Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Anarchy in the UKraine

What in the devil is all this Ukraine business about? Protesting, riots, fire, torture, deaths, revolution? It's like walking into a movie theatre when the film is halfway over. WHAT IS GOING ON? This sudden media coverage left me scratching my head trying to understand what this civil unrest is and how did it go from nonexistent to a state of emergency? A simple protest beginning in late November of last year has since blown up to a full-scale revolution, said to be the "largest pro-European rally in history."

Why the protest?
Well, beginning just this past November, the Ukraine government pulled out of preparations for joining the European Union. A majority of Ukrainians want to be part of this European family. And they want it now. The protest further escalated and is now a full-blown fight against corruption of their government. The Ukrainian people are calling for the resignation of President Yanukovych and his government.

Cutting the Motherland cord
Many in Ukraine believe that ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1991, Russia has used its enormous energy resources to bully Ukraine into submission. Ukraine has lived in the shadow of its neighboring country ever since. Joining the European Union almost guarantees Ukraine's independence. But it might make Russia (who is not a member of the EU) mad and have you seen Russia mad? She's scary.

Ukrainians believe their government would rather stay friendly with Russia's President Putin and only represent the interests of the rich. They fear Yanukovych is trying to establish a similar authoritarian rule.

Why is it important to the people of Ukraine to be in the EU?
To get Ukraine on the right track, activists are calling for a wide-ranging constitutional reform and a shake-up of the Ukrainian system. They believe the stepping stone to accomplish this is by joining the European Union, a union of 28 countries that was created after WWII to rely on each other for economic interdependence.

The EU trades with each other (therefore more likely to avoid conflict), ensures free movement of people, goods, services, and capital, enacts legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintains common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries, and regional development. It's like a big circle of friends, except it's a you-can-only-be-my-friend-if-you-let-me-borrow-that-sweater-and-in-return-I'll-give-you-some-homemade-soap type of thing. 

Why did Ukraine pull out?
The reasons for abandoning these preparations has raised speculation and created angry angry people. President Yanukovych said Ukraine's drop in industrial production and their declining relationship with the Commonwealth of Independent States (the countries of the former Soviet Union) led to the sudden withdrawal. 

Citizens of Ukraine see it differently. Yanukovych met with Russia's President Putin in December and was said to have discussed a partnership agreement which would eliminate disputes over trading and economic issues. That's kind of what the European Union would have done, so why would Yanukovych want to go back to Russia when he has a chance of making Ukraine independent from the big bad motherland? Well, apparently Russia gave Ukraine five billion dollars and a natural gas price reduction in exchange for joining their Customs Union. So, yeah, it's money motivated.

Vive la revolution! and #socialmedia censorship
Since the protest began in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, last November, crowds have swelled up to 800,000 people at any one time. Consisting of primarily younger activists, historian Yaroslav Hrytsak remarks, "This is a revolution of the generation that we call the contemporaries of Ukraine's independence (who were born around the time of 1991); It's a revolution of young people who are very educated, people who are active in social media, who are mobile and 90 percent of whom have university degrees, but who don't have futures."

The protest progressed through November and December, vowing not to rest until Yanukovych was ousted. People stormed the Cabinet of Minsters building and toppled a statue of Lenin as they shouted, "Yanukovych, you'll be next!" An opposition leader rallied on Twitter to increase protests and a blog was used to gather crowds at specific times. The power of social media did not go unnoticed by Ukrainian officials.

It was reported that social media accounts of protesters were being monitored. If you were too close to the scene of the riots, you received a text from the state reading, "Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass riot." The Ukrainian government's weird omnipresence and attempt to distinguish social media rantings didn't stop there. An opposition party's website went offline when police raided their headquarters with machine guns. The act of police breaking into server rooms, destroying security cameras, and smashing computers is something local newspapers, websites, and news outlets were now subjected to.

Why are we just now hearing about this when it started a few months ago?
Yanukovych implemented some new rules against the revolutionaries that became effective January 16th. These laws criminalized everything the protesters were already doing. Effective immediately there was a ten year jail term for blockading government buildings, and hefty fines and prison terms for those who wear face masks and helmets, or have installed unauthorized equipment such as tents, stages, or amplifiers in public places. A two year jail term was instituted for any defamation spread through social media, and a one year sentence for slandering government officials.

The Ukraine protests essentially grew overnight to a full-fledged revolution. The cause had expanded. This was now an issue of widespread government corruption, abuse of power, and a violation of human rights. An opposition party's website says that the new anti-protest laws have ensured a "dictatorship where there is no right to assemble, to reason, to live, where there is no law, no civil rights, and no legal process."

Alleged police brutality
The mayhem in Ukraine these past two weeks has expanded worldwide because of police brutality. Activists have been killed, "disappeared" from hospitals as they sought treatment, tortured, and beaten. In a video leaked to YouTube, troops tortured and humiliated a protester where he was stripped naked in the cold after being beaten, and photographed by officers. Another woman had all of her IDs confiscated and was driven out of the city and abandoned. An outspoken journalist, Tetyana Chornovil, was chased and attacked, leaving her face virtually unrecognizable.

Crisis averted?
Only yesterday, Ukraine's Justice Minister threatened a declaration of a state of emergency which would lead to the use of military units to suppress protests. European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, believes that declaring a state of emergency "would trigger a further downward spiral for Ukraine, which would benefit no one."

To avoid this, Yanukovych scrapped the anti-protest laws and is giving amnesty to people previously found guilty of them. Prime Minister Azarov resigned today "for the sake of a peaceful resolution." "The state of conflict in the nation threatens the social and economic development of Ukraine, and presents a threat to all Ukrainian society, and all its citizens. In order to create additional opportunities for social and political compromise for the sake of peaceful resolution of the conflict, I made a personal decision to ask the President of Ukraine to accept my resignation." Many believe Azarov was forced out, saying his ousting was inevitable. Yanukovych has already offered the Prime Minister position to opposition leaders Yatsenyuk and Klitschko (who both declined) as a way of making peace with protesters.

Protestors are still in the streets of Kiev, refusing to cease until Yanukovych resigns. It looks like the Ukraine government and its people are in a good ole' fashion standstill, both waiting for the other to step down.

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