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3 April, 2012  ▪  Oleksandr Mykhelson

Losing Ground

Despite pressure and money, despite manipulating election legislation and bribing entire social groups with financial injections from the budget, Ukraine’s leadership feels increasingly insecure. The fear of losing power is gradually turning into panic as current officials become increasingly aware that one day they will be held accountable for violating written and unwritten social laws

Party of Regions members seem to be losing faith even in their core constituent base. They have no logical arguments with which to persuade people who traditionally supported them, and the only thing left for them to do is to appeal to the differences between “our guys” and “our enemies” and follow the example of United Russia in painting the atrocities that the population will allegedly face if the “enemies” come to power. “We very much want to receive your support if only because we are like you on the inside. And if there are fewer of us in parliament and it is skewed in the other direction, we will all suffer,” Party of Regions faction leader Oleksandr Yefremov said, desperately trying to rally voters on 27 March in his native Luhansk.

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved,” Machiavelli said, admonishing politicians of his time. But the fact that people, including in core constituencies, no longer love the ruling party and will not fear it has finally registered with the powers-that-be.

In early March, the Kherson police detained several students posting leaflets that read: “I know no other country in which the president is a former convict.” (A Viktor Yanukovych portrait was attached to make the statement perfectly clear.) They were told that their actions qualified as malicious group hooliganism. A criminal case was opened and they were facing up to four years in prison. Even the SBU became involved when its officers searched one of the student's dorm room. But as soon as the case drew the attention of the public at large, the repressive machine stalled. The police contented themselves with obtaining written clarifications from the students to the effect that they had no malicious intent of any kind or a desire to humiliate anyone. Indeed, they were simply stating an obvious fact.

Their example quickly attracted a following. On 27 March, the same kind of leaflets were posted in most regional centres as part of the campaign “Police, stop framing the youth!” This time, only the Donetsk police decided to take their “hooligans” to a police department. But it was immediately clarified that the youths were not really in "detainment", rather, the police wanted to have a “preventive talk”. Indeed, three of the young people were soon released, but the leaflets were kept by the police, sources say.

Historically, Donbas is a special territory. Shakta № 8 (Pit No. 8) (Full movie can be watched here), a Ukrainian-Estonian film about one of Donbas “attractions,” was scandalously eliminated from the programme of a recent documentary film festival in Kyiv. The Ukrainian producer of the film suddenly announced before the screening that it was a staged production and thus could not be entered. Paradoxically, she had nothing against its participation in earlier documentary film competitions abroad. Reportedly, this decision was prompted by a request from an influential Donetsk Region native who was unable to tolerate this “blackening of reality”. Of course, this only served to increase the film’s popularity. As in the case of the leaflets, attempts to hide something unpleasant backfired. And that is a perfectly good reason to be nervous.

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