Ukraine: the struggle for democracy

Euromaidan_panoramic_view_taken_from_the_top_of_the_Revolution_Christmas_tree._December_8,_2013-2

You might have been following news coverage of the events in Ukraine in the past weeks.  As this is being written, our family and friends are in Kyiv on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), where the protest is taking place.

The protest is not against Russia or in favour of the European Union. It is about self respect, dignity and freedom.

It is part of a movement which has been going on for the past 20 years or so in Ukraine: it is the birth of democracy and it is a long process, an evolution. No one can do it for us, but people around the world can help Ukraine and other countries going through this process by watching closely and morally supporting them. It will take time, but it is probably the most sensible way forward.

The current protest is a peaceful one and its main message is about the unity of people, despite the attempts of the government to “divide and rule”. It is a great victory for democracy that such phenomena exist, that ideas of freedom and dignity can unite people and take them to the streets in a massive, long-term peaceful protest despite the cold weather and violent crackdowns. We are very proud of our people.

Nevertheless, Ukrainian President Yanukovych denies the existence of this social discontent and the fact that it is a grassroots movement, blaming the unrest on ‘foreign meddling’ and the opposition.

It seems that the whole world now recognises that there is a huge chasm between the current Ukrainian President’s words and deeds. Several massive brutal police crackdowns on the peaceful protesters, the last one during the visit of the EU’s Catherine Ashton, have shocked the world.

Here are just a couple of other examples that may have been missed by the western media:

The everyday life of Maidan is based on the efforts of volunteers and paid for by donations from ordinary people, for instance, a poor retired couple from the city of Ivano-Frankivsk donated most of their savings (10,000 hryvna = about £ 800). And this is not unusual. Others donate tea, food and firewood.

At the same time there is a lot of propaganda that people on Maidan are funded by others  (the opposition, the USA, you name it). Simple math shows this is impossible. However, Goebbels once said about propaganda that “lies must be blatant”.

Yanukovych’s party organised a demonstration last weekend in support of his policies. It is clear to us that people were pressured, brainwashed and paid to go. The amount of money used (60 million UAH, from the taxpayer’s pocket) is about the annual budget of all the kindergartens in Ukraine.

Oleksandr Yanukovych, the son of the current President, has just become one of the richest men in Ukraine and in the world, according to Forbes Ukraine. And only in the last three years…

On December 17th, President Putin confirmed that Russia had offered Ukraine a US$15bn loan and a reduction in gas prices (from US$400 per 1,000 cu metres to US$268.5 per 1,000 cu metres). In the short term, the loan will help to stabilise the Ukrainian economy, effectively sponsoring the current regime which had been on the verge of default. In the long term, however, it further increases the interdependence between Ukraine and Russia and reduces any incentives for deep-reaching reforms in the energy sector and beyond.

We want to thank all nations that are following and supporting our peaceful protest. It means a lot to Ukraine. The attention of the world now and in the near future during the next presidential elections of 2015 is crucial.

We urge you not to stop or relax your attention and to pay attention to further events in Ukraine, even if you were not doing so before. Being in the spotlight is always good for transparency and fairness and the rule of law. We are sure that there would have been significantly more blood if the world had ignored the situation.

*Oksana Trushkevych [2001 – formerly Oksana Ruzak]  did a PhD in Engineering at the University of Cambridge and is currently a Research Fellow at the University of Warwick. Svitlana Kobzar [2005] did a PhD in International Politics. Picture credit: Mstyslav Chernov and Wiki Commons.

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