, however, the students en masse abandoned their universities and have been key in occupying the city centre.
In Ivano-Frankivsk, students are most probably at home with their parents, getting supplies and a bit of cash, like they do every weekend. Or they are too stressed out with the work and study they have to do on top of the 30+ hours a week they have in seminars and lectures to be able to participate actively here. Or, perhaps, despondent they don’t feel that their presence on the streets here will make much difference, particularly if most of the people visible are elderly, mostly men, in strangely identical black flat caps.
I am sure the cameras of the Western media organisations will be trained soon enough on Kyiv and its march involving some 50-100,000 people. But the perspective from the provinces here is proving quite interesting.
Observing an hour of speeches today, it seems that the most charismatic and organised speakers are from the right-wing nationalist Svoboda Party. However, they are proving quite restrained in reaching for any unhealthy nationalist rhetoric or even nationalist symbols. Instead, the message is largely for a return to what they see as Ukraine’s roots in Europe, opposing this to what appears as an “Asian” and “Soviet” future if the current direction continues.
The city’s stage is shared, however, by a variety of civil-society and patriotic organisations. So a young man in military uniform appeared on stage, representing the Stepan Bandera Tryzub (Trident) organisation and warned that if Ukraine does not take the European route, then his organisation will initiate an armed rising on Kyiv. His views were quite exceptional though in the grand scheme of things, but a warning nonetheless of a more violent potential turn.
The purpose of the daily meetings on the Square here, alongside the kind of Speakers’ Corner function, is to communicate messages – in a very old school way – from the central protests in Kyiv, outlining the nominal leaders’ tactics, decisions and hopes. So, the square fills in the gaps in information affecting the mass of people who do not have access to the internet. This should signal a note of caution to Western commentators, who will perhaps frame this as another twitter revolution/”spring”.
The main dilemma now seems to be whether to send people to Kyiv to join the protests there, or keep the core of the local protest in Ivano-Frankivsk. Of course, this would be less of a dilemma if there were more students in this university city willing to take to the streets and think of their longer-term futures, rather than the imminent threat to their grades for next week.