Post-election News Update and Three Days of Mourning

After the weekend’s elections, which I wrote about here, life in the city continued largely as normal. However, three days of mourning were announced, beginning today, since six of the twleve soldiers killed in the helicopter that was shot down on 29 May in the Donetsk region are from Ivano-Frankivsk region. As this report shows, a shrine to the men has emerged on the memorial to MInistry of Internal Affairs workers who have been killed on duty. The period of mourning means that concerts are by and large cancelled in the city, as are any other celebratory events, night clubs shut down while cafes turn down their music. Their funeral will be held on Sunday and they will be buried at the city’s memorial square, where Roman Huryk – a young student killed on Maidan in Kyiv in February – is also buried.

Image

Bars on the tax office window in the city centre on Nezhalezhnosti Street. Despite going to the bookshop next door regularly, I’d never spotted this until my wife pointed it out. Thanks to tweeter @svlmoscow for pointing out these are possibly early c. 20 guns, 1910s-1920s. The shape looks a bit like the Ukrainian trident.

Yesterday, a pre-planned march took place, which happened to coincide with the deaths of the local soldiers in eastern Ukraine. The march was variously called the Fan March or the march for national unity. Although it began as an initiative of local ultras (I’m not sure which team they support, given the distance of several divisions to the professional leagues of any team in Frankivsk), the pictures show that the march attracted a broad cross section of the city’s inhabitants. Following the march, accompanied by patriotic songs, flares were eventually let off the Franko monument by the city’s main theatre with the anti-Putin “la-la-la” anthem fairly popular, judging by these videos. On 28 May, meanwhile, the mothers of Ivano-Frankivsk accompanied by others held a protest outside the Security Service building (I’ve covered plenty of those, but this one was different): they were protesting against Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence and those groups’ conflict with the police, including their protests outside the police HQ or use of APCs on the city’s streets. While Right Sector and Self-Defence claim to speak for the city community, it seems that these mothers can stake a better claim to represent the population’s views. Although the mothers were calling for peace, it seems that it was already under threat, even though “activists” had also called for a week of peace and quiet in the city. Early on 27 May, Viktor Nemish’s car was subject to a suspected arson attack. Nemish is a local councillor, head of the coordinating council in the city (responsible for negotiating between the city authorities, state institutions and the population – although really that means the Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector). On 29 May, meanwhile, notorious local UNA-UNSO activist “Chimik”, the Chemist, Mykhailo Boychuk had his car set on fire. Not the APC, which is almost certainly his, but  a small van. For now, there are no suspects, although it seems clear that the two arson attacks were not a coincidence. It seems like the story of the tensions between the people of Ivano-Frankivsk, Right Sector and Self-Defence, and the police, has a long way to run, getting murkier by the day. A new police head has been nominated, someone who is from the Ivano-Frankivsk region, satisfying the parochial demands of Maidan Self-Defence, while he also has a clear anti-Party-of-Regions past. However, it’s not clear if he has been able to take up his post, with the coordinating council – headed by arson-attack-victim Nemish – yet to approve his candidature. Meanwhile, Right Sector members entered the city’s tax office on Wednesday to protest against the new head who had been nominated. They claim to be countering corruption and nepotism with their campaign, although the news report linked to here suggests that there is a connection between Right Sector’s opposition to the new head and the rather fishy matter of an ongoing investigation into the local vodka plant. The photo accompanying this blog, meanwhile, is of the bars on a window facing onto the city’s main street from the tax office. Despite often visiting the bookshop next door, I had not spotted these intriguing bars where guns are moulded into shapes protecting the windows. A reflection, perhaps, of past methods used in tax investigations? Or a sign of things to come? Meanwhile, all of the votes from the region have been counted in the presidential election (and from the city’s by-election). It is confirmed that here Poroshenko got 65%, exceeding the national average by 10 points, while Tymoshenko was slightly more popular than nationally with almost 15%. Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok got 1.8%, about 0.7 points more than nationally, while Dmitro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, got 0.6% of the vote in the region, so below the national average. If western Ukraine, and Ivano-Frankivsk specifically, is the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism, it’s not evident in the election polling. In the parliamentary by-election, the Svodboda candidate got just 14.9% of the vote, despite the now-deputy-PM Svoboda candidate winning with over 30% in the 2012 elections. The winner was notorious local businessman and Ihor Kolomoyskyy associate Oleksandr Shevchenko with over 37%. Second was incumbent mayor Viktor Anushkevychus with just over 25% – who is now condemned to sort out the messes he’s made in the city over seven years as mayor. And so, Ivano-Frankivsk is again a city in mourning, with the events in eastern Ukraine now seeming closer and more real in the city. At the same time, everyday life goes on, too, as the city and its residents seek to maintain some semblance of normality in post-Maidan, post-Revolution and now post-election Ukraine.

Advertisements

Frankivsk Right Sector Armoured Personnel Carrier Farce Ends. State-sponsored paramilitary training camps start.

The last couple of posts here focussed on the presence of the Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence armoured personnel carrier (APC) that had been parked since just after Easter outside the Ivano-Frankivsk police headquarters, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MBC) building.  My previous post suggested that an interval had been reached in this farce with an inevitable new act to follow. Passing the police HQ on Monday, the APC was still parked outside the entrance. There was one young man stationed on the vehicle with Maidan Self-Defence badges on his camouflage gear.

Right Sector/ Maidan Self-Defence APC, Monday 12 May 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Right Sector/ Maidan Self-Defence APC, Monday 12 May 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

That’s the APC there on Monday, hidden behind a tree. I’d just got back from Belarus that morning so perhaps my habit of being cautious in photographing government buildings developed there meant I took this poor photo.

Anyway, passing the building today – on a bus, so there’s no photo yet – I noticed that the APC had disappeared. The small parking bay outside the building was vacant and there was not a single “activist” by the building. The local press – and even the national news – so keen to cover the presence of the APC outside the building are completely silent about its current whereabouts, the reasons for its disappearance and how the removal was negotiated (if indeed there were negotiations).

