Гітарний перебор by Michael Shchur / Майкл Щур

An update to the sounds of revolution (https://uauk.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/music-and-revolution/)
One of Ukraine’s leading satirists Майкл Щур makes a powerful song about the excesses of the current regime, with a title that is a pun too subtle for me to translate (it involves перебор as being both excessive violence and a guitar song)
Michael Shchur – who plays a journalist apparently from the Toronto diaspora in order to lull his political targets into a false sense of security – has a youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/uttoronto?feature=watch

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Another letter to the students a fortnight on.

Since I have to leave Ukraine today, on the 18th day the protests, in order to attend my PhD viva in Britain, this blog will be updated less frequently for the next week or so. Before departing, I have emailed my current students. 

As concerns the potential revolution in Ivano-Frankivsk, the daily meetings continue, as does the literary “bastion” on Mickiewicz Square  in all weather. Today sees a new mode of gathering: an ecumenical prayer for Ukraine at 14:00. The students have been asked to schedule their strikes at 14:00, too, next week in order to avoid disrupting classes. This seems like an effort to trouble the solidarity between students and workers. Judging from meetings with students, however, it seems that many of them have their upcoming exams as their chief concern, thus the protests are seen among some students as something of an inconvenience, especially with a sense of slowing momentum taking hold. An interesting debate took place on TSN, the news service on oligarch-run 1+1 TV, between the mayors of Ivano-Frankivsk and Donetsk. Although there was tension between them, the interview made clear that Ukraine needs more intra-national dialogue in order to facilitate a functional state.Image

The Literary resistance continues in all weathers.

 

Dear Students,

Two weeks ago I wrote to you all at a time when it was not clear what would emerge from the first sparks of protest in Ukraine against the government’s decision to abandon the EU Association Agreement. 
The situation, in terms of what the outcome of this insurgent wave of protests will be, remains unclear. However, it is clearly evident that a large section of Ukrainian society – particularly in your region of western Ukraine – supports Ukraine’s European aspirations, while also finding the current government’s politics and its treatment of peaceful protest objectionable.
It is also clear that, when called upon, students in Ivano-Frankivsk can join a wave of protests, developing consciousness and awareness of the civil, social, political and geopolitical conditions that will shape not only the future of your country but also – and perhaps more importantly – your generation’s future. 
Perhaps two weeks ago not all of you were aware of why your Student Senate and your colleagues were summoning you to strike or why it should be students who lead the protests and encourage a broader swathe Ukrainian society to take to the streets.
I would say that your university, our university, has not been as supportive as it could be of the strikes and student protests. Firstly, it took until the twelfth day of protests for our rector to make an official statement (the gathering on Tuesday by the Stefanyk Statue https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjqF_towpXg). His speech was not explicit in supporting the student protests and strikes, while it also failed to answer many questions which I know concern many of you: what will happen to lessons missed, to exams, to your grades or your stipends.
Secondly, there has been no overall policy from the university meaning that not only each deparmental/institutional Dean but indeed individual lecturers have been able to impose their own vision on the protests (so ordering you to attend classes when you would rather be on strike or threatening punishment for non-attendance). This lack of policy has led to confusion and weakened the strike movement. There has also been, as far as I can tell, no official policy issued to lecturers and what they should do during the strike hours. This has meant that the traditional student-lecturer divide has remained intact at a time when unity and solidarity is required more than ever.
Thirdly, on Thursday the rectors of our university, the Oil and Gas University and the Medical University issued a request for students to move their strike from 11:30 to 14:00 so that fewer classes would be disrupted. Intentionally or not, this has the effect of disrupting the solidarity between students and workers who are on strike and customarily gathered at midday at the ODA (white house) building.
I would argue that these are not the actions of a university that fully supports students’ and society’s actions towards a European future.
 
