“The laws which were passed on January 16th showed that the faction of the ruling class which now controls the government is ready to install a reactionary bourgeois dictatorship on the model of the Latin American regimes of the 1970s.” - Autonomous Worker's Union, Kiev
Just who is rioting in Kiev and what do they want?
Anti government protesters in a stand off with police, burning barricades, hired paramilitary thugs and molotov cocktails flying, these have all become familiar sights on our news screens since the Arab Spring.
In the case of Ukraine our domestic media is blatantly cheerleading for the rioters, focussing particularly on the admittedly striking presence of Dr Ironfist himself, one time world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko.
The current crisis stems from the political split in the country based in its geography. Put crudely, Ukraine is caught between Russia and the EU. The mainstream narrative here is that the Ukrainian people are rushing towards the EUs open arms, to join in its social-democratic capitalist experiment. And there's no doubt that that is probably more appetizing than coming under the sway of Putin's Russia or even worse turning into a dictatorship like Belarus, which Ukraine shares a border with. However the trade deal with the EU was hardly an offer of membership, being more a raw materials for manufactured goods deal and in any case came with serious strings attached, including a deal with the IMF that would have involved a neo-liberal 're-structuring' of the economy.
Since November 2013, there have been protesters camping in central Kiev calling for closer ties with the EU, rather than Russia. These were the Euromaidan occupations, that came about in response to President Yanukovych's ditching of the EU in order to cut a deal with Putin's Russia. Broadly supported by the West (they were visited by Senator John McCain) they represented a coalition that as well as Klitschko's UDAR party also included Svoboda, a far-right nationalist outfit.
Despite the strenuous efforts of the authorities and the sub-zero temperatures the camps held firm. Then on the 16th January, a set of restrictive anti protest laws were passed through parliament in rather dodgy circumstances. The new laws prohibit a wide range of activities associated with demonstrations, with harsh penalties for disobeying. Also it extended legal immunity to police dealing with rioters.
Passing these laws backfired a little as they sparked four days of blazing riots in Kiev. One of the first incidents to catch the attention of the international media was that hundreds of protesters received text messages informing them they had been “registered as participants in a mass disturbance” from the location of their phones.
Since then, at least two people have been shot dead by riot police, with another falling to his death during a confrontation with cops. There have also been hired thugs wandering around the edges of the demonstrations beating people. It isn't clear who is paying them but perhaps it is related to those who have kidnapped prominent activists making death threats and leaving one man dead in the woods.
Over 300 people have been injured in the rioting, including many journalists. Police seem to have particularly targeted journalists. The hundreds of thousands of participants are a diverse bunch; students, factory workers, old ladies with cooking pots on their heads.
However left wing voices in the UK have begun raising doubts about the Ukrainian revolt. Libcom recently posted an article claiming that the “The far-right in Ukraine are acting as the vanguard of a protest movement that is being reported as pro-democracy”. The article is accompanied by a photo-montage of right wingers involved in the riots, their flags and nazi logos.
The Autonomous Workers Union of Kiev put out this statement “Over the last days not only the far right confront the government, but also people of more moderate views. And they constitute the majority of the protesters. Many of them are indifferent to nationalism or negatively predisposed to it. Many of them don’t support integration into the EU. People go into the streets to protest against police violence.” The AWU themselves remain unconvinced of the virtues of the pro-EU demonstrations but say “Anarchists ought to participate in demonstrations and pickets which are dedicated to defense of the rights and freedoms usurped by the laws of January 16th”
Another group “Narodnyi Nabat” or National Alarm said “It was the far right that started fights on Grushevskoho street, but now in those riots there are different social groups with different ideas taking part. We are on the side of Ukrainian people, not on the side of ultra-right! Because its the people that are in the vanguard of revolution. Now, as long as the resistance is based on self-organisation (self-governing), both authorities and the opposition can't control it. This is an autonomous process, during which we struggle for our rights. This national mobilisation is anti-fascist in its nature, because it fights against fascist control of power by Yanukovitch.”
The Communist Party is part of the move to have closer ties with Russia, so it may seem natural that the far right fight on the other side. So while the protests are about defending freedom of expression and about the future trade policies of the country they are also about national identity and independence.
In the last couple of days, unrest has spread from the capital to provincial cities, where government offices have been invaded and occupied. There are also reports that military barracks are being blockaded. A group of anarchists has taken over part of the government offices in Lviv and put out this statement . Part of it reads “More and more people see that the opposition was not only against the people, but so defeatist that managed to resist and deny even the spontaneous uprising in Kiev, which could lead it to power.People disillusioned with the [official ]opposition in all respects. That's why now becomes extremely important to spread the idea of mass protest and the practices of direct power of the people in politics, the economy and all the affairs of society, without the mediation of the rulers and political parties.”