Is the EuroMaidan Doomed?
Photo by Wojciech Koźmic
This past week was a turning point in Ukraine’s months-long protests dubbed the “EuroMaidan”. The developments, however, have taken a turn for the worse. As the protests began losing steam and the endurance of the protesters waned, the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, took some draconian legislative actions aimed at deterring the protests and criminalising their activities. After the Verkhovna Rada passed this year’s state budget without any debate, it proceeded to adopt new provisions to Ukraine’s criminal code that severely limit public assembly and opposition. Many have criticised these laws as being anti-democratic and in violation of Ukraine’s Constitution. The Parliament contends that these measures are necessary to ensure public safety.
The civil movement “Chesno” (ЧЕСНО) published an info-graphic which detailed some of the proposed changes to the law that were passed by the Parliament on Thursday and signed by President Viktor Yanukovych on Friday January17th. The language and descriptions of these legal changes are quite vague and allow the possibility for open interpretation. Some of the more concerning measures include: 15 days’ jail time for setting up tents without police permission; three years of imprisonment for the distribution of “extremist” materials; 10-15 years of jail time for “mass disruptions”; seven years’ imprisonment for “threatening” a policeman; making it easier for members of Parliament to lose their immunity; and the list goes on.
One of the most disturbing provisions is the fact that non-governmental organisations receiving funds from foreign sources will now have to declare themselves recipients of foreign aid and pay taxes for it. This measure resembles laws in place in Russia and Belarus which force NGOs that receive foreign funding to declare themselves as “foreign agents”. It is unclear what effect this will have on Ukrainian civil society, a sector which at the moment benefits from close access to EU and other international support.
Recalling the fateful night of November 30th 2013, there was immediate commentary that we were witnessing the “Belarusianisation” of Ukraine. Member of the European Parliament Paweł Kowal published a commentary on New Eastern Europe’s web sitediscussing the Belarusian atmosphere after the initial crackdown. But these claims were quickly denounced and most believed that it was an exaggeration, even an offense, to say that Ukraine could ever be compared to Belarus and Alyaksander Lukashenka’s harsh rule.
It seems, however, that those denying the level of authoritarianism that Yanukovych is pursuing may have been too optimistic. These recent changes passed the Parliament without debate. The government showed that it is in charge and there seems to be little hope that the authorities ruling the country will reverse its course.
That leaves us with one question: is the EuroMaidan movement doomed to fail?
Perhaps it is too early to answer this question. The people’s response to the restrictive measures in Kyiv, once again, was seen through a massive demonstration. If the authorities thought they were delivering the final blow to a movement running out of energy, they achieved the opposite result. Tens of thousands once again gathered, despite the new laws, to voice their dissent. Opposition leaders presented and passed their resolution and action plans stating that they do not recognise the laws passed this past week and called on new elections to replace President Yanukovych.
However, there was also a new quality to the protests on Sunday in Kyiv. Not all of the protesters were satisfied with more resolutions and calls for change. They instead turned up the tension in the city and clashes eventually broke out. It was not clear who initiated the violence. Masked protesters began confronting police who responded with tear gas. At one point, a group overtook a police bus and set it ablaze. Opposition leaders called for calm on Sunday and denounced the confrontation, even hinting at its being the responsibility of the government in search of an excuse for a crackdown. But the clashes continued late into the night and the frustration and tension have not yet died down.
Sunday’s events have shown that a solution in Ukraine to the political standoff remains out of sight. With each passing day, any hope for a solution seems to fade. For the moment, the situation is deadlocked. The government shows willingness to neither back down nor give in to any opposition demands; and the opposition will not give up without any response to their own demands. The leadership of the opposition has criticised the new laws as unconstitutional and claims that the Parliament has lost its legitimacy. Meanwhile, the government has now a stronger case to label the protesters as agitators and criminals and will no doubt enforce its new laws to make its point.
Negotiations on a solution to Ukraine’s situation are badly needed and would best come sooner rather than later. Yanukovych and opposition leaders are convening again this week to derive a “solution” to the current crisis. But these types of negotiations and roundtables have so far borne no fruit and in the end lead to greater frustration in the EuroMaidan movement.
But without a real solution with compromise from both sides, the situation will only continue to get worse. If Ukraine sees even more violence followed by more crackdowns, then we can certainly say that the EuroMaidan movement is doomed.
Adam Reichardt is the editor-in-chief of New Eastern Europe