Archive | December, 2013

Is Ukraine the start of an Arab Spring in Europe? No.

3 Dec

Photo by Ryan Anderson, via Flickr

‘What on earth is going on in Ukraine?’ you might well ask. Or, if you’ve not been paying proper attention, you’re probably thinking ‘Is there something going off in Ukraine then?’

Yes there is. Not that you should be expected to know about it. Since the weekend the mass demonstrations and alleged police violence in the Eastern European country has sat somewhere in the middle of the news pecking order: not close enough to us to earn top billing but not trivial enough to be entirely dismissed by editors.

So what is going on? Once again, a country just far enough away not to worry us has faced mass demonstrations against the powers that be. It might be time to get out your dusty Arab Spring bingo cards if you still have them: police forcibly picking on student protests, hastily planned mass marches against an unpopular president, and fringes of violence. Without too much trouble I could be describing Egypt, or Turkey, or many more.

Like much of the political dissent in the last three years not everyone in Ukraine is angry at the government, and President Yanukovych has a strong popular base of support in parts of the country. This is where the story stops feeling like another Arab Spring sequel. The reason for Saturday’s original demonstration was a decision by Yanukovych not to sign a trade deal with the European Union. A large chunk of the country’s people are extremely unhappy about this choice. Ukraine sits uncomfortably between Europe on one side and Russia on the other. Guess who isn’t too pleased at the thought of a Ukraine integrated into Europe?

The particulars of the Ukraine protests are not complicated. As reported by the guardian a pro-Europe rally in Kiev’s Independence Square was dispersed violently by police, using truncheons. It was apparently vital that an enormous Christmas tree be placed in the square at 4 o’clock on Saturday morning. On Sunday more than 300,000 Ukrainians came out to demand Yanukovych resign as president.  This was in spite of a ban on rallies at Independence square imposed earlier that day.

Now protesters are occupying Independence Square and the Kiev City Hall, while also blockading the Cabinet Ministry. Similarities to Tahir Square in Egypt and Turkey’s Taksim Square can clearly be drawn. But this is not the kind of popular uprising that seems to have been copy pasted from North Africa and the Middle East, regardless of some opposition figures in Ukraine describing things as a ‘revolution’. President Yanukovych’s predicament seems to be grounded in a country divided between its neighbours to the east and west.

It’s unsurprising that much of what has traditionally been Yanukovych’s support base can be found in Ukraine’s east. Although whether this is still the case is another matter.

The President’s chummy relationship with the master of the dark arts himself, Vladimir Putin, may be playing a part. According to Bloomberg the Russian President wants to create an economic bloc out of old Soviet states, with Ukraine high on the list. In laymen’s terms Ukraine is in the middle of the international politics version of tug-of-war.

Ukraine has recent form in peaceful uprisings. The 2004 Orange Revolution saw protests and general strikes in response to corruption and ballot manipulation (manipulation which would have seen current president Mr Yanukovych win the election).  Yanukovych was eventually elected in 2010. Yulia Tymoshenko, a leader of the Orange Revolution who has been imprisoned since 2011, has called for the president’s ‘dictatorship’ to be bought down.

As of Tuesday a no confidence vote against the government was defeated in the Ukrainian parliament. Whether this will satisfy protestors is unclear, but if I were to judge by these pictures I would say things are not quite over yet.

So now you know what’s been going off in Ukraine. Or perhaps not; by the time you read this some more things will have happened. You’ve probably read enough to look smart in front of your work mates though, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

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