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Bully the Church, Topple Lenin, and Three Other Tactics on the Kiev Barricades

Having concluded their Christmas and New Year's celebrations, anti-government protesters in Ukraine have returned to Kiev's Independence Square. And though their numbers have diminished since the beginning of the protests in November, Sunday still saw a strong showing. Estimates of the crowd varied from 10,000 to 50,000.

Impervious to the demonstrations that have rocked the country for several weeks, President Viktor Yanukovych's government has made several key decisions that the protesters can't hope to change any time soon. By refusing to sign an association agreement with the European Union (though EU envoys and government officials claim that door has not yet been closed), taking $15 billion in aid from Russia, and keeping Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, whom the protesters wanted ousted, in his post, Yanukovych has effectively quashed most of the protester's demands.

Though the authorities have the upper hand, for many of the protesters and their leaders, there is no turning back. They are holding strong on the Maidan, and the continuation of protests sets the stage for a renewed confrontation between the government and protesters. On one side, the government is employing increasingly creative methods to compel the protesters to return to their homes. On the other, protesters are switching up their tactics and digging in for the long haul.  

Here's a look at two strategies adopted by the government.

Beat protesters

After three activists were detained over an alleged terrorist plot, clashes erupted between police and protesters on Friday. Former interior minister, Yuriy Lutsenko, a prominent opposition leader, was badly injured. The use of brutal police force backfired, with protesters rallying around the former minister. Just a few weeks earlier pro-European investigative journalist Tetyana Chornovol was severely beaten by a group of men believed to have been affiliated with the government.

Threaten the church

Protesters in Kiev have found succor in the Greek Catholic Church, whose priests have been frequently spotted in the square, and with the return of demonstrations, the Yanukovych government has struck back at the church. On Monday, the government declared that it would be clamping down on the church -- which follows the Vatican's leadership and claims 10 percent of Ukraine's population among its membership -- if they continued offering religious services to people on the Maidan. Referring to the presence of prayer tents in the square, the Ministry of Culture claimed in a letter to church authorities that religious activity outside of officially designated areas was illegal, according to Polish radio station TOK FM. Unless it leaves the square, the government is vaguely threatening "the cancellation of the church's activities" and criminal charges. Ironically, the authorities claim that the church is violating a law concerning "freedom of conscience and religious meetings."

Here are three opposition strategies. 

Adapt demands

The leaders of the Maidan seem to be well aware of the fact that what they initially set out for -- opening a path to the European Union, loosening ties with Russia, and achieving significant changes in the government's ranks -- won't happen anytime soon. As a result, they have reframed their demands somewhat. The Maidan protesters are still pushing a pro-European agenda and advocating a turn toward the West. Doing so in the aftermath of Yanukovych's decision to spurn the association agreement with the EU, however, requires a new set of objectives. During the revived protests on Sunday, Arseniy Yatsenuk, one of the Maidan leaders, read out a list of the opposition's demands:

- parliament should form an investigative commission to investigate police violence

- elimination of riot police formations;

- review of the budget law;

- adoption of a law freeing protesters from criminal responsibility;

- freedom for political prisoners, especially for ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Call for sanctions

Vitali Klitschko, the boxing champion and one of the most prominent leaders of the anti-government opposition, has now repeatedly called on the European Union to impose sanctions on the Ukrainian government. "I am calling again on European politicians to consider this question as soon as possible. Only personal sanctions against those who are the backbone of the Yanukovych regime can stop this regime," Klitschko said in a video released his party, UDAR. Arseniy Yatsenuk announced on Sunday that he would be sending an envoy to the United States to demand the same during a Senate hearing on Wednesday. U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said that all options were on the table.

Topple all the Lenins

If their calls for political action don't pan out, the opposition can always turn to a classic, picture perfect strategy -- toppling statues. What started with an iconic image for the newfound revolution -- hacking down a monument of the Bolshevik leader near Maidan in early December, is slowly turning into something of a nationwide sport, reportedly practiced with particular vigor by the country's nationalists. Since the New Year, four statues of Lenin have already been vandalized -- splattered with paint and excrement, deprived of limbs, covered in swastikas, and riddled with bullets, according to RFE/RL. As Ukraine has more than 1,300 monuments to the bearded revolutionary, the anti-Lenin vandals still have a ways to go.

