Have you felt something disturbing in the air lately? Have you sensed there will be more clashes, more violence, more destruction of the old, more chaos — here or many places in the world? And are you ready for what the rest of the 21st century might bring — the end of the way things used to be, the beginning of a whole new civilization?
Nowhere is that tipping point more obvious than what has been happening lately in the Ukraine, once a part of the Soviet Union, now its own nation, and where more of its country men and women are refusing to go back to Russian ways.
In November, when Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, loyal to Moscow, gripped by his own nepotism and cronyism (he has placed many family members and friends into top government positions), plus his personal amassing of considerable fortune, scores of Ukrainians hit Kiev’s streets in protest of his billions of dollars economic deal with Russia.
No, a thousand times no, they told Yanukovych, we want to be a part of the European Union. Ukrainians fully expected, they demanded their government accept a $15 billion bailout from the EU so Ukraine would not have to be in thrall to Russia ever again.
Ukraine’s government responded by ignoring its citizens’ requests and as of this past week, tried to broker a deal with Russia — clearly lighting the match to the protesters’ tinder.
As with so many backward, conservative-thinking groups, the Ukrainian government failed to recognize it can’t go back to the cozy arrangements of its Soviet days. In fact, at heart of the fiery chaos overwhelming Kiev is the split between those who don’t want to change against those who want Kiev and all 46 million of the country’s citizens to look West. Thus, becoming a new partner with the European Union.
The protesters refused to back down, they said no compromise to the Kremlin or the Ukrainian government. They wanted Yanukovych’s resignation, new elections, and protesters took over the central post office. Scores of buildings in Kiev were badly damaged or destroyed. Athletes from the Ukraine in Sochi, where the Olympic Games were held, withdrew from the Games — to protest the violence taking place in their homeland.
And while Ukraine’s president and opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, met Feb. 19 to try to quell the violence, by Feb. 20 this emergency truce was shattered. At this point scores of protesters were killed. There were as many as 67 police taken prisoner by the demonstrators. In one week, more than 100 people in Kiev had been killed.
Russia told the Ukrainian president, “Don’t be a doormat!” The U.S. warned it was time for Yanukovych to go.
Yanukovych tried, one last time, in desperation, to force his own parliament to declare the demonstrators terrorists. But by now even Ukraine’s parliament was fed up after months of the country’s fighting and rioting. In a unanimous vote on Thursday, the parliament rejected their president’s demand to label the opposition as enemies of the state. They openly defied Yanukovych. They said very clearly, despite his pleas, the protesters would receive anmesty. Yanukovych was defanged, declawed, despite holding a majority in the parliament.
It was left for the EU to try to stem the bloodshed. In an all-night emergency meeting the European union was able to get the two sides to come together. By Feb. 21, still distrustful, still glaring at each other across the table, a tentative deal was set between Yanukovych and the opposition leaders.
For now, the call has gone out for early elections, restoration of the 2004 constitution and demands laid down for a unified government. If the agreement between the two opposing forces lasts, there lies the possibility of working out an arrangement for Ukraine to join with the European Union and release Russia’s stranglehold on its government.
Like I said, this remains the hope. The protesters are not firmly convinced of their government’s good intentions. One of the protest leaders, Pravy Sektor, who led the violent clashing with the police said, “The national revolution will continue,” Interfax reported.
And of course, because it appears they have been vanquished, Russia has gone on record citing Friday’s deal as in the best interests not of Ukrainians, but specifically what the United States wants. Leonid Slutsky, who chairs a committee working with ex-Soviet nations in Ukraine’s parliament grumbled, “It’s entirely in the interests of the United States and other powers, who want to split Ukraine from Russia.”
There remains much to worry about whether the peace deal will hold. For centuries Ukraine and Russia have been joined, most particularly in Kiev; the capital is regarded as the cradle of Russia. But by the time of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the Ukrainians, having grown weary of Russia’s dominance, wanted to split from the burgeoning Soviet Union. They wanted to be their own people, not a party to Soviet interests.
The Soviets didn’t listen, of course. They crushed further dissent. It would be as late as 1991 before the crumbling Soviet empire finally released its grip on Ukraine.
But Russia, under Vladimir Putin’s presidency, kept putting the screws to Ukraine. Russia had too much to lose if Ukraine joined the European Union, or NATO, or any other Western organization.
For now, the Molotov cocktails lie silent. For the moment, the faces of the Ukrainians are turned toward the sun of a new day, expressions of hope the peace deal will hold, democracy might take root. Maybe Yanukovych will step away, far away from the presidency.
Or else the bloodletting will return. And all of Ukraine’s dreams will die.
Jodeane Albright is an award-winning columnist and blogger as well as the community editor at the Idaho State Journal.