Four years after the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine: key gains and losses


File 20180406 125191 7dplxv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
In Kyiv in February 2014, riot police line up opposite crosses marking the deaths of protesters. More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Euromaidan protests began in late 2013.
Christiaan Triebert/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Olga Oleinikova, University of Sydney

This article is part of the Revolutions and Counter Revolutions series, curated by Democracy Futures as a joint global initiative between the Sydney Democracy Network and The Conversation. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


On November 21 2013, massive protests under the European Union flag erupted in the central square of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. The Euromaidan revolution demanded democratic values and decried the kleptocratic regime of the then president, Viktor Yanukovych. In the next three months, a hundred activists were killed, Russia annexed Crimea and supported breakaway forces in a war that tore apart eastern Ukraine.

Violence continues today. By late 2017, more than 10,000 people had been killed and an estimated 2 million forcibly displaced. Nevertheless, the Euromaidan revolution has resulted in democratic and social gains, but also significant setbacks, for Ukraine.

Four gains

1. The birth of civil society

Euromaidan was the catalyst for the birth of civil society in Ukraine. Opinion polls suggest that, since the protests, Ukrainians have higher levels of patriotism and trust in each other, and are more optimistic about the nation’s future. The level of civic activity and desire to contribute to the nation’s development have increased.

In October 2015, 41% of Ukrainians reported being more willing to donate (12% were less willing), while 33% were more willing to protect their rights, freedoms and dignity (compared to 8% whose readiness declined). Furthermore, 22% were more willing to volunteer in the local community and 18% reported an increased willingness to join a civil society organisation.

In 2012, 23% of Ukrainians made donations, increasing to 41% in 2014 and 47% in 2015. This growth is significant given the impoverished conditions people faced around the country.

Unfortunately, these civic gains have failed to translate into real political activity. Low turnouts at elections (especially among 18 to 29-year-olds, the most active and educated citizens) and citizens voting according to populist television advertising or accepting “gifts” in exchange for “correct” voting are all reasons for the slow pace of progressive reform, and the even slower replacement of the political elite.

2. The Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement

On September 1 2017, the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, which was negotiated between 2007 and 2011 and signed in 2014, finally entered into full force. The agreement is seen within the country as the main tool for bringing Ukraine closer to the EU because it promotes stronger political ties and economic links, as well as respect for common European values.

The hope is that the agreement, including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), will provide a framework for modernising Ukraine’s trade relations and economic development by opening up markets and harmonising laws, standards and regulations with EU and international norms.

In August 2017, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said:

We have only one road to follow – a wide Euro-Atlantic highway leading to membership in the European Union and NATO.

3. Visa-free travel in the EU

The EU lifted visa requirements for Ukrainians on June 11 2017. The move sparked joy among Ukrainians and raised their expectations for a better future in an aspiring EU member country.

All Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports can now enter the Schengen area without a visa for up to 90 days for tourism or business. However, they are not allowed to work in the EU.

4. Reform program begins

In the summer of 2016, long-awaited judicial reform began. Amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution on the judiciary and a few corresponding laws were adopted. However, it is too early to evaluate these changes.

Ukraine has also taken steps towards greater transparency to combat corruption. Government officials are now obliged to declare their assets and property. The results have displayed a shocking concentration of wealth in one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Ukraine’s online procurement system, ProZorro, has already become a global brand, with the World Bank planning to adopt it for its Ukrainian projects.

Still, these efforts are only a small first step towards eliminating corruption. Education, energy and regional reforms are yet to take place. These will require serious financing and take a long time.

Five losses

1. War

Ukraine’s decision to pursue a “Western direction” caused a wave of social cleavages in cross-border, multi-ethnic southern and eastern Ukraine. The tensions resulted in the Russian annexation of Crimea and war around two Russian-backed breakaway provinces.

Every day, thousands cross the line of contact, between areas controlled by Ukrainian government and separatist forces, to visit relatives and obtain basic goods and services.
EU Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operation/Flickr, CC BY-ND

The war has touched every facet of social, economic and political life in the country. Here are some telling facts:

  • 10,225 citizens had been killed as of August 15 2017

  • 1.4 million people had been internally displaced by August 2015

  • Ukraine’s population is projected to shrink to 36 million by 2050

  • emigration has increased significantly in the last four years.

2. Economic decline

Due to the war in the Donbass region and the breakdown of relations with Russia, Ukraine’s largest trading partner, the economy shrank by 6.8% in 2014 and 10.4% in 2015, according to the state statistics service. The National Bank of Ukraine stated a 11.6% decline in 2015, while the World Bank registered a 12% shrinkage.

In 2016, the economic collapse was halted as GDP inched up 0.1% in the first quarter and 1.4% in the second. However, these marginal gains were short-lived, as the economy shrank again by 6.1% by April 2017. Even if the economy now manages to sustain 3-4% annual growth, it will take four to five years to return to 2013.