There is also no word as to whether the dispute which triggered this long-running farce, with blockades by Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence beginning as early as March this year, had been resolved. It seems that the Kyiv-nominated head of police remains in position although the “activists” were vehemently opposed to the man from Volhynia.

When I first spotted this news report about a Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence military and ideological training camp, I though that perhaps the APC had been put to use there. However, the video report – a must watch, even if you don’t understand Ukrainian, to get the sense of what I’m about to write about – shows no APC. The camp also took place over the weekend, as it was mothers’ day, and the APC was in place on Monday.

The only insignia visible on vehicles in the video are those of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine (Державна служба України з надзвичайних ситуацій), formerly its own Ministry, responsible for dealing with emergency or extraordinary situations of various sorts. Now the Service is part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

While I was aware that Right Sector in the local region was organising various military and ideological training camps through the UNA-UNSO organisation and its youth branch Tryzub (Trident) named after Stefan Bandera, this report is the first I have seen that shows that the Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence paramilitary training camps are being funded and supported by the state on the national and regional level, as the video report states.

The camp involved people from this region as well as others who had travelled from Kyiv.

My initial interpretation was that this camp, taking place in the Halych district near to Ivano-Frankivsk, must be a National Guard training camp. The new National Guard are a reserve military force and they are already in action in eastern and southern Ukraine causing fatalities, as this Daily Telegraph video shows.

The Ivano-Frankivsk training camp could be preparing participants for entry into the National Guard, since Right Sector units are part of the NG. However, the video makes no mention of the National Guard. Obviously, this could be part of the mythologisation of Right Sector that some small elements of the local media are involved in. (There are other elements of the media here that are actively critical of it.) However, given the fact that a thirteen year-old boy is being trained to shoot, as the video shows, then it’s unlikely to be part of official National Guard duties. 18 is the minimum age.

It seems, then, that the State Emergency Service is funding and training paramilitaries who are not necessarily going to be included into the National Guard which might at least have some semblance of military hierarchy and order. If Ukraine is heading for civil war, then it seems numerous fighters – men, women and children – are being trained just up the road.

The farce of the APC outside the police seems relatively benign now given the tragedy that could follow soon with the involvement of those being trained up here in paramilitary camps rather than being sent into the proper army.

Frankivsk Armoured Personnel Carrier Farce enters interval

After the farce surrounding the Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence Armoured Personnel Carrier that has been stationed outside the city’s police HQ for three weeks now entered a new act yesterday, this Frankivsk farce seems to have entered another interval today. The main prop, the APC, remains on stage but the actors – aside from a couple of blokes – have disappeared. For now – I would say.

2014-05-06 13.27.50

APC Frankivsk 6 May 2014 outside police HQ

It’s quite likely that another protest against the chosen head of local police, Serhiy Pidubbnyj, will be held shortly. Today’s media reports, though, are silent on the fate of the new police chief, so it’s not clear if he has begun work or if he is doing so, but quietly.

I passed the police HQ again today after teaching a seminar this afternoon and found only these two guys jumping in and out of the APC. Police and the public were entering the building freely, while traffic was moving along vul. Sakharova without any trouble. Yesterday’s protest can be seen as a PR stunt, but it is also an indicator – as is the ongoing presence of this APC outside the police HQ – of ‘weak state structures’ and the ‘cockiness’ of Right Sector, as Mark Galeotti puts it.

Right Sector and Maidan APC in Frankivsk outside police HQ, 6 May 2014

Right Sector and Maidan APC in Frankivsk outside police HQ, 6 May 2014

This cock-sure attitude and weakness of the state locally will inevitably lead to another act in this farcical stand off between the city authorities and small but potentially dangerous groups in the city. Here’s hoping that it won’t turn to tragedy.

What had changed since yesterday on this building, I noticed today, was that scaffolding had been erected to repair the Security Service (SBU/ СБУ) wing that was damaged by “activists” throwing Molotov cocktails on 18/19 February as news of mass killings on the Maidan in Kyiv spread. The local press reported today that it will cost some 8 million hryvnias to repair the building and reinstall equipment inside. In pre-Maidan rates, that’s just under $1 million; now it’s just over $0.5 million – but still, a huge amount to find.

Repairing the SBU wing in Frankivsk. $1 million-worth of damage.

Repairing the SBU wing in Frankivsk. $1 million-worth of damage.

According to the report, the repairs will be funded from city and regional budgets, with not only the façade being repaired but also the equipment inside. From the report it’s easy to deduce that the local Security Service is hardly capable of functioning at the moment.

Meanwhile, the iron entrance gates are being restored by professional blacksmiths sponsored by a local businessman who also organises Frankivsk’s international blacksmiths’ festival. Some of these blacksmiths also rebuilt a footbridge near Maidan in Kyiv which was damaged during the February fighting.

While this philanthropy is admirable, as is the willingness to restore these gates to their former glory of 100 years ago when they were installed in the Habsburg era, there are very few calls to hold responsible those who set fire to the building and have them pay something back to the community that they claim to represent.

I’ll be out of Frankivsk for a few days again, but I’ll be back with the blog next week and will be sure to bring updates on any further acts in the farce. And I’ll describe any new dramas that emerge, as well as represent the everyday and the unremarkable.

An ordinary, post-revolutionary working day. And an art installation about Putin and Stalin appears.

Today I went to work, ate some soup and a bun in a still-Soviet-style café (Pirizhkova opposite the post office), went to an art exhibition, wandered the city for a bit, then taught another class, did a bit of shopping and came home. An ordinary day, pretty much, like this one two weeks ago. And so everyday life goes on in post-revolutionary Ivano-Frankivsk, although the traces of the events of the past four months and the fear of war are evident in the city.

Image

The most striking thing that appeared in the city today was this ‘Memorial to Russian Aggressors’. Standing on piles of tyres reminiscent of those that burned on Maidan in Kyiv, a wooden cage is home to three mannequins’ torsos with rather crude print-outs of the faces of Putin, Stalin and Dmitri Kiselov, the rather eccentric but powerful Russian journalist. The presence of Kiselov indicates a feeling, perhaps, among the creators of this installation that the “information war” or “propaganda war” that is ongoing is being used as a significant weapon against Ukraine.

