Sunday, December 1, 2013

Heroes and Cowards

By Michael

In my last post I discussed how the peaceful protests in Kyiv yesterday were put to a stop by police brutality. "Berkut" (that is, special forces) police officers beat protesters to get them to disperse from Independence Square, the location of the protests up until that point. In some cases they chased down protesters who were fleeing in order to beat them.

I realized something while watching these videos. The police officers, all decked out in helmets, shields, and body armor, just look like cowards. They indiscriminately attack people without any defensive equipment or weapons.

The reason for the gratuitous violence? A Christmas tree was to be put up in Independence Square and the protesters were in the way!

This happened at four o'clock yesterday morning. It took Victor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine, all day to respond. When he finally made a statement, all he said was that he was outraged and that those responsible will be punished. Note that I did not say that he did something. He merely said that he might do something.

Yanukovych has clearly lost sense of what is actually happening in his country. He thinks he can continue business as usual, making statements that he has no intention of following through on. He did this for months with the EU Association Agreement, and he is doing it now. He is wrong.

I just came home from the Euro Maidan in downtown Lviv, and I've seen the situation that is unfolding. As far as I can tell, the Ukrainian government has lost all legitimacy. The leader of the protests in Kyiv, Ruslana, stated that she does not consider Yanukovich the president of Ukraine any longer. In Lviv, bands of teenagers and twenty-somethings are running around the streets, practicing how to defend the Maidan in case Berkut shows up. Essentially, they named themselves the de facto security force there.

The young men practicing anti riot police maneuvers eventually calmed down and dispersed.
At the main stage, the protesters urged the boys to stop, calling them provocateurs. But they too are demanding a complete change of the Ukrainian government.

Local Berkut in Lviv was ordered to be on stand by, but the police officers changed out of their uniforms and joined the protesters, completely disobeying direct orders.

After seeing this, I'm not sure why Yanukovych thinks he can continue doing nothing. Business as usual is not the answer to these problems. From children to elite police squads, everyone seems sick of business as usual. Most likely there is probably something that the president knows that I don't know, which guides him to make these decisions, so I won't act like I completely know better than he does. But knowing what I know, this is a really confusing response.

Even if Yanukovych did not order the beatings, his authoritarian style of governing over the past few years makes everybody think that he is behind every move the government makes. Since he controls parts of government that he shouldn't, like the judiciary and law enforcement, people just assume that he is responsible for everything they do. This is a problem of his own making.

It'll be interesting to see what happens in the near future. There are so many different people involved that there are many variables to account for. The one really positive and reassuring thing that I saw at the Maidan tonight is the sense of pride and optimism that the protesters have. Though angry, they have control of themselves and their emotions. Here's to hoping that they keep it up.

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