3. Remaining corruption

Post-Euromaidan Ukraine has seen little change in state and institutional corruption. The several anti-corruption institutions created in the past four years are scattered and the country still lacks anti-corruption courts and effective preventive tools. Anti-corruption activists are still subject to prosecutions and attacks.

Ukraine only managed to move up one point in the global Corruption Perceptions Index in 2016 and 2017, ranking 131 and 130 out of 176 and 180 nations respectively.

Disappointment with the government and poverty levels is growing. In 2016, only 9% of Ukrainians were satisfied with the president’s actions, with 70% dissatisfied. [LINK to poll] Only 5% were satisfied with the government and 58% were not. And only 2% were satisfied with parliament’s performance, with 83% dissatisfied.

4. Setbacks for freedom of speech and the free media

With the war in eastern Ukraine came an information war between Ukraine and Russia. As a result, freedom of speech and the media in Ukraine has significantly deteriorated in the past four years, with unavoidable radicalisation on both sides of politics.

There is little media diversity, as just a few oligarchs control the top outlets. President Poroshenko, for instance, owns his own television channel.

Anti-government views are often deemed “pro-Russian”, effectively chilling freedom of expression. The intolerance of opposition media is violently visible. There have been protests and scandal over “pro-Russian views”, with broadcast studios being burnt.

Dozens of journalists have been denied entry to Ukraine. Human Rights Watch has urged Ukraine to protect free media and drop its ban on Russian and Western journalists.

5. A wary EU

Ukraine will definitely not be able to become a member of the EU in the next 20 to 25 years, and not of NATO either. – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in March 2016

While Juncker did not explain why Ukraine would have to wait so long, his speech was aimed at reassuring Dutch voters that the association agreement with Ukraine was not a step towards quick EU membership.

In April 2016, 61% of votes in a Dutch referendum rejected the agreement (a 32% turnout was barely enough for the result to be valid), in a rebuke to their government and the EU establishment. The broad political, trade and defence treaty – already signed by the Dutch government and approved by all other EU nations, along with Ukraine – provisionally took effect in January 2016.

A pro-EU rally attracted a huge crowd in Kyiv on November 24 2013, but membership now appears to be a long way off.
Ivan Bandura/Flickr, CC BY

A recent opinion poll suggests that 58% Europeans support Ukraine joining NATO, and 48% support Ukraine joining the EU. But, in 2015, when the first such poll was held, a majority (55%) favoured Ukraine becoming an EU member. Today, the idea is best supported in Lithuania and Poland (68% and 67% respectively), and least supported in the Netherlands (27%). The level of support in France, Germany and the UK is less than half of the people polled.

Tracking the results of opinion polls on Ukraine joining the European Union.

Evidently, the post-Euromaidan government efforts failed to make the case in the West for Ukraine to gain EU membership. Whether the EU will admit Ukraine (and when) is a big question. Within Ukraine, plenty of work remains to be done to ensure the success of its ambitious plans for economic growth, modernisation and accelerated democratisation.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the series here.

Olga Oleinikova, Postdoctoral Research Fellow & Director of Ukraine Democracy Initiative, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Russian Patriarch unveils Kremlin icon hidden since 1917


A fresco of Christ on the Kremlin Wall in Moscow rediscovered after being plastered over during the 1917 Bolshevik revolution has been presented in a ceremony attended by Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, reports Ecumenical News International.

"The history of these icons is a symbol of what happened with our people in the 20th century," said Kirill at the 28 August ceremony. "It was claimed that true goals and values and genuine shrines were destroyed, and that faith had disappeared from the lives of our people."

The fresco of Christ is located over the Spasskaya, or Saviour, tower of the Kremlin, near St Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square. Experts say it dates to the middle or second half of the 17th century.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

Iran’s revolution celebration brings rejection of Islam


Iranian authorities clashed with opposition supporters Thursday as thousands rallied in Tehran to mark the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic. Arrests and tear gas marred the celebration, reports MNN.

Evangelist Sammy Tippit broadcasts television programming into Iran via satellite, and he says what’s happening is ironic. "There was a revolution that took place that brought the people back to Islam and made this an Islamic republic. As a result of that, the people have now seen Islam for what it is, and they are rejecting that."

One Iranian leader says the most effective evangelist in Iran is the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. "When he came in, it exposed what real Islam is all about." Iranians have lived under the oppression he imposed and are rejecting it.

Tippit says Iranians are looking for freedom. "The greatest freedom in the world is in Christ, so that’s why so many people are turning to Christ," says Tippit.

He adds, "Christians have had a wonderful opportunity during this time [to share the Gospel], but it’s also been a very difficult time for them." He continues, "The government has used the Christians as kind of a ‘whipping boy’. They say, ‘Okay, we have to take this out on someone,’ so they’ve really cracked down on Christians."

Tippit, who is considered an enemy of the state, says there is a huge need right now. The "many people coming to Christ [need training] to help build up the church during this time of great stress that’s going on."

