Panel analyzes Euromaidan as events unfold

By Indra Ekmanis

A masked Euromaidan protester. Photo | Flickr user spoilt.exile

A masked demon­stra­tor after the pass­ing of anti-protest laws. Photo | Flickr user spoilt.exile

As a panel of schol­ars ana­lyzed Ukraine’s Euro­maidan protests Tues­day night at UW, 5,000 miles away in Kyiv, events turned deadly. At least two pro­tes­tors were killed by gun­shots as pro-European/anti-government forces clashed with riot police.

These are the first reported fatal­i­ties of Euro­maidan. The protests began Nov. 21, 2013, when Ukrain­ian offi­cials refused to sign an Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union. The agree­ment would have pro­vided Ukraine with free trade and other eco­nomic ben­e­fits in exchange for democ­ra­tiz­ing polit­i­cal reforms. Though Ukrain­ian lead­er­ship had given indi­ca­tions of its intent to sign the agree­ment, the backpedal­ing is largely attrib­uted to Ukraine’s bal­anc­ing act between the EU and Rus­sia. On Dec. 17, Ukrain­ian Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych signed a deal with Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin to sell Rus­sia $15 mil­lion in Ukrain­ian bonds and buy Russ­ian gas at a discount.

Many Ukraini­ans took to the streets and have camped in Kyiv’s Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti (Inde­pen­dence Square) and sur­round­ing build­ings for the past two months. The pro­test­ers ini­tially demanded lead­ers sign the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ment, but demands have esca­lated to calls for Yankukovych’s res­ig­na­tion and new elec­tions. At times the crowds have swelled to more than 800,000 pro­tes­tors, but sup­port for Euro­maidan has been wan­ing among the gen­eral Ukrain­ian population.

On Jan. 16, the Ukrain­ian par­lia­ment quickly pushed through a sweep­ing anti-protest law. Referred to as “dic­ta­tor­ship laws” by pro­tes­tors, the leg­is­la­tion crim­i­nal­izes “mass dis­rup­tions,” wear­ing masks and hel­mets in peace­ful protests, and unau­tho­rized encamp­ments, among other activ­i­ties. Addi­tion­ally, the gov­ern­ment is granted the right to pro­hibit Inter­net access and riot police are granted immu­nity from crimes com­mit­ted against pro­tes­tors. (Chesno, a pro-transparency orga­ni­za­tion, pro­vides an info­graphic of the law here.)

The crack­down also lim­its the involve­ment of reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions in “extrem­ist” activ­i­ties. Indeed, reli­gious lead­ers have been an over­looked main­stay of the protests, said Eugene Lem­cio, a pan­elist and pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Seat­tle Pacific University.

Maidan from the hills. Photo | Flickr user spoilt.exile

Maidan from the hills Jan. 19. Photo | Flickr user spoilt.exile

Unlike protests in West­ern Europe and Rus­sia, this is not just seen as a polit­i­cal and eco­nomic exer­cise,” he said. Rather, there are sig­nif­i­cant moral and reli­gious under­pin­nings to the protest. Lem­cio said prayer and scrip­ture read­ings have been a con­sis­tent part of the demon­stra­tions, and that there has been a high level of inter­de­nom­i­na­tional Chris­t­ian coop­er­a­tion. Jew­ish and Mus­lim minori­ties have tended to play a low-key role in Euro­maidan, he said. Reli­gious rep­re­sen­ta­tives have tra­di­tion­ally been a pas­toral pres­ence; Lem­cio said it is impor­tant for reli­gious insti­tu­tions to main­tain inde­pen­dence and avoid being sub­sumed by a polit­i­cal party.

Volodymyr Lysenko, research sci­en­tist and lec­turer at UW’s Infor­ma­tion School, dis­cussed infor­ma­tion and cyber tech­nolo­gies being used by demon­stra­tors and the gov­ern­ment. While cell phones, social media and inde­pen­dent Inter­net news orga­ni­za­tions have played a large role in con­nect­ing pro­tes­tors, the gov­ern­ment has begun to dis­rupt these communications.

Dur­ing the active police attacks on the pro­tes­tors, the mobile access around these events is shut down,” Lysenko said. Indi­vid­u­als buy­ing SIM cards are now required to reg­is­ter with iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and the gov­ern­ment has sent intim­i­dat­ing text mes­sages (SMS) to pro­test­ers iden­ti­fy­ing them as par­tic­i­pat­ing in mass dis­tur­bances. Lysenko said spam­mers, pos­si­bly Ukrain­ian or Russ­ian state police, have clogged com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels like Twit­ter with “garbage” tweets, ren­der­ing the chan­nels useless.

