Okategoriserade comments on the current events in Ukraine

"Euromaidan is an anti-amnesia action of a postcolonial nation aimed against a restored post-Soviet space", posts Lyudmyla Pavlyuk, professor in journalism in Ukraine.

Published on balticworlds.com on January 24, 2014

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A new, violent phase of revolutionary events in Ukraine seems worrisome for outside observers, and remains at the heart of public and private concern for Ukrainians. Personal safety and national security are under threat as we face the reality of de facto civil war, de facto dictatorship, and a de facto regional divide.

The situation is extremely complicated, but the logic behind the events taking place in the streets of Kyiv is simple. The current state can be explained by Viktor Yanukovych’s unwillingness to compromise, and his authoritarian “back to the USSR” style of leadership.

On the 22nd year of Ukraine’s independence Viktor Yanukovych has decided to turn the country into both a colony and a prison.
The anti-protest laws passed by the Ukrainian parliament on January 16 opened up all possible excuses for the total inhibition of freedom of expression in civil society.

“Now my friends and I, all of us are in the situation when we can be arrested any time – for participating in protests or for writing articles and comments for electronic media,” says one of my students in the Department of Journalism at Ivan Franko Lviv University in western Ukraine. Many students spent days on Maidan; many of them are going back to Kyiv once again.

For the opposition, their struggle is now the only way to prevent mass repressions, which are unavoidable if revolutionary activities are halted. Simply put, the choice is between continuing mass protests, or persecution, punishment, lost jobs and closed businesses.

The authorities have already deployed all the instruments of physical and economic suppression: imprisonment, threats, freezing the bank accounts of activists. The stakes of the struggle are growing, and so is the price that people could pay for their activities. Pictures and videos of tortured activists, members of the Maidan movement, have become a saddening climax of a tense situation. Now the price potentially includes the life of those who take to the Kyiv streets in protest.

From its carnival-like atmosphere, the revolution has shifted to radicalization, which now includes violence and traumatized people on both sides. But Yanukovych himself is responsible for the present course of events. As the guarantor of the Constitution, Yanukovych has ignored two months of protests and behaves in a way as if he is ready to ignore all demands for an infinite amount of time.

One of his many false promises during the last presidential election was “I will listen to everyone.” In reality, the voices of Ukrainian citizens went unheard, and are now repressed. Unfortunately, but unavoidably, the flame of Molotov cocktails has dashed a peaceful solution to the current crisis, a choice that everyone was looking for. The non-violent solution is possible only in the case that Yanukovych ceases thinking that any price is worth retaining his power. Is he able to compromise? The retrospection of his activities and the anatomy of his power has shown that he is not one who is inclined to participate in meaningful honest dialogue.

Well before the 2009 elections, Yanukovych’s strategists and spin-doctors crafted an image of the president as a civilized mediator between East and West. But his geo-strategic decisions, beginning with the Kharkiv agreements welcoming Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, have shown a huge discrepancy between declarations and deeds. Statements in favor of “the European path” were used as a decoration for an authoritarian and anti-Ukrainian façade. The “European choice” for years has been a pillar of the Party of Regions’ political platform. By his Vilnius decision, Yanukovych violated both his own party’s political promises of a “course toward Europe,” as well as will of the people. Thus, the current revolution is an attempt to the revive national dignity and freedom to choose. It is an anti-amnesia action of a postcolonial nation directed against the new lockage in the restored post-Soviet space.

The revolution also has a social component. It is a reaction to the abuse of the promise of economic stability in exchange for democratic freedom. Well-being, and even prosperity, are indeed possible but only for a limited and exclusive group of people. New migrants, lost jobs, closed hospitals in province settlements – these are parts of the “food chain” that leads to new capitals of “the family,” including the infamous estate “Mezhyhiria,” Viktor Yanukovych’s estate that was built for the national budget money. Ukrainians no longer experience “distance” between themselves and the elites in power — it is an abyss. If the leader is inefficient in fulfilling his promises and overly efficient in building his own circle’s well-being – what should be the reaction of the people? The outcomes of Ukraine’s president’s four-year old irresponsible and self-indulgent rule have poured out into the frost air and on the cold granite of

Brutality and cynicism is Yanukovych’s trademark. Ukrainian journalists were probably the first who could feel this in a physically tangible way. I remember how my colleagues working for information agencies spoke in 2010 about their disappointment and discouragement after the first meeting with the newly elected president, where the guards did not hesitate to demonstrate rude behavior. Even if the ruler did not tell the guards to push away and hit press workers, the guards could correctly read this “message” of permission for brutality as part of his attitudes in general. The early symptoms indicated a later full-grown repressive syndrome: public leaders, journalists, and journalism students were beaten in different Ukrainian cities – for being in opposition, and then for not keeping silent.

After the violent scenes on December 1, 2013 on Maidan, when police brutally attacked the peaceful crowd, and then after the second storm of Maidan happened on December 11, at the time when the head of the state contemplated and simulated “negotiations,” we do not need to guess in which way, whether conscious or subconscious, the riot police decodes the authorities’ messages concerning a possibility or desirability of inhuman treatment of the activists. These events were the first to confirm the violent path as the government’s conscious choice.

On 19-20 January, 2014, more than 30 journalists working in Kyiv were injured during the confrontations. This number looked unproportionately large even for the situation of clashes. To the utter astonishment of the media professionals and all the nation, signs “Press” on the journalists’ jackets became not a warning against shooting, but, on the contrary, a mark of the most “wanted” targets for the snipers.

For a long time, Viktor Yanukovych has been faking an intention to consolidate society and played with words “stability,” “guarantor,” and “order.” Yet after his ascendancy to power he has completely distorted and compromised democratic practices based on these ideas. In the Ukrainian language, the connotation “corruption” is automatically attached to the concept of “power.” The contribution of the current regime into such meanings is most obvious.

So, the current revolution, reemergence of Maidan in the Ukrainian capital, and protest actions in all major regional cities are neither an accident, nor a spontaneous action. Ukrainians oppose to the Yanukovych’s abuse of power and use of force. They do not want the type of system found in “established” autocracies. The Ukrainians had started their revolution with a belief that the society is at the point when it is able to restore its democratic vector and choose new leaders who will be truthful to civil rights values and respectful of the people’s national and social dignity.

  • Andy Diamond

    So many people have died trying to cross the Berlin wall. The gates to Europe are open now for Ukraine. Ukrainians just have to stop the violence and take this greatest gift of freedom.

  • by Lyudmyla Pavlyuk

    Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism at Ivan Franko National University in Lviv, Ukraine. Her research field is the analysis of discursive constructions of national identity and representation of conflict in mass media.

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