That training is done outside Iran. Tippit says, "We have our Web site that’s in the Farsi language. And, we have our conference in what I call ‘safe places’ where we bring leaders from outside the country and inside the country to train them and help them to grow in Christ."

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

IRAN: THREE CONVERTS ORDERED TO STOP ‘CHRISTIAN ACTIVITIES’


Judge puts them on probation, threatening them with ‘apostasy’ trial.

LOS ANGELES, March 31 (Compass Direct News) – Declaring three Iranian Christians guilty of cooperating with “anti-government movements,” a court in Shiraz on March 10 ordered the converts to discontinue Christian activities and stop propagating their faith.

An Islamic Revolutionary Court judge handed an eight-month suspended prison sentence with a five-year probation to Seyed Allaedin Hussein, Homayoon Shokouhi, and Seyed Amir Hussein Bob-Annari. The judge said he would enforce their prison sentence and try them as “apostates,” or those who leave Islam, if they violate terms of their probation – including a ban on contacting one another.

A new penal code under consideration by the Iranian Parliament includes a bill that would require the death penalty for apostasy.

“The warning that they will be ‘arrested and tried as apostates’ if they continue their Christian activities is quite chilling,” said a regional analyst who requested anonymity.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court was created after Iran’s 1979 revolution to prosecute those suspected of seeking to depose the Islamic regime. The “anti-government movements” referred to by the judge are satellite television stations Love Television and Salvation TV. Unlike the Internet, which is heavily censored in Iran, the two 24-hour satellite TV stations can bypass government information barriers.

Sources said links between the accused and these organizations, however, remain tenuous.

“The TV link came up almost six months after [the original arrests], so it is very new,” said an informed source. “We believe they just made it up, or it is something they want to make appear more important than is the reality.”

The three men were arrested by security forces on May 11, 2008 at the Shiraz airport while en route to a Christian marriage seminar in Dubai. According to a report by Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), at that time the families of the three men avoided formal charges by agreeing to terms of release, including payment of a bond amount. Details of the terms were undisclosed.

 

Churches Pressured

The sentencing of three converts from Islam follows more than 50 documented arrests of Christians in 2008 alone, and the recent government crackdown includes Christian institutions that minister beyond Iran’s tiny indigenous Christian community.

On March 19, Assyrian Member of Parliament Yonathan Betkolia announced that by order of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, an Assyrian Pentecostal church in Tehran would be closed. According to FCNN, the church in the Shahrara area of Tehran was facing closure because it offered a Farsi-language service attended by converts from Islam.

During a speech following his election to Parliament in October, Betkolia had lauded freedoms accorded to minority groups in Iran, and he has publicly protested the Shahrara church allowing “non-Assyrians” – that is, Muslims – to attend services. The regional analyst said that Betkolia made these pronouncements as the increase in government pressure on the Christian community has put him in a difficult position.

“As a representative of the Assyrian community, a priority for Betkolia is to ensure the preservation of the limited freedoms and relative peace his traditional Christian community enjoys,” said the analyst. “Disassociation from a church which has welcomed believers from a Muslim background should therefore be seen as a form of self-defense.”

The number of Assyrian Christians in the country is estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000, with estimates of Armenian Christians in Iran ranging from 110,000 to 300,000.

Advocacy organization Human Rights Activists in Iran strongly criticized the decision to close the Assyrian church.

“The closing of the church is clearly a violation of human rights,” the organization stated, “because the right to change one’s religion and the right of self-expression are hereby targeted by the Islamic Revolutionary Court.”

The pastor of the Shahrara church has indicated that cancelling Farsi-language services may allow it to continue, though it was unclear at press time whether the congregation’s leadership was willing to make that compromise. FCNN reported in February that church leaders had on some occasions cancelled Farsi-language services at church.  

Report from Compass Direct News

IRAN: BOREDOM WITH ISLAM


The video footage below provides an insight into changing times within Iran. Though this video was posted a year ago, the situation is continuing along the same lines – a revolution against Islam.

The move to bring in an apostasy law in Iran against those leaving Islam should be seen against the backdrop of declining Islamic thought in Iran. The apostasy law seems to be a last desperate move to prevent the collapse of Islamic religion in Iran.

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT COLLAPSES


After the 2004 Orange Revolution hope returned to the then recently independent Ukraine, following the corrupt rule of the pro-Moscow government of Viktor Yanukovych. Now, the coalition of President Viktor Yushchenko (Our Ukraine bloc) and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (Tymoshenko bloc) has fallen apart, with Tymoshenko siding with the former Ukrainian ruler Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions party.

Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party has withdrawn from the ruling coalition and now has 30 days to form a new coalition government or call a snap election. The coalition government was officially declared dissolved by the parliament speaker last Tuesday.

The Ukraine and the world now wait to see what will come of the former Soviet Republic and whether the country will slide once again towards anarchy and/or towards Russian influence.

View scenes from the Orange Revolution: