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Is Ukraine's Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism?

A debate on whether the rush to back Ukraine's opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin obscures a more complex reality beneath the surface.
 
 
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Ukrainian anti-government protesters have rejected an amnesty bill aimed at ending the country’s political unrest, refusing to vacate occupied government buildings and dismantle their street blockades in exchange for the release of jailed activists. The demonstrations in the Ukraine are collectively referred to as "Euromaidan." They began in late November after President Viktor Yanukovych reversed his decision to sign a long-awaited trade deal with the European Union to forge stronger ties with Russia instead. While the Ukrainian opposition has been hailed in the West as a democratic, grassroots movement, we host a debate on whether the rush to back opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin obscures a more complex reality beneath the surface. We are joined by two guests: Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; and Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian citizen and University College London researcher who has just returned from observing the protests in Kiev.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

Amy Goodman : We turn now to Ukraine, where thousands of anti-government demonstrators have constructed what amounts to a self-sufficient protest city within the capital, Kiev. The standoff prompted the country’s prime minister to resign on Tuesday. Its parliament has agreed to repeal a round of laws that cracked down on dissent. On Wednesday, lawmakers offered an amnesty to protesters who have been arrested during the standoff, but only on the condition that activists vacate buildings they’ve occupied in Kiev and other parts of Ukraine. This is the speaker of the Parliament, Volodymyr Rybak.

Volodymr Rybak : [Translated] Let me remind you that yesterday we have approved the bill number 4007 about the law of Ukraine that ceased to be in force. We have also agreed to discuss today the questions related to the "removal of the negative consequences and non-admission pursuit" and punishment of persons in relation to the events, which took place during peaceful rallies. So, I come up with a proposition to vote on legislation without discussion. I ask people’s deputies to vote.

AG: The government’s amnesty offer was an attempt to get people to remove their barricades and tents from the main protest zone in Kiev. But so far, demonstrators have vowed to continue their occupation.

Stepan: [Translated] If the authorities had shown honesty, according to the mandate they were given, we would trust them. But now they have compromised the guarantees. We have no trust in these authorities. We have doubts in their honesty and decency, and that’s why it’s risky. So we are not leaving. That’s for sure.

Vasil: [Translated] People came here so that all of them would be gone, so that the president would be gone and the government would be gone. We need full change. We cannot go on like this.

AG: The demonstrations in Ukraine are collectively referred to as "Euromaidan." They began in late November after President Viktor Yanukovych reversed his decision to sign a long-awaited trade deal with the European Union in a move that favored stronger ties with Russia instead. The protests rapidly grew in size after a violent police crackdown. While nationalists led the demonstrations at first, others have since joined the movement. At least five protesters have been killed in clashes with police; hundreds have been injured. Police have also attacked dozens of journalists, destroyed their equipment. As tensions continued to increase on Wednesday, Ukraine’s first post-independence president, Leonid Kravchuk, emphasized the seriousness of the crisis.

Leonid Kravchuk : [Translated] The situation is, frankly, very dramatic. All the world acknowledges, and Ukraine acknowledges, that the state is on the brink of civil war. There are parallel authorities in the country, and there is a de facto uprising. When the power is taken over, which is a real fact, when the power is falling down and the constitutional authorities refuse to honor their responsibilities, it becomes clear that this is a fall of the power. This is simply a revolution.