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Friday, 20 December 2013 19:37

Revolution of consciousness

Written by Orest Franchuk

Revolution_of_consciousnessThe Ukrainian people, especially the young generation, have always felt European, they always wanted to be recognised as Europeans and saw their future in Europe.  They share the values of rule of law, freedom and democracy. For them Europe was a promise of hope, and when the Ukrainian government refused to sign the Association agreement at the summit in Vilnius, people took to the streets to fight for their future. 


I have been at Maidan from the night of November 21st on, the very first day of the protests, I have been there almost every single day, sometimes at nights. I have seen how in the early morning on November 30th riot police beat up peaceful protesters, teenage girls and guys, students that were singing the national anthem and screaming “police with people”. It was a horrible thing to see, when heavily armed men with helmets, shields and clubs circled the protesters and spilled the blood of unarmed people. Dozens were hospitalised. None have been held responsible until now; everyone was assured this wouldn’t happen again, that force wouldn’t be used anymore. But it did happen again on December 11th, and the government continues trying to break through the barricades of peaceful protesters. 
The fact that force was used against peaceful protesters exercising their right of peaceful assembly, trying to protect their future, shocked Ukraine. That was the day when Ukraine woke up from the deep sleep of indifference and people left their comfort zones. Fed up with corruption, injustice and disrespect for human rights people took to the streets, and this was not a protest for Europe anymore, but a war against the regime. Very soon Maidan grew, not only in size, but in quality – from a thousand people with political flags to a well-organised democratic republic in the middle of Ukraine’s capital. 
Nothing can explain what is happening in there if you have not been at the Maidan yourself. I am amazed and at the same time proud. It is truly amazing when a special riot police from Lviv comes to Kyiv to protect people from the rest of the “police”, when two pensioners give charity worth of 10k UAH for the Maidan, which would take them months to save. Lawyers are providing free legal aid for those who are being persecuted, professors hold lectures at Maidan, doctors and nurses volunteer providing first aid. Afghan veterans stand in the front lines of the defense. It is also amazing when at McDonalds you are being greeted 'Slava Ukraini', when taxi drivers don’t charge you if you go to Maidan, when you see Ms. Ukraine distributing hot tea among people. Spending more than three weeks at Maidan I met people from Russia and Belarus supporting the revolution, I found streets cleaner than in the rest of the city. I also saw hope and courage in the eyes of people, the readiness to stand to the winning end.
Students have been the driving force of the revolution from the very beginning. All has actually started from the students, and now they are actively participating in the protests despite of the repressions from the Ministry of Education. The Students’ Coordination Council has mobilised students from most universities to support the revolution, and provides for coordination and information support. While they have very concrete immediate, systemic and institutional demands, they also have their own campus at the Maidan in Kyiv.
All of these make me feel proud that a nation is awakening; it gives strength and motivation to keep up fighting. People are united like never before and this is not about Western Ukraine. This is about Ukraine from west to east and from north to south, united. Thousands of people remain at Maidan even at night when the temperatures are freezing. Everyone volunteers and everyone cares. People stand for their future and for the future of other Ukrainians, for a democratic Ukraine free of corruption, where human rights and rule of law are really respected.