The question now, regardless of the outcome of the current protests, is what can you and your colleagues achieve. Speaking to some of you in the past fortnight, I realise that there remains a sense of despondency that you cannot change much in the spheres that affect you directly: the structure and reality of your studies in particular. Indeed, it is a particular irony of these protests that you have shown yourselves more willing to challenge the government and the state apparatus, including its Berkut riot police, than your university authorities.
Another irony of these protests and strikes is that for the first time in your university experience you have a structure of studies which resembles that of European countries. Your Dean has asked that you attend two classes a day and only in your main subjects. In this situation you have around 15 hours a week of seminars and lectures, all centred on courses that are related to your major subject.
Your university declares itself  ‘Найкращий класичний університет Прикарпаття європейського зразка’ (https://www.facebook.com/VasylStefanykPrecarpathianNationalUniversity/info?ref=ts). However, I have studied in four different European higher education systems and I see very few similarities in those systems to that which exists here. 
In all four of the higher education systems I have studied under: students have a choice of courses within their major degree subject; they are not put into groups in Year 1 and left to experience studies with the same 10-15 people for four-five years; students have a maximum of 15 hours per week of lectures and seminars; the Bologna Process consists of more than simply giving marks out of 100 at the end of each semester; students have time to participate in university life and student life in autonomous forms; a bachelor degree usually lasts three years not four; a semester is about 12 weeks, not 17; there is no bribery or terror imposed on students; there is little overt nepotism; there is toilet paper in the toilets.
I realise that you might think that it is best to keep quiet and avoid causing trouble within your university, that it is best to simply get your degree certificate and leave. But the terror and corruption that can emerge within the higher education system here – eliciting bribes, refusing to give pass grades to students who complain, allowing “favoured” students to pass courses and get their degree without the same effort required of ordinary students – will pass into the next generation of Ukrainian society if you do not combat it now.
You are that generation who will make the future of Ukraine. Even if the pro-European political and civil forces succeed in the current revolution, Ukrainian social and educational structures will not simply change by order from above. People like you need to change the system in its everyday forms, the forms you experience and will experience, from below.
Now is a pivotal moment in Ukraine’s history. The events in Kyiv will grab the media’s attention, the politicians’ attention, the world’s attention. But the only way to ensure that you experience a European future – without abandoning your country – is to work towards this consciously on an everyday level. Changing your university is a good start.
How to achieve this, I don’t know. But a good start would be to break down the barriers between groups within the same course. Groups 11, 21, 31, 41 speak to groups 12, 22, 32, 42, and you speak to 13, 23, 33, 43. And then students of foreign languages speak to students in history and philosophy, and to students in computer science and in physics. And Precarpathian students speak to Oil and Gas students. Ivano-Frankivsk students speak to Lviv students and Kyiv students and Kharkiv students and Luhansk students. Ukrainian students speak to Polish students, to Czech students, to Molodovan students, to Russian students. And don’t just speak, but meet, exchange ideas and – most important of all – work together.
Whoever, in the Soviet times, thought of the system of dividing university students into fixed groups did so for a reason. It was to limit the spread of ideas and criticism. It was part of a system of divide and rule. There is no reason for that to exist now.
Work together, talk together, don’t let the system of divided groups and divided departments make you think that your fellow students are competitors. They are your colleagues and comrades. Work together, think together, meet together, and then change will happen organically.
Universities produce the people who make the future society of a country. Politicians – whatever their political outlook – cannot change a country alone from the top down.
This is your task now, to change the country from below.
I am leaving Ukraine today because of unavoidable circumstances: I have my thesis defence (viva) next week in Glasgow, Scotland. However, I will come back as soon as I can and look forward to working directly with those of you that I am scheduled to teach in 2014. Those of you who, sadly, are no longer my students, this does not mean that our collaboration is over. University, after all, should be about more than just what happens inside a seminar room or lecture theatre.
Good luck with your exams and your revolution.
See you in 2014
 

Days 13 and 14: Poetic manifestations, court threats and a moral quandry

The region-wide general strike in Ivano-Frankivsk continues, with a mass rally each day outside the regional administration building. However, the local Party of Regions councillors have complained to a court about the strikes. Equally, the large-scale blockades of ministries and state administration buildings in Kyiv have been considered by a court, which has given protesters five days to clear the pickets before threatening the use of force. Whether the government would dare to use force against the population again is unclear given the global coverage that the clearance of the Euromaidan on Independence Square received and, in particular, given the popular outrage and mobilisation that this inspired. The blockades could, however, inspire dialogue between the opposition and the government following the failed vote of no confidence.

