Frankivsk parliamentary by-election: Shevchenko, soldiers, stinking sewers and awful songs

Returning from work today, I noticed a poster on a nearby flat advertising a concert sponsored by local parliamentary by-election candidate and businessman Oleskandr Shevchenko. The poster was stuck between various adverts including visas to the USA, a campaign to launch a civil protest (Maidan) against loans in foreign currencies, a garage for sale, seeking a flat to rent and a poster advertising surgery with a local councillor from Svoboda. The chalked graffiti suggests unusually strong passion for Linkin Park.

Nominally the concert was “in defence of the country! Support the Ukrainian army!” The attractive woman in traditional dress was presumably included to attract the male gaze to this patriotic event. A sticker informed readers that they could donate money to the Ukrainian military by texting or calling 565. This is a nationwide campaign that has been running for months and nothing to do with Shevchenko. Still, it was a good way – presumably – to circumvent rules on campaign spending meaning that although, as the top-left of the poster states, this event is supported by Shevchenko, it’s not an electoral campaign event. Even though it displays his campaign logo. And is taking place just four days before Sunday’s elections. Admittedly, the event was first scheduled for 8 May but owing to the period of mourning following the mass killings in Odesa it was postponed.

Shevchenko's concert in no way electioneering

Poster advertising today’s concert “in defence of the country” and in “support of the Ukrainian military”. Organised by Oleksandr Shevchenko but, of course, in no way an election-campaign-related event.

The electoral candidate who sponsored this concert is a rich local businessman who co-owns the Bukovel ski resort in the Carpathians. The other owners include Ihor Kolomoyskyy’s Privat-Group, so perhaps Shevchenko’s political affiliations are clear thanks to that, although he is standing as an independent. He campaigned in the 2012 parliamentary election for the same seat, but lost out to Oleksandr Sych, the joint Svoboda-Batkivshchyna candidate. Sych is now a deputy PM, so must put his seat up for re-election. This is why Frankivsk is quite exceptional in the current campaign. In the 2012 campaign, Shevchenko used the slogan “a surname you can trust”, referring to the national poet Taras Shevchenko. It seemed like he had little to offer from his own personality.

However, as with today’s concert he wasn’t afraid to dip into his own pocket, offering local residents – but only those registered to vote for the seat he was contesting – free trips to his Bukovel resort. My wife went on such a trip in summer 2012 in the build up to that year’s October elections, with her former schoolteacher then working in Shevchenko’s PR campaign. My wife says that food was promised but never materialised, although those on the trip were allowed to skip the queue for the chairlift – which they used for free – while the Skype connection on a conference with Shevchenko was quite poor, so that was abandoned and she could sneak off for a swim. It seems that this is a man no immune to gimmicks, with today’s concert perhaps following in that vein. Sorry, too cynical – it’s a nice patriotic gesture and in no way related to the electoral campaign.

Earlier today Shevchenko was again at the university speaking to students, although when a debate was held for all candidates a week ago, he did not attend along with nine other candidates, who include the current mayor, an UDAR candidate, local Maidan activists, a student and journalists and others. Instead, he turned up a couple of hours later to have another session alone with students. He has also signed a deal with the Precarpathian University to continue cooperation whereby students can attend his Bukovel ski resort on various apprenticeships and internships. Signing it on 21 May, in the run-up to the election, seems like rather convenient timing, while questions should also be raised about the close relationship the university – which nominally ought to be autonomous – has with Shevchenko, who appears to be the institution’s favoured candidate. However, a local newspaper reports that incumbent mayor and parliamentary candidate Viktor Anushkevychus was speaking at the Tourism Department of the Precarpathian University and posters were displayed stating that attendance was “compulsory”, a violation of electoral – and presumably – university rules.

Shevchenko is also controversial in the city because of his involvement with the bankrupted and now amateur local football team, FK Prykarpattya. It seems he lost interest in pumping money into the club quite quickly. The current campaign has also infuriated locals who have been receiving unsolicited texts from his campaign team informing people when Shevchenko will be appearing on regional television. Suspicions were raised that PrivatBank’s client list was being used, although that is denied. Instead, numbers from the database of Bukovel, the ski resort he co-owns, were the source and a list of “supporters of the candidate”.

* UPDATE, 23 May 2014 * A local newspaper is reporting that Shevchenko has broken electoral rules by giving free gifts to student-participants of an art competition. Presumably a free concert is falls within similar guidelines?

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Today’s fundraising concert. Totally not part of Shevchenko’s electoral campaign. The by-election is this Sunday.

