There is some truth in this version of Ukraine's "orange revolution", but it is a half-truth. What the world thought it saw, last November, was a spontaneous protest which grew, of its own accord, into a challenge to the country's post-Soviet power structure. For most of the people gathered in Kiev's Independence Square, the demonstration felt spontaneous. They had every reason to want to stop the government candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, from coming to power, and they took the chance that was offered to them. But walking through the encampment last December, it was hard to ignore the evidence of meticulous preparation - the soup kitchens and tents for the demonstrators, the slickness of the concert, the professionalism of the TV coverage, the proliferation of the sickly orange logo wherever you looked. It was surprising how few journalists commented on what was so obvious.
In reality, the events in the square were the result of careful, secret planning by Yushchenko's inner circle over a period of years. The true story of the orange revolution is far more interesting than the fable that has been widely accepted. It tells us, not just about what went on in Ukraine in 2004, but how the border between politics and entertainment is dissolving in the 21st century.
According to one of the main organisers of the revolution, Roman Bessmertny - Yushchenko's campaign manager and, currently, vice-prime minister - the aim was, effectively, to carry out a peaceful coup d'état: "We created a system parallel to the state, because only a system could defeat an opponent backed by the whole state."
More than two years before the 2004 presidential election, Bessmertny's team set up a massive operation to combat election fraud, and to capture it on camera where it happened. In some 30 months, they put as many as 150,000 people through training courses, seminars, practical tuition conducted by legal and media specialists. Some attending these courses were members of election committees at local, regional and national level; others were election monitors, who were not only taught what to watch out for but given camcorders to record it on video. More than 10,000 cameras were distributed, with the aim of recording events at every third polling station. As the orange revolutionaries saw it, election fraud was inevitable because any government-sponsored candidate would have to take votes from the built-in opposition majority in the west and centre of the country. The orange plan was to turn election fraud to their advantage, using it as a trigger for a mass protest in Kiev.
Their plan relied on volunteers such as Yuri Kolivoshko. A small-time property developer in his early 30s, he had formerly been politically apathetic, but by the second round of the election he was monitoring activity at the polling booth, camcorder in hand. "I'm the kind of person who believed that things had been decided on our behalf a long time ago, that's all, and whether I went to vote wouldn't make any difference to me or Ukraine." Once Kolivoshko had voted, like millions of others, he began to believe that Yushchenko's movement offered a chance of change. "In the second round of voting I worked as an observer at a polling station until 6am. My task was to monitor violations, and I filmed everything. Then I went to Kiev, with the clothes on my back."
Kolivoshko's conversion backed up the confidence of the orange movement that large numbers of people would rally to the cause, if they were given a chance to protest effectively. You didn't have to spend long in Ukraine to understand why. The regime run by former President Kuchma and his cronies was a cynical kleptocracy spiced up with sporadic brutality. A new generation had grown up since the end of the Soviet Union, and many had worked abroad. They knew that life could be different. The gamble of the orange team was that, if they could attract tens of thousands of people to protest against election fraud on the streets of Kiev and keep them there for long enough, they could break the government, forcing it to concede to their demand for fair elections, and then replace it.
Their plan of campaign was original and ambitious: they would organise a marathon rock concert, playing 10 hours daily in the city centre. This, in turn, would become the focal point for a huge continuing demonstration, that would bring the city to a standstill. Beside Independence Square, where the concert would play and opposition leaders would make speeches, there would be an encampment, large enough to make it difficult for the authorities to clear it without a humiliating and risky show of force.
Above all, the whole event would be covered on television, pulling in a national audience and generating a stream of images for international news reports. If the event was compelling, entertaining, watchable, then this would be the perfect revolution for the 21st century, a combination of "sit-in" and Live Aid. Any step the authorities took to act against it would be in the full glare of live television.
There was one evident problem: how could the orange revolutionaries hope to surprise the government, when there was no chance of keeping the operation secret? It was just too big, and involved far too many people. Part of the answer was to keep information about the operation in distinct compartments, so that very few grasped the complete picture, but the main inspiration was that every step should be taken in conformity with the law: "We ensured that the state had no reason to complain," says Bessmertny.
The orange team submitted the first notice of the event on Independence Square on November 15 2004, giving the authorities advance warning that the revolution would begin on November 21. The government didn't know the real agenda behind the concert and, even if it had, it would have found it hard to stop it.
By November 21, following the second round of the election, Bessmertny's team had a good idea of how many would arrive in the square: "We knew from our events that, if we distributed half a million invitations around Kiev, 8,000 people would come. We knew that if FM stations transmitted 100 announcements every day for a week, saying that a meeting would take place, then 200,000 people would come. So if we brought 35,000 people from the regions, and added the people from Kiev, we believed we would have a minimum of 100,000 people in the square. The figures weren't random, they were taken from our experience."
The numbers game was crucial, because it determined whether troops might be used against the demonstrators. One of the most sensitive, and secret, aspects of the orange revolution was the attempt to bring the army on side. For 18 months, a special contact unit was putting out feelers to army commanders, trying to understand their contingency plans and to persuade them to remain neutral. The arithmetic, it turned out, was quite simple: there were 15,000 troops available to the Kiev command, and the army would not act, with that number of troops, if there were more than 50,000 people in the square. The task of the opposition, then, was to keep enough demonstrators together in and around the square to forestall an attack. As it turned out, there were hundreds of thousands in the square and, at some points, up to a million.
The task of the demonstrators was to endure the cold and discomfort of the streets. They were barely aware of the support-system sustaining their efforts, unless they plugged into it directly. Igor Radkov, an advertising agency manager from Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, decided to join the orange revolution when he was beaten up by Yanukovich heavies while working for the opposition in his home town. As a former military officer, the experience didn't deter him but only made him more determined. In Kiev, he found what he was looking for: "I have never in my life seen such unity. I used to be indifferent, but when I stood on the square, hand on my heart, and sang the national anthem, I'll never forget it. I was sure truth would win."
As the demonstrators arrived, at first from Kiev and then from the rest of the country, they found that everything was ready for them: "You have to understand," Bessmertny says, "that the square wasn't just the beautiful things you saw on television. It was also almost 300 toilets, which had to be drained daily. And you had to feed people. We provided 5,000 tonnes of porridge and 10,000 loaves of bread a day. And you had to keep people warm. Every day we needed some 200 gas canisters, one or two heaters per tent, and foam pads and sleeping bags. And we drove away 11 trucks of rubbish each day."
The demonstrators, holding out in sub-zero temperatures, received impressive medical support, and they needed it: the doctors received more than 5,000 calls a day. And if the concert wasn't enough, the organisers had prepared teams of psychologists and therapists to work with the protesters. They also invited in churches - the Scientologists were, apparently, particularly good at spreading a positive vibe. Sometimes, however, the best efforts of the support staff failed, and a group would be written off. They would be put on buses, waiting to take them home.
The success of the orange revolution has promoted a kind of democratic inebriation, in which random demonstrations around the world are each sold as a new dawn of freedom in the Ukrainian tradition. Yet what Yushchenko's team achieved requires more than a sense of grievance and the hope of change. It needs large sums of cash (in this case, much of it American - the US state department has said that it spent£35m in Ukraine over the past two years; it is estimated that the Russians, by the by, contributed up to £160m to the other side).
Along with the money, a democratic revolution on the orange model demands long-term planning, superb organisation and charismatic leadership. It also, of course, has to be addressed to a people who are ready to understand and support it. In the words of Bessmertny: "The people were so sick of the authorities, they were ready to give everything, ready to give their last things so that people would carry on standing there, on the square. Because everyone understood that, if the people dispersed nothing would ever happen."
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