It is becoming clear that the initial pro-EU protests have become more political, with bringing down the Yanukovych-Azarov Party of Regions government the dominant aim now that the EU Association Agreement is an unlikely prospect under that government. This realisation has meant a shift away from the insistence on a purely civil protest, focussed on Ukraine’s and the city’s proto-civil society and the rise of political parties’ influence. For the first time, then, party tents appeared at Ivano-Frankivsk’s evening rally, with Svoboda and Batkivshchyna present. Of the opposition parties, Klitschko’s Udar was absent. Earlier in the protests, before the failure of Ukraine to sign the agreement, Svoboda had pitched tents outside the Regional Administration in the city, but these were removed as the civil nature of the protests prevailed. This is unlikely to be repeated now as the civil side of the protests fades and government-level negotiations take centre stage, against a background of the continued popular occupation of Kyiv and blockades of government/ state institutions.

Since the start of the protests in Ukraine, it has been evident to me that ordinary people themselves clearly sought to distance themselves from being declared “political” – as being “political” was perceived as necessarily being involved in a party, something that clearly bears some form of social stigma. Thus the civil thrust of the protests and manifestations was expressive of a popular will, although it is now clear that the civil movement can now achieve little without engaging with opposition political parties, even if this arouses some degree of scepticism. (A number of cities’ Euromaidans barred political figures from appearing on their stages, at least initially).

Although the protests are increasingly political in terms of the accepted involvement of politicians, ordinary people’s actions and generosity are the spine of the Kyiv protests.  Ivano-Frankivsk citizens raised around 80,000 UAH (some €750) in two days to offer support for the 1,500 or so locals who are in Kyiv. Indeed, the Kyiv Christmas tree at the centre of the re-occupied Independence Square, is now decorated with flags from all over Ukraine, although western regions are predominant.

The protests have also inspired alternative forms of creative use of the streets that would not happen in any other circumstances. Thus, starting yesterday, a Literary Maydan was launched, with local people – as the pictures below show – coming to Mickiewicz Square to read their own poetry or literary creations, as well as works by others. Starting at midday, the event was still going strong after 3 p.m.

At the university, meanwhile, the system of a semi-strike continues, with students told by the dean of one department to reschedule classes for the first and second lessons, meaning that they can strike from 11:30 onwards. They should also ensure that the reschedule only their core courses, rather than attend the many minor subjects. (I have written about this previously). The students are coming to appreciate this European-style scheduling, which has reduced their contact time by half, so to something approaching European standards.

Tomorrow, however, I face something of a quandry, since a group has asked me to teach our scheduled class in the third period, which is the time that the strikes begin. Since few lecturers are evidently striking or even encouraging protests – in contrast to this excellent Lviv lecturer – my reservations have struck the students as unusual. I have thus proposed to meet 15 minutes before the scheduled seminar at a neutral point – the corridor by the lifts – to take a democratic vote on how to conduct the class and where to conduct it, with options of the usual classroom, a university cafe or a city-centre cafe available, as well as any students’ own suggestions. Since these are the first strikes these students have participated in, or indeed ever heard of in many cases, it can be difficult to communicate the moral economy of a strike – so there is no sense that holding the third class is an expression of a lack of solidarity, that it is breaking the strike and could be the action of a “scab”. I have left myself at mercy of the students’ democratic will, although even the concept of majority voting can be difficult in a system where there are class monitors who are often entrusted with taking decisions on behalf of the whole group. It is rare for any group to have overtly split opinion and dividing itself accordingly.

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Literary Maidan in Ivano-Frankivsk, 4 December 2013. Ordinary people gather to read their own poetic work or recite others’ literary creations by the Adam Mickiewicz monument in the city centre.

