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Yanukovych Must Go
Ukrainians Will Protest as Long as His Corrupt Regime Exists
ALEXANDER J. MOTYL is Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University–Newark.See more by this author
For the second time in nine years, anti-regime protesters have filled the streets of Ukraine. But now, the stakes for the European Union and the United States have risen. Ukraine’s latest political upheaval, which pro-European protesters have dubbed the Euro-Revolution, began in late November when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a long-awaited agreement to boost political and trade ties with the EU. Demonstrations exploded after riot police brutally attacked protesters camped out in Independence Square, the site of the 2004 Orange Revolution, on November 30. Within a week, mass protests demanding Yanukovych’s resignation spread across the country. Several hundred thousand marched in Kiev, while mostly young activists set up barricades around government buildings and knocked down a statue of Lenin.
Mykola Azarov, Ukraine’s prime minister, called the peaceful demonstrators in Kiev “Nazis” and compared the statue’s toppling to the Taliban’s destruction of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, meanwhile, praised the “young people in Ukraine’s streets” for “writing a new history of Europe.” The demonstrators’ slogan (“Ukraine is Europe!”) signifies much more than a desire to join the EU. For them, as for most Ukrainians, Europe is a symbol of democracy, national dignity, human rights, and freedom -- everything they believe, correctly, the Yanukovych regime opposes.
Although much of the world has focused on the demonstrations in Kiev, anti-regime discontent is hardly limited to the capital. Opposition channels, Web sites, and social media have broadcast continuously from Independence Square or the Euromaidan (“Eurosquare” in Ukrainian), providing accurate information and countering the slanted reporting of regime-controlled and Russian sources. Several journalists have even resigned from Ukraine’s First National TV station in protest. Up to 50,000 Ukrainians have marched repeatedly in Lviv, where the elite Berkut police units pointedly refused to intervene. In the west, the Europe-leaning officials who run the Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Ternopil, and Volyn provinces have effectively escaped the regime’s control.