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Democracy Watch, 2011 - Issue 20

06-30-2011 12:28 PM CET | Politics, Law & Society

Press release from: People First Foundation

Social protest burns brighter in Ukraine

The popular will to protest against government activity has been seen to rise throughout 2010 and 2011, apparently unaffected by the feeble response to the recent protests of entrepreneurs.

The protests show now particular geographical bias - reaching even the Donetsk region, the home ground of the President. Experts state that the majority of protests are emerging in reaction to local authorities disregard for public opinion on key issues. The closure of schools and hospitals, violations against religious rights, deterioration of local environments and worsening social and economic conditions are among the most frequent motivators for protest. Social discontent with local authorities is a problem across the country, but in Donetsk it threatens the Presidents sole supportive base.

According to the Centre for Social Research, there were over 3,600 demonstrations carried out in Ukraine between October 2009 and December 2010 - equating to around 8 protests per day. October and November 2010 were particularly active, when owners of small and medium sized business protested against the new Tax Code.

There have also been a considerable number of protests since January. In May the initiators of the ‘Tax Maidan’ anti-tax-code demonstration hosted a ‘Day of anger’. This demonstration was unsuccessful, largely due the higher turn out of police officers than demonstrators – in the case of Kyiv there were several thousand armed police on the streets. Thus it seems the "Day of Anger" has failed to inspire Ukrainians, who remain unaffected by the memory of the Orange Revolution or the events of the Arab Spring.

However the pressure of discontent is building in Ukraine and the people continue to take to the streets against governmental policy. The spring protest march, held as part of the All-Ukrainian ‘Vpered’ rally, brought nearly 5 thousand protesters onto the street outside the central parliament building. Rally constituents represented nearly every region of Ukraine. They demonstrated a uniform will for the government to recognise and implement a package of legislative initiatives entitled "People's Reform" which was developed with the participation of numerous trade unions and civil organisations. If the government continues to ignore their demands the protesters, including teachers, medical workers, entrepreneurs and miners, promise to push ahead with large-scale protests.

Generally speaking there is no social group left in Ukraine who lacks a legitimate reason to protest against the country’s governance since 2010. The increased tariffs on utility services, new Tax Code, high level of inflation, low salaries, high unemployment are just a few of the reasons forcing Ukrainian people to take to the streets. In summery the increasing social activity can be attributed to the deteriorating social and economic situation and the decreasing standard of living. In light of this, the lack of policies affecting the standard of living and absence of economic support at base level remain the key obstacles to the success of the Yanukovych administration. Protests thus far have remained resolutely non-violent, a credit to the Ukrainian temper, but how long this hold out is a concerning unknown. Solutions are made evermore elusive by the population’s inherent distrust of politicians, regardless of affiliation.

Continued disregard of the needs of the people can only result in one of two outcomes: either total social upheaval, with a pre-term change of power, or mass social depression, manifest in a further escalation of external migration among Ukraine’s precious labour force.

People First Comment:

There seems to be a general belief amongst the authorities and the Rada that the Ukrainian people are a placid lot who after seeing the failure, or more accurately the betrayal, of the principles of the Orange revolution will simply accept on one side a lower standard of living, lower incomes and all the trappings of poverty and on the other that a small minority can get very rich at public expense. This is a very naïve belief because all peoples have their breaking point and Ukraine seems to be rapidly approaching a point of no return.

The first recorded revolution dates back to 2380BC when a popular revolt in the Sumarian city of Lagash deposed King Lugalanda and replaced him with the reformer Urukagina. Since then there have been some 531 revolutions where the oppressed have finally said no. The 20th century was one of the more prolific revolutionary periods of with 194, almost 2 per year, however; the 21st century has already experienced 44 revolutions in only 10.5 years, double the average of the previous century.

All revolutions start from a similar base of oppression, poverty and injustice. In the 21st century the internet, mobile telephony and instant world-wide news reporting have all added to the mix and these conditions are highly prevalent in Ukraine today:
• The electoral system has been engineered to favour the governing party
• The vertical power system coupled with highly questionable voting systems has all but destroyed the opposition which in turn has stifled public debate and disenfranchised the population
• Television and the print media are largely under the control of those loyal to the administration
• The opposition are harassed under the guise of fighting corruption yet the corruption continues unabated
• The tax administration and customs service as well as militia have become little more than state sanctioned bandits
• The judicial system has virtually collapsed in favour of those that can buy justice
• The right of assembly has been curtailed
• 75% of the population live below the poverty line
• 12.5 million live on less than $3.00 per day
• The prices of basic food stuffs have skyrocketed
• The new tax laws have seriously undermined the SME sector with a corresponding impact on jobs and personal security
• The banking crisis has put many people at serious financial risk
• The property bubble has resulted in many families living with negative equity in the homes and unable to meet their obligations
• The hospital and education systems are in the main only available to those who can afford to pay
• The education system was changed without public discussion or approval
• The roads, public buildings and housing are in urgent need of major repair
• The public water supply has been declared a health risk
• The government fails to listen to the voice of the people or to act in their interests preferring to waste money on soviet style grandiose projects that have little or no public benefit such as Euro 2012
• The rich actively flaunt their wealth whilst the rest of the population slides into poverty
• 60% of urban Ukrainian families are now connected to the internet
• Mobile telephony has already reached saturation point
• Young Ukrainians rank 5th in the world for social networking
• 57% of the population would happily emigrate whilst at the same time the US, UK and EU tighten visa requirements and restrict visa quotas
• Ukraine has one of the largest stockpiles of small arms and soviet era munitions in the world
• The Ukrainian military have already demonstrated that in times of public stress that they will side with the people

The government need to heed the warnings before a spark ignites a flame that could easily burn out of control as the people will soon stop believing that there is a guarantor of their rights under the Constitution in Ukraine.

Quote of the week:

Democracy restores to man a consciousness of his value, teaches him by the removal of authority and oppression to listen to the dictates of reason, gives him confidence to treat all other men as his fellow human beings, and induces him to regard them no longer as enemies against whom to be upon his guard, but as brethren whom it becomes him to assist.

William Godwin
British philosopher, 18th century

Democracy Watch is the weekly monitor of the People First Foundation and serves to raise public awareness of how government and parliamentary action is impacting upon Ukrainian democracy and democratic due process. The information is copyright free and may be reproduced but we ask that any comments are reproduced in full and with reference to the People First Foundation.

People First Foundation
1 Skovorody Street, Kyiv 04070, Ukraine
Telephone: +38044 536 1508 / Fax +38044 536 1509

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