 

Days 10, 11 and 12: Strikes, ‘provocateurs’ and a rector speaks.

After the shock of the violent clearance of Independence Square in Kyiv early on Saturday and a sense that the carnival was over, the spontaneous occupation of St Michael’s Square followed by the mass demonstrations on Sunday revived hopes and gave fresh impetus to popular action. Indeed, masses of protesters are now leaving the provinces, particularly from Western Ukraine, and descending on Kyiv, with road blocks now far less restrictive than they had been a week ago. (One bus left from outside my place of work this evening – see below). Sunday’s protests in Kyiv even saw an attempt to break through lines of riot police outside the presidential administration using a bulldozer, something that has raised various accusations of “provocation” by government forces or hooliganism by right-wing militias. This event, which somewhat overshadowed the fact that at least 200,000 took to the streets of Kyiv on Sunday, reclaiming Independence Square and barricading off the government quarters while claiming Kyiv City Hall, has a resonance in Ivano-Frankivsk – the focus of this blog exploring revolution from the provinces. Meanwhile, the mass protests in Kyiv have been overshadowed themselves today by the failure to secure a vote of no confidence against the government.

In Ivano-Frankivsk on Sunday, too, mass gatherings took place, with a general strike announced for municipal and state workers (beyond essential industries and sectors, such as healthcare). This has been effective, with regional administration workers joining their colleagues on Tuesday. This strike has aided participation in mass protests in the city, as well as travel to Kyiv. On Monday some 15,000 people gathered at lunchtime outside the regional administration office, while at least 10,000 were present again today. Peaceful protest was given full support, as the mayor also joined the strike. On Monday evening, however, around 20:00 with some 500-1000 people gathered outside the regional administration building, a small group – including an allegedly-drunk councillor – broke into the building which was protected only by ordinary police. The mayor, together with the police, subsequently brought the situation under control.

The mayor, Viktor Anushkevychus, then made an emotional appeal to those gathered outside, who turned out to be young men, even boys, telling them quite clearly not to be idiots and to keep the peace. The young men declared that they had been informed of a “provocation” at the regional administration building and had come to help. However, it seems quite clear that there was no real “provocation”, so no government insiders trying to spark a situation, merely some over-zealous members of a grouping called ‘Pravij Sektor’ (Right Sector) who had decided to attempt to storm the building. The mayor, as shown in the video above, was concerned that any violence could be used by the government as an excuse to impose a state of emergency in the country. The mayor also referred to the situation in Kyiv, with the attempt to storm the presidential administration – an attempt which has been framed as one instigated by government provocateurs. There might be some credibility in those claims about Kyiv, but in Ivano-Frankivsk I myself witnessed an impromptu march and gathering by members of Pravij Sektor and the associated Tryzub (Trident) organisation after 9 p.m. on Sunday night. The leaders issued calls for armed rebellion and shouted down calls for peaceful protest. It seems that there are some in the city – in proto-paramilitary militias in particular – for whom a more Romantic form of armed rebellion in battle is a more appealing model than the more peaceful, negotiated route to overcoming the current rulers. However, ordinary civilians – as in Kyiv – proved here, too, quite adept at calming down the situation, ensuring that strikes and civil disobedience, rather than violence and Molotov cocktails become the face of these protests.

The attempted storming made it onto State Television news and was accompanied by footage from a Party of Regions rally featuring an MP declaring victory over Western Ukrainian fascists and “banderovtsy” (nationalist bandits) following the failure of the vote of no confidence. As an aside, the coverage on state television is more balanced generally now, with images of pro-EU, anti-government protests featuring prominently and not only in the framework provided by the Party of Regions.

The mass strikes now involving civil servants are an extension of the earlier student strikes, indicating something of a growing unity of Ukrainian society. Today, the rector of my university here finally spoke after limiting – much like President Yanukovych (now nicknamed “Yanusescu”) – his public appearances to a brief interviews with specially-selected media for the duration of the protests so far. The rector, whose speech I recorded, accompanied by his vice-rectors and other allies, deigned to speak to his students and staff at a grandiose gathering at the university’s central quad, beside the statue dedicated to the university’s patron. He declared that the university had always been supportive of the students’ actions and their peaceful protests, as well as their aspirations for Europe. On the subject of which he issued some generalities about what “Europe” means, although there was little talk of reforming the university which declares itself “Precarpthia’s Finest European-type university”. The grandiose gathering, or summoning of the students, also featured this music which has drawn derision here since the start of the protests.

