euromaidan – AEGEE-Europe | European Students' Forum AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe / European Students’ Forum) is a student organisation that promotes cooperation, communication and integration amongst young people in Europe. As a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit organisation AEGEE is open to students and young people from all faculties and disciplines – today it counts 13 000 members, active in close to 200 university cities in 40 European countries, making it the biggest interdisciplinary student association in Europe. Fri, 08 Dec 2017 19:38:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.12 How the hero of Lviv became Putin’s worst enemy /how-the-hero-of-lviv-became-putins-worst-enemy/ Wed, 21 May 2014 11:22:19 +0000 /?p=5275

Ambitious youngsters strive for a European, free Ukraine

If there is one question that comes to the minds of the Europeans when they read or hear news from Ukraine these days it is: “what to think about the situation in this country?” After the first massive enthusiasm, support of Euromaidan and the condemnation of the Russian annexation of Crimea, opinions drifted apart. We were greatly touched by our discussions in Kyiv and Lviv and would like to share with you what we have learned from the young Ukrainians and which conclusions did we draw from our visit to the country that is on everyone’s lips. We feel this is especially relevant now when opinions are drifting further away than ever, the news keep bombarding us with significant events that change the context of the debate and because we were shocked by some of the arguments of people and media in Ukraine and abroad. As a reaction to the deaths in Odessa, the first contributor on the Debating Europe platform, where our topic about the role of young people during Euromaidan was discussed, stated:

“The Euromaiden thugs are a bunch of Neonazis who burnt alive 42 people last night”.

This standpoint, one that seems to be shared by most of the Russian propaganda channels, appears to be picked up by European politicians at the far left and the far right. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French party Front National, openly supports Moscow’s position and many other right wing parties in Europe (even in the UK) follow her lead. Even more, some American journalists openly support a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia, one of them stating that: “seventy years ago, Russia defeated fascism in Europe. It is time to deliver that honourable blow again”.[1]

So, wait a minute… is it really the case that Ukraine is involved in a conspiracy of Neonazis, backed-up by the CIA in order to get rid of all Russians and Jews?

Courageous as we were, we dared to visit the country itself in order to ask young people in Lviv about their views on the situation.

Lviv: beautiful, peaceful and hopeful

Lviv 2One of the first things that strikes you when you enter the city of Lviv by train is its beautiful train station. Upon entering, the long-gone spirit of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire can be sensed in all the little details: the small stones in the road, the pretty houses and the magnificent buildings like the opera theatre. This student city in the West of Ukraine breathes a peaceful atmosphere with old trams slowly passing by and old people selling traditional clothes at the market. Apart from this old heritage of a perished empire the city contains a lot of ambitious young people and great innovations. Some of the highlights of its small-business innovations are its bars that are slowly becoming world-famous. One of them is the “House of Legends”- a 4-floor establishment with a dragon attached to it and great thematic decorations in all its tiny pubs. Another is the place called “Communal” where we had our presentation, a sunny and welcoming cafe that is open 24 hours a day. People could use flexible workspaces, get free drinks and food and even sleep in this place for only one euro an hour.

In this great environment we had a discussion with students from Lviv about the current situation in Ukraine. We considered the new ways of youth participation in Ukraine and the impact of Euromaidan on this phenomenon. Moreover, we asked about their attitude towards the happenings in the country with regards to the separatist movements in the East and the role of Putin in the conflict. It seemed that all of them agreed that the Euromaidan movement has fundamentally changed something in the attitude of the youth in Ukraine. For months it had been a daily fact of life: after university was finished you went to the square in order to join the other protesters. Lviv has a unique position in this respect while it is the place where Euromaidan started and the university professors; clerical leader and even its mayor actively supported the movement. Euromaidan has boosted many youth initiatives and made youngsters more interested in joining organizations that support their social surroundings; it opened up their eyes to the importance of building a strong civil society.

As for political participation, the impact of Euromaidan was different. The events showed the corrupted, greedy and undemocratic nature of Ukrainian politics, which doesn’t make it very attractive for young people to get involved in it. Though their stance had changed from a-political before Maidan to very political after Maidan, none of the participants was considering joining a political party. At the same time, they had a very strong stance on the current political situation in the East. When we asked them what do they think Ukraine should do in case the Eastern part of the country would be in danger of being lost, almost all of them agreed that Ukraine would have to fight for it. Especially as long as the influence of Putin in that part of the country remains so strong and there is no chance for an honest debate about the position of these regions, Ukraine should not accept separation and counter it with military intervention if necessary.

After the discussion, our impression of Lviv was one of a wonderful city with young people that live between hope and fear. How did this beautiful place become the centre of so much anger and hatred from the side of Putin and its supporters? How did it become a place where fascists would be roaming the streets and attacking those who don’t support the Ukrainian state? In order to find out about this we have to dig a bit into the Ukrainian history.

Kryjivka, the most dangerous restaurant in the world

Lviv 2Interestingly, part of the answer to these questions can be found in one of the famous restaurants of the city – Kryjivka. It has become a popular place for tourists from within and outside of Ukraine and has a very peculiar way of serving its guests. It is build like a bunker of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army during and after the Second World War and upon entering each guest has to state the password “Heroyam Slava” (“glory to the heroes”) upon the welcoming words “Slava Ukrayini”(“glory to Ukraine). The personnel are all dressed up as members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army carrying guns and looking for Russians amongst the guests. If they suspect a guest to be Russian, they arrest him during the dinner and he gets send to a prison cell in the restaurant (this even happens with Dutch people that pretend to be Russian). In the cell, the guest has to answer a couple of questions like “who is Yanukovych” and “who is Putin”. Although this show seems very entertaining and innocent for the unknowing tourist, it has become a subject of controversy in Ukraine and reflects a deeper historical context. A pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who wanted to enter the restaurant but refused to state “Slava Ukrayini” was denied entrance. This became a scandal in the country and this politician later even stated that anti-Semite propaganda was being spread at Kryjivka.

The historical context of Kryjivka reveals the anti-Russian sentiments in the region and the Russian conviction that Lviv is the root of all evil in Ukraine. This goes back to the artificial famine of the 30’s that was caused by Stalin’s Soviet regime and killed millions of Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine. Lviv and its surroundings have been a source of resistance against any external power that would deny them their cultural and political independence as Ukrainian people. The leader of the Ukrainian resistance was Stepan Bandera, a nationalist and a freedom fighter. He is hailed as a hero in Lviv, but is a very controversial figure in parts of Ukraine, Russia, Poland and the EU in general. Kryjivka is a symbol of Bandera’s heritage and the Ukrainian resistance against its oppressors.

What do these experiences tell us about the situation in Ukraine? First of all it shows that history is still very present in Western Ukraine and in the conflict in the region. Secondly, it teaches us that we should be weary that the images we see and the reality we experience do not always coincide. Although the sentiments in the region are indeed centred on a controversial figure this does not imply that the people are in any way fascist or xenophobic. Reality can only be sensed when actually being in Lviv and talking to the people. What you see then is that the youngsters are mostly fighting for a better future in which they can fully develop their ambitions. They’re fighting for a free, European Ukraine.

 

 



[1]http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/05/04/putin-send-troops-ukraine-finian-cunningham/

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The fight for tomorrow /the-fight-for-tomorrow/ Sun, 11 May 2014 17:52:57 +0000 /?p=5166 Over the course of the last few months Ukraine has been a topic of great interest and concern; not only here in Europe but around the world. Killings, fire, barricades, tires, Berkut, corruption, Yanukovych- those are the words and those are the images that we have heard and seen almost every day in our national newspapers and TV-programmes: a peaceful country in the heart of Europe suddenly exploding and turning into a new conflict zone. How did this happen? Did anyone see it coming? Who were the people who took part in this revolution? What did they want to achieve? What was the role of the young people in this historical movement? Is there a continuation of such strong social and political activism? These were some of the questions that we had in our mind when we crossed the border between Belarus and Ukraine.

From the land of last dictatorship to the land of revolutionaries

Interview at MaidanYou cannot avoid noticing the striking difference between Minsk and Kyiv when you are travelling in the region. Whereas Minsk breathes order and stability, Kyiv is the complete opposite. It seems to be chaotic and uncontrolled. The traffic is your worst nightmare and the drivers seem to have completely forgotten about the parking rules. The advertisements have taken over not only the metro but also all of the surfaces including pavements. But despite this chaos in the transportation and administrative systems, people in Kyiv are not afraid to talk about politics. You hear them discussing who will be the next president and why is this or that person not good enough everywhere: on the streets, in the metro, in the private conversations. And as Maidan has shown, such interest clearly goes beyond a plain talk. On our first day in Kyiv we were invited to attend a presentation of the political party – Democratic Alliance in one of its local offices. Democratic Alliance is a new but fast growing political party. One would think that after all the corruption scandals and dramas within the political parties Ukrainians would be too tired and uninterested to trust any political party. To our greatest surprise, the room was full of people who wanted to join this young party and they were ready to ask tough questions about what makes their party different to all of the old political forces. Yaroslav Yurchushyn explained that the Democratic Alliance is the only party in Ukraine that publishes lists of their sponsors and they are going to continue this practice, as this is the only way out of the political deadlock in the country. Opening party finances is also the only way to make sure that the oligarchs stay out of politics and stop buying their own parties.

