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.
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.
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.
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