The rector failed, however, to answer any of the questions which most concern the students in terms of their university life: will they lose marks for attending protests during the period of official silence? Will they have to make up missed classes (something that also concerns staff who have largely been present at the university during classes affected by strikes)? Will their exams take place at the end of this month as planned? Still, the students’ participation in the mass demonstrations continue, while continuing to attend the first and second classes each day enables them to discuss further action, while also maintain a sense that their studies are continuing. While municipal staff are now on their general strike in three regions of SW Ukraine (Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk), the students here continue to operate in their “warning strike” mode, so only attending part of the classes.

The advice of the dean of my department is for students to organise their days so that they only attend courses that form part of their major subject. A bane of the Ukrainian university system is that students have around 30 hours a week of contact time even in the humanities, with much of this taken up by subsidiary courses consisting by and large of an introduction to almost every other social science and humanities subject, as well as some “vocational” courses ( for example, health and safety at work; but no one has asked why the fire escapes are often padlocked shut). The irony of this advice from the Dean is that with just fifteen hours a week in class, with courses focused on the students’ majors, the strikes and protests have resulted in the students receiving a European-type course structure (albeit still without any element of choice of courses). In a meeting in a city-centre cafe with some students today – an informal way of keeping English classes going while also generating cross-group discussion (students here are limited to courses with the same group of 10-15 students throughout their university life) – I tried to communicate this fact.

This discussion – highly unusual in terms of breaking down usual staff/student barriers here – also revealed that some students who had initially felt compelled by an order from university staff to attend the protests had now come to realise the greater sense and aspirations behind Ukraine’s protests, of which they were now part. However, the prevailing mood was that while the country’s rulers might be changeable and could be toppled, the university system will remain as it has been long after they have graduated. The fleeting nature of students’ presence at these institutions, while the less-than-dynamic staff turnover in Ukrainian higher education, mean that their despondent predictions regarding higher education seem likely to be borne out. At least perhaps until all young Ukrainians can study abroad – rather than only those whose parents can afford foreign tuition fees – and even greater competition will force reforms on higher education here.

Certainly the student protests laid foundations for the current mass strike in this region, which means that numbers of older Ukrainians are travelling to Kyiv, while the part-time nature of the warning strike here actually serves to keep the mass of students in place.

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One bus ready to leave for Kyiv, taking a coach-load of protesters and the necessary provisions. Hopefully the revolution will also bring about an end to unnecessary spelling errors.

 

Music and Revolution

Today, one of Ukraine’s biggest rock bands VeVe (V.V or Vopli Vodipliassova; Воплі Відоплясова) had a long-planned concert in Ivano-Frankivsk. The concert was excellent, featuring a sound system for the 500-seat Regional Philharmonic that would have been sufficient for the Albert Hall, as well as a selection of songs from their 25+ year-long career. The band’s leader Oleh Skrypka, together with the guitarist, stopped by the daily six p.m. gathering in central Ivano-Frankivsk and played the national anthem, while also encouraging the population to keep to peaceful protest. 

The music at the Ivano-Frankivsk gatherings has not always been this rousing – and skilled – however. On the first day of mass gatherings, so Friday 22 December, a young female singer – who appeared for the next few days and on 3 December was at the university when the rector finally made a statement, adding some grandeur to this occasion – attempted to keep the crowds’ attention with nominally patriotic songs whose pathos tended to drive away listeners, who were far less numerous in those early days anyway before the students got involved. That singers’ “talents” were probably more suited to weddings, or the numerous talent contests that seem to fill up Ivano-Frankivsk’s squares in the warmer months.