What was truly odd about today’s event was that it took place not in the city centre (perhaps Shevchenko’s rival, current mayor Viktor Anushkevychus put the kibosh on that?) but in a small square between two Khrushchev-era blocks of low-rise flats outside the city centre. Close to where I live, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience this provincial electoral campaign – sorry, patriotic event in support of the Ukrainian military that just happens to be organised by a millionaire electoral candidate. I dragged my wife along using ice cream from a nearby shop as a bribe and we went along to watch the campaign show. Sorry, did it again. We went along to watch the concert in support of the Ukrainian army.

The MC made sure that the sparse crowd knew that Shevchenko had sponsored the event between each act, although there was no overt mention of the election. One of the acts, who you can watch on my video here, is apparently a former Ukrainian Voice participant. I’m not sure how far she got, but my wife was convinced – and I’m pretty sure – that she was lip-synching today. Her music is typical of the event which featured, basically, bad Central/Eastern European wedding band backing music with some generally patriotic songs reflecting upon beautiful landscapes, beautiful language or heroism. This guy was an exception, as he forsook the bad wedding music and went for a bit of a crooner vibe. But patriotic. It was hard to stand much more, and the ice cream had been eaten, so we headed home, passing people coming back from a walk around the city lake making comments like “what the hell is that racket?” Even back home it was impossible to escape the electoral campaign – dammit, patriotic fundraising concert for Ukrainian soldiers – as it resounded around the area and beyond. (That link is to another video.)

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Bizarre setting for this concert, between some Khrushchev-era flats and beside a dilapidating heating plant.

The concert was sparsely-attended, perhaps no more than 150 people, including loads of kids and the people hanging out of the windows of the numerous flats facing onto the square. Even if children were allowed to vote in this election, I’m not sure this concert would have done much to convince them, with the singers struggling to get their “hands in the air”. And this was the sole trick of which they availed themselves, besides appealing to a kind of sentimental patriotism in the songs. It didn’t help, perhaps, that the sewer covers in the square were not quite tight and on this hot day the stink was pretty awful. Sadly, Shevchenko himself didn’t turn up – but it’s not part of the political campaign, so why would he. Still, no one made much fuss about insisting on calling or texting 565 to support the military.

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As to the other candidates in the by-election, they are not immune to gimmicks. Mykola Havryliuk, a young man responsible for the Typical Frankivsk portal, organised on Sunday an event letting off 352 Chinese lanterns. All part of the celebrating the city’s anniversary, not the campaign, you see. Still, at least he is involved personally in his electoral campaign, as he handed me a leaflet on Monday and exchanged a couple of words. Lots of candidates, meanwhile, are having their campaigners gain access to flats and are leaving newspapers and leaflets attached to door handles. This newspaper is a rather impressive effort, although the candidate is unknown to anyone I’ve asked. I say it’s a newspaper, but really its a newsletter all about Mykola Petrunyak. Although he does have an interview with Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh who is much less enthusiastic about the EU than Petrunyak, who promotes – in the title too – a European Ukrainian. Interestingly, he stresses his connections to Ukrainians working abroad, of whom there are very many in this region, sending money back to the city and funding their families, as well as the building boom here.

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More by-election campaign materials. European Ukrainian and “pick the future”.

It is interesting to observe here the different approaches to campaigning, with a real cross-section of traditional door-to-door canvassing, leafleting, meetings, attempts to impress with big events, gimmicks and freebies (that seem to backfire), as well as turning to social media by younger candidates, especially. There are also question marks over the fairness of incumbent mayor Viktor Anushkevychus being still in post while campaigning and thus having access to certain political and media resources, as well as a greater public profile. However the by-election campaign is being conducted, the candidates are likely to enjoy a particularly high turn out owing to the presidential elections.

And, in an update on recent posts about the Armoured Personnel Carrier farce and the stand-off between Maidan Self-Defence and the police authorities in the city (it has been a pleasure to write about something different today, more light-hearted), there was no sign today of any protest outside the police HQ. Everything was cleared up, the doors unlocked, the remnants of the burnt tyre cleared away. It seems increasingly to be the case that these protests are part of a campaign for particular interests in the city to secure “their man” for the police posts rather than a genuine civil movement.

Now who could possibly – after what is now being called the “Revolution of Dignity”, rather than Euromaidan now – be so cynical so as to co-opt apparent patriotic sentiment for political ends?

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All cleared up again after yesterday’s farcical encore

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Presidential campaigning in the western provinces of Ukraine; tragedy and uprising in the south and east.

In this post you’ll get: comments on Odesa, mourning, Petro Poroshenko’s presidential campaign roadshow, other candidates’ visits to Ivano-Frankivsk, and the new constellation of political posters in the city.

Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko comes to town as things in Odesa turn tragic.

Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko comes to town as things in Odesa turn tragic.

I have been away from Ivano-Frankivsk and Ukraine for a couple of weeks, hence the lack of updates on the blog. However, after a trip to Poland at the end of April, then the Carpathians over the May holiday, I am back in Ivano-Frankivsk. Since the last blog updates, the situation in Ukraine generally has grown more critical and indeed tragic. The horrific events in Odesa, with people burned alive – including youths, as reported here – has begun to draw attention to the seriousness of the threat of civil war. Whereas, perhaps, Luhansk or Donetsk seemed very distant from Galicia, Odesa is a city many here have visited for holidays and is reachable within 12 hours by train, rather than the 24+ needed to reach the east. Although the national media are carrying symbols of mourning – images of candles burning, or indeed real candles on news desks – the narrative being presented is largely one that isn’t willing to fully explore events in Odesa. Meanwhile, some of the reaction on social media has been less than compassionate – even hubristic – given that not all of those in the Odesa Trades Unions building were “separatists”, “pro-Russians”, “anti-Maidan” or whatever other labels are being applied. Some usually sensible people are sharing images such as this one – as well as much more tasteless memes – where ‘the patriots of Odesa’ are being mourned, so those who are termed “pro-Ukrainian” or “pro-Maidan”, with the rest of the victims implicitly condemned.

Before I get misunderstood or accused of being “pro-Russian”, or not understanding “Ukrainian realities”, my point is this: those participating in the protests in Odesa and elsewhere are a mixture of people, ranging from professional soldiers and fighters – including Russians and other non-Ukrainians – to ordinary people on the street. Whether or not you agree with what those on the streets of Odesa, Luhansk, Slovyansk and elsewhere are fighting for, or protesting against, when a mass killing occurs, with a variety of victims, then decorum and respect are dignified responses.

The point of this blog is to record and comment on life in Ivano-Frankivsk, so it is to that which I now turn.

On the road with Poroshenko. Perhaps his own bus manufacturing company made this vehicle?

On the road with Poroshenko. Perhaps his own bus manufacturing company made this vehicle? The slogan reads “Live anew”.

When returning from Poland on Wednesday morning, 30 April, after a week or so away, the most obvious difference in the appearance of the city since the last week of April was the overwhelming number of presidential campaign  posters that had appeared (and by-election materials – Frankivsk is exceptional in that there is a by-election for parliament, too, on 25 May as the existing MP, Oleksandr Sych, is now in the Cabinet). It was noticeable that those of Petro Poroshenko, “the chocolate king”, far outnumbered anyone else’s. Indeed, the total number of his posters probably exceeds those of all other candidates combined. He is the wealthiest and currently leading candidate for election.  He visited the city on 2 May and we returned from the mountains in time to catch his show and his promise that under his rule people will “live anew”, the main slogan of his campaign.

I call it a show because the meeting – held on the city’s Vichevyj Maydan (Rally Square), by the post office and site of the first gatherings which became Euromaidan – was massively stage-managed and on a huge scale. The posters around the city announced that not only would Poroshenko be speaking, but also the rock performer Taras Chubay and another band would be performing. The event, starting at 18:00, also had two MCs, guest speakers including a poet and a playwright, as well as Yuriy Lutsenko, a politician who was released from jail about a year ago after being imprisoned on political charges. A crowd of several thousand packed the city streets in numbers not seen since Euromaidan to hear Poroshenko and catch his show.

Taras Chubay and band play some decent rock using Andrukovych's poetry.

Taras Chubay and band play some decent rock using Andrukovych’s poetry.

After a brief introduction from the MCs, Taras Chubay took over. In deference to the then ongoing events in Odesa where some deaths had already occurred, he toned down the set and sang two or three songs based on Frankivsk poet Yuriy Andrukhovych’s works. The music, however, was still heavy rock played by a slightly aged but impressively tight band. After some poetry from a local poet Dmytro Pavlychko, with his reading largely appealing to the legacy of UPA fighters, local playwright Maria Matios spoke. I have a grudge against her because her rather depressing, patriotic, pathos-laden plays dominate the repertoire of the local theatre – so much so that they might as well make it her exclusive stage. One of my main passions is theatre, so Matios’ dominance seems to stifle any significant creativity or experimentation.

Local playwright Maria Matios appeals, like her plays, to a pathos-laden sense of patriotism.

Local playwright Maria Matios appeals, like her plays, to a pathos-laden sense of patriotism.

Local Poet

Local Poet Dmytro Pavlychko

After the cultural section, Yuriy Lutsenko appeared. Whatever you think of his politics, it is undeniable that he is a compelling and effective speaker. Although a few eyebrows were raised when billionaire (albeit not multi-) Poroshenko was not counted as an oligarch and instead something of a counterpoint to the various oligarchal clans that seek to rule Ukraine. I’m not sure what the technical or legal definition of an oligarch is but even if Poroshenko is relatively less well-off than, say, Akhmetov, Firtash or Kolomoyskyy, then he’s still pretty loaded and has had his fingers in political pies since the millennium at least. He was even a co-founder of the Party of Regions. Lutsenko, though, continued to hold the crowds attention, although it became clear that even his rhetorical powers were beginning to wane as he spoke for some 25 minutes. It turns out that Poroshenko had been delayed in the town of Kalush, after also performing in Kolomyya the same day, so Lutsenko was holding the fort.

