Repeating the Past, but Not Quite
The most surprising thing for me is that I would have never dreamed that these protests would be this successful. In 2004 during the famous Orange Revolution, Independence Square, famously called the Maidan, was a sea of orange, with hundreds of thousands taking to the street to protest. Those protests resulted in nothing but crushed hopes, little change, and a continuation of the corrupt status quo. I had little more hope for these protests and assumed at best it would be a repeat of November of 2004. Many people in Ukraine have become cynical, doubtful, and even hopeless that anything amounting to real change can ever occur in Ukraine. The events of recent weeks gives hope that despite the uncertainty and violence that maybe this will be Ukraine’s time and it is ripe for true genuine change. We will have to wait and see. Putin’s conscience (or lack of conscience) and his occasional vanity to be a respected world leader may determine just how far Russia is willing to go in this conflict. Putin can ultimately decide Ukraine’s future. Despite threats and talk of consequences, the U.S and Europe will not face off with Russia or spill blood over Ukraine. The Hungarians on the streets of Budapest in 1956 learned this hard lesson. I do not believe threats of sanctions will discourage Putin. Much depends on who Putin really is. Is he delusional and out of touch with reality? Is he a cunning heavy fisted throwback leader from the Cold War acting as a neighborhood bully with little regard for public opinion? Or is he a respected world leader concerned with imagine and international respect? Putin likely can do whatever he wants with Ukraine with nothing but a lost market for Russian oil and natural gas and a vain egotistical self-desire for world respect to restrain him.
The European Union and Real Reasons for Protest
To me, it often seems that the true meaning of the protests have been lost on the Western media and they have done a poor job of reporting on many aspects of this crisis and what is going on. Up until recently it seems all anyone in the media talks about is protests over Ukraine turning down the deal for closer ties with the European Union. Ukraine was a mess before all of this started. They would have no chance to join the EU for years to come and “closer ties”, what does that really mean? I am not sold on the EU and I doubt close ties or EU membership is good for Ukraine. What is the EU’s interest in Ukraine? Are they truly concerned about Ukrainian people, democracy and an end to corruption? Or is the EU worried about pipelines in Ukraine that carry Russian natural gas to Western Europe? Are they motivated by Ukraine being a potential 46 million person market? Is Ukraine a tug of war between World Powers fighting over spheres of influence? Ukraine does not need bureaucrats in Brussels telling them which vegetables they can grow and how many pigs they can have in their back yard. A good friend of mine in Ukraine believes the EU is going to collapse in total failure much like the Soviet communists empire. His reason for this is because both the EU and the communist empire are both a type of “Tower of Babel”. They were both built on the greatness of man; systematically (in different ways) they both have tried to eliminate God from the equation, while building atheist empires.
The real reason for protests in my opinion is the massive country-wide pandemic of corruption. The media fails to understand the severity of this plague. Yanukovych is corrupt as shown by reports of his mansion (some reports tell of golden toilets and a 30 million dollar chandelier) and his family’s personal wealth gain (his son, a dentist, reportedly gained 200 million dollars in wealth in the last two years). Many of the parliament are corrupt, regional leaders, down to local officials are all corrupt. The police are corrupt as they stand by the side of the road trying to intimidate and extort bribes from cars passing by. To “protect and to serve” is a foreign idea. The courts are corrupt, society is corrupt. We hear stories from students who have gone on to university that no matter how good their grades, money and a bottle of Vodka are still needed to get a passing grade. Others graduate with degrees they earned with bribes instead of through hard work and studies. Ukrainian roads are in shambles while Western money given to fix the roads vanishes into pockets. If you want to start a business, get a house inspection, get approved for fire codes, receive an official document, all things we take for granted, in Ukraine it involves a long list of people to pay bribes. This whole system is entrenched into society. People are really fed up with this corrupt system that is run from the top of the country on down. The country is run by Oligarchs, rich business men, and a “good old boys” club at the top who quite corruptly and undemocratically run the country, motivated by their greedy desires and self-indulgence. I see Ukraine as a Kleptocracy, a form of government posing as a democracy whose true motivation is to enrich and empower itself at the expense of the people it is supposed to be governing.
True Change or More of the Same
I was surprised by the impeachment of Yanukovych by the parliament. It was only a few weeks ago that that same parliament voted (by a show of hands) to crack down on protesters and declare anti protest laws. They were also behind a big brother tactic that recorded by satellite all cell phones within a certain distance of a protest, and then sending all those phones a text message that their owners were now registered as protestors. It is my opinion that many of those in parliament are super rich thugs themselves who are probably worried about getting caught on the wrong side of history and therefore abruptly shifted their alliances.
I am not sure what to make of the Ukrainian parliament. I hope and believe that many are interested in true reform and leading Ukraine to turn the page, during this monumental time, away from corruption. I remain skeptical and I will only believe it when I see true change and corrupt officials and policemen sacked across the country. I fear many are waiting for things to quiet down before the status quo continues. I believe and hope that some in government including Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister just released from prison, have been reformed and have genuinely good intentions now. I don’t believe for a minute that the vast majority of politicians in Ukraine got to where they are now through legitimate means. I like Tymoshenko. I think she can be good for Ukraine and that she can now take a leadership role. But she remains a polarizing figure. Her case fascinates me. It is interesting that when she is talked about in the media they always comment that she was imprisoned for political reasons. The EU leaders demanded her freedom. No doubt this is true, but they always leave out that she likely was guilty. She was certainly put on a show trial and unfairly convicted because she was President Yanukovych’s rival and she probably should not have been in prison when she was just one of many all using the same corrupt tactics. However, in my opinion there is a high probability she actually did what she was accused of.
I have also been very encouraged that the acting president of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, reportedly become a Christian in 1998 and is a part of the 1% of the Ukrainian population who are Protestant. His activities prior to 1998 appear suspicious and shady, and he seems to have remained allied with some questionable characters. He is supposedly a sincere Christian (out spoken and he has reportedly even given up drinking and smoking since becoming a Christian) and some even report that he serves as a lay pastor and elder to the Baptist congregation he is a member of. Acting President Turchynov and Yulia Tymoshenko both natively speak Russian and are from eastern Ukraine. They cannot be accused of being nationalistic Ukrainians. They along with many Russians in eastern Ukraine are sided with western Ukrainians in opposition to both Russia and the corrupt state of affairs in Ukraine. I have hope for him and the rest of the parliament that their change is genuine and not motivated by personal gain or saving themselves. Maybe true reform can finally sweep over Ukrainian society.
Please see blog entry Ukraine Situation Part 3 for a continuation of this blog.