In Ukraine, People Power Rattles Another Government

KIEV, Ukraine -- The scenes on the streets of Kiev this week were so familiar as to almost seem routine: protesters flying anti-government banners, shouting "Glory to Ukraine!" as they pitched tents outside the country's parliament, vowing to stay until the authorities gave in to their demands.


Demonstrators took over the main road outside the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday and declared their intent to stay by pitching tents and setting up a field kitchen.

"Two revolutions, but this country didn't change at all," sighed Andriy Maliy, a 49-year-old seasoned demonstrator who took part in the 2014 revolution that deposed the Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych, ushering in the current government led by President Petro Poroshenko.

Ten years earlier, Mr. Maliy also took part in the protests that became the country's 2004 Orange Revolution.

"The system never changed," explained Mr. Maliy, who works as a television cameraman.

"One oligarch is thrown out and another oligarch comes in."

More turmoil in Ukraine, which the West is supporting in its struggle against Russia, is just about the last thing Kiev's allies in Canada, the United States and Europe want to see.

But an unlikely mix of protesters — including the leaders of past uprisings in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as veterans of the war in eastern Ukraine — makes for an unpredictable situation.

This time the demonstrators — who took over the main road outside parliament on Tuesday, declaring their intent to stay in the street by setting up camp and a field kitchen — are angry at the billionaire Mr. Poroshenko, accusing him of failing to deliver on promises to fight corruption that he made during the 2014 uprising.

The demonstrators numbered several thousand during the day, dwindling to a hard core of a few hundred campers each night.

Despite Mr. Maliy's complaints, two popular revolutions have fundamentally changed the relationship between those in power and the people they govern.

Anxious to avoid Mr. Yanukovych's fate (he now lives in exile in Russia), authorities immediately declared that force would not be used to clear the protest camp, and by Thursday parliament was debating two of the protesters' main demands.

With parliament surrounded by a cordon of riot police charged with keeping protesters out, MPs voted to refer to the country's constitutional government two bills that would lift their own immunity from prosecution.

Then they began debating changes to the country's election law that would limit the power of the oligarchs, the country's richest businessmen.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said he also supported the protesters' third demand, the establishment of a dedicated court to deal with corruption cases. 

"Ukraine needs such reforms and changes," Mr. Groysman said, speaking in a government office just a few hundred metres from the protest camp.

He said the protests were a sign that Ukraine had become an "open state," though he warned that among the demonstrators genuinely seeking change were some "destructive elements" who were seeking personal power.

That was likely a reference to Mikheil Saakashvili, a one-time ally of Mr. Poroshenko and Mr. Groysman who has become one of the government's loudest critics.

Mr. Saakashvili, a former president of Georgia who led his country in its own 2008 war against Russia, took up Ukrainian citizenship in 2015 and accepted Mr. Poroshenko's invitation to become the governor of the southern Odessa region.

Known both for his impetuousness and his commitment to radical reforms, Mr. Saakashvili quit the post last year, alleging that Mr. Poroshenko and his allies weren't interested in eliminating Ukraine's culture of graft.

After Mr. Poroshenko stripped him of his Ukrainian passport this summer while he was travelling outside the country, Mr. Saakashvili illegally re-entered Ukraine, vowing to challenge the "kleptocrat" government.

In his push to oust Mr. Poroshenko — either now, or in elections scheduled for early 2019 — he has been joined by Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who has flitted between power and protest through her long and tumultuous career in Ukrainian politics.

Both Mr. Saakashvili, who swept to power in Georgia following the country's 2003 Rose Revolution, and Ms. Tymoshenko, a central character in Ukraine's Orange Revolution, have been down this road before.

They've now linked arms with pro-European reformers such as Mustafa Nayyem, an activist and parliamentarian who is credited with sparking the last revolution by using his Facebook account to call for the first protest against Mr. Yanukovych.

"This is not another [revolution], it's a continuation of the last one. All the demands of the people are the same as three years ago. What happened is that the President decided to forget about the promises he made," Mr. Nayyem told The Globe and Mail as he wandered through the protest camp on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the 36-year-old Mr. Nayyem called parliament's vote on revoking MPs immunity "a small victory."

It seemed unlikely that the parliamentary vote would be enough to convince the street protesters to go home just yet.

Adding a hint of menace to the demonstrations is the presence of dozens of men in combat fatigues, veterans of the fight against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country who have now turned their anger towards Mr. Poroshenko's government.

Despite the government's promise not to use force against the protesters, several people were injured this week in clashes between demonstrators and the hundreds of riot police who have set up a security perimeter around the protest site.

"We'll stay here until we get what we want," said one protester, who wore the insignia of the Donbass Battalion, a battle-hardened right-wing militia.

He wore a bandana over his mouth and nose, and clutched a metal shield as he guarded the periphery of the protest camp on Tuesday night.

And what does he want? "Poroshenko out."

Source: The Globe and Mail

Comments

Igor Skakovsky said…
Ukrainian people and their leaders such as Saakashvili and Temoshenko demanding big political changes on the street these days need some-thing little more from US than Pretty Words and Good Wishes.