Yuriy Lutsenko impressing with his rhetorical skills and holding the fort while Poroshenko is delayed

Yuriy Lutsenko impressing with his rhetorical skills and holding the fort while Poroshenko is delayed

Eventually, just before 19:00 the main attraction appeared on stage – but in keeping with his man-of-the-people, definitely-not-an-oligarch persona, he took to the stage by walking through the huge crowd, his image relayed on the massive screens. Obviously he was flanked by significant security, just in case. On the screens, too, there appeared images of crying older women, as if the nation’s saviour had appeared. My wife and I had taken her godson, aged 10, with us – and he seemed transfixed by the celebrity status of Poroshenko, and insisted that we remain to see him. Even seeing Lutsenko in person got the ten year old quite excited. I had to go off to teach a class, but my wife’s report suggests that the message was similar to Lutsenko’s – vote Poroshenko in the first round, he’s the main candidate, get over 50% and avoid a second round of elections and get the country running properly again.

Not an oligarch, apparently; Poroshenko enters the stage through the crowd

Not an oligarch, apparently; Poroshenko enters the stage through the crowd

I’m not eligible to vote in Ukraine – but I can see the appeal of this argument. As another two weeks, into June, of campaigning and of temporary rule in Kyiv can only cause further destabilisation. Another appealing aspect of Poroshenko’s campaign is that he is the only candidate to have declared in his manifesto that he will call immediate parliamentary elections. I have been assured, having spoken here to legal experts, that the current government is in place in Ukraine legitimately, at least in terms of the law (however murky it is). However, an election could aid the cause of creating greater popular legitimacy for whoever is in power in Kyiv, with more representation for those living in areas where MPs have resigned or disappeared from parliament.

However, the above comments could all be academic as the most significant doubt in my mind is over whether the elections can be carried out successfully at all. In Ivano-Frankivsk and western Ukraine, sure, the campaigns are going ahead, candidates (at least those with any chance of getting elected here) are appearing on the main squares of cities and towns around the region. But I can’t really imagine the same happening in areas in the south and east of the country where the threat or reality of violence is actual. And, equally, if referendums are planned for those same areas for a week today, regardless of those plebiscites’ legitimacy in law or among the population, they will influence the way the Presidential election is conducted. Obviously, the way things are now is almost impossible, a damned if you do/don’t situation regarding the elections and almost anything else.

The greatest emotion that observing the election campaign in full swing in Ivano-Frankivsk while news of events in Odesa was filtering through was one of incongruity.

Other presidential candidates have also visited the city, although they came while I was away. Yulia Tymoshenko appeared on 1 May, holding a meeting in one conference centre, then appearing in the city centre, too, albeit without the song-and-dance attached to Poroshenko’s arrival. Olga Bogomolets, one of the best known medics from the Euromaidan protests, is standing in the election, too, and she spoke at the university at the end of April, while also holding a press conference in the city. There was very little, however, to announce her arrival in the university or beyond, while her posters seemed to be somewhat shoddy and subject to the elements. Bogomolets has, though, announced an alliance with Maksym Kytsyuk, a Sevastopol resident who was one of the leaders of Euromaidan in Frankivsk and a student here who was badly beaten in December by still unknown assailants. Oleh Tyahnybok, notorious leader of Svoboda, was also in town with his posters more noticeable about the city. Still to come is Anatoliy Hrytsenko, although there is no sign that any of the Party of Regions-associated candidates are planning to head this way.

Tyahnybok's poster with Bohomolets' obscured and sodden by rain, with another announcing another Taras Shevchenko-related event

Tyahnybok’s poster with Bohomolets’ obscured and sodden by rain

Meanwhile, with the presidential candidates in town, the mayors of Ivano-Frankivsk and Kalush travelled together to Donetsk region in an attempt to show national unity and hear the voices of ordinary people living in this now conflicted region of Ukraine. With Anushkevychus, the local mayor out of town, another candidate for the parliamentary seat here took his opportunity to mock his rival by taking a walk down Shevchenko Street. Its revitalisation, as I noted here,  has turned into something of a farce lasting over a year, with one of the city’s most prestigious streets now largely covered in rubble. The rival candidate, also called Shevchenko, has proposed renaming the street in (dis)honour of the mayor responsible for the farce. Shevchenko’s campaign is the only one that draws on European symbolism at a time when the EU seems increasingly powerless and lacking influence over the situation in Ukraine as the old Cold War powers play out their struggle again.