E&M: What do you imagine why people are opposing the protesters’ demands? Do you know people agreeing with Yanukovych’s policy? 
O.: When the revolution started, people were opposing the protesters’ demands because the protests were very much politicized. There were opposition leaders holding speeches at the stage, shouting political slogans. There were also many political flags among the protesters, although, in my opinion, the majority in Ukraine does not support any of the political parties to the full extent. Therefore, even people that were protesting did not feel comfortable standing under flags they did not support. 
Those in favour of the party in power, that is the Party of Regions, also do not like the opposition. One of the three main opposition parties, ‘Svoboda’ (meaning ‘freedom’), is nationalistic and very radical in its intentions and in the slogans they shout from the stage. Again, this makes many people uncomfortable and creates a gap. The majority of the supporters of Yanukovych are from Eastern and Southern Ukraine – although I would like to pinpoint that nowadays more and more people from these regions oppose the current President of Ukraine. Yanukovych himself is from Eastern Ukraine and has actually brought some positive changes for people in those regions, for example he raised wages for miners. Therefore many people still do have a positive image of a “nice President” who would come and save them. Eastern and Southern Ukraine is also very close to Russia and throughout history was under Russian domination frequently, while western Ukraine was “European”. Nowadays, unfortunately, Russia still exerts a strong propaganda influence there that is aimed at creating a bad image of Europe. 
Another problem is that people are cut off from objective information and hardly know of what is really going on. To give an example: The Party of Regions is gathering people in Kyiv to create an AntiMaidan to support the President. People at that AntiMaidan do not know much about Yanukovych’s policy, but they ‚know‘ that it is good. When you would approach some of them asking: “why are you standing here? What are you supporting?” – many would say that they are actually supporting Eurointegration and in favour of the Association Agreement, although they don’t know that Yanukovych has actually canceled it. They support Yanukovych, they oppose the demonstrators, but they actually don’t know why. Therefore I believe that the most effective weapon in the hands of the protesters and the opposition is the objective information about the true Yanukovych. 


E&M: Can you to a certain extent understand the concerns about the threat of Russian economic cuts and oppressions that need to be taken into consideration by a responsible government, thus not risking severe economic hardship for a vague affiliation with the EU?
O.: I do understand those concerns. But I think that the situation is not that bad as the government depicts it. While Prime Minister Azarov and President Yanukovych often pitch how the Association Agreement would threaten the agriculture sector of Ukraine’s economy, the non-government professional organizations of the agro-industrial complex „support execution of an agreement concerning the deep and comprehensive free trade area [DCFTA] with the EU“ and pointed that „the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement […] between Ukraine and the EU would rapid the development of this sector“. This illustrates that economic prosperity of Ukraine is not the driving force of the current government, and I would thus not call it “responsible”. 
At the same time, Yanukovych jeopardizes Ukraine’s sovereignty trying to integrate Russia into the Ukraine-EU negotiations. Russia should not have anything to do with Ukraine’s domestic matters as Ukraine is a sovereign state, however Yanukovych’s politics look as if he could not do anything without first consulting Putin. 
Finally, again, this is a war against the totalitarian regime of Yanukovych, a war for justice, rule of law and freedom. What would be the use of prosperity if your business could be stolen any day and you could end up in jail for nothing, without a chance to appeal? I believe that prosperity can only come when the founding democratic values are respected.


E&M: Do you think the EU has followed the right political approach so far? How sure are you that people in Ukraine are really all feeling European, don’t you think some are quite skeptical about the EU, the NATO etc. (and maybe even rightly so)? 
O.: I think that the EU should definitely not stay aside. In a country where the voice of people is not heard, the political pressure from the international community does not only help people to continue fighting, but keeps the government stressed. 


E&M: How sure are you that people in Ukraine are really all feeling European, don’t you think some are quite skeptical about the EU, the NATO etc. (and maybe even rightly so)? 
O.: Yes, I do think that people feel European, I feel European. People share the European values, we want to live in a democratic and prosperous country, and most importantly, our mentality is European. Maybe this is not for being a member of EU, but this is for freedom and democracy. People see hope in Europe because these values are respected there. For sure we don’t feel Asian, or Russian. And this is the fact that drives Putin and many people in Russia nuts, the fact that despite a thousand of years of continuous propaganda about Ukraine and Russia being “brother-nations” or even the same, this is actually not true. And everyone is witnessing this today on Maidan. 


E&M: Do you think the opposition, e. g. with Klychko as its leader, would perform less corrupted than the Party of the Regions? After the Orange Revolution, this has not at all been the case.
O.: I am not a fan of the opposition either, but for now I guess this is a question of choosing the least evil. Personally for me, Klychko is more appealing than anyone else. What he possesses, he has earned through his talent as a boxer, and he is not hungry for money. He has seen Europe not only from a book. And what is important is that he is much younger than the rest of Ukraine’s nomenclature. The age correlates to the mentality. At the same time even if Klychko might not perform corruptly, the system of Ukraine’s state officials is corrupted itself, therefore, any progresss will depend on the reforms Klychko would induce.

Last modified on Saturday, 21 December 2013 14:36

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