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What Kievs Democratic Turn Means for Moscow

Published: February 26, 2014 (Issue # 1799)




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Last week, the Ukrainian opposition suddenly gained a parliamentary majority through democratic and legal means as lawmakers defected in droves from President Viktor Yanukovych after his killing of 82 people in Kiev in three days. On Feb. 22, the president was impeached with the required two-thirds majority. It is still early to say how this transition to democracy will work, but it looks promising. What will this mean to Russia?

The Ukrainian protests present a challenge to all Russians. Putin must realize the Eurasian Union is stillborn and Russia needs the EU.

For the last three decades, I have been deeply involved in both Russia and Ukraine. To a foreigner, common Russian attitudes toward Ukraine are clearly contradictory. Russians will tell you that Ukrainians are their brother nation, but at the same time they claim that Ukraine is not a real nation, Ukrainian not an actual language, and Ukrainians are intellectually backward. Russians can barely hide their superiority complex toward Ukraine. Ukrainians take note and object in their quiet, polite fashion.

In late 2004, the Orange Revolution turned the tables on the Russians. Suddenly, Ukraine was ahead in terms of democracy, freedom and modernity, although not in economic policy or wealth. President Vladimir Putin swiftly adopted a series of laws to curtail civil society and safeguard his authoritarian rule. Since the Orange government turned out to be disorganized, Putin could relax.

In February 2010, Yanukovych won a free but not very fair presidential election with 49 percent of the vote in a runoff. At the time, the common view was that Yanukovych would turn into a Putin by installing a political vertical of power and greatly enriching his loyalists.

Yanukovychs problem was that he had not learned Putins sophisticated art of sharing. Instead, he concentrated all wealth in a tiny family circle, alienating everybody else. His political base did not expand but narrowed. As his political legitimacy dwindled, he imposed more repression. Russians have accepted some repression because their standard of living has risen palpably, but Yanukovychs predatory economic policies caused economic output to stagnate.

In the end, Ukrainians asked themselves, Why should we accept a leader who robs and represses our country and only cares about himself?

But dissatisfaction alone is rarely sufficient. It requires a catalyst to be unleashed. Foolishly, Yanukovych provided such a catalyst with the European Union agreement that he first endorsed and then rejected. Few were concerned about the free-trade agreement, but it represented a choice of civilization. Would Ukraine go for European values freedom and justice, democracy and the rule of law or for corruption and authoritarianism? To Ukrainians, the choice was clearcut, and they stood up in protest.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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