A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
Ukraine is still reeling from the massive demonstrations that gripped its capital on November 24 to protest the government's decision to walk away from a key trade pact with the European Union.
The rallies in central Kyiv stretched into November 25, with an estimated 1,000 people responding to opposition calls to remain on the streets over the government's abrupt policy shift toward Moscow, which had threatened retaliation if Ukraine signed the EU deal.
Protest organizers pledged to stage daily demonstrations throughout the week.
The protests on November 24, which drew tens of thousands of people, some of them camped out in tents, evoked memories of the peaceful Orange Revolution that ushered in a pro-Western government nine years ago.
Led by Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, the 2004 protests overturned the results of a presidential election, won by Viktor Yanukovych, the current president, but widely viewed as rigged. The protests forced a revote that was won by Yushchenko, who served as president until 2010. Yanukovych won the country's 2010 presidential election.
A repeat of the Orange Revolution, however, appears unlikely, analysts say. "An Orange Revolution is impossible now. There are no politicians for whose sake people would be ready to take to the streets for days and weeks," Ukrainian journalist Natalya Lihachova says.
"The old leaders cannot take Ukraine forward. Apart from Vitali Klitschko and Yulia Tymoshenko, who is in jail and I'm afraid will be not be able to take part in the political battle for a long time, there are very few decent political leaders in Ukraine," she adds.
'Not Like 2004'
Unlike the Orange Revolution, the current protests are divided into two separate rallies -- one by young nonpartisan civic activists inspired by the Occupy movement; the second, concentrated on another Kyiv square, by political parties. The division is not obvious from televised footage.
The participation of political parties, which were quick to unfurl their banners on November 24, has deterred many Ukrainians from joining the protests.
Mykola Tomenko, the head of the Verkhovna Rada's committee on freedom of speech and a leader of the Orange Revolution, recalls how Ukrainians from across the nation joined forces nine years ago to oust Yanukovych following the allegedly rigged election.
Today's rallies, he says, hardly reflect the general mood in Ukraine. "The protests can continue as a protest by political forces, by the opposition, but not as a protest by society -- at any rate, not a large part of society," he says. "The big difference with the current situation is the narrower scope of the protest, the lower level of participation of regions and social groups."
Opinion polls show a plurality of Ukrainians supporting EU integration, albeit by small margins.
After years of political turmoil since the Orange Revolution, fewer than in 2004 appear ready for radical political change.
Since the announcement of his policy U-turn last week, Yanukovych has remained tight-lipped both about the protests and whether he intends to attend the Third Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on November 28-29, at which he was expected to sign the EU pact before changing course.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, however, made it clear that his government would not tolerate a second Orange Revolution. "We know that such events are financed, for example. If this is carried out within a legal framework, fine," he told Russian television on November 24.
"If all this is carried out in violation of the law, then, of course, the government will not act like it did in 2004, when the technology of overthrowing the lawful government was being worked out quite simply before our very eyes. In this case, we won't fool around."
Inna Kuznetsova of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Andrei Shary of RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.