Thursday, January 23, 2014

The struggle for Ukraine

Computers and the Internet have given us the ability to watch, from our recliners, the conflicts taking place around the world.  We've reached a point in history when it is very difficult for governments to hide what they are doing in public places.  What's not clear to me is whether being able to bear witness through technology translates into any meaningfully different forms of response.

I have paid close attention to the protests and police actions in Kyiv, Ukraine.  My family lived in Kyiv for ten months just after the Orange Revolution.  We walked through Maidan most days, and spent a lot of time in an office on Hrushevskoho Street, right across from the entrance to the Dynamo football stadium and the site of the most recent battles between protesters and police.  The images are surreal and disorienting.  It's hard to recognize the place, littered with burnt shells of Berkyut buses and tire fires and dislodged, broken cobblestones.  Every so often, a cameraman will scan the scene, and in the background will be the storefront of a high-end, Western store.  It's a strange juxtaposition.

Over the 63 or so days since the protests began, many people have posted videos documenting police violence against protestors.  To say they are disturbing is an understatement.  In December, for instance, a video circulated of a man lying on the ground being hit repeatedly with batons and kicked by numerous riot policemen as they ran past.  I have watched live feeds from Espresso TV and other sources linked on the Kyiv Post, and seen the police surge against the protesters and then retreat.  News sources from around the world have shown images of badly injured protesters.

But how has that changed the way the world reacts?  More than 8 years after Ukrainians fought for fair elections by occupying Maidan and eventually electing a President committed to democracy, Viktor Yanukovich seems free to impose a police state and play the role of dictator.  Don't like the fact that most of the protesters have put on helmets and masks to protect themselves and their identities from police and prosecution?  Pass a law that makes it illegal for protesters to wear helmets and masks during protests!  That law was passed last Friday, around 57 days after the protests began, and after 57 days of non-response by Europe and the US.

If Yanukovich felt the need to be cautious in December, he doesn't any more.  The rest of the world has revealed its preference to let him do as he pleases.  All that's left is for the people of Ukraine to fight alone against a police state that cares nothing about them. 

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