Ukrainians marked the Day of Dignity and Freedom on November 21, continuing a seven-year tradition that seeks to place the country’s 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution in a broader historical context. This might also be something for the international community to consider. While Ukraine’s two people power uprisings are recognized as important milestones in the country’s post-Soviet journey, their impact on the wider region has yet to be fully appreciated.
This lack of clarity is perhaps understandable. Indeed, few events in modern European history have been subject to quite so much deliberate distortion. Ever since the Euromaidan protest movement first emerged in Kyiv in late November 2013, it has been a favored target of Russian information warfare.
While the legacy of the Euromaidan Revolution has been buried under an avalanche of Kremlin disinformation, the earlier Orange Revolution has been increasingly forgotten. At first glance, the peaceful protests of winter 2004 appear to lack the geopolitical drama of the events which were to unfold one decade later. However, this is deceptive. While independent Ukraine’s first great people power revolution did not lead directly to Russian military aggression or spark any immediate shifts in the European balance of power, it remains a watershed moment that marked the end of the early post-Soviet era and set the stage for the Cold War climate that defines today’s international relations.
Nevertheless, the Ukraine of 2010 was a very different proposition to the country Yanukovych had first sought to rule six years earlier. Thanks to the Orange Revolution, Ukraine’s media landscape was no longer subject to the kind of smothering government censorship that had existed prior to 2004. In its place was a lively if imperfect form of journalistic freedom that reflected the competing interests of the country’s various oligarch clans.
The Orange Revolution also had a profound effect on the way Ukrainians perceived themselves and their national identity.
The protests served as a national awakening, establishing Ukraine’s democratic credentials and setting the country on a path that diverged sharply from the increasing authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Inside Russia, the Orange Revolution occasioned a sharp change in mood as Moscow sought to make sure the sudden outbreak of democracy in Ukraine did not prove contagious. This expressed itself in a curiously defiant form of state-sanctioned nationalism which embraced a sense of continuity with the Soviet past while downplaying the crimes of the Communist era.
At around the same time, Russia began cracking down on potential sources of domestic opposition. Having noted the involvement of Ukraine’s civil society in the grassroots activism that made the Orange Revolution possible, the Kremlin started pressuring Russian NGOs with international ties and labeling them as “foreign agents.”
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