 

Image

According to the organisers of the installation, created by the ‘Student Svoboda’ organisation, ‘Kiselyov’s aggression is different from Putin’s and Stalin’s only in its methods, which are no less dangerous than military actions.’ Quite a hyperbolic claim, that.

The memorial’s appearance has received a fair amount of coverage in the local press. It is unclear how long it will be standing there in the centre of Vichevyj Maidan, or Rally Square, where the first Euromaidan protests and gatherings took place in the city.

 

Image

Clearly, the students who created this are not art students – or if they are, then we should be very worried about the quality of works that are being produced by the university’s fine arts department – even if there is some vague resemblance to one of Francis Bacon’s works.

 

Image

With a bit of time on my hands before teaching, I headed to the recently-opened Centre for Contemporary Art at the bottom of Shevchenko Street near Sichovych Striltsiv by Hotel Dnister. I’m giving the exact location, since despite the Centre existing for several months now, it is rarely open when it says it should be open and so I doubt many people in the city have noticed its existence. Today, though, it was possible to a see a new exhibition titled ‘Spring/War’ (Vesna/Viyna, crossed over on the poster).

Image

The local artists featured referenced recent events in Ukraine, with Yuriy Bakay making an installation of a piece of metal found on Maidan in Kyiv and then roughly packaged for him to bring back to Frankivsk. It was the most interesting commentary on the fragmented, violent and ambiguous experience of Euromaidan and revolution. A slightly older by another artist work was revived as something of a prescient piece titled ‘Sniper’, reflecting perhaps a sense of foreboding. One work among the others referencing present sentiments was one that revived the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism. It’s not clear why the organisers of the exhibition thought it a good idea to include that. We’ll make further investigations.

Image

A terrible art exhibition in a wonderful space.

So, the exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art was pretty poor, although nowhere near as awful as one we chanced upon last week. My wife and I were heading through the pleasant Bastion complex and saw that there were a lot of people in the gallery there. It turns out it was the opening of this exhibition, which was a load of new age commentaries on celebrity culture. The paintings had the aesthetic of works which are supposed to be parodies of naïve art, except there was no parodic element to this, purely kitsch couched in new age pseudo philosophy.

This post was supposed to be about everyday life but seems to have become a review of recent art exhibitions in Ivano-Frankivsk. That could be a new strand to the blog. Anyway, back to the everyday.

Image

Life goes on as normal to a large extent. People continue to park like selfish idiots, as shown above, or here, where I made my debut as a published photographer thanks to sitting in the awful Royal Burger. It is also interesting that a new bank has opened in the current conditions in the city, not because of the weakened economy, but because it is the Savings Bank of Russia (Sberbank Rossii).

Image

However, there is now a campaign to challenge selfish drivers, whether by getting the traffic police more involved in such offences as happened last week, or by spontaneous civil actions of placing stickers and notices on drivers’ cars.

Image

Questionable building projects continue apace, including this one right outside the Administration Office, covering up an attractive old school in the historical heart of the city.

Image

Traces of Euromaidan in its popular public manifestations remain evident, although this flag – which has become tattered – is perhaps symbolic of the way in which those aspirations did not turn out as hoped for in the early days of civil protest.

 

Image

Europe also appears in the guise of a idealised location of style and aspiration, as this ‘Euro Fashion’ shop shows. It offers, according to the signs in the window, ‘elite fashion at reasonable prices’, while you can also ‘deposit clothes on commission’, meaning that the shop will sell your goods on your behalf.

Image

Outside the Regional Administration office no more rallies take place, while a few men in military fatigues, unarmed, mill about, although it is not clear why. They might have attended some council meetings, now that Right Sector and Self-Defence have forced themselves into being accepted as part of the local political apparatus. Or they just came out from the tent city, well, tent village now, that remains on the square to use the facilities and have a chat. Two policemen stand nearby, showing that their presence is returning to the city after a rather worrying period where control was not evident.

Image

And so it is that life goes on in this post-Maidan and post-revolutionary city where now a the fear of war and the collapsing currency are perhaps the most immediate legacies of the events of the past four months. The Hrynia lost another 1% or so in value against the dollar since Friday. There have been no right-wing, armed marches for a while now. Mourning is taking a more civic and civil form.

Yanukovych and his regime are gone, that’s another clear consequence of the revolution. Election campaigns are starting – for the presidency with 23 candidates – and for the local parliamentary seat freed by Oleskandr Sych becoming deputy PM.

2014-03-28 18.29.19

Exchange rates on 28 March 2014

 

2014-03-31 16.55.48

Exchange rates on Monday 31 March 2014. UAH loses 1% since Friday.

That may bring immediate personnel changes, but whether things will change significantly in everyday life in terms of the civil revolution – to end bribery, corruption and selfishness in public spaces – that’s something that will take long-term effort. And could depend strongly on whether the economy remains sound.

Frankivsk’s New Soviet Theme Pub, Young Professionals and a local news update

Image

Last week a new bar opened in Ivano-Frankivsk on Kurbasa Street, near the Philarmonic Concert Hall, in the city centre. My wife and I visited it for the first time this afternoon. It is called ГОСТ, a reference to the Soviet-era standards agency which continues its work today in providing standards for quality and measurement across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The name of the pub is unusual in that it references the Russian version of the name of the agency, rather than the Ukrainian ДЕСТ, while the theme of the pub is unique for this western Ukrainian city, since it is a Soviet theme bar. Not some kitsch appropriation of Soviet and communist symbols, but a kind of homage to the everyday tastes of life under communism.

Image

There are in the city plenty of bars and cafés which remain Soviet in style, including one of my favourites, Renata, above. Another old favourite, Bilyj Kamin’ (White Stone) no longer exists, but this great article shows that cafe, which is now a jewellers, alongside a couple of other (accidentally) retro cafes in the city.

Renata is located on the central Nezhalezhnosti Street and today tables and chairs were out for the first time this year as temperatures reached 22 degrees Celsius. Other Soviet-era legacy bars and cafes that I enjoy include Krystal and Pirizhkova. The latter specialises in savoury and sweet buns, as well as soups and chicory or wheat-based coffee with condensed milk. The recipes have remained unchanged there for decades, likewise some of the staff. Krystal like Renata offers a fuller menu, including booze, with cognac probably the most popular choice to go with soups, salads, meat patties on bread and coffee still made with Soviet-era, I think Hungarian, espresso machines. Pirzhkova attracts all sorts of people, from kids to pensioners seeking quick and hearty food, while Krystal and Renata tend to attract an older crowd, those who still remember the Soviet days.

These cafés fascinate me and probably deserve a post of their own. ГОСТ is an exceptional case, however, because it is the first stylised Soviet theme pub, designed and run by people whose childhood incorporated the final years of the Soviet Union.

Image

The city features plenty of other stylised theme pubs referring back to other periods in the city’s history or to imagined visions of other countries’ pubs. The original among this type of pub, opened a decade ago, Desyatka, features Austrian/Habsburg and Polish stylings. Pyatnytsa tries to look like an English pub, while Legenda, recently opened at the end of Nezhalezhnosti/ Sichovych Striltsiv mixes British and German themes. Piwnica on Sichovych Strilstiv goes for an interwar-Polish vibe, while Leprechaun – well, no need to explain that one, likewise Bavaria. While pubs in Poland already a decade ago, if not longer, such as PRL in Wrocław, adopted a faux communist-era look, ГОСТ is the first Soviet-era stylisation I have encountered in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Image

The menu features plenty of good, old-fashioned solid dishes as well as a few favourites from the time. It doesn’t go in for daft names for dishes (unlike the city’s kitschy nationalist/ UPA-themed Bunker on Hrushevskoho), it’s a no-frills kind of place. The menu begins with hard spirits, cognac top of the list of course and avoids anything unlikely to have been available at the time, so it’s purely Ukrainian and CIS-sourced food and drink. The beer on tap is from the First Private Brewery, established in 2004, but with its own no-frills image and Zhyhulivskye, which is a type of beer made in the USSR. Known until Stalinism as Viennese beer, it became Zhyhulivskye with a recipe guaranteed by the ГОСТ agency. Now numerous breweries make their own version of it. This beer is part of a trend of reviving Soviet-era brands by Ukrainian producers, including chocolate bars with seagulls and matrioshkas on them, or soft drinks – like the one in the first picture. They also only sell Pepsi, and in bottles with old-school labels. If I’m not mistaken Pepsi beat Coca Cola to the Soviet market, although it was overtaken post-1991/92.

The food menu includes a few salads, nothing too fancy, pierogi, varennyky and pancakes, before ending on desserts, including the outstanding smoked dried plums with walnuts in condensed milk. Really, it is amazing, and all for 12 UAH, so about 75p or $1 right now, meaning prices are comparable to the Soviet legacy bars and cafés.

Like the revival of certain brands, I would suggest ГОСТ is an indicator of a – perhaps surprising in the current climate in Ukraine, particularly the west – certain “Ostalgie”, to use the phrase applied to East Germany and the rise of a fascination with or curiosity about communism among different generations, including the one which did not have experience as adults of it.

Image

ГОСТ is decorated with photos of Ivano-Frankivsk in the Soviet era, as well as various objects including an East German typewriter, a Soviet-era radio and Russian- and Ukrainian-language books from the period. The interesting thing about the photos is that they make clear how much public memory overwrites or sidelines the communist period. It’s easy to find images of interwar or pre-WWI Stanislav(iv), or even the Second World War city under German occupation, yet harder to get a sense of what the city looked like and lived like under communism.

Image

Whether there is a genuine sense of Ostalgie or it’s simply a nice-looking bar with very decent prices that attracts its clients is hard to tell. However, the bar is proving a hit. Last night my wife and I couldn’t get a table, so we popped in for a soft-drink, some soup and the smoked prune dessert this afternoon on the way to the market. Last night the clientele was largely folk from our generation, mid-late twenties and early-thirties.

It was the same in the place where we ended up last night, another bar/restaurant that opened this month, Kondrat on Chornovola Street, between the centre and the university. It occupies a building that has seen two bars that were central to Frankivsk’s cultural life in the past, Chimera and Marmulyada. Kondrat last night was also filled with people of our generation and, recognising a few faces in there, people who would be classed as young professionals (but not yuppies). Why this might be interesting is that Frankivsk is a student city, with three large universities in a city of some 240,000. However, in contrast to a British university city which would be overrun with students, here the students seem largely absent at weekends.

This is possibly a result of their relative lack of income and lack of time, but also of a habit of often going back to home villages and towns each weekend. Instead, the folk filling bars and cafes of a weekend, aside from the regulars in Soviet legacy bars, seem to be an emerging class of young professionals, suggesting some disposable income and thus the potential formation of a middle class in Ukraine among our generation.

Image

The relative liveliness in the cafes and bars of the city this weekend, while partly a result of the improvement in weather, also suggests that the city is experiencing some degree of normalisation despite the threat of war and ongoing mourning. What is almost certain is that people were not out celebrating the signing by Ukraine of part of the EU Association Agreement. Although the Yanukovych government’s refusal to sign was the final spur to mass protests against the Party of Region’s rule, yesterday’s achievements hardly seem like a success given the cost at which they have been achieved – over 100 deaths of activists and police – and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. There is also a realisation that much is to be done t0 transform life in Ukraine. ‘Social Revolution’ is what the above graffiti calls for and this idea of a civil revolution, changing everyday behaviour and experience, particularly the phenomenon of bribery, is a desire and ideal – regardless of coverage of Right Sector or pro-Yanukovych rallies, as took place today in parts of Ukraine – ordinary Ukrainians across the country can share.

2014-03-19 13.48.33

Of course, though, with the incorporation of Right Sector or Self-Defence activists into local and national institutions there could easily be greater official legitimacy attached to more nationalist interpretations of the historical past and recent events. Local MP and Deputy PM Oleksandr Sych wants  to revive the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory which, modelled on the Polish IPN, will become a political instrument for seeking to construct a singular, unitary version of the past.

The poster below for an exhibition, meanwhile, suggests a particular interpretation of Taras Shevchenko’s 200th birthday,with the national bard again stylised as a revolutionary, but this time one with a nationalist bent. The event was organised jointly by the Regional State Administration’s Office for Culture, Nationalities and Religion and the Ivano-Frankivsk Stepan Bandera Regional Museum of the Battle for Liberation. I would wager that, at least on a regional level, such collaborations will only become more common, as the state apparatus comes to sponsor a particular nationalist reading of the past and present.

Image

Shevchenko, the national bard, appears here in the guise favoured by Right Sector’s youths – a bandana masking the face, while he is “supported” by two Molotov cocktails. The exhibition was in honour of his 200th birthday and the ‘Heavenly Hundred’ of Maidan dead, none of whom were from Right Sector.

Image

Here meanwhile there is a poster for another project, this time of a more civil type, calling for a revival of the tradition for each household to have a portrait of the national bard. Below is a poster promoting the ‘social revolution’ – rather than the dangerous national revolution desired by Right Sector and its social nationalist affiliates. The small black poster states that if you give or take bribes then you have the blood of the Heavenly Hundred of your hands.

The ideological appropriation of the Maidan dead by Right Sector is worrying and, I believe, immoral. But the message of the small black poster, a form of moral blackmail perhaps, should nevertheless be more effective in assisting the social revolution in Ukraine that will change everyday life for Ukrainians, slowly, for the better.

In local news, certain media outlets continue to peddle the myth that Right Sector and others represent ‘the city community’, as these organisations continue to oppose certain appointments, particularly in the police department. It seems mass social support is not forthcoming, while the rallies which were re-launched last week and appropriated by Right Sector and Self-Defence, seem to be having little resonance. Meanwhile, Right Sector which claims to be against all forms of traditional politics and condemned the system, has now decided that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. It has announced it will become a political party. However, Right Sector and Self-Defence refuse to cooperate with the new National Guard, a military organisation created by the state which recruits reservists and volunteers. They argue that their men cannot fight alongside former police who had been on the other side of the barricades in Maidan. The local authorities have agreed to form a separate unit for them but won’t arm the RS/Self-Defence unit, which is quite wise.

Sections of the local press, however, finally seem to be developing a critical stance towards the local patriots who consider themselves to be the voice of the community, with an important regional newspaper, Galician Correspondent, criticising the ‘double-standards’ of those calling for lustration. Indeed, it turns out the chosen candidate for head of police among those claiming to represent ‘the people’ and ‘the community’ is an ex-KGB agent!

The real army, which is raising funds from civilians who dial 565 which gives them 5 UAH or 30p/50 cents, is visiting local schools to explain what to do in case of emergency and war. Since most of my students didn’t know what to do in case of fire at the university, they might also want to come and give some talks to undergraduates.

In media news, you can catch the latest local news and debate on an online tv station, IF-TV from 6pm each day. It broadcasts live on the massive jumbotrons around the city at that time, too, and probably has more viewers there than online. Last night, there were more presenters than viewers most of the time. However, it has to be said that the level of local news sources online, in newspapers and on tv here is very impressive. Whereas my home city, larger than Frankivsk, has just one newspaper and tv news bulletins are limited to a couple of bulletins a day on BBC or ITV, here there are at least three newspapers, three full-time tv stations and over half a dozen internet news portals covering the city and region. I was interviewed by one outlet earlier this week and when asked what was most exceptional about Ivano-Frankivsk, I mentioned the media landscape, which surprised the intelligent and insightful young journalist I was talking to. The expected answer tends to concern food or drink, which brings this post full circle.

International Women’s Day in post-Revolution Frankivsk

Image

 

This was the scene this afternoon (8 March) at one of Ivano-Frankivsk’s main informal street-trading points in the city centre. Here it is possible to buy flowers year round, and often twenty four hours a day, while the number of traders increases around the time of any relevant holiday or festivity. It is also possible to buy seasonal fruit here at other times of year.

Today is International Women’s Day (also known here simply as the 8 March holiday). It is an official state holiday, meaning that Monday will be a day off work, with the weekend holiday transferred to the nearest working day. For the first time since the mass killings on Kyiv’s Maidan and the growing tensions over the occupation of Crimea there is something of a sense of festivity around the city. The flowers being sold on the streets or carried in the hands of often smiling women, sometimes together with oversized teddy bears (they seem to be a – literally – big thing this year) are adding a bit of colour to the city streets.

Children have also today added, quite literally, some colour to the city streets, by drawing on the Vichevyj Maidan (Rally Square) – the original site of pro-European protests in the city – anti-war and patriotic graffiti.

ImageAt the top, it says ‘I am against war. I am for peace.’ While the man in the hat with the Ukrainian flags is saying ‘No to war.’

Image

This one says ‘Crimea is Ukraine. East and West together.’

 

Image

This is a close up of the children’s street art which says, ‘I am against war. I am for peace.’

Sadly, some in the city think it is appropriate to stick Right Sector stickers outside the Children’s Puppet and Mime Theatre on the city’s main street, covering part of its poster advertising its schedule for the month.

Image

Another sticker that promoted a different far-right cause has been mostly ripped away, but when we tried with our bare hands to take off the Right Sector sticker it proved impossible. The glue is very strong, so we’ll have to come back with a sponge. Or the kids painting the street can get creative on some of the far-right propaganda around the city and spread their more peaceful message.

As for women’s day, the holiday has added some colour to the city and, together with some sunshine – rarely seen in the past couple of weeks around here – brought a fair number of smiling people out onto the streets, filling cafes again and perhaps allowing some brief escape from the tensions.

Today’s festivities, which are not marked in Britain at least in such popular ways, have been affected by the nascent moral revolution in the city which has taken to combating bribery and corruption. Teachers have been asked not to accept gifts from their pupils in schools. My wife, supervising her students’ internships at schools around the city, yesterday witnessed this in practice, bringing out some degree of confusion among the children. Although, she reports, in some classes the kids were happy to scoff the chocolates they had brought with their classmates instead.

While in Britain most coverage of International Women’s Day frames it with a feminist slant or with focus on global attempts to achieve greater gender equality, in Ukraine today’s festivities seem to be more popular, part of an annual ritual of present giving without much reflection upon women’s place in society. Interestingly, Ukraine performs quite well on overall measures of equality. But scrolling down to the maps of Europe here reveals something that can be felt when living here. Education and economic participation are areas where women are very highly represented, yet in the political sphere Ukraine performs much worse. And this is evident in terms of the revolution, where women’s voices are rarely heard, as in politics more generally.

Image

 

This screenshot of a Facebook post from Oleh Lyashko, leader of Ukraine’s Radical Party and highly outspoken parliamentarian, comes from one day of heightened crisis on Maidan. He calls in point 4 – after stressing that cash donations should be made only by the Maidan stage, diesel should go to Kyiv’s City Hall and water is required there too – for women’s help. He writes, ‘Women, become volunteers – your help is required in making sandwiches.’ This statement seems somewhat symbolic of the sidelining of women in the revolution which after its civil society beginnings has become something of a male-dominated struggle over power and authority. With women relegated to the role of sandwich makers or, even in the early days, providing entertainment with singing, while the men dominated the stage with speeches, the question emerges of whether women will have sufficient representation in post-revolutionary Ukraine.

If men are able to dominate discourse, presenting themselves as the heroes of the revolution – whether in its democratic, negotiated forms or in its more violent, insurrectionary modes – while women fulfilled auxiliary roles, then this hierarchy may well be reproduced subsequently. After all, in post-1989 Poland, with a coalition of Solidarity activists and the Roman Catholic Church prevalent, significant aspects of women’s rights were reduced compared to what they had under communism. And there are elements in the new interim government, including the deputy PM Oleksandr Sych – who represents Ivano-Frankivsk – who are keen on a moral revolution, where women’s reproductive rights and expected social roles are likely to be a site of political debate, most likely without significantly representative participation from women who will be affected.

Today, keeping to the theme of Women’s Day in my English lessons with children aged 9-12, I asked them to name any famous or successful women they know. The first name to come out, from a girl, was Whitney Houston. She seemed as astounded as me that this was what she had said. The second name, from a boy, was Catherine Ashton, showing that children are clearly following the news. Only after a couple of actors and singers did Yulia Tymoshenko emerge, with one boy then commenting “stara baba” or “old woman” about the ex-PM. We then read a text about Pocahontas.

Teaching students and discussing women’s issues, it generally emerges that female students are happy to cede the political sphere to men and concentrate on the educational and economic aspects of their existence. This is fairly pragmatic, although the dangers of doing so are evident when it could be that very soon, in the name of the revolution, a moral transformation is sought from above and women’s lives will be affected without significant political representation.

Image

Writing of festivities and celebrations, tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko’s birthday. (Ukraine’s national poet should, quite obviously, be played by Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy in any English-language biopic.) While this was supposed to be a huge year for Ukraine, even being marked in Cambridge where an oligarch funds Ukrainian studies, it seems the celebrations will be rather subdued in the current atmosphere.

Image

 

Honouring the Dead: With a Torchlight Procession. And an update on the revolutionary everyday.

Image

Photo from http://firtka.if.ua/?action=show&id=48465, which outlines the route of the procession through the city centre and suggests the number of participants was ‘close to a hundred’. This longer video suggests the number of participants, and torches, was significantly higher. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUAwnKqa4U0

Yesterday evening (28 Feb 2014), around 6:50 p.m., I was walking through the city centre along Sichovych Striltsiv Street and became aware that I could hear a crowd shouting or chanting. I thought that perhaps a rally was being held, this being a now-traditional time for gathering, on the original site of Euromaidan protests in the city – on Vichevyj Maidan, by the post office. However, when I reached a corner and could get a view of that square, I could see that a torchlight procession was taking place. Having eaten nothing but dry crackers since Tuesday owing to food poisoning, I thought – briefly – that my mind was playing tricks. Although I couldn’t track the procession yesterday, I understood correctly that it would head to the Memorial Square, where an Ivano-Frankivsk student, Roman Huryk, who was killed on Maidan in Kyiv, is buried. (See my previous post on that.)

Ukrainian funeral and mourning traditions are regionally and ethnographically diverse, and some do involve lighting torches, although not in mass numbers and then marching through a city with them while chanting slogans (more on those below). The associations of this march with a tradition in Nazi Germany are clear not only to me, but also to numerous people who have commented in social media on this march. The comments on the post about it on Typical Frankivsk’s VK page is insightful, as are the comments under the Firtka article.

Ukrainian funeral and mourning traditions include long-term, public mourning, including wakes held 40 days after a death, as well as marking a death again on the ninth day afterwards, which was the purpose of this torchlight procession. It is clear that the population of Ivano-Frankivsk would want to mark the death of local-student Roman Huryk and others from the region, Ukraine and beyond killed on Maidan, although public opinion – as far as it can be gauged from these comments – suggests that including a torchlight procession was not the wisest option.

More pragmatic responses to the torchlight procession in the city suggest that candles would have been a better option and there was no need for someone to consciously prepare dozens, perhaps hundreds, of torches for parading through the city. Other pragmatic or strategic responses suggest that this was not the right time to hold such a procession (implying that it might be ok in future – after all, Svoboda have in the past few years been holding torchlight processions around the country in honour of dead Ukrainian heroes). The main concern in such responses is the current context of Crimea where a military confrontation is brewing as the peninsula is held by Russian or Russian-backed forces.

Responses worrying that this is the wrong time are concerned for the perception of western Ukraine, which is framed in Russian media stereotypically as a region of fascists, Nazis and “banderites” (Bandera/ UPA/ OUN supporters) and nationalists. Thus, there is a fear that such processions can simply provide evidence for such stereotypes which, it is believed, also prevail in more pro-Russian parts of eastern Ukraine. A typical response to this appears to be that Ukrainians in their own country shouldn’t need to be concerned about what Russians or anti-Ukrainians think, as they are free to mark their dead heroes as they see fit. I’ve yet to read or hear a denial that this is not a National Socialist inspired form of marking the dead or making a statement. Either there is among some of those approving of this torchlight procession ignorance of the associations of this form of march, or there is no sense of shame attached to it.

What is clear, however, is that what could have been a march to honour the memory of Roman Huryk and others killed on Maidan, has not received any extensive media coverage. Firtka focused on the torchlight procession aspect, while no other local media, usually quick in updating their sites with local news and commemorative actions, have even mentioned the march. It seems that there is ambivalence towards this form, with coverage of the protest not possible without drawing attention to the torchlight procession. Editors are clearly showing restraint, perhaps fearful that this march could be used to validate the stereotype of western Ukraine.

It is clear, however, even from the video on YouTube of the procession that not everyone was carrying a torch, thus not everyone was necessarily aligned to whichever organisation thought they were a necessary accessory. This was supposed to be a general, civic march in honour of the memory of the dead. In the video, you can see priests leading the procession, followed by a marching band, then a crowd with numerous torches, but not held by all. (The role of the priests here becomes an interesting comment on this article from the Polish press, featuring the archbishop of Ivano-Frankivsk, proclaiming the Church’s important, key role in the Maidan. It should be borne in mind that this was the city of Andrey Sheptytsky.) In the video you can hear the following slogans:

Honour and Glory to the heroes of Stanislav.

Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes.

Glory to the Nation/ Death to the Enemies.

Ukraine/ Above All.

Heroes Never Die.

At the end of the video, the Lord’s Prayer is chanted.

The first slogan has been fairly common place in the city, reflecting upon the memory of local heroes, using one variant of the pre-1962 name of the city. The second slogan is the most prevalent not only in the city but now in the Maidan movement, regardless of affiliations. It is used in parliament, it has become a commonplace greeting on the stages at rallies around the country, while it has also been chanted at a Georgia-Russia rugby match and at a CSKA-Spartak ice hockey match in Moscow in support of Ukraine. The third slogan, Glory to the Nation/ Death to the Enemies marks something of an escalation in the arms race of nationalist markers. As Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes becomes commonplace, this is – I believe – is now the marker of the ideological nationalist. This also applies to Ukraine Above All, which also seems to have fairly obvious connotations. ‘Heroes Never Die’ has been chanted at funerals by crowds around the country.

2014-02-24 13.42.25

An Italian/Mexican pizza restaurant in Ivano-Frankivsk bearing the slogan, ‘Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes’.

Why has there been an arms race in slogans or nationalist identification, and what suggests the normalisation of the nationalist greeting Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes (Слава УкраїніГероям СлаваFrankivsk (Bunker), require you to respond on the door to gain entry. However, it has been possible to mumble something vague or just one person in your party to reply in order to access the places. With the events of Euromaidan, however, the greeting has become commonplace, entering workplaces, greetings between friends, as well as becoming ubiquitous at rallies.

It is understandable why in light of the mass killings and tragic situation in Ukraine why this has happened. Equally, it is clear why nationalist symbolism has become widespread in the course of the revolution. However, there is also a sense that the Glory to Heroes slogan/greeting is also used unthinkingly, becoming visible when an affront is committed against this new everyday ritual. Such affront can be caused by a foreigner refusing to respond as “required”. Indeed, in one workplace I was asked – before the mass killings took place – what I do when greeted with the slogan. I suggested that the response ‘Heroyam slava’ sounds quite like ‘heroine’s lover’, which was an attempt to deflect the conversation. (Before the revolution I also had a tactic of deliberately mixing up non-typical Ukrainian greetings – so to ‘Slava Ukraini’ I would respond ‘Voistino voskres”, which means ‘He truly resurrected’, which is part of the Easter greeting tradition.)

Now, at a time when such play is inappropriate, I generally give a nod, a handshake, or a vague mumble, although there is evidently an affront felt particularly in the company of strangers. What is hard to communicate is that my intent is not an affront to those who have newly joined the pantheon of Ukrainian heroes, the ‘Heavenly Hundred’ (Небесна Сотнія), or even to the Ukrainian nation. It is simply an attempt to remain aware – even at times of heightened emotion – a sense of the historical significance that this slogan carries, what and who it has represented in the past, including values and actions that I cannot accept (both for family reasons and out of a an ethical position). The same stands for torchlight processions. More people, though, seem to be aware of what they are associated with than the everyday slogan.

What is noticeable is that in the very first days of what became Euromaidan, organisers and activists in the civic protests were suggesting alternatives to the then popular chant ‘Whose not jumping is a Moskal” (a Muscovite). And it had an effect.  However, that was in the days of the initial civic protests, which generally seemed to have been an upsurge of popular frustration and desire, as well as an indication of an unexpectedly vibrant although still fragmented and developing civil society in Ukraine. Nationalist symbols and organisations were evident, but not dominant, and seemed to largely indicate a kind of mobilising populist patriotic nationalism. Since the protests turned violent and fatal in Kyiv, nationalist-leaning organisations have become more prevalent and this is evident now in the city in terms of who and what is visible on the city streets as the face of protests and Euromaidan.

While defenders of the torchlight procession have suggested that people are free to mourn the dead and express their feelings as they wish, and that such a protest does not break any laws, this fails to explore the question of who has power over the city’s streets. Currently, as the various roadblocks and the Self-Defence/ Pravy Sektor-police patrols of the city’s streets suggest, it is the organisations who have fought and are prepared to fight who are given authority and become the public face of the post/pre-post-revolutionary city, as well as legitimacy for the future. This is not to say that the entire city has turned nationalist. Far from it. The everyday revolution continues.

Market-stall holders on the central market, previously in the hands of a Party of Regions figure, are now renting their stalls from the city which took control of the market. The stall-holders staged a protest and won out. Locals involved in a dispute with a garage cooperative also won their battle. This is all part of a general realisation that the biggest difference to everyday lives will be made by taking action against corruption which previously was largely treated as a necessary evil. Passports are now being issued according to regulations, rather than with extra payments required, while there is a widespread call for avoiding giving bribes in any situation. Even Women’s Day, 8 March, has been targeted – with parents asked not to give teachers presents, as is usual, and instead donate the value of any intended gifts to support those injured and the families of those killed on Maidan.

My fear, however, is that those organisations – Pravy Sektor, the Church and whoever else – who claim to have done the most for Maidan, measured in the number of deaths suffered or the level of spiritual inspiration purported to have been instilled in the people, will – as is already becoming evident – demand greater representation in the new structures of power. They will do so in the name of the people, claiming to represent them and speak for them, and thus claiming the right to seek policies in accordance with the organisations’ views. Speaking in the name of a singularly imagined people or nation, this will likely forget the disparate, diverse nature of Ukrainians (and others) who first came onto the squares of Ukraine in November.

Ivano-Frankivsk: A City in Mourning. Ivano-Frankivsk: Everyday life and the Revolution goes on.

Image

A 19 year-old student of the Precarpathian University philosophy department Roman Guryk, was killed yesterday in Kyiv during the fatal violence. Today, there were no classes at the university. A memorial service was held at the university in the morning followed by a memorial service outside the Regional Administration building. His funeral will be held on Monday, while the Student Resistance will be holding two memorials at the weekend in the Prosvita Centre.

Image

Image

Yesterday evening outside the Regional Administration building a memorial service was held for all those killed. The city marked what was already, before yesterday’s mass killings, already an official day of mourning following deaths on Tuesday, by becoming unusually quiet. Not only was it a case of people generally avoiding socialising in cafes, but shops were largely free of music while the massive advertising screens around the city were silenced.

Image

Usually these screens on the Market Square, by the theatre or, this one, on Vichevyj Maydan, or Rally Square, by the post office, the site of the original Euromaidan protests in the city, blare out unbearably loud adverts for local businesses. The concept of noise pollution is not yet widespread in Ukraine.

The city is clearly in mourning and shock, with the mass deaths in Kyiv and the death of a local student adding to the feeling which disrupts the usual atmosphere of this Central European city characterised by cafe culture, by going for a stroll around the city, by sitting on benches and having a chat or playing board games. Those aspects of the city’s life are clearly muted.

But still, everyday life goes on, or struggle on, while the revolution and resistance also continues in its various innovative and potentially violent ways.

In terms of everyday life, the potential collapse of the currency or economy is taking its toll, as are feelings of panic induced by fears of martial law or a state of emergency. People have begun making massive withdrawals from cash machines and banks, with queues forming at odd times outside the State Savings Bank or branches of PrivatBank not having any cash. The cash, where possible, might be exchanged into solid foreign currencies, or it has been spent on stockpiling goods. By Thursday night, the supermarkets that remained open were clearly short of cooking oil, grain and buckwheat, milk and bread, while other reports suggest salt was in short supply. Not everyone, though, as cash to withdraw or exchange, since many state employees, including university lecturers, had not received their pay this month. Only this morning was some money paid into accounts, although this was merely one third of the amount due. Either the state is deliberately trying to control the amount of money available to stem panic buying – or the state treasury is actually running out of cash.

At the moment, there is no evidence that lecturers are willing to self-organise like the students or those who are occupying central Kyiv.

Most private businesses are running as usual, although the three stores of supermarket chain Silpo were blockaded on Tuesday and Wednesday. Likewise, the central market was shut down with stallholders stating that they were “forced to volunteer” to go on strike. The market is owned by a local Party of Regions figure, thus it was forced by local activists to shut down. I have not been able to establish the connection between Silpo and the Party of Regions. However, by today the supermarkets and the market were open again and well-stocked and doing a roaring trade. Prices, despite the weakening of the Ukrainian hryvnia, seem fairly stable – for now.

Another store that was blockaded was Epicentre, the Ukrainian B&Q. The managers of the city branch were asked to supply goods useful to protesters in Kyiv, which they duly did, even putting online an invoice which became their donation to the cause. That store will remain closed until the conclusion of the revolution, according to activists. Yesterday evening, when we entered the Student Resistance HQ, we could see young men and some women working on turning these goods into shields and basic weaponry, while they also possessed some ready-made versions. They’ve now sent a convoy of weapons, shields and fighters to Kyiv.

Yesterday, there were reports that busloads of “titushky”, or government-sponsored street fighters, were being transported to the city. This meant that all roads into the city, beginning with the bridge over the river, were blockaded and patrolled by baseball-bat wielding youths. No titushky entered the city, although the rumours that they were already in the city spread like wildfire especially among the older population less likely to have been online with up-to-date information. However, the fear of potential violence did close a language school in the city for the day, while some students were summoned home by their parents.

The situation in the city is currently fairly peaceful compared to Tuesday and Wednesday when the Security Office was being stormed, likewise the Prosecutor’s Office and the Tax Office. Despite this relative calm, it is somewhat disconcerting to see order being kept by teenagers and men in their twenties masked and with baseball bats. Representatives of Right Sector/ Pravyj Sektor and Maidan Self-Defence are cooperating with police as of tonight in patrolling the city. Lviv police today went to Kyiv for the first time and joined the protesters, offering their protection while also siding with the more moderate Maidan Self-Defence in order to support the negotiated end to the current regime. Ivano-Frankivsk police are likely to follow suit. Although in Kyiv they might encounter Right Sector activists who, at the moment, seem determined to push through a violent end to the Yanukovych regime, promising to use arms in storming government buildings tomorrow morning.