19 February 2014

Understanding the EuroMaidan Unrest in Ukraine

As the world watches the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian Federation, there is unrest in Kjiv, Ukraine.  Nearly twenty years ago, Nike advertised the that Revolution would not be televised.  That proves untrue as Espreso TV was carrying it live as paramilitary attacked the peaceful protestors throughout the night of February 19th.   First news reports indicate that 22 fatalities with 1,000 people injured,  but  based on the constant pops in the night air and the burning pyres of the barricades  in the main square, this could be a low estimate. 

At first blush,  research intimated that it the Ukrainian unrest might stem from ethnic demarcations, as the Russian speaking Ukrainians might want a Slavic version of Aunshluss as expressed through trade agreements.   When violence escalates in a nation of 45 million that is known as the breadbasket of Europe, which neighbors an expansion happy Russian Federation, I was driven to learn more.  Yet I took some claims with grains of salt.  It was bothersome to read reports  claiming that Nazi sympathizers had taken up arms in Western Ukraine.  This type of damning news tracks Russian propaganda ploys which Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former spy chief for Ceaucescu’s Romania,  detailed  in his book Disinformation.  

Unfortunately, most Americans will be more worried about the opening week of American Idol or watching NBC’s polished rebroadcast of Olympic events in Sochi to worry about internal unrest half-way around the world.  But when the Putin-alooza ends on the Black Sea on February 23rd, it would not be surprising if the Russians troops helped their Russo-philic Ukrainain President Viktor Yanukovych.  Putin has promised  Ukraine $15 billion in aid but is withholding $12 billion in case the Yanukovych loses power.

[L] Russian President Vladimir Putin [R] Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych at Sochi Winter Olympics 

The EuroMaidan protests began on November 21st, 2013 when protestors gathered at Independence Square in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine when President Yanukovych suddenly swayed away from an associate agreement with the European Union and chose to strengthen economic ties with Russia.  The protest snowballed on November 30th when a group of students were attacked by the police, and it became a national movement.  

Protestors have been gathering in Independence Square, in the bitter Ukranian cold day and night to protest.  But people do not get passionate about just trade agreements.  People are concerned about the rampant corruption in Ukraine. President Yanukovych’s aloofness and unresponsiveness to the will of the people engenders ire.  And of course, the heavy handed tactics, which killed five protestors in late January and the wider violence and bloodshed today. 

While Kjiv’s main square constantly has 20,000 protestors (and can swell up to 800,000), there are said to be mini Maidans throughout the country, but much more pronounced in Western Ukraine.    George Weigel characterized the Euromaidan protests as the rising up of a nation which is tired of being ruled by thieves and barbarians and stand against a thugocracy. 

Last week, Bishop Borys Gudziak, of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparch of  Paris, gave an interview with New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan about Ukraine.   Gudziak, who is also the President of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv examined  the roots of the Euromaidan protests along with highlighting the unifying spirit which has brought together Orthodox, Catholic, Protestants, Jews and Muslims to protest the current Ukrainian Government.  

Bishop Gudziak has been a leading voice to oppose the oppression of the Yanukovych government and to urge for peaceful protest from the people.   Gudziak has observed: The country, in somewhat traumatic ways, is trying to break the bonds of the past and the bonds of fear and subjugation by declaring the God-given dignity of every human being."   Bishop Gudziak has summarized protestors aspirations : The EuroMaidan seeks many of the values that Paris, France, and Western Europe represent: rule of law, equal justice for all, social freedoms and guarantees.

What is really remarkable about the EuroMaidan protestors is how they were Seeing Deeper in a practical way through ecumenical prayer.  Bishop Gudziak noted that during the nightwatch, the top of each hour was led by prayer.  Watching the protests live, I could discern speakers intoning prayers to God, (Bog), peace (mir), and the Ave Maria as well as shouts of “Death to tyranny”.    This does not sound like the stuff of neo-Nazis. 

As Americans, it is easy to feel lured into indifference about unrest in other parts of the world.  But Ukraine is an important nation and is may serve as fodder for Russian imperialist expansion.  

It is prudent for policymakers and the public not to rush into judgment and rashly embark the US  into perilous partnerships like in Libya, Egypt and as the Obama Administration was angling for in Syria.  But our prudence must not ossify into inaction, since if you choose not to choose,you have still made a choice. 

These Euromaidan protests have been going on for the last three months.  It is a region of the world that we are familiar with through the Cold War.  Now that we know the protesters goals and modus operandi, what is the Yanukovych Ukrainian government position, and how much which "friendly" neighbors help resolve the uprising?

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has called for sanctions against the Ukrainian government.  Aside from geopolitical considerations, this is a people who wished to be freed from tyranny.  We ought not abandon such lovers of liberty as the Obama Administration did with the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009.   Then again, a God fearing people protesting against thievery and heavy handed tactics may not find much sympathy in today’s corridors of power of the District of Calamity. 

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