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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Sunday in the Park with Taras: On Shevchenko’s 200th birthday.

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Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ukraine’s national poet, the Kobzar – the Bard, Taras Shevchenko. This whole year is being marked as Shevchenko year, with celebrations planned not only in Ukriane but also around the world among the diaspora and academic community. With the current events in Ukraine, however, the planned festivities have been somewhat overshadowed and muted. Still, Shevchenko’s place in the Ukrainian revolutionary tradition and canon is guaranteed, with this reflected in various cultural re-appropriations of his image. This article shows some very creative approaches, although the image of Shevchenko as Che Guevara features a somewhat misjudged slogan: ‘She’. Yes, it is the first sound in both men’s names, although in English I see ‘she’ – something perhaps more appropriate for yesterday’s celebration of International Women’s Day.

In Ivano-Frankivsk there was a poetry reading today on the Vichevyj Maidan (Rally Square) by the post office, while a much more widely attended event was held on the square outside the Administrative Office. Begun with the now obligatory Mass, the celebrations included music – including the playing of the bandura, the instrument of the Kobzar – various poetry readings as well as political speeches on the current situation.

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Today, however, my wife and I avoided the large-scale events organised in the city – although we will attend some Shevchenko-related events in the coming week. Instead, we took a walk along Shevchenko Street – formerly ulica Lipowa and Lindenstrasse, owing to the lime/linden trees which line this wonderful street that leads to the main park in the city, which is also named after Shevchenko. This street is home to the university where we both work and is also where my wife’s first home is. As the photo below shows, her first home – where she lived into her early twenties is falling into disrepair. It had been used as a teaching space for the pedagogical department and also as accommodation for lecturers and their families. Unlikely to be saved any time soon, the collapse of the building would free up some prime city centre real estate.

This photo also shows some of the attempts to revitalise Shevchenko Street, making it – at least for two thirds of the way – a pedestrian thoroughfare and the city’s calling card. However, renovations which were begun – bizarrely – at the start of November 2012 have hardly progressed, leaving the street in quite a mess. Here, though, some of the new paving stones and lamps are evident. The mayor had promised that the renovations would be finished in time for this 200th anniversary and if they weren’t, he said, the responsible authorities would be made to walk on their knees along the street to the park and the Shevchenko monuments located there. Our walk did not, sadly, reveal any bloodied rags and scraps of mid-range navy or black suits, so we can only assume that this threat was not fulfilled.

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Shevchenko Street, at the city centre end, starts with a relief plaque to the Bard, placed there on the 175th anniversary of his birth, as the photo above shows. It is modest, and now adorns a beauty salon, but is tasteful. Less successful, however, was the most recent monument – below – to Shevchenko, where the sculptor seems to have lost any sense of proportion giving this son of the peasantry a rather oversized head and huge hands. By all accounts, Shevchenko was a stocky chap but here he seems  to have been given the proportions of a hobbit. This statue, which was erected three years ago, is an exact replica of the Shevchenko monument in Ottawa. The sculptor is from the Ukrainian diaspora and there are plans to show a film made in the 1990s in Canada on local television in Ivano-Frankivsk.

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More successful, however, was this original sculpture in the park, also featured at the start of this post. It shows Shevchenko is his later years, rather than the above sculpture which bears the image of a young Shevchenko that also features on the 100 UAH banknote.

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Here, by this statue we witnessed a young girl with her father who was explaining to her the importance of the poet and then with great reverence she laid a flower by the memorial, signally the respect with which he is treated in the country and features much more prominently in the life of the nation than, say, Shakespeare in Britain.

The walk in the park did not pass without incident as we encountered – as is usual around here – a thoughtless and selfish driver who declared it his right to park inside Shevchenko Park.

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My wife asked him whether he really needs to park right inside the park, since many other people with prams managed to cope without driving right into the park. After some pretty foul language from him, he decided to confront me about ‘how I got so wise’. I didn’t have the time or the will to explain. It seems that while some aspects of behaviour are being transformed by the revolution, such as teachers refusing gifts, the revolution can only truly be declared victorious when drivers stop being arseholes, parking in parks or on pedestrian crossings or jumping red lights.

An interesting outcome of the confrontation with this man was that a young woman carrying a 1980 copy of Shevchenko’s work Kobzar apart from suggesting that ‘he’s not worth it’, also thought I was Polish. (Knowing Polish, I tend to speak Ukrainian with a Polish accent). She thanked me first as a Pole for all the help my apparent nation had offered Ukraine, then I pointed out that I am British. She then thanked me for all the help Britain had offered Ukraine. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that in all likelihood Britain won’t do too much to help and seems more interested in the billions of Russian oligarchs.

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This post will now take the form of walk along Shevchenko Street to Shevchenko Park. Here is a view of the start of the renovated section at the corner with Horodynskoho Street. It is clearly very much a work in progress, although there is a clear impression of the intention to create a wonderful thoroughfare. It took a campaign by ordinary residents of the city last year to save the linden trees which gave this street its original name, with council and developers claiming the trees were variously a danger to lives or property, or that they could be replaced. The campaign was successful involving a series of protests and petitions, and it’s clear that the trees have now been given special protection.

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This set of pictures shows a building a little further up Shevchenko Street adorned with gargoyles or chimeras, as they are known here. This building housed the first Ukrainian language secondary school in the city. It also bears plaques to three Ukrainian men. The first is to Stepan Lenkavsky, an activist in the Ukrainian interwar nationalist and independence movement, who became leader of the Organisation of Ukrainian Revolutionary Nationalists in exile in Munich in the 1950s and 1960s, hence the OUN symbolism on the plaque and also graffitied onto the wall beneath it. He was most famous for authoring the Ten Commandments of the Ukrainian Nationalist, with his plaque here bearing the first: ‘You will secure a Ukrainian state or die fighting for it.’

The second plaque here is to Oleksa Hirnyk, another pupil of the school. In 1978 he burned himself to death close to Taras Shevchenko’s tomb on the 60th anniversary of the declaration of an independent Ukraine. He is an official, state-recognised Hero of Ukraine, although for a long time his fate was silenced, while Shevchenko’s poetry provided the inspiration for his resistance to Ukraine’s Russification under Soviet rule.

The third plaque features Mykhailo Dyachenko, another graduate of the school, and a nationalist activist who was the chief poet of UPA who died in 1952 fighting NKVD forces in Ivano-Frankivsk – then Stanislav – region.

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Further along the street, as well as some wonderful examples of nineteenth and twentieth century urban architecture, you find the point where the renovations of Shevchenko Street have come to an end – namely just outside what is nominally the main entrance to the university. The paving stones are ready and waiting to be laid, while the workers have a portakabin available, but there doesn’t seem to be an urgency – despite the ideal weather for the job – to lay them. Not even to reach a few metres further so that it would be possible to enter the university without traipsing through mud. Thankfully the massive trenches that had tainted the street for months have been filled in. The state of the street has meant a significant increase in graffiti in this area, and none of it really that creative or humorous.

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Further up the street, you get a sense of the eclectic variety of architecture on this street which reflects all eras of the city’s history. The street existed as a thoroughfare to hunting grounds in the seventeenth century when it was founded, then it became a more exclusive area of the city, hence some of the lovely townhouses. However, it also houses the university which – beyond any nice buildings it acquired – can’t be said to have contributed greatly to the city’s architectural heritage in any positive way. The building behind the green fence is the death trap where I am expected to conduct my classes, the Humanities Block, which featured in this post about health and safety at work and fire safety. Opposite the university are some communist-era blocks of flats, while a nineteenth century Austrian-era building features most probably a remnant of the Soviet-era service sector, shoe repair. The red sign suggests membership of an updated form of cooperative, while the plastic windows and doors are clearly a twenty-first-century imposition on the building.

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Further up the street there is evidence of great care being taken to renovate Austrian- and Polish-era buildings, even with their fine and intricate details, as the pink building shows. The row of buildings, meanwhile, shows a series of architecture from interwar modernism blending into Austrian-era bourgeois architecture. The building furthest to the right houses some of the finest rooms owned by the university, with this building knows as the Building of Academics. Here doctoral dissertations are defended and dignitaries hosted. Further down is the house where one of Ukraine’s leading contemporary writers, Yuriy Andrukhovych, lives.

Behind the red car is a more recent architectural addition which has taken a form common in the city, namely “renovating” an existing building while in fact substantially altering it and effectively putting something new in its place. This is also evident in the form of the house behind the high fence where a local oligarch, or probably a “minigarch” lives. Next door to this minigarch’s house is a nineteenth-century building which has fallen into disrepair with no chance of it being rescued.

IMG_1996Still, some of the grand buildings by the park remain untouched and in great condition. Some in the past housed high-ranking local Party officials, although the one featured here is now home to a monastery. Nearby is a kindergarten.

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Also in Shevchenko Park is the Rukh (Movement) Central Municipal Stadium which is still home to the largest local football team, Precarpathia Ivano-Frankivsk. The results board outside, however, still refers to the relative glory days of 2010/11 when the team was in the second-flight of Ukrainian football. Since then, following bankruptcy, the club has declined and despite talk of takeovers, it looks like it will be a long time before the city sees a decent standard of football again. The stadium could probably do with significant investment, since the stand in the third picture is apparently much too steeply built to enable fans to see the whole of pitch without obstruction. The most popularly attended events at the stadium now are rock concerts, with Okean Elzy having performed in spring and Skryabin in autumn.

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The mix-and-match form of the stadium gives it a certain accidentally modernist charm, while the traces of the efforts to extend its use are evident. Probably in the 1990s and early 2000s there was an internet and gaming club here called Kiberia. It is not quite clear, though, what this entrance gate was supposed to achieve, despite a vague resemblance to a 2D parthenon.

So, this was a walk along Shevchenko Street – one of the most historically and architecturally significant in the city – and into the park, which is a trace of the initial reason for locating a city here in the 17th century. In 1662, the Polish nobles, the Potockis, thought this would have made a great hunting ground.

This is by no means an exhaustive history of the street, merely a set of observations from a Sunday walk on the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Ukrainian bard Taras Shevchenko. Still, this brief overview shows this street to be something of a palimpsest, reflecting better than any other in its architecture and history the 200 years that have passed since Shevchenko’s birth and indeed the entire history of the city.

Health and Safety in Practice: An Update from Room 813.

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This week, I led a seminar on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the room allocated was 813, meaning we were on the highest floor of the Humanities Block.

Before examining the conditions of Winston Smith’s arrest and the threats of Room 101, I discussed with students their options for escaping room 813 in case of fire. The first suggestion was a parachute, although no one had packed one. The second, less ironic suggestion, was to use the central staircase, with the students aware that the emergency exit was shut. Asked why that staircase was shut, one student replied “because there are no fires or emergencies, the university doesn’t need to keep it open”. I had to explain that the Ukrainian name for emergency exit literally means ‘spare exit’, thus the idea is that it is used only when necessary. It seems that this student had neatly internalised doublethink, the logic of the university authorities.

Asking the students what fire safety equipment they expected as a minimum, the leading student in the class responded ‘water supply’. It seems that expectations have been lowered to the university’s level. Asked what good a water supply is without a hose – since there are no hoses anywhere in the Humanities Block – one student replied that she could wet her clothes. Evidently, some fire safety techniques had been imparted to the students in the course of their Occupational Health and Safety classes, which third years also take. Wetting her clothes would probably prevent some degree of burning and make burning to death slightly less painful. As far as I could learn, the third years’ lessons on Occupation Health and Safety consist of exercises in basic physics, given the teacher’s specialism. I’m not sure if one of the questions is, “how long would it take a student weighing 55kg to hit the ground if she jumped from the window on the eighth floor of a burning building?”

Asked why the university holds it staff and students in disdain, the students looked quite shocked at the thrust of the question. Asked why they don’t complain, there was further evidence that the students had internalised the logic of the system. ‘They’d tell us there’s no money, so there’s no sense in complaining’. The university’s imagined word is final. There was some consternation, however, that the university’s Inner Party in the Central Block was protected by fire extinguishers and hoses, although there was little willingness to recognise that they were being left to fend for themselves in a death trap of a building, with their tuition fees being squandered elsewhere.

If the university has managed to impart any knowledge effectively, then its version of doublethink, crimestop and logical obedience is it.

Another letter to the students a fortnight on.

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

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

The Literary resistance continues in all weathers.

 

Dear Students,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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