28 Oct 2014
‘The Motivation Is To Get Rid Of The Old Soviet Mentality:’ Q&A With Maidan Student Leader

Ielyzaveta (Liza) Shchepetylnykova is the departing president of the Ukrainian Association of Students Self-Government (UASS)—the national union of students in Ukraine. During the Euromaidan protests she was elected to be a member of the Maidan Council Presidium, representing students’ interests and coordinating student activities. Ielyzaveta holds a B.A. in International Economics and an M.A. in Project Management from KROK University in Kyiv, Ukraine. She is currently a Fulbright Student pursuing an M.A. in International Education at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

CGI: What exactly is Maidan, as you understand it?  What kind of entity is it today?

IS: Maidan has been very dynamic.  When it started in November, it was basically a bunch of students who were once again fed up with the government and wanted to stand up to it. By December, while more and more students were joining, large numbers of parents and middle-aged people came as well.  These people didn’t feel it was right for the government to beat up their children. Until February, Maidan felt more like a movement for human rights and dignity. People were angry with the government, but that was not the main focus in the beginning; most just wanted to live a decent life in their own country.  The situation changed in January and February, when people started dying.  Then it became more about “us vs. them”—the aim increasingly became to take out the government.

An agreement was signed with Yanukovych on Feb. 21st that called for early elections.  Do you think the current crisis could have been avoided if Maidan leaders had agreed to follow through on the February agreements?

There was a very big problem with the agreement.  Several protest leaders [Vitaly Klitchko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk] met with European foreign ministers and Yanukovych and a few days later presented us with an agreement.  Maidan was administered by the Maidan Council, and no one consulted with the Council.  Therefore, the agreements were dead in the water from the very beginning.  And once the Maidan Council was presented with the text of the agreements, we knew that we could not go along with it. For example, the new elections were to take place in December 2014.  In the meantime, we were supposed to stop the protests immediately and give up government buildings, while the government’s obligations were supposed to take effect much later.  In short, we were afraid that all the protesters would go home and later be put in jail, and nothing would change.

Looking back now, would you have chosen to accept the agreements?

I still think the decision was the correct one.

What have been the greatest accomplishments and disappointments of Maidan and the new government after Yanukovych left the country?

Perhaps the most positive are the few reforms that have been passed since Yanukovych fled the country—higher education reforms, anti-corruption measures and lustration.  Moreover, nationally there has been a surge of civic responsibility.  People became more active and more involved in the governing process.  This is something we did not see during the Orange Revolution.  The slow pace of reforms has been the biggest disappointment so far, along with a high number of oligarchs in the new government.  Corruption is still very pervasive on all levels, although the new law outlawing the Communist Party should help.

Do you agree with the outlawing of the Communist Party?

I do, because the Communist Party has been manipulated by other forces to a great extent.

Aren’t all political parties manipulated in some sense?

True.  But here, the motivation is to get rid of the old Soviet mentality.

Do you feel that is enough justification for restricting free speech?

The limits of protecting free speech are difficult to manage.  This was illustrated when Russian television channels were outlawed in the East.  You could interpret that as a violation of free speech, but at the same time [the television broadcasts] could be interpreted as illegal calls for separatism and breakdown of the country.  The Communist Party called for federalization of the country, which goes against the Ukrainian constitution. The outlawing the Communist Party and lustration are necessary steps because there is simply no legal recourse against these people, as many of the law enforcement mechanisms are not functioning.

Is the lustration law a necessary step?  How will it be implemented?

It is really not my area of expertise, but in general I support efforts to clean up the government. At the same time, people might still reelect former corrupt officials.  I don’t think the law has enough power to change the situation dramatically, as elected officials are immune from lustration.

Do you think the younger and more idealistic Maidan generation is ready to govern a country in crisis?

I think so.  There are lots of people who came out of civil society organizations and NGOs that have had policy making experience.  On the other hand, there will be lots of people coming into the new parliament whose previous experience had nothing to do with policy, such as soldiers.  The more important question is whether these people are ready to face the system that has been taking new people and making them as corrupt as the previous leaders.


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