Archive for January 2014
In the last few days, Kiev was abuzz with rumours that the dispersal of Euromaidan protest, which has been occupying the city’s main square for almost two months, is imminent. It makes me puzzled. A crackdown wouldn’t help Yanukovych in the least, because police violence can bring hundreds of thousands back into the streets of Kiev. Why disperse people in the maidan, if the government can simply sit out the protest, which has failed to inspire the country’s economic and demographic core in the Russophone southeast. But false alarms help to wear down the protesters and I find it quite telling that it is mostly the far-right activists who ring them.
When the standoff began, the government’s Trojan horse had been already firmly established in the protesters’ camp. Oleh Tiahnibok is the most charismatic and talented of the three Euromaidan leaders and he commands the most organized and efficient opposition force – VO Svovoda. The party’s divisive rhetorics and its glorification of Nazi collaborators is the single biggest reason why the majority of Ukrainians shun Euromaidan movement.
Svoboda utterly compromises the declared goals of the protest – those of promoting European values, which includes ethnic and religious tolerance. An anti-Semitic Christmas performance staged by Svoboda MPs at the maidan in December is one good illustration. Svoboda is shifting the agenda from Ukraine’s real ills, such as rampant corruption and oligarchy, to the fight against the idols of a bygone era, as exemplified by the toppling of Lenin statue in Kiev. With his entourage taking over lucrative businesses across Ukraine, Yanukovych is a hardly a Communist – a Bentley showroom or a Louis Vuitton shop would have made a much better symbol of his rule, yet the poor old Lenin was shattered to pieces like Bamiyan Buddhas.
For Yanukovych, Tiahnibok is a dream rival in the 2015 presidential election. Ultra-nationalists are so loathed by most Ukrainians that their leader is guaranteed to lose the runoff even to a monkey. That’s why it is critical for the government to promote Svoboda at the expense of moderate opposition.
Nothing illustrates the danger of the alliance between the moderates and ultra-nationalists better than the recent clashes that followed the decision by a court in Kiev to sentence members of the ultra-nationalist group Patriots of Ukraine to six years in prison. Their organization describes itself as “social-nationalist” and sports a swastika-like insignia on its front page. It’s not just anti-European, in fact one of its leaders, Serhiy Bevz, had promoted the creation of a pan-Slavic union of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus – the video is available on YouTube.
They had been charged with conspiring to blow up a statue of Lenin in the suburb of Kiev. The trial was expectedly flawed and the sentence way too harsh, in the opinion of opposition activists. Protesters, mostly representing Svoboda and other far-right organizations, attempted to blockade a prison van carrying the suspects. Riot police responded with a brutal and indiscriminate beating of everyone who happened to be nearby, including prominent politician Yuriy Lutsenko and some journalists.
Himself a former interior minister, Lutsenko now says that protesters were “acting beyond the pale of law”. Everyone who watched Kiev protests knows that baton-wielding, balaclava-clad ‘Right Sector’ thugs are no ordinary protesters. Exactly what got him dragged into something clearly designed as a trap for moderate opposition leaders like himself is difficult to tell. The way he acted is also questionable – how on earth would calling the policemen “cattle” and shouting “faggot” at their commander help to alleviate the situation?
The result is that Lutsenko was severely beaten by the police. He is in hospital, receiving concerned Western diplomats. US ambassador has proclaimed him a “Euromaidan hero”. This might be a personal gain for himself, but it is a loss for Euromaidan. This story makes the image of the protest even more muddled and controversial. Far-right nationalists have already succeeded in dividing the country over the protest movement, they are now dangerously close to succeeding in discrediting the movement in the eyes of its own sympathizers.
The surprising complacency of Euromaidan’s Western cheerleaders, such as Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, to the movement’s dangerous tendencies also plays in the hands of Yanukovych. It helps his propaganda to paint a picture of the West playing a bizarre geopolitical game against Russia instead of promoting European values in Ukraine. If Western politicians want Euromaidan to fail, they should arrange more photo-ops with Tiahnibok – like EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton did, when she was in Kiev. If they want it to succeed, they must steer it towards becoming a truly nationwide movement that has a positive agenda for the Russophone part of the country.