Clashes on Hrushevskoho Street. Photo | Flickr user spoilt.exile

Clashes on Hru­shevskoho Street Jan. 19. Photo | Flickr user spoilt.exile

Off-line, the gov­ern­ment has also report­edly funded “titushky,” thug-like mil­i­tants who have pro­voked chaos in the streets, said Olha Krupa, assis­tant pro­fes­sor at Seat­tle Uni­ver­sity. There are a num­ber of play­ers in Euro­maidan, but a sig­nif­i­cant lack of a united oppo­si­tion or promi­nent oppo­si­tion lead­ers, she said. Yanukovych has also been decid­edly silent. Why that is the case is up for spec­u­la­tion. “There are two ver­sions that are cir­cu­lat­ing around. One is that he is afraid … Two is that he has reached a cer­tain agree­ment with Putin and he can’t step down,” said Krupa.

Well attended by Uni­ver­sity and com­mu­nity mem­bers, the pan­elists dis­cussed the ongo­ing sit­u­a­tion in Kyiv and inter­acted with audi­ence mem­bers until late in the evening. A live stream of the protest pro­jected dur­ing the panel showed mul­ti­ple fire­work explo­sions in the square and the arrival of an ambulance.

Events are unfold­ing as we speak,” said Elli­son Cen­ter Direc­tor and panel mod­er­a­tor Scott Radnitz.

Watch video updates on Euro­maidan at Hromadske.tv.
Fol­low events on Twit­ter #Euro­maidan.
See pho­tos here.

2 thoughts on “Panel analyzes Euromaidan as events unfold

  1. I enjoyed the blog post — thank you! A ques­tion about the sen­tence: “The agree­ment would have pro­vided Ukraine with free trade and other eco­nomic ben­e­fits in exchange for democ­ra­tiz­ing polit­i­cal reforms.” Some of the reports/analysis that I’ve read seem to indi­cate that it isn’t as clear a pic­ture as this; that is, sign­ing the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ment with the EU might have incurred large costs and detri­men­tal effects to Ukraine’s econ­omy in the short-to-medium term, while maybe in the medium-to long term it is expected to influ­ence its econ­omy pos­i­tively. Thus, from what I’ve read, the move of Ukrain­ian offi­cials to refuse to sign the agree­ment was, from an eco­nomic and pol­icy per­spec­tive, a ques­tion of offi­cials bal­anc­ing the ‘tim­ing’ of such an impor­tant agree­ment. I’m not say­ing I know one way or another, as I’m just an inter­ested observer…

    It seems that pro-EU Ukraini­ans have been down­play­ing the eco­nomic costs that their econ­omy would have incurred as a result of the agree­ment (as a poten­tial par­al­lel, for instance, look at the short-to medium term ‘costs’ to the econ­omy of Russia’s acces­sion to the WTO) and instead insist­ing that the soft-power, cul­tural impor­tance of the EU agree­ment is para­mount. It seems that both story lines have merit— and thus it would seem worth­while to include both aspects of analy­sis. What do oth­ers think?

  2. Thanks for this help­ful sum­mary of the ses­sion. In addi­tion to mak­ing the point that reli­gions have his­tor­i­cally exer­cised a pas­toral role of sup­port and encour­age­ment, lead­ers of Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tions have also been engag­ing in cri­tique of gov­ern­ment pol­icy. How­ever, act­ing as con­science for the nation means being fair-handed: to address pro­test­ers, the narod itself, and even their own eccle­si­as­ti­cal insti­tu­tions when needed.

    After­wards, I reminded myself of the role played by The REVEREND Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. (whose legacy we’d com­mem­o­rated the day before). All of the orig­i­nal top lead­ers of the Civil Rights move­ment were, like him, cler­gy­men. Their strug­gle for civil and human rights, advo­cat­ing for the mar­gin­al­ized, and com­mit­ment to non-violent action was deeply rooted in their under­stand­ing of the Chris­t­ian Gospel (rooted as it is in the Jew­ish Scrip­tures). In more recent days, Pope Fran­cis has boldly chal­lenged the pow­ers that be and the cap­tains of indus­try (and not a few bish­ops!) to think more broadly and deeply about their respon­si­bil­ity for the greater gen­eral good–especially those with­out suf­fi­cient access to polit­i­cal and finan­cial resources. Per­haps such role mod­els will inspire lead­ers in Ukraine.
    Finally, I am con­cerned about the impli­ca­tions of these events (and last night’s dis­cus­sion) for on-going study and research at the UW. Is there a way to reg­u­lar­ize atten­tion to this part of the Slavic world so that what’s hap­pen­ing at the Maidan will not be for­got­ten once the sit­u­a­tion is resolved one way or another and the media move on to the next crisis?

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