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Ukraine’s 2014: a belated 1989 or another failed 2004?

By Blog Admin, on 19 February 2014

Whatever their final outcome, the events in Ukraine seem likely to be of greater long-term import than the ‘Orange Revolution’ in 2004. But, asks Andrew Wilson,  a long-term what?

 Whatever their outcome, the events in Ukraine seem likely to be of greater long-term import than the ‘Orange Revolution’ in 2004. Ukrainians themselves are obviously debating their meaning and making comparisons with other momentous years in Ukrainian and general European history. But which year?

 This is not about geopolitics: this isn’t 1939, some replay of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with two titans dividing up Eastern Europe. Russia thinks geopolitically, but the EU does not, and until fairly recently the US has been just a voice offstage. The whole point of the debacle at the Vilnius Summit was the clash between the completely different modus operandi of Russia and the EU.

 There hasn’t been a proper post-Vilnius post-mortem yet (you can’t have a post-mortem till you identify the body). A technical rethink of the EU’s Eastern Partnership policy is inevitable. But the whole point is that it is too technical. As I said to the NYT, the EU took a baguette to a knife fight. The Eastern Partnership is an ‘enlargement-lite’ policy at the very moment when Russia is committed to some heavy lifting. If there is a ‘struggle over Ukraine’, as so much of the media is determined to frame it, it is clearly a very unequal struggle. (more…)

Reacting to Ukraine’s protests

By Blog Admin, on 5 December 2013

The return of sustained protest to the streets of Ukraine has hugely raised the political stakes comments Andrew Wilson

The protests in Kiev are now two weeks old. They began after the Ukrainian government first decided to suspend negotiations with the EU on 21 November, but have gained new intensity after President Yanukovych left the Vilnius Summit on 28-29 November empty-handed, without signing the key AgreementsBut the attempt at violent dispersal of the crowds on his return, on Saturday 30 November, only led to bigger demonstrations on the Sunday.

At the time of writing (Monday the 2nd), the protestors were looking more embedded – literally so, as several buildings have been occupied and barriers set up in the centre of Kiev. The stakes are especially high because the OSCE Ministerial Council is due to be held in Kiev on 5-6 December – the opposition want to keep the protest going until then, the authorities want to stamp them out. The ruling party is losing key members and morale.

What happens next?

One of the most depressing features of Ukraine’s many failures after the Orange Revolution in 2004 was that people lost the will to protest. Political demonstration even became an entirely artificial affair, with being-paid-to-protest becoming big business in Ukraine. So the return of real protests changes things dramatically. Participants at the first big demo held up signs saying “we are not paid”. The authorities are relying on the tired and discredited narrative that this is an artificial protest, ‘”paid for” by domestic oligarchs or foreign powers. At least in Kiev, everyone knows this is false. (more…)

Ukraine: Provoking the Euromaidan

By Blog Admin, on 3 December 2013

Far-right activists have been infiltrating the protests in Ukraine and provoking  police and demonstrators to violence reports  Anton Shekhovtsov.

The U-turn on the Association Agreement with the EU by the Ukrainian government has sparked the most massive social protests since the ‘Orange Revolution’ in 2004. Unlike the ‘Orange revolution,’ however, the new protests, named ‘the Euromaidan,’ have been marked by the government’s disproportionate use of violence against the non-violent protests. The authorities have been making use of paid instigators who infiltrate the protests and then start attacking the police to provoke a ‘retaliatory’ suppression of ‘violent protestors.’

1 December was a day of blood and violence. The Ukrainian opposition had planned a peaceful protest against the brutal beating of several hundreds of protestors, the day before, by 1,000-2,000 members of the ‘Berkut’ special police unit. However, the gathering of hundreds of thousands of people was overshadowed by the clashes on Bankova Street leading to the building of the Presidential Administration, where the Berkut held the line against an extremely violent 200- strong crowd.

