( McMaster Editorial)
Independence Square is a place that has been associated with democratic freedom and protest since its naming in 1991 in post-Soviet Ukraine. At its center, the once shining independence monument is faded by the fires that have blackened the streets of Kiev. But atop this pillar the statue of Berehynia, the female spirit of protection in Ukrainian mythology, still watches over the capital.
Since November 21st 2013, when protestors gathered to voice opposition to then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s suspension of an Association and Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, the square has gradually descended into a war zone. The square has been the site of violent clashes between Euromaidan protestors and government security forces, resulting in over 100 people killed and several hundred people injured.
President Yanukovych was said to have suspended the European Union deal in favor of Ukraine’s potential incorporation into the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. However, on February 22nd 2014 amidst escalating nationwide violence, Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev and the Ukrainian government was dissolved, leaving the opposition and protestors to decide upon the country’s future.
The media has framed the Ukrainian conflict in many different lights: a pro-democracy, anti-corruption people’s revolution; a crossroads in Ukraine’s long and difficult relationship with the Russia and the former Soviet Union; and as a sort of “neo-Cold War” conflict between Russia and the West. These labels notwithstanding, with Ukraine’s foreign exchange reserves dissipating and national currency having declined by 10% since January, the country must find support or face the threat of national bankruptcy. The decision to obtain loans from the International Monetary Fund, an option that would require economic reform, or to cement ties with Russia in order to reduce its escalating gas bill and promote trade has been turned into a political game of “us versus them.” In reality, an open discussion between all these parties will be required to ensure Ukraine’s economic stability. But first, Ukrainians must establish a democratic voice, devoid of corruption, with which to represent themselves.
In the spirit of Inquire Publication to foster discussion and debate, our executive members and editors at McMaster University will share with you in this editorial their diverse perspectives on one of today’s most publicized conflicts.
Michael Davison, Co-President
On the eve of a successful revolution, all eyes turn to the future. The Ukrainian demonstrations were bloody, but President Viktor Yanukovych was ultimately ousted. The burning question, then, is whether or not Russia will intervene. Examining Ukraine’s peaceful Orange Revolution in 2004 shows extreme parallels to the current situation.
Yanukovych was actually almost elected in November 2004, until allegations of vote-rigging and corruption sparked another polling. He was unsuccessful in this next election, which was heavily featured in the national spotlight. Ukraine turned away from Russia and towards the West. However, it took less than a year for the revolutionary leaders to succumb to infighting. Political progress ground to a halt, and the exasperated Ukrainian population eventually voted in Yanukovych in 2010.
Russia did not have to act hastily back in 2004, nor does it have to today. In fact, sending in the Russian army would unite Ukraine against an external threat. Time is on the side of Russian President Vladimir Putin because the odds are stacked against the new leaders of Ukraine. Public opinion is split amongst several potential presidential candidates, all with diverse political views. The Ukrainian economy is also perilously close to collapsing, with the threat of a default on the national debt hanging over the country. If the new president is unable to reverse Ukraine’s economic fortunes, infighting will once again be the result. Rebuilding a country is hard, and Ukraine faces a daunting challenge that needs to be overcome, lest history repeat itself.
Ronal Leung, Communications Director
“We will not let the fate of our land to be decided without us,” said Nuridin Seytablaev, 54, an engineer. “We are ready to fight for Ukraine and our European future.”
While the world watches Kiev’s Independence Square, another side of the conflict is often less reported upon. As it has seen mass media coverage, the uprising in Ukraine is largely portrayed as an “us vs. them” conflict by western media – it is the people versus the government. Nearby, separated by police lines, Anton Lyakhov, 52, waves a Russian flag. “Only Russia can defend us from fascists in Kiev and from Islamic radicals in Crimea.”
In reality, though, the situation in Ukraine and the views and opinions of its people are far more complex than the West vs. Russia. In fact, this view point ignores the immensely diverse beliefs and culture within Ukraine itself. This conflict is more than the West vs Russia; it is economic, it is cultural, it is emotional, and it involves the value of personal freedom. However, what these mean and to whom can vary drastically depending on which region of the country is being discussed. Russians and Ukrainians of Russian ethnicity make up the largest ethnic minority in the Ukraine, and can vary from barely visible in the West to the vast majority of the population in the East and South.
The primary image portrayed by world media is two or three thousand rioters in Kiev’s Independence Square. An entire country is currently being held hostage to aggressive rioters and their wishes. However, this is not the wishes for all of Ukraine. Undoubtedly, their voice needs to be heard, but it is not the only voice within Ukraine. In Crimea, an independent republic within Ukraine, some supporters of the Russian treaty have begun to voice their opposition to the actions in Kiev. Both sides need to be heard but what may not be heard from the side of pro- Kiev Western media is that some in the Ukraine do support and wish to strengthen ties with Russia.
Jennifer Pearson, Co-President
The past few years have been defined by instability, oppression, and the power of the people, but what we continuously seem to neglect is the politics of protest. Ukraine is only one example of such rapid changes being seen around the world. Under the guise of democratic freedom, an elected government is toppled in a greater power struggle that has defined culture, power and society for time immemorial. Much like other places in the world where so-called “revolutions” have been announced that have been followed with mass criminalization, Ukraine seems to fit that sort of mold. With a reinvented Russia at loggerheads with a declining USA, every other party is subject to their political battles. Ukraine is simply a battleground. Intriguingly, the hegemonic empire led by the USA is okay with the rise of Neo-Nazi agendas so long as they have a one-up on Russia. Much like other situations elsewhere in the world, the USA has ended up on the wrong side of affairs, just to play its political and economic hands. Unfortunately, these have become trying times for Ukrainians, and will probably only get worse as they disappear from the public eye.
Mozafer Rajabali, Editor
The political turmoil in Ukraine stands as a powerful reminder of the unstable landscape of young democratic governments and the historic international ties that influence them. The Ukrainian people are today shaping the future of their country, while looking to and remembering the past. Amidst turmoil they must also navigate the difficult waters of foreign intervention and outside interests. Amongst many possible outcomes, it is certain that, in the words of Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Portnikov, this conflict is “changing the national fabric of Ukraine.” What remains to be seen is how Ukraine’s revolution will change the international fabric of Europe and the world.
The Inquire Team at McMaster