A more successful female singer – and one who could provide perhaps the angle that British tabloids are presumably looking for in order to justify covering this Ukrainian revolution – has been highly involved in the protests. “Eurovision winner supports revolution” (add in a more misogynistic description for Daily Mail or The Sun). Ruslana, Руслана Степанівна Лижичко, who won Eurovision in 2004 and was also an MP for the victorious Orange Revolution party, Nasha Ukraina, has been a huge presence at the Kyiv demonstrations. Here she presents an appeal in English, (more in Ukrainian from 4 mins here) while she also helped to keep spirits up by singing and dancing several nights in a row, pulling an all-nighter on some nights. She was also key in spotting some potential provocateurs and government-paid fighters within the crowd. She was also tearful as she felt compelled to offer an apology to those who were injured as a result of the riot police’s violent clearing of the square early on Saturday 30 November.

Ukraine’s biggest rock band, meanwhile, Okean Elzy (Океан Ельзи) have provided – like they did in the Orange Revolution – the unofficial anthem for events. In 2004 it was Вставай! (Get Up!)  – original and translated lyrics here – while this year they have offered CTIHA (Wall), whose original video is an attempt to depict national unity, drawing on scenes from live concerts in Donetsk and Lviv, so the two opposite ends of Ukraine that Western media and Ukrainians themselves often juxtapose, imagining tensions  based in stereotypes of eastern “Russkies/Muscovites” and western “bandits/Banderovcy”. A new version of the video for the song has now emerged, inserting footage from the violent clearance of Independence Square on Saturday.

As something of a prelude to the current events in Ukraine, Okean Elzy received a short-term ban on performing in one city in Russia, allegedly for breaking work permit regulations. However, others suspected local officials’ sense of fury at the notion of thousands of Russians singing along in Ukrainian as a reason for briefly stopping the band’s tour.

 

 

State Television Coverage of the protests and censorship

This blog began by drawing on a series of my facebook posts. On Thu 21 November/ Fri 22 November, I feared that this potential revolution would not be televised. My fears were based on observation of Ukrainian television, where even the once oppositional TVi had become meek following a forced takeover (in which British “shell companies” and the government that sponsors such a model of corporate ir/responsibility play a great role).
However, it has become clear that local stations based in Western Ukraine: http://zik.ua/, http://24tv.ua/ – are active in covering the protests.
Meanwhile, http://5.ua/ – the station owned by the oligarch Petro Poroshenko has again taken up its role as the chief source of information, like it did in the Orange Revolution. Indeed, Poroshenko – following a recent, costly run-in with Russia over importing his confectionery – has become one of the leading figures of the public opposition to the current government during these protests.
Noticeable in the coverage is the use of non-professional camera operators alongside embedded reporters – sometimes doubling up on the role – who are broadcasting live using internet connections to television stations, including the new venture http://hromadske.tv/. This Citizens’ TV is now being broadcast live on Lviv’s ZIK station.
Mustafa Nayyem is one of the chief figures associated with Citizens’ TV and is now on the front line of protests, as citizens are face to face with the Berkut riot police outside the presidential offices.
This video here shows, meanwhile, the Pershyj channel, State TV no. 1, where all day songs have been broadcast alongside tributes to Soviet-era music stars.
Meanwhile, on Friday night, the famous Lithuanian-Jewish talkshow host Savik Shuster, who has been broadcasting in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution, threatened that that evening’s show would be the last on Inter, owned by oligarch and ex-security-service head Valeriy Ivanovych Khoroshkovsky. His live show started an hour late after Party of Regions representatives sought to prevent opposition leaders appearing live. After an hour of a Russian soap, Shuster forced his show on air and – though evidently shaken (http://3s.tv/) –
managed to lead some of the most compelling television I have witness for three hours.
Eventually he shed his highly professional sheen of objectivity and told the Party of Regions representatives, who had accused Shuster of manipulating reality, that they “wanted to return to the USSR”.
As with the population at large, these protests have taken away from the media a certain fear and a number of stations, as well as of course social media and online news portals, are reporting what they can and generating a pluralism of opinions.