Media reports at first referred to this hardcore group – many of them masked – as ‘unknown activists;’ unknown because nobody knew if their actions were, in fact, sanctioned by the opposition. Since the opposition had specifically renounced any use of violence, the media soon started to refer to these men as ‘provocateurs.’ They threw flares, smoke bombs, Molotov cocktails and stones at the police, beat them with chains, fired tear gas, and brought up an excavator to break through the police cordon.

The police did not respond, stood their ground and used megaphones, urging the troublemakers to stop. Some other protesters, later joined by businessman and politician Petro Poroshenko, understanding the deliberately provocative nature of what was happening, tried to calm things down, which only resulted in fights between protesters. Eventually, the violent crowd again started attacking the police. This time, the police were replaced by the Berkut troops, which dispersed the crowd severely beating dozens of people including 40 Ukrainian and foreign journalists. Guilty or not guilty, everybody in the wrong place in the wrong time was beaten up. The opposition’s leaders, Vitali Klitschko (UDAR) and Oleh Tyahnybok (far right Svoboda) themselves went to Bankova Street to urge the troublemakers to join the peaceful protests on Maidan (Independence Square).

Who were these troublemakers? (more…)

A transnational lone-wolf terrorist: the case of Pavlo Lapshyn

By Blog Admin, on 21 November 2013

When Ukrainian postgraduate Pavlo Lapshyn was sentenced for racially-motivated murder and terrorism in the West Midlands, the response from Ukrainian media was to distort facts; from authorities to remain silent; and from British journalists to pin blame on UK society. These approaches obscure the uniqueness of the case, says Anton Shekhovtsov

On 25 October, 25-year-old Ukrainian postgraduate student Pavlo Lapshyn was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 40 years for a series of terrorist acts carried out in the West Midlands, UK. In Ukraine, Lapshyn’s case provoked a critical response in the media, revealing a distressing, if not unusual aversion to national soul-searching. In Britain, some of the significance of the case was obscured by the irresistible urge to interpret it in terms of British society. What is currently missing in the accounts of Lapshyn’s terror campaign is an understanding of its uniqueness.

Lapshyn came to the UK from the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk, hometown of now jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, having been awarded a temporary work placement at the Birmingham-based Delcam software company. He arrived on 24 April 2013. Five days later he murdered Mohammed Saleem (82). In June-July, he detonated three home-made bombs near mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton. Fortunately, his lack of experience in making explosive devices meant there was no physical damage to anyone. However, in the course of his bombing campaign he was able to improve his skills and make his devices more dangerous. Only the timely intervention of the West Midlands police, who identified and arrested Lapshyn on 18 July,  prevented him from continuing with his deadly mission.

After his arrest, Lapshyn willingly cooperated with the police. He made no secret of the fact that his actions had been motivated by racism, of his desire to ‘to increase racial conflict’ and make Muslims ‘leave our area.’ In his room at Delcam’s premises in Small Heath (Birmingham), police recovered mobile phones he had adapted to trigger devices, chemicals and bomb-making equipment. There were also 98 video files and 455 photographic files on his laptop showing chemicals, firearms, component parts of explosives and images of Lapshyn manufacturing and detonating bombs, presumably in Ukraine. According to Detective Chief Inspector Shaun Edwards from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, ‘Lapshyn stressed he was acting alone – not part of a wider cell or influenced by any group – and was keen to take credit for masterminding and carrying out the attacks.’ After his arrest, Lapshyn twice rejected any legal assistance from the Embassy of Ukraine in the UK. (more…)

Curiosities from the Russian Classroom

By Blog Admin, on 11 November 2013

 The British Library holds some rare early Russian grammars and language materials, which offer remarkable insights in culture, publishing practices and language learning, writes Katia Rogatchevskaia.

