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.

 

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