PORA: towards another revolution?

Article published on March 29, 2005
community published
Article published on March 29, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

PORA, the most active opposition group in Ukraine, helped precipitate the full-blown revolution there. But why were they so successful?

Even with his long hair and yellow T-shirt, Vladimir Kaskiv does not really look like a revolutionary. And yet, with the help of fifteen other people, this is the man who coordinates PORA. In 1991, he, like many other PORA members, fought for the independence of Ukraine from the repressive Soviet yoke. But the only influence on his revolutionary methods that he openly admits to having is from a book by Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy, which has become the handbook of PORA and similar groups, like OTPOR in Serbia and KMARA in Georgia. He explains, “Our ideology is based on a whole collection of the very same liberal values that were under threat during the recent Ukrainian presidential campaign: freedom of expression, human rights, and the country’s independence from all foreign interference. After all, we are also patriots. The free market and the free movement of people and goods are the next priorities in our fight, and they stem from the same liberal values.”

Trans-national methods

The tried and tested methods of passive resistance improve as revolutions come and go. “We have compiled a database of our members’ mobile telephone numbers so that we can exert the most pressure in the same place at the same time. We use the Internet to broadcast our ideas and to recruit. Without these technologies, we could never have succeeded”, says Kaskiv. But it is not only in Ukraine that new technology has helped the revolutionary cause. Anastacia Bezverkha, who is responsible for the PORA website, met Pavol Demes, the founder of the Serbian movement OTPOR, in Bratislava last spring to learn about how they benefited from communication tools.

Demes, who is currently director of the Bratislava office of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States, does not have a typical revolutionary’s profile. An ex-counsellor in foreign policy to the Slovak president Michal Kovac, he left the government and, in 1998, helped to depose the Prime Minister of the time, the populist Vladimir Meciar. He then went on to form OTPOR and, since joining the GMF in 2000, has been promoting transatlantic relations and helping to build democracy in Eastern European countries.

Demes first came into contact with PORA in April at Uzhgorod in Ukraine, during a seminar on transatlantic relations and the countries of Eastern Europe, and spent more time with PORA members that summer when training them in civic action during a summer camp in Crimea. When questioned on OTPOR’s relationship with PORA, Demes states “We only cooperate with open, transparent movements that respect the democratic process, in agreement with the constitution of their country”.

He analyses the recipe for his and PORA’s success. “Communication is essential, just as it is for political parties, who have to find colours and a logo that will convey their ideas. NGOs must work with all the media tools they can to express their message. The Internet is essential because it reaches everyone; mobile phones and text messaging in particular are also fundamental tools to contact the younger generations who are usually the best equipped with this technology. Young people play a central role. Urban activism is a question of discipline, of organisation. And of course, these movements need to be backed by patriotism in order to lend sufficient strength to the non-violent process”. But is it true to say that there is a manipulation of public opinion, as some people suggest? Demes does not think so. “What we see today can happen in any kind of post-communist society. People feel the injustice and the unfairness, and this common feeling is what pushes them. It is the young and society that have always had a major part to play. It isn’t something that’s introduced and it can’t be brought in from the outside”.

Champion of freedom

During George Bush’s visit to Bratislava this February, and on the eve of Pavol’s interview with President Putin, Bush decorated Pavol Demes along with other distinguished persons of Eastern Europe. Now classed as a “champion of freedom”, Pavol Demes illustrates the ambiguities surrounding these home-grown revolutions. Certainly, an irrepressible and contagious movement has been born. “We have created a new kind of political activism and a new generation of activists. Some genuinely want to continue their activity, so that they can have real influence and thus better secure democracy”, says Anastacia, all the while keeping an eye on her computer screen to manage the website. But what should we think of these “creations”? Up until now, most of these organisations never had any clear projects for the period following the elections. They break up once the “revolutions” are over. But PORA is actually thinking about a new formula, aimed solely at the outside world and the propagation of its know-how… Another revolution perhaps?