Cultural history and history of education is a relatively new research trend, so it was not obvious to the previous generations of librarians and curators that future scholars would want to examine textbooks. This type of material is difficult to collect and preserve. Although produced in large quantities and numerous editions, textbooks, like newspapers and ephemera, are not meant to survive. Older foreign textbooks and practical guides for teaching and learning represent an especially precious category of items. What was meant to be cheaply-produced learning material now becomes invaluable for the simple reason that very few copies survive. One of the most treasured works in our collections is Ivan Fedorov‘s  Azbuka, printed in Lviv in 1574, the first printed and dated East Slavonic primer. This is an extremely rare item – there is only one other recorded copy in the world, at Harvard University Library.

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Fedorov’s Azbuka 

A Slavonic Grammar by Meletii Smotritsky was first printed in 1618-1619 and reprinted several times in the 17th century. Smotritsky made an attempt to codify the contemporary Church Slavonic language as used in the Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian lands. The book had a significant impact on the development of these languages. In 1648 the grammar was reworked to reflect the norms of the language as used in Moscow at that time. We have two copies of the 1648 edition. The latter copy comes from the collection  of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753)  and bears notes in Latin, which suggests that the book was used for learning purposes. Interestingly, all notes are made on the page where the  principles of Russian syntax are explained, which probably suggests that the learner was quite advanced. Before belonging to a foreign owner, this copy was in possession of a priest – one Andrei Petrovich Peresvetov.

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Sloane’s copy of Smotritsky’s grammar (C.125.d.14) showing the Latin notes

(more…)

How bad were the Ukrainian elections?

By Blog Admin, on 6 November 2012

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Photo: osepa (Neil Simom. Creative Commons license via Flickr

In a follow up to his earlier post, Andrew Wilson considers just how clean last week’s Ukrainian elections really were,

The Ukrainian authorities expected a relatively clean bill of health for the parliamentary elections held on 28 October. Voting day itself was fairly peaceful; there were 3,800 international observers and over 100,000 domestic observers; and the results apparently reflected the exit polls.

There was even a trend, in October at least, towards slightly more balanced media coverage. A media monitoring project in which I was myself involved judged that 32% of news in the final week showed a balance of points of view – which is still not a lot, but an improvement from a low base, though the main official First National channel hardly changed.

But the critical tone of the preliminary report by OSCE Office for Democracy and Human Rights (ODHIR) caught the authorities off guard. In large part, this was because ODIHR reports have cottoned on to the fact that the damage is usually done long before voting day itself, when the authorities build their various advantages into the structure of the campaign. So ODIHR front-loaded its report by criticising the ‘lack of a level playing field, caused primarily by the abuse of administrative resources, lack of transparency of campaign and party financing, and [overall] lack of balanced media coverage’, and referring directly to the cases of Yuliia Tymoshenko and Yurii Lutsenko, stating clearly that ‘the fact that they were not able to run as candidates negatively affected the election process’. (more…)

Ukraine’s double-edged elections

By Blog Admin, on 5 November 2012

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Photo: oscepa (Neil Simon) via Flikr  Creative Commons license

Ukraine’s ruling Party of Regions comfortably won flawed parliamentary elections on 28 October, but opposition groupings too polled well. The result leaves the EU with a dilemma. Andrew Wilson gives two cheers for Ukrainian democracy.

There aren’t many elections where all sides come out happy, but this arguably just happened in Ukraine this Sunday. The authorities were already happy a month or two before the elections, because they were confident of victory by fair means and (mainly) foul. So they could afford to ease off in the final weeks of the campaign. On the one hand, the ruling Party of Regions didn’t get many of the results it wanted – most notably failing to win a single seat in Kiev. In one suburban capital seat the far right Freedom party was able to declare victory over the acting millionairess mayor Halyna Hereha after a three-day struggle over the count. Other surprises included the victory for the candidate backed by the ‘semi-detached’ oligarch Viktor Pinchuk against a real regime insider in Dnipropetrovsk. The Party of Regions didn’t sweep the board in the territorial constituencies, where it once talked of winning 150 seats.

On the other hand, the Party of Regions still won 114 constituencies out of 225, making 187 out of 450 overall, with the 73 the party won in the PR vote. Most of the 44 ‘independents’ are expected to join their ranks, plus seven MPs from smaller parties. If Regions splits or corrupts the opposition, it’s potentially therefore not that far short of a two-thirds’ majority of 300 out of 450 seats.

The one area where the ruling party didn’t get what it wanted was the harsh initial judgement of the OSCE-ODIHR election monitoring mission.  In this respect President Yanukovych is like the Liverpool striker Luis Suárez. Having gained a reputation for diving, Suárez has started to complain that referees don’t give him the free kicks and/or penalties he actually deserves. But it’s his own fault – the men in black have adjusted to his past behaviour. The men and women from the OSCE are doing the same with Yanukovych. But this may make it more difficult to revive the EU-Ukraine agreements that are currently on hold.

The three prongs of the opposition ‘trident’ all did well, although this may not be such good news, as it decreases their incentive to cooperate. Most opinion polls put the ‘United Opposition’ Fatherland and UDAR (‘Punch’, because led by the boxer Vitaliy Klichko) neck and neck, but Fatherland ended up with 103 seats to UDAR’s forty.

Yuliya Tymoshenko was of course not allowed to stand, and it is impossible to judge the size of her sympathy vote, but it seems to have been a factor. Unless she gets out of prison, however, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the leader of the Front for Change, the other main part of the not-particularly-united ‘United Opposition’ coalition, is now the assumed front runner to challenge Yanukovych in the 2015 presidential election – assuming it goes ahead. No doubt alongside Klichko, and both men are all too obviously already planning ahead. UDAR’s campaign this time seemed to peak too early. It was also unable to shake off the suspicion that it might ultimately ally with Regions. Nevertheless, UDAR did well because it is new. (more…)

Greedy presidents

By Blog Admin, on 25 October 2012

 Presidents in the former Soviet Union need to play a shrewd political game to stay in power, argues Andrew Wilson

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Viktor Yanukovych Photo: Roland Goodman

Most East European states are a long way from democratic; but the stability of their regimes depends on respecting certain rules of the game, such as dividing the spoils. It is normally the President who acts as ‘Lord of The Rings’ to keep the various circles of interest in balance – though there are several ways of playing the role. The president may be above the game, or he may control the key forces of balance in the game, like kompromat or ‘judicial resources’. He may be a player himself (less likely herself), which would give him weight; but if he and his supporters win control of too many resources they will not be trusted by the other players.

More than twenty years after the fall of the USSR, ‘transition’ may be a forlorn hope, but time can undermine balance: several East European regimes are now showing destabilising signs of incumbents’ greed. (more…)

Belarus: the last European dictatorship

By Blog Admin, on 31 October 2011

Cover of Belarus The Last European Dictatorship by Andrew Wilson The authoritarian regime of Aliasandr Lukashenka in Belarus has historical roots but little future, explains Andrew Wilson in his new book

Belarus hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in December 2010. After another rigged election, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, whom Condoleezza Rice once dubbed the ‘last dictator in Europe’, jailed scores of protestors, including three of the candidates who had had the cheek to stand against him. A still unexplained bomb on the Minsk metro in April killed fourteen. Demonstrations began again in the summer, inspired by the Arab Spring and ignited by a post-election economic collapse, with activists experimenting with social networks and ’silent protests’ to try and avoid arrest, not always successfully.

My book tries to explain how Belarus got into this mess, which I can at least claim was predicted by the last two chapters entitled ‘The Edifice Crumbles’ and ‘The Myth of the Belarusian Economic Miracle’.

The story goes back a long way – as many people argue that, paradoxically, Belarus has no real history. But the weakness of national identity in the present is not because Belarus lacks a past, but because the lands that are now Belarus have long been part of other states and projects. I therefore avoided using the term ‘Belarus’ until chapter five (‘Belarus Begins’). (more…)