On the Brink of Revolution
Ukraine protests escalate, draw 100 thousand demonstrators to Kiev
Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 19:01
Anti-government protests in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev were renewed with fresh vigor last week behind the passing of strict anti-protest laws in Parliament. The anti-government movement denounced last Thursday’s swift vote on the laws as unconstitutional, and is seeking to gain signatures in a display of no confidence in President Viktor Yanukovich.
The demonstrations began in mid-November when Yanukovich declined to sign a free-trade agreement with the European Union and opted instead to turn to Russia to foster closer economic ties. Though the protests have quieted in recent weeks, the passing of the new anti-protest laws has sparked a revival in protest activity.
Several hundred demonstrators have remained on the scene at Independence Square in central Kiev through the last few months, some even occupying the Kiev City Hall building.
The new laws carry heavy imprisonment sentences for participating in events deemed to be ‘mass disorder.’ The laws go into great detail on what entails an event of ‘mass disorder,’ and include infractions such as using loudspeakers and stages, unauthorized use of tents, wearing facemasks and helmets and disseminating ‘extremist’ opinions of the country’s leaders.
The United States and other Western governments have denounced the laws as anti-democratic. In December, American diplomats sent a message that the Ukrainian government ought to heed its peoples’ opinion. They warned that failing to do so would dramatically increase the risk of instability in the country.
The passing of the anti-protest laws signals the shifting position of the Ukrainian government from a defensive stance into a more aggressive state of mind. Details emerged earlier this week of text messages sent from the government to the cell phones of those citizens who were actively protesting in Kiev. It is not yet known how the government managed to attain the cell phone tracking information from the protesters, and Ukraine’s three main cell phone companies deny giving any private information to the government.
A slightly more unsettling development has been the introduction of another faction into the increasingly violent protests. Though the front between riot police and protesters has been very defined throughout the months-long demonstration, new pro-government ‘thugs’ showed up in the capital on Monday. Young men carrying bats roamed side streets around central Kiev, assaulting protesters and destroying property.
Opposition leaders captured a handful of these ‘thugs’ and questioned them, learning that they were bussed into the city and promised a payment of $25 to cause a disturbance. The opposition believes that the government was behind the action, though the ‘thugs’ were unable to give a clear answer on who paid them.
The Ukrainian government has taken a step in the wrong direction in recent weeks, if it wishes to quell the rebellion that is boiling up around it. Steps should be taken to work with the opposition leaders, not just to quiet the streets of Kiev, but to begin moving the government in a direction that it’s people desire. Doing anything else is not working towards democracy, but working towards autocracy.
It is particularly disquieting to see Ukraine not only take a step away from democracy and closer ties with the European Union, but to direct that step towards Russia, it’s former overlord in the Soviet Union era. The unrest in the country is therefore justifiably understandable, as this could trigger memories of a time when its people were much less empowered.
With such a touchy situation at hand, it is not in the best interests of the government to continue down an aggressive path. Doing so can only lead to further civic unrest, eventually culminating in revolution. And with the idea already taking form in the minds of opposition leaders, the idea is not so far-fetched as it may seem in contemporary Western society.
Nathan is a senior majoring in landscape architecture. Follow him on twitter @ nwstottler.