People of Euromaidan

Filming at MaidanIn Kyiv, we had very interesting talks with the young people that were active during the Euromaidan and are still involved in many social initiatives post-revolution. Anastasia Rozlutska a volunteer from Euromaidan-SOS, explained to us how a movement that helped to coordinate activities of thousands of people and hundred different organizations started; how they managed to collect and share firsthand information via social media and keep the public informed about what was happening on the streets of Kyiv.  “Euromaidan – SOS was founded in the morning of November 30 after we switched on our computers and saw the shocking images from the main square where peaceful students protesting for the signature of the Association Agreement with the European Union were brutally beaten by the Special Forces. Most of our volunteers were young people from all over Ukraine and not only. There were also people from Russia and Belarus coming to help us”. The struggle for the better future did not finish on Maidan for the volunteers of the Euromaidan-SOS. “We are also trying to work after Maidan but of course it is harder to organize people in peaceful times. One of our initiatives is to make a historical summary of the events on Euromaidan. We also continue to search for 84 missing people. The hardest thing for me to do as a volunteer of Euromaidan – SOS was to go to the hospitals and talk to all those injured men and later informed the families that their husbands and sons were no longer with us”.

We were surprised to see that there were still barricades and tents on the central square. In one of the tents we found 3 men, one of them was ready to talk to us and explain why they are not going home. “Even though, the new government does not want us to be here we will stay as long as it is necessarily and at least until the elections. They need to know that Maidan can happen to them too if they follow the path of Yanukovych”. Some people stayed at Maidan while many others started their own movements, businesses or NGOs in order to start changing the Ukrainian society. One of these people is Iryna Koval. Together with her friends Iryna initiated Employment Center for the Free People. This center helps people who lost or left their job because of the Euromaidan to find new employment opportunities. Having a lot of experience in the HR, Iryna felt that this is the area she can contribute the most. Initially the focus was to provide employment for the people from Maidan. However, because of the situation in Crimea, Iryna’s organization is also trying to resettle the people who are fleeing the disputed region and would like to move to the mainland Ukraine.

The visit to Kyiv has been an inspiration and an eye-opener. It made us better understand the motives of the people who took part in this struggle for tomorrow. We were inspired to see the energy and determination of the young Ukrainians who want to change their country for good and turn it into a place where they can flourish.

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AEGEE-Europe condemns the new Ukrainian freedom-limiting legislation /aegee-europe-condemns-the-new-ukrainian-freedom-limiting-legislation/ /aegee-europe-condemns-the-new-ukrainian-freedom-limiting-legislation/#comments Fri, 17 Jan 2014 16:05:42 +0000 http://aegee.blogactiv.eu/?p=871 The members of AEGEE-Europe / European Students’ Forum are deeply concerned with the recent adoption by the Ukrainian Parliament (Verhovna Rada) of a new draft law that would severe multiple basic freedoms in the country. The law was approved on January 16th during a very irregular Parliamentary session, and is now waiting to be signed by President Viktor Yanukovych.

 

Photo: Reuters

AEGEE, as a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit organisation, has proclaimed in its statement of principles that freedom and human rights are essential elements of a European society. Through respecting these values, we strive and stand for an inclusive society where citizens enjoy equal opportunities and rights. In this context, we oppose and deeply condemn any law which in any sense could limit the fundamental rights of the Ukrainian citizens, impede their freedom of assembly and speech, and put under the state control the activities of rightful civil society actors such as independent NGOs and think tanks.

We would like to express our strong support to all representatives of the Ukrainian civil society, and specially the members of our branches in the Ukrainian territory. We are convinced that the signature of this draft law, which contradicts the current Constitution of Ukraine and through a process that violates the existing national parliamentary procedures, is against the interest of the Ukrainian citizens.

At the same time, we fear that this anti-democratic law, which directly contradicts to the European commitments of Ukraine such as the European Convention of Human Rights, may lead to an aggravation of the stagnation of the EU-Ukraine relations. Even though the door to Ukraine’s integration with the European Union remains open (as most of the EU high ranked officials commented, see for instance the speech of Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament), we consider that in case of adoption of this law the negotiations may remain closed for an uncertain period of time.

Moreover, AEGEE-Europe would like to denounce the spread of similar laws in other countries of Europe, even inside the EU, as the case of the Spanish ‘Citizens Safety Law’ proposal, which also was signaled by Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights. At a time when citizens are demanding more democracy, these laws against fundamental rights just go in the opposite direction.

Written by Armenak Minasyants, Policy Officer of AEGEE-Europe for European Neighbourhood Policy.

 

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