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

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Secret Cameramen Reveal North Korea's Tiny Rebellions

When director James Jones set out to make a film about life inside North Korea, he decided early on that it would be pointless to go there himself. "I knew if we went to North Korea we'd get what you've seen 100 times: the official tour, the military parades, the ski resort," he told Foreign Policy.

Instead, he hoped to capture stirrings of dissent or, better yet, overt signs of rebellion from an isolated populace long oppressed by a dictatorial regime -- the sorts of scenes "people are always desperate to see" but don't expect to find, he said. For that, he turned to Jiro Ishimaru, a Japanese journalist who operates an underground network of hidden camera reporters inside North Korea -- individuals who risk imprisonment and even execution to document life inside a country that has, for decades, been painstakingly hidden from view.

The resulting film, an hourlong Frontline documentary titled Secret State of North Korea, is a sweeping, disturbing peek into a misunderstood and rapidly changing society.

For those familiar (as much as one can be) with North Korea, much of the film will seem like a broad overview of what we already know about the heavily veiled country: Its citizens are rigidly controlled, its prison camps overflowing, and its government oppressive and volatile. But the undercover footage adds a deeper, sinister dimension to the usual narrative. We see, for example, the absurd extent of North Korea's propaganda machine -- in the form of a massive, fully stocked and staffed department store that seemingly only exists to be filmed by state media. When one of Ishimaru's undercover reporters attempts to purchase a beverage and, later, apparel from the store, he is told by employees that nothing is for sale, and never will be.

Jones's team follows several recent defectors who have emerged as "very quiet agents of social progress." More than 1,500 people defected from North Korea in 2013, bringing the number of defectors living in South Korea to 26,000. Some of these individuals, Jones reveals, are increasingly using popular culture to challenge the status quo across the border. There's 22-year-old Chanyang, who appears on a weekly South Korean television show that has gained a following north of the border. On the show, she and other defectors -- a uniformly young and attractive group -- discuss current affairs in North Korea in between song-and-dance numbers. Then there's Mr. Jeong, who smuggles foreign movies, television shows, and radios into the country because "the thing that changes people's minds is popular culture," he tells Jones. "It probably has the most important role in bringing about democracy in North Korea."

The signs of protest that Jones had hoped to capture never quite materialize, but the rumblings of dissent -- particularly against the young ruler Kim Jong Un, who has purged many of his father's closest confidants -- are everywhere, it seems. The footage reveals business leaders lamenting their lack of "basic rights," while a government official plainly states that Kim "can't do anything.… No matter how hard he tries, even if it kills him, he's hopeless." In the clip below, members of the military complain about being forced to build a railroad from the supreme leader's birthplace to Pyongyang in the dead of winter, to mark his ascension to power.

There are also other signals of change. In one scene, a woman pushes back against authorities who accost her for violating the country's dress code. In another, a woman running an illegal bus service hits a soldier who tries to cite her. Ordinary citizens listen to black market radios and watch illegal DVDs; even state officials, we are told, consume foreign media voraciously.

One overarching trend among the footage and interviews is that everyone, it seems, is skeptical of Kim's ability to lead. Jones told FP that North Koreans' lack of confidence in the young leader became particularly clear during an interview that wasn't included in the final cut of the film. Jones interviewed a woman who had reluctantly defected to South Korea because her husband hoped to improve their economic situation. "She was still kind of a true believer and spoke very reverently of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il," Jones said. "But even she didn't like Kim Jong Un. She called him a pumpkinhead."

Ultimately, the film portrays North Korea as a country approaching the brink of something monumental -- a military dictatorship trying brutally, but not altogether effectively, to contend with the threats posed by new technology, the inevitable flow of information, and an increasingly discontent populace.

Secret State of North Korea airs on PBS on Tuesday, Jan. 14. (Check your local listings or watch it online.)

AFP Photo/KCNA