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Revolution in Ukraine Has Been Live Streamed For Two Months. When Will the West Start to Care?

BY Antonella Napolitano | Monday, January 20 2014

Protest in Kiev last Sunday (photo by @mikekomar)

Apparently, nobody likes a peaceful revolution.

Nine years after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine citizens are again voicing their opposition to how the government is managing the state. But Western media and politics do not seem to care.

While Ukrainian citizens have been gathering in squares in a semi-permanent state since November 21st, international media has paid little attention to the crowds and rallies that have taken place every weekend since then, despite an abundance of live streams of the protest and visual materials available.

That is, until last Sunday, when the violence seriously escalated after two months of mainly peaceful protests. The fighting broke out on a side street that leads to the Verkhovnaya Rada, or Parliament, and near Independence Square, which has been the center of the protests, the New York Times reports. The riots broke out at anti-government protests in response to last week's passage of new laws that severely limited the activities of activists and citizens.

The new law establishes criminal responsibility for slandering government officials and penalties for unlawful protests, including a ban on unauthorized tents, stages or amplifiers in public areas. Those and several other measures seem to directly target the protesters by limiting their means of protest. The law also makes it easier to strip legislators of their immunity, allowing the arrest of MPs even during plenary sessions of Parliament.

The Guardian also noted that the law contains norms very similar to Russia’s on the registration of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), categorizing them as "foreign agents" if they are funded from abroad.

The bill was passed in parliament on Thursday with a quick show of hands by MPs, rather than the usual system of electronic voting (hence, it is without a proper voting record), BBC News reported on Friday.
According to the Kyiv Post, Serhiy Lyovochkin, president Viktor Yanukovych's longtime chief of staff, resigned over the signing of the law.

On Thursday, pro-EU activists marched in Kiev streets with the word 'dictatorship' taped over their mouths.

Sunday's rally began peacefully but turned into a violent conflict between police and protesters: allegedly the fighting was started by far right-wing activists. Police retaliated with tear gas, flash grenades and a water cannon.

It is the second time that the police and citizens have clashed after an initial one on December 1st.
The last time, the opposition claimed that the riots were started by far-right groups and a pro-government agency.

Media reports say that more than 100 people were injured (the final number is still unclear).

A Parliament Violating Its Own Rules

According to an analysis by Centre UA, a Ukrainian prominent civic organization, “When adopting the laws, the Parliament violated a number of its own procedural rules. [...] Most of the laws were adopted without prior consideration in the parliament’s committees as required and with no time for examining the laws even by the MPs."

Earlier today, I spoke with one of the organization's founders, Ukrainian journalist and activist Svitlana Zalishchuk, who shared with me Centre UA summary of the law and an infographic made by CHESNO, that has been circulating in several Western media outlets.

CHESNO is a civic movement that emerged in 2011, becoming widely known for its critical analysis and evaluation of politicians and of the national Parliament.

Infographic detailing the main provisions of the law approved by the Parliament of Ukraine, created by CHESNO

The law analysis includes a section on online media: new measures include the registration of every Internet media in the country, the mandatory use of only pre-paid mobile cards to allow identification and several restricting norms for Internet providers.

According to what Kiev-based journalist Irina Solomko wrote earlier today, “An explanatory note describes the use of social media as a high-tech means of disseminating ideas and inflaming hatred, intending to persuade the government to stand down. The law stipulates three years of prison for so-called social media extremism.”

The Centre UA report says:

National Commission on Communications (consisting of 7 members appointed and dismissed solely by the President of Ukraine) is authorized to issue Internet providers with orders on blocking access to web sites which disseminate “illegal information” or through which an unregistered “information agency” operates. Such blocking orders are issued based on “conclusions of experts” in out-of-court proceedings to be defined by the Government.

Moreover, Internet providers will need to get a license to work in the country and will be obliged to install equipment that allow the interception of communications upon request of law enforcement agencies.

When Leaders Should Follow Citizens

Last year, Zalishchuk spoke at the Personal Democracy Forum about the challenges for civil society in her country. “Mind the gap” she said, using the message in the London tube to refer to the gap between civil society and citizens as a whole. Her speech dealt with putting citizens first in NGO activities and on how to make virtual activism a reality.

At this point, it may be said that it’s politics that needs to follow citizens.

In his account of yesterday’s events, news anchor Maxim Eristavi talked about the “growing estrangement between opposition politicians and civil rights activists.”
Eristavi is Editor-in-Chief of the Voice of Capital, Ukraine's First International News Radio, and is one of the journalists that has been covering the protest extensively since its beginning. “Following days of anaemic and poorly-coordinated response from opposition leaders, enraged civil rights activists publicly asked politicians to be more decisive," Eristavi commented.

International reactions have followed, but, so far, just on paper.

“The increasing tension in Ukraine is a direct consequence of the government failing to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of its people. Instead, it has moved to weaken the foundations of Ukraine's democracy by criminalizing peaceful protest and stripping civil society and political opponents of key democratic protections under the law,” declared US National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement released yesterday. The press release also says that the US will consider additional steps, including sanctions.

This is only the most prominent of several reactions voiced by politicians all over the world. But international politics have kept its distance from the protest, even if several members of the European Parliament and even Foreign Affairs Commissioner Catherine Ashton have visited the camps of protesters.

The New York Review of Books', Timothy Snyder dubbed Ukraine “a new dictatorship” and reflected: “In the past decade, Ukrainians have been among the most impressive defenders of their own rights. In the past weeks, Ukrainians have been defending the idea of Europe, inspiring Europeans themselves. Will anyone defend civil society in Ukraine?”

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