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Thursday, 23 January 2014

Grim News from Ukraine | National Review Online: Greek Catholic patriarch appeals for peace, Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarch Filaret does likewise - Rector of Ukrainian Catholic University arrested on trumped up charges = Church threatened with suppression

Photo: Priests between protesters and riot police. Fights in Kyiv last for 2 days
Ukrainian Orthodox priests and monks prayer for peace before both the protestors and police

George Weigel writes:

Last Thursday, in response to new and draconian laws that abridged their civil liberties, several Ukrainian democracy activists tweeted and texted that they now “lived in a dictatorship.” Some Western observers may have been tempted to think that this was an overreaction, given what seemed, then, to be the continued vitality of the EuroMaidan movement for civic renewal. The brutal turn of events in Ukraine since then should have made matters clear: Ukraine is, at the moment, a thugocracy in which President Viktor Yanukovych and his associates are using the veneer of legality to crush dissent and reinforce their stranglehold on power.

No one knows for sure who or what turned the EuroMaidan in Kiev violent over the weekend. The likeliest explanation is that some combination of deliberate provocation and frustration among the dissidents ignited a latent combustibility, such that the world watched live-streaming videos of Molotov cocktails, burning buses, and general chaos. What was not so evident in those videos was the growing fear that, according to those on the scene, has become a dominant emotion among the forces of civic renewal in Ukraine. 

Those fears arise, in the first instance, from the continued refusal of the Yanukoych government to engage in any serious conversation with the opposition. That underlying fear has been exacerbated over the past 96 hours by the increasingly vicious tactics of the regime. Yes, rubber bullets have been used by the authorities (so far); but those bullets are being deliberately aimed at protesters’ faces, and some have been blinded as a result. Wounded civic-reform activists have been dragged out of ambulances and arrested. Protesters have been doused with water and then thrown out into sub-freezing temperatures. At 4 a.m. this morning, a EuroMaidan leader, Igor Lutsenko, was kidnapped from the Zhovtneva Hospital in Kiev, where he had brought another activist for treatment; Lutsenko hasn’t been heard from since. [UPDATE: Igor Lutsenko was freed after 15 harrowing hours in captivity following this kidnapping. He was released in a forest and has told friends that he feared for his life on three occasions during his ordeal. Kidnappings of other activists have been reported.]

One veteran of Ukraine’s decades-long struggle to achieve real independence from the Soviet past made a telling comparison between then and now. Then, he said, we lived under totalitarianism, but everyone knew what the rules were. Now, it’s not quite totalitarianism, but it’s something very bad: The people holding the levers of state power are bandits, without ideology, who believe only in power and money, and who are prepared to do just about anything to hold on to those two false gods.

While the violence that erupted in Kiev and elsewhere over the past weekend (and that has continued, at one level or another, ever since) reflects in part the deep-set frustrations of many reformers, it also reflects the exhaustion many feel after two months of seemingly fruitless protest, and the desperation that some Ukrainians sense about their situation. One close observer pointed out to me that it wasn’t just over-amped teenage protesters who were throwing rocks and burning buses to create barricades against the internal security forces in Kiev. It was also people in their 70s who have concluded that they have nothing to lose by resorting to violent protest and who, facing a grim future, have decided that being shot down by the Berkut is preferable to living miserably under a thugocracy. That sense of desperation was no doubt reinforced by the Ukrainian minister of justice’s announcement that the anti–civil liberties laws passed last week on Black Thursday will go into effect tonight (January 21).

Efforts are being made to call the protest movement back to its original character as a nonviolent effort at long-term civic reform and national moral renewal. Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church issued an eloquent video plea for nonviolence and a resistance strategy of living in the truth (even as the former rector of the Church’s Ukrainian Catholic University was being hauled into court on bogus traffic-violation charges and students at the university were being called in for questioning by the internal security forces). Ukrainian Orthodox patriarch Filaret warned, in a statement today, that “society is on the verge of civil war,” issued an appeal to all Ukrainians to act responsibly, and warned President Yanukoych away from “the path of force,” bluntly telling him that “as you have the most power and authority in the country, so the measure of your accountability in the highest.” Ukrainian protesters in Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk have blocked the transit of internal security forces to Kiev and have been asked by some of those internal security forces to keep up their blockade, as at least some of the internal security forces don’t want to be part of the brutality. Yet while all this is going on, the situation is being made even more difficult by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s comments blaming the violence over the weekend on the United States and suggesting that the Putin regime in Russia would be willing to help calm things down in Ukraine — an offer that only underscores the exceptionally high geopolitical stakes in this increasingly grim situation.

Read the full piece here:

Grim News from Ukraine | National Review Online
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