The traces of Maidan around the city are slowly disappearing, even the spaces around the hardcore of Right Sector and Self-Defence who still remain on the square outside the Regional Administration but in more smaller and less conspicuous numbers. The tent from the Rally Square (Vichevyj Maidan) by the Post Office, the original site of an occupation and protest in the city from November, disappeared last week.
On the square outside the Regional Administration Building in the past week a makeshift memorial to the Heavenly Hundred, as those killed on Maidan in Kyiv are popularly referred to, has appeared. It is constructed from the rudimentary wooden shields that have come to symbolise the fighters on Maidan, alongside the tyres which burned for long days and nights in the winter of 2013/2014, while also shoring up the barricades.
Looking through the local press again I have learned that this memorial, as I interpreted it, is in fact ‘a pillar of shame’, which, according to one activist interviewed, is aimed at expressing an urge for ordinary people to change their behaviour and thus change society. The idea is for people to come to this pillar and inscribe it with the names or photos of ‘officials who have taken bribes’ or demanded other payments. It is thus intended as a symbol of the civil revolution that is expected to follow the battles conducted by those who carried such wooden shields.
Yesterday there was no indication of the intentions surrounding this installation, hence my initial reading of it as a makeshift monument.
The Regional Administration has also finally decided to clear up it’s own sign which for a couple of months was plastered in Right Sector stickers. The sign is clearly brand new, as the stickers are a pain to get rid of (as I’ve found putting my hands to work around the city). Presumably the tax payers of the region have funded the new sign, as well as the door that was smashed up and recently replaced.
Meanwhile, Chicken Hut, the fast food chain, has finally removed its own pro-European poster, declaring that ‘Together we will be victorious’ while showing the Ukrainian trident surrounded by the EU stars. It’s back to special offers now.
Chicken Hut’s old pro-Europe poster
Still, some entrepreneurs have not given up on the European symbolism. Two enterprising you women on a busy crossroads on the way out of the city towards Lviv and Kalush were attempting to sell flags, including the EU flag, the Ukrainian flag and the black and red nationalist flag, to passing vehicles. In the fifteen minutes I was waiting for a friend near there I did not see them make a successful sale. My friend says that they had been there for some two weeks, so business must have been good at some point, although I think the peak may have passed.
The end of February and the first weeks of March seemed like particularly worrying and tense times in Ivano-Frankivsk, as various groups, including Right Sector and its allies Patriot of Ukraine, appeared to appropriate the city space through posters, marches and occupying various administrative buildings demanding personnel changes. Since then, however, the city has been largely calm, with the attempt to revive daily rallies by Right Sector and Self-Defence unsuccessful. Instead, the atmosphere of the city has been one of getting back towards some kind of normality in the new conditions of tensions over Crimea and now southern and eastern Ukraine. Perhaps springtime has helped as more people take to the city streets and various cafes are putting their tables and chairs out on the streets again.
Yesterday, however, local press reported that there was a march by ‘Frankivsk residents’, ‘the community’ or Right Sector and Self-Defence – depending on which reports you read – on the Police HQ again, following a march four weeks ago which I witnessed. I did not witness yesterday’s events as they were not pre-reported extensively in the press, and I was lecturing anyway at the time it took place. Today, the police HQ was free of any protesters when I passed it and it has been peaceful all day. And it also seems that the candidate that Right Sector had wanted for the local head of police, which incited the occupation of the police HQ from a month ago, is not in the running. Equally, the head of the National Resistance organisation in the city is not in the running, as reported in an article which again uses the problematic notion of ‘the community’, assuming that there is some sort of consensus in the city as to who are acceptable and unacceptable candidates.
Still, despite their differences and threatening to break off relations, the Self-Defence and police are still cooperating, with local press reporting successes where arrests have been made during joint patrols. Here someone was caught with some marijuana, for example.
The march through the city was both a protest against the new man assigned as regional head of the Security Service (SBU/ СБУ) as well as a reason to mark the memory of the Heavenly Hundred. This report shows that a poster was placed on the burnt out entrance of that section of the police, but there was no sign today of this memorial to those killed on Maidan , merely a trace of the graffiti that it had covered.
The report cited above is problematic because it frames those protesting as ‘the community’, whereas at 1pm on a Wednesday, many members of the community, including students who were one of the chief initiators of protests in the city, are busy working. It also means that it is easy for anyone disposed to presenting western Ukraine as extreme-nationalist such “patriotically”-minded reports can be used against the authors’ intentions.
This report, meanwhile, ignores the aspect of honouring the Heavenly Hundred and declares the march to be intended as a call for combatting corruption. However, it also mentions a civic protest by mothers of Ivano-Frankivsk who called for order in the city. Presumably this was a call not only to the police but also against the actions of Right Sector and others. Its reference to ‘Frankivsk residents’ is less troubling, since a greater mix of the city’s population and its varying views and approaches to protest and power are accounted for.
The mothers’ protest seems more closely aligned to the civil revolution or perhaps better, transformation, that characterises the urges of those involved in the initial civil society protests from November. An organisation called Ivano-Frankivsk 2.0 has emerged which is seeking to transform the city space into a more pleasant place to live, highlighting some of the hidden and blindingly evident problems in the city which nevertheless regularly features high up in rankings of the best places to live in Ukraine.
Equally, this protest against a questionable development by the city lake is framed as a civil society protest, connected to the spirit of Euromaidan and the battle against corruption in local authorities. Indeed, some of the women who speak in the lengthy video may have also been those outside the police HQ on 9 April calling for order in the city. The problem by the lake is the fact that a smaller lake was filled in for building purposes, ostensibly for a sports centre but it seems developers want to put flats in this attractive location. Some of the women who speak further into the video appeal to “European” values, which caring for the environment are said to characterise.
Of course, aside from some attempts in blogs or by tracing other news stories around the city which do not relate to Euromaidan and its consequences, it’s hard to get a feeling of the everyday in the city which continues in the atmosphere of the tense new normality that is emerging.
What may have an instant affect on city residents is the planned price rise for bus journeys, going up from 2 UAH to 3 UAH. A 50% increase, although it has been at 2 UAH for about three years now, so it’s unlikely that with the rise in petrol prices that transport services will be profitable. On the other hand, incomes are not rising, while other prices are – so this will be an additional squeeze. In positive transport news, after creating a mess in November by moving long-distance and international bus services out of the city, a ticket office for the regional and long-distance bus stations has opened right in the centre. And the system works fine, as I tested it today buying a ticket for a weekend trip, although if it becomes popular the tiny kiosk will prove insufficient.
At the university, lectures go on, seminars continue and some students fear imminent war, while others are more pragmatic or perhaps simply stuck in their rhythm of 30+hours a week of classes, thus unable to dedicate much energy to much else.
So while certain organisations involved with the violent, sometimes armed, side of revolution in Ukraine seem determined to appropriate control of the public space and local politics, it seems that functional mechanisms are working to resist such domination. Civil society is active in its various ways – whether through protest, clearing up rubbish or shaming corrupt individuals, – seeking a transformation of the city and Ukraine, while local authorities are resisting the pressure to install certain candidates despite the pressures of baseball bats or mobs marching through the city. And, for most people in the city, life just goes on.