Since government has existed as an institution, people have opposed it. To our American sensibility — on the coattails of men like Martin Luther King Jr. — peaceful opposition has always been preferable to violence. However, in Kiev, Ukraine, the merit of violent protest was affirmed as the Ukrainian Parliament signed then-President Viktor Yanukovych out of office. Yet, the question remains, how much was lost for this victory, and was it worth it?
The civilian opposition to the Ukrainian government stemmed from a corrupt trade relationship with Russia. Initially, Yanukovych claimed he would sign a treaty that would open trade with the European Union, greatly increasing economic growth.
However, Russia strong armed the president into abandoning the bill by hiking up natural gas prices. The president further added salt to the wound by signing an anti-protest law quickly afterward. In a scramble to preserve their right to free speech, protesters took to the streets, but what started as free speech reform quickly evolved into governmental reform. They wanted to boot Yanukovynch from power.
Recent numbers suggest that 70 people have perished in this protest, and more than 1,000 have been wounded. So, was it worth it? I am forced to say no. Although Yanukovych fled the country, he remains obstinate. In a recent press interview, he stated, “I am not going to resign. I am the legitimately elected President. What we see today is a coup — I did everything to prevent the bloodshed.”
In corrupt, less developed countries, civilian revolt only affords temporary solutions. The power will always circle back to the party with the most weapons and the most resources, in this case Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2004, Yanukovych was kicked from office as the prime minister for election fraud in a similar revolt called “The Orange Revolution.” Yet, in 2010, he “fairly” won the presidential election and came back to power. Yes, it was a victory to remove him from office, but if he or someone equally as corrupt will take his place what was the bloodshed for?
Especially in slavic countries like Ukraine, this endless cycle of abused power seems unceasing. As a sort-of intermediary between Western Europe and Russia, Ukraine has always been in a unique flux between eastern and western influence. With the strict statutes of the EU, and the economic inability to succeed within those statutes, Ukraine will likely always defer to the looser standard of Russia. And although Russia denies any influence over the Ukraine, it is clear they have a hand constantly hovering, waiting to strike.
Meanwhile, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison after two and a half years thanks to protester demands. To the crowd, she said, “No one could do what you have done: eliminate a tumor. … A dictator is gone, and you are the heroes. You are the best of Ukraine.”
I hope that she is right. Yet, time and time again, we have seen blood spilled only to be answered with more blood. Removing Yanukovych from power was a great victory for the Ukrainian people, but now we must see if it holds. Only then, can we assess the success or failure of this revolt, and violent protests as a whole.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @izzyg25