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Election campaign tents in the city centre with a much reduced stage in the background following Poroshenko’s departure

 

Oleksandr Shevchenko's campaign is the only one using overtly EU symbolism

Oleksandr Shevchenko’s campaign is the only one using overtly EU symbolism

 

As well as the mushrooming of presidential campaign posters, and a few by-election campaign tents, political posters have begun to appear again around the city in larger numbers, sometimes creating strange juxtapositions. There was also evidence of attempted sabotage, with Poroshenko not enjoying the support of Right Sector, it seems. It’s a bit baffling, too, as to why they’re putting their stickers in English.

Not everyone is pleased to see Poroshenko in town

Not everyone is pleased to see Poroshenko in town

Here various posters compete for space, with Poroshenko’s poster alongside that of Hrytsenko, as well as materials supporting the far-right nationalist OUN organisation, featuring the images of Bandera and Shevchenko.

Competing posters and messages

Competing posters and messages

Here, meanwhile, a poster for a singing competition held over several days in April and May by the central fountain in the city is accompanied by a Poroshenko poster revealing the full bill for his show, as well as a poster of Putin being shot through the head with the caption “This shit will soon die”.  The small poster at the bottom right, meanwhile, guides you to a nationalist portal called Neskorena Nacia or ‘The Undefeated Nation’ which wants ‘a Ukrainian Ukraine’. It declares itself to be the ‘leading Banderite portal’ and bears the OUN logo. It is noticeable that although the leader of Right Sector is standing for president, he is not campaigning actively and has indeed declared that his election funds are better spent, he feels, on sponsoring the fight against Russia. The nationalist message here, meanwhile, is one that predated the election campaign and indeed Euromaidan and events in south and east Ukraine.

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As for those who declare themselves to be Right Sector, or at least Maidan Self-Defence activists, they seem to have ceased most of their actions in the city now. The campaign against the regional head of police continues, although as something of a symbolic stand-off now with no marches being reported recently. However, the symbolic stand off means that now there is an armoured personnel carrier outside the police HQ. When I passed it on Wednesday, however, it was “staffed” by two young men who looked like teenagers with no one on the door. Obviously, an APC in the centre of Ivano-Frankivsk doesn’t look good and suggests that while Ukraine is under threat, local nationalist activists don’t really have their priorities straight if they think this is the best use of their resources. The report linked to above, meanwhile, continues the unfortunate rhetorical trend of deeming such “activists” the representatives of Maidan, whereas most of those active on Maidan or supporting its aims are now hoping that Poroshenko, or another president, will be able to bring some stability to the country and realise not only security but also the goal of improving everyday life in Ukraine in the long run.

Maidan Self-Defence in the crowd at Poroshenko meeting

Maidan Self-Defence in the crowd at Poroshenko meeting

 

While in Frankivsk everyday life and the election campaign seems to continue almost as normal, on the surface – with the tensions over war or civil war impacting psychologically – I can help feeling that it is somewhat incongruous now that such lavish campaigns are being carried out with the threat that hangs over the country.

 

The first post-Euromaidan pre-war (?) novelty song and its serious message

This song by a group going by the name Лісапетний батальйон (Cyclists’ Battalion) is perhaps the first novelty song connected to Euromaidan and, more precisely, the situation now where fear of war is rife.
“Давай,баби,давай!…” (Come on, Ladies, Come on; you can hear them say ‘kam on’ on the song) has a long history based in viral internet videos. The original song of which this is a reworking (Лісапед by Natalya Falion) was a kind of novelty folk song from 2003, drawing on the speech and folk traditions of the Ternopil region. Лісапед (Lisaped) is a dialect variation on the word велосипед (velosyped), i.e. bicycle. That version of the song was performed on tv (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xxo4oM1qgWk) and gained greater popularity.
But it was a viral video of some impressive older women singing it on a bus in the Chernihiv region (in north-central/eastern Ukraine, where the beer comes from) that made the song famous. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3RUUqtuKYo)
And so it is that viral hit which this new version refers to. The lyrics of the current song reference the current tensions with Russia. In the imagined village peace is disrupted by some ‘Moskali’ appearing on the border and instead of being mere “ladies” (баби) the women become a ‘real battalion’.
Applying a bit of gender and nation theory, Ukraine here is imagined as a weaker party which instead of being further emasculated by the strong neighbour rises up and becomes strong, “manly” or “courageous” (мужні), a word that is heard quite often now in Ukraine.
The new battalion of empowered women are inspired to ‘defend their peaceful homeland’.
“Ми жили із бабами спокійно у селі, аж поки не з’явилися на кордонах москалі, ми завтра вирушаємо прямо на полігон, тепер ми не баби, тепер ми справжній батальйон!”.
[We lived peacefully with the women in the village until the Moskali appared on the borders, so tomorrow we will go straight to the base and now we are not mere women but a real battalion] And this real battalion was armed by an old German machine gun which a man in the village lent them, while two women shared one flak jacket. Still, they promise to find millions who will rise up and join them in ‘defending the peaceful homeland’. So, in this song there’s a clear reflection that the Ukrainian army is weak and poorly-armed, but summoning the will of the people of Ukraine and their strengths will bring victory in the end, restoring peace to the “village”, or the nation, and sending the “Moskals” away from the border.

