A Pinpoint Strike

20 July 2012, 14:37

When a chaotic rally to protect the Ukrainian language started on the night of July 3-4 in front of Ukrainian House at the European Square, virtually every group of protesters discussed what they would do if Berkut, a special-purpose unit of the Ukrainian police, attacked them. Two columns of police with helmets and batons did not inspire optimism. But the instruction to attack the protesters was not given from above. Viktor Yanukovych was supposed to give a big press conference at Ukrainian House the next day, but did not show up, giving no explanations. The rally stayed in place. Professional opposition members immediately declared that this was a victory and that “the overthrow of the regime” would follow shortly thereafter. In fact, though, all of this played into the hands of the President. He had often been embarrassed at previous conferences by sensitive questions ranging from his mansion in Mezhyhiria to the persecution of the opposition. Therefore, Mr. Yanukovych may have taken the opportunity to stay away from the public eye.

Meanwhile, the clashes, most of them provoked by the police, were used as an excuse to launch criminal proceedings against activists. The severity of damages suffered by some police officers in the clashes that served as a basis for their appeals against activists was questionable. Still, at least five criminal cases have been initiated for the “resistance” of MPs against the Deputy Chief of a road police patrol unit who tried to prevent a minivan with sound equipment from driving onto the sidewalk in front of Ukrainian House, the infliction of physical injury on police officers and clashes that occurred on June 5th when people protested against the passing of the language law in the first reading.

The government has blatantly made every possible effort to provoke the conflicts. Why did the special-purpose police openly help the rally of supporters of the Russian language (mostly paid for being there, according to many sources), while forcing the protectors of the Ukrainian language onto the opposite side of the road? Why, a month later, were at least two special-purpose police officers brought to Ukrainian House for each protester in support of the Ukrainian language – most of them peaceful citizens, including women?

The assumption is that the government has once more used the scenario of the soft, yet consistent narrowing of citizens’ rights to protest. The criminal cases are a perfect tool for pinpoint strikes against the most proactive protest participants. A similar scenario unfolded after the Tax Maidan in late 2010, even though the then president and premier personally guaranteed that the protesters would not be persecuted. Later, protesters said that the main purpose of these criminal cases regarding “damaged sidewalk tiles” was to “recruit” them for work with law enforcement agencies, rather than to detain them.

The passing of the language law in the second reading on July 3rd sparked a public outcry and the ongoing protest in front of Ukrainian House in Kyiv. Currently, four protesters are still on a hunger strike despite official announcements that the protest had ended. Protesters demand that President Yanukovych and Speaker Lytvyn do not sign the law.

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