BEING THERE: Street Fighting Man

Independence Square, downtown Kiev, Ukraine, 12:25 PM by DEN DIDENKO

KYIV POST: Fisticuffs, beatings, shootings, fires, vandalism, tear gas, Molotov cocktails and smoke bombs have all featured in EuroMaidan, the anti-government protests that seek to dislodge Ukraine’s top officials. But these incidents do not add up to a nation that has descended into chaos or civil war. To the contrary, the radical aggressors of EuroMaidan respect public order for the most part and calibrate their actions to keep the focus on their mission: ousting President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime. That means that while the activists are happy to seize a police bus on Hrushevskoho Street and set it on fire, they leave the fancy boutique storefronts alone on the same street because they have no quibble with the shopkeepers. (One, however, has to overlook the grafitti spraypainted on the sides of many buildings.) So protesters can theoretically throw stones and Molotov cocktails at police while dodging the officers’ rubber bullets and flash grenades, then the two sides can take a break and go to the SushiYa restaurant on the same street.

In two months of confrontation, there has notably not been a single shopfront window broken in Kyiv’s downtown, contrary to civil unrest in other European nations such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France. In those nations, protesters showed no mercy for shop windows. Granted, Ukraine’s protesters aren’t shy about taking apart fences or ripping up paving stones, but those acts of vandalism also serve the larger plan. EuroMaidan protesters are, in fact, focused and goal-oriented. They know very well what they stand for and whom they oppose. The protesters have been criticized for having low discipline, but the assessment seems to be off the mark. Much of the EuroMaidan anger is directed against the endemic corruption of the nation’s top officials. At least one aspect of the ongoing protests seemed to underscore the point, to the embarrassment of the authorities.

The water cannons used by police on Jan. 19 were not operating correctly (in fact, their use at all in subfreezing temperatures against people is considered to be an international human rights violation). It turns out that these machines were purchased by the government for emergency situations during the Euro 2012 football championship co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland. Numerous journalistic exposes reported on the corruption schemes used for government purchases of goods and services for Euro 2012. Much of what the government bought then was of poor quality despite being bought at extremely high prices. So if the poor quality of the water cannons prohibited police from stopping protesters effectively, it would seem that the snake has bitten its own tail. MORE