In writing this post I made use of the following articles: http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/03/26/160075/ http://like.te.ua/%D0%B6%D0%B8%D1%82%D1%82%D1%8F/%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8F-%D1%84%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%96%D0%BE%D0%BD-%D0%B7-%D1%82%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%BF%D1%96%D0%BB%D1%8C%D1%89%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B8-%D1%8F%D0%BA%D0%B0-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE/
I was inspired to write about this by my wife who sent the original link to the song.

Kozak System – Brat za Brata (Brother for Brother), feat ENEJ and Maleo Reggae Rockers

On the one hand, this song shows solidarity – between Poland and Ukraine – in the fight for Ukraine’s freedom. The song is largely in Polish although there are Ukrainian verses and some shared choruses.
On the other hand, the song indicates a degree of rivalry, not between Poles and Ukrainians, but between two bands – Kozak System and Haydamaky.
(see the previous post here: https://uauk.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/%D0%B3%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%B4%D0%B0%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D0%B4%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B2%D1%8F%D0%BD%D1%96-%D1%89%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B8-haydamaky-wooden-shields-a-ska-punk-tribute-to-the-heaven/)
Kozak System are basically formed of the whole of the old Haydamaky band bar the lead singer (http://uk.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kozak_System), who kept the original name. Kozak System released this song on 21 March, Haydamaky followed on 23 March.
This song features a sample, the trumpet, from an earlier Haydamaky hit, while the lyrics call for Poles and Ukrainians to say “no” together, making this their “joint honour”, with Polish and Ukrainian brothers standing shoulder to shoulder.
It’s also a call to uprising, which seems a bit odd, given that the revolutionary acts of insurgency seem to be over, thus the Haydamaky song seems a better reflection of the current mood. This song does also refer, though, to Ukraine’s European aspirations and declares that the country’s rightful place is in Europe.

Гайдамаки “Дерев’яні Щити” / Haydamaky “Wooden Shields” – a ska-punk tribute to the Heavenly Hundred

This song is by the Ukrainian ska-punk folk crossover band Гайдамаки / Haydamaky, who have been active since 1991.
The song lyrics reference the experience of the ordinary people on Maidan in Kyiv who fell. They focus on the ‘wooden shields which protected you from live bullets my angel’. Later in the song this becomes ‘wooden shields didn’t protect everyone’.
It also mentions the fact that many of those died were young, whose fathers gave permission to attend ‘because they promised it would be a peaceful protest’ but instead met ‘snipers’ bullets’. Things were ‘like in a real war, real fighting, real guns’.
The video, as you can see, includes footage from Maidan and ends with the slogan which has become widespread in reference to the Heavenly Hundred, ‘Heroes Don’t Die’.

Rally Season Starts Again: “Activists” speak for “the community” and “the people”. The community and the people largely ignored them.

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For the first time in over a week, a political rally was held in Ivano-Frankivsk. In the tradition of the Maidan era, it was held at 6pm outside the Regional Administration Building, aka the White House. The rally was termed an ‘extraordinary rally’, in the sense of an EGM, but those who spoke from the balcony above the entrance to the city council it was deemed to be the first of a new series of daily rallies (on Sundays they will be held at 14:00). The plan is to hold them every day until either Easter, the election or, ‘until the revolution is complete’. The rally had been announced in the local press yesterday and was promoted today, but the attendance was poor. One local news source estimates it was around 100 people. I would say it was around 150 at most by the end, including those in military fatigues who are always present. There were almost more certainly more folk marching on Wednesday through the city than there were on the square. It seems easier to convince a few baseball-bat wielding teenagers to have a bit of a march on the police HQ than to get them to participate in what posed as a democratic rally under the eyes of “the people”, “the community”.

Rally fail

The rally started a few minutes after six, and the first orator began his speech calling for peace and calm in the city, before being halted and the female MC realised that the national anthem had not been sung. So the crowd launched into it and the speech began again.

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When the rally finally started a few minutes after 6 p.m. the number of people present on the square was certainly not more than a hundred, even if the presence of a coach with Lviv plates (beginning BC) suggests that there was an effort to bring activists to the square for the meeting. During the course of the brief rally, lasting no more than 40 minutes, numbers increased. On the above photo, local Right Sector leader Vasyl Abramiv, and son-in-law of the national leader Dmytro Yarosh, can be seen surveying the square, evidently concerned by the sparse crowd. Abramiv became a father on Wednesday, and Yarosh a grandfather, evoking much mirth among locals commenting on the news story, outlining the evident nepotism in this apparently revolutionary organisation.

The decorations in this space have changed during the course of the Maidan, Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary periods. As the photo of Abramiv shows, he is standing in front of a new banner stating ‘God, Human, Ukraine’. This has never been seen on the balcony before, while the Virgin Mary above him is something that appeared in 2014. It was notable that this extraordinary rally was not attended by any religious figure, whereas during the late-Maidan and revolutionary phase, the rallies always began with at least a blessing from priests while in the most troubled times there could be a full-scale Mass issued from the balcony.

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In a further change of decoration, initially both balconies featured the EU flag which – lest we forget – was the initial symbol of the protests in 2013, the ideal which the then-government failed to deliver that brought some people in this city and around Ukraine onto the streets to initiate what became Euromaidan. Now, the EU flag has been removed from the left-hand-side balcony which has become the one used for these rallies and speeches. It remains on the right-hand balcony. On the balcony for speeches, the red-and-black flag of the Ukrainian nationalist movement has replaced the EU flag, something that is symbolic of the change in the tone and direction of the next-stage revolution proposed by those with access to the balcony. It’s more about a national and moral revolution now, holding to account those who are still or now in power, but effectively calling for the removal of anyone associated in any way with the previous regime and, naturally, replacing them with people approved by those with access or – according to those who spoke to day – those who fought for access to the balcony.

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Those who spoke today were two members of the local council with favourable attitudes to two other speakers, the local leader of Right Sector and a representative of the Self-Defence. A fifth speaker appeared briefly, I’ll mention him later. According to Right Sector’s Abramiv and the second speaker from the local council, the mayor himself had sought to prevent today’s rally, literally pulling the plug on it around 5pm. Before that, over a day of negotiations and demands were required to gain access to the square and balcony today.The video  I made of the speech shows Abramiv in action, as well as those gathered largely ignoring his speech about what people died for, his attempts to speak for the dead and dismiss the legitimacy of the new authorities, framing instead those on Maidan as the only legitimate force following something declared a conspiracy against the real revolutionaries who fought to bring down the old government. And now those ghosts of the old regimes are seeking to stifle the full revolution and are again ‘divvying out posts’ between the old guard who, apparently, refuse to undergo lustration and reveal the corrupt skeletons in their cupboards. The local press is framing this a ‘division in the ranks of the HQ of National Resistance‘. So, the party-political side of the revolution is dividing away from what is deemed the Maidan side, those on the ground.

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After recent behaviour on the part of Right Sector and the Self-Defence, who are attempting to impose mob democracy on the city, it is no surprise that the local authorities are attempting to disassociate themselves with the groups occupying their offices and attempting to have the choice of local police head reversed and their man put in the post. Of course, there are concerns over decisions being taken again in Kyiv and the issue of the police head is perhaps one of the few arguments in favour of ever repeating the Tories’ miserable experiment with police commissioners in the UK. However, I would say that attempting to stabilise authority in these turbulent times is more sensible for now, and more beneficial for Ukraine, than using force and threats to reverse decisions taken in Kyiv. Still, those who gained access to the balcony claim to speak in the name of ‘the community’ and ‘the people’, yet the meagre number of people present suggests that there is little popular legitimacy for these orators and paramilitaries. And, according to a local news report I saw on Ukraine’s channel 24 this morning, the majority of local police are in favour of the head of police nominated by Kyiv and are prepared to come onto the streets to show their support. This has put an end to the joint patrols that were taking place between police and Self-Defence activists.

My problem with these orators and the organisations they represent is that they claim to speak for ‘the people’, ‘the Ukrainian people’ and ‘the community’. How they argue for the legitimacy of these claims is that they represent the Maidan and the true purpose of the revolution which the people had wanted. As the shift in flags suggests, they believe that the people wanted a national revolution whereas the initial civil protests were for Europe, for an end to corruption and rule by force, and being able afterwards to build a good quality of life. Those who speak for the community seem to have forgotten than and have now appropriated the symbol of popular protests, the city’s Maidan, for their particular objectives of national revolution, while framing themselves as the sole groups able to combat corruption and boorishness. (Looking above, no one seemed to want to stop cars driving on this pedestrianised space!)

And they have appropriated not only the space but also the victims of the previous regime killed in Kyiv.

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Roman Huryk, the local student killed in February in Kyiv, has become – rightly – another permanent symbol on the square outside the the regional administration of the cruelt and illigitimacy of the Yanukovych regime. However, those speaking from the balcony claim to speak in the name of their fallen ‘sworn brothers’ (побратимці). Not a single member of Right Sector was killed in Kyiv. Most victims were simply ordinary people on the front line who gave their lives. Whether they did so in the name of the national revolution, cannot be established, but those on the balcony are sure. And so they appropriate the victims to their cause, generating good PR along the way from a largely uncritical local press.

However, today Blitz.if.ua offered some subtle critiques of the behaviour of Right Sector, noting how when the father of Roman Huryk today spoke from the balcony – or tried to speak but was overcome with emotion – the Right Sector activists were more interested in handing out their latest newsletter. Such is their respect for the victim, for the hero appropriate for their cause.

Huryk’s father was the last to speak, apart from the female MC dressed in military fatigues who took over from him and filled his potent, telling silence and emotion with her own narrative.  Condemning the current authorities for ‘forgetting’ what the significance of the heroes is, for overlooking the moral significance of the original struggle, it seems these figures on the balconies have done exactly the same.

Huryk’s father managed to say, though, that ‘people here are starting to forget what those who died, including my son, were fighting for.’ His words seemed aimed not simply at the community, but at those who had brought him onto the balcony, seeking to appropriate his loss and grief for their national revolution.

If they really cared for his son and for this grieving father, why present him last, after all the calls for lustration and the politicking (which they condemn in others) by representatives of Right Sector and their council allies?

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In other local news, away from the White House, the world’s oldest woman died today in the town of Kolomyya at the age of 117. Kolomyya, some 70km from Ivano-Frankivsk, like this city, in Kateryna Kruk’s lifetime passed from Austro-Hungarian rule to the West Ukrainian Republic to interwar Poland and then the USSR in 1939. In 1941 the Nazi German General Gouvernement came then the Soviets again in 1944, remaining in the USSR until 1991. Then it became a regional centre in independent Ukraine. She was a unique witness to Ukrainian history, seeking the uncertainties and imperial conflicts that have affected for centuries this part of the world. How sad that her death should come during another time of threats to Ukraine.

Local students were involved yesterday in an art project where they expressed their opposition to war. The pictures will be on display in the city centre before being transferred to their various art colleges.

In pop-cultural news, the Prosvita building, which served as the centre of student resistance in the city, will be used tomorrow for casting for Ukrainian X-Factor.

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It seems those who speak from the balcony now, organising these extraordinary rallies in the name of the people and the community, have forgotten about the ordinary people who initiated Euromaidan in the city and around Ukraine. Ordinary and active students who came onto the streets who then occupied Prosvita. And ordinary people who may well be watching X-Factor at home, hoping for a better life, a European future, escaping from the fear of war. While those speaking from the balcony spoke today, condemning local authorities for politicking while the country is under threat, it seems that Right Sector and others are more concerned with doing exactly the same, seeking local power and authority, rather than preparing for the front.

They’re still convinced of an ‘internal occupation’ of Ukraine when a real enemy is already at the gates of Ukraine.

Sounds of the post-revolutionary city

For the first time, really, since the tragic events in Kyiv and the apparent Russian occupation of Crimea, this weekend – encompassing Women’s Day and the 200th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko’s birth – there have been signs that the city is returning to some kind of normality. Albeit a normality over which the frightening shadow of war lurks.
These drummers are, as far as I have observed, the first sounds in the post-revolutionary city that do not resound with mourning or the pathos of the dirge-like readings of Shevchenko’s poetry. This approach to his works prevails, regardless of the content of his verse and regardless of the conditions in which his poetry is performed. While perhaps understandable in these times of tension and tragedy, I have only ever heard such an approach to his works while in Ukraine.

Looking at the hues on this video meanwhile, it seems that the evening sky of Ivano-Frankivsk together with the street lighting on the city’s main street, Independence Street, has managed to form the Ukrainian flag.

Hymn to the Maidan Dead, the Heavenly Hundred.

This traditional folk song, performed here by the group Pikkardyjska Tertsiya, has become the hymn sung at funerals and memorials to those anti-government protesters killed on the Maidan in Kiev. It thus also features regularly on news coverage. At the funeral of Roman Huryk (see: https://uauk.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/roman-huryks-funeral-and-his-intriguing-burial-place/) it was sung by the tens of thousands gathered to pay their respects to him.

The song looks at the pain felt by a mother at the loss of her warrior son who senses his death will come, quite possibly in a foreign land.

This video also continues a theme of this blog on the Music of Maidan, albeit now in a more tragic vein.
(See: https://uauk.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/%D0%B3%D1%96%D1%82%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B9-%D0%BF%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B1%D0%BE%D1%80-by-michael-shchur-%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BA%D0%BB-%D1%89%D1%83%D1%80/
https://uauk.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/the-sounds-of-civil-disobedience/
https://uauk.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/dont-want-to-have-to-listen-to-this-any-more-then-finish-the-revolution-ivano-frankivsk/
https://uauk.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/music-and-revolution/)

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

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.