Ukraine Reignites

Protests have popped up again in Kiev after the Ukrainian parliament passed a new law that essentially bans demonstrations:

The relatively quiet spell was broken last Thursday, when the Ukrainian parliament passed a series of new laws that seriously limit the scope for protests. The laws were rushed through by President Yanukovych’s supporters, with a show of hands and no time for discussion. Not for the first time, a brawl broke out in parliament. But the voting procedure was clearly fine with Yanukovych, and the next day he signed the laws.

The laws, summarized in English on this infographic, clearly limit Ukrainians’ freedom of assembly. They introduce penalties for wearing helmets at demos, setting up tents and public stages and distributing “extremist” materials, among other activities. People driving cars in columns of more than five could have their licenses and vehicles confiscated (presumably a response to the increasingly popular “automaidan” initiatives). Foreign observers are particularly dismayed at the law—which could have been copy and pasted from Vladimir Putin’s Russia—that labels NGOs receiving money from abroad “foreign agents.”

Timothy Snyder declares that, “On paper, Ukraine is now a dictatorship”:

In practice, will Ukraine become a dictatorship? Ukrainians have powerful reasons to resist. These laws, now signed by the president, end the Ukrainian republic as they have known it. They also much reduce the possibility of future European integration, something which is yearned for throughout the country, and for that matter among elites and the political class. No one in Brussels or European capitals is going to lobby for a trade deal with a leadership that has explicitly chosen authoritarianism. If these laws are allowed to stand, the future of Ukraine will thus be with Belarus and Russia, for lack of another option. This makes no economic sense, since Europe’s market is bigger and more important. The only kind of sense it makes is political, for a president who knows he is too weak in his own society to win another democratic election.

Hannah Thoburn looks at the fractures within the country:

A large percentage of Ukrainians hold [Ukrainian president Viktor] Yanukovych personally responsible for solving the current political crisis,but his choosing one side over the other will polarize this already divided country more than it has been before. Yanukovych’s political base is in eastern Ukraine, where the majority speak Russian and identify strongly with Russia. Only 17 percent of eastern Ukrainians approve of the protest movement and would be only too happy to see their president quash it in whatever manner he deems necessary. Meanwhile, 80 percent of citizens in the western and more European-leaning part of the country approve of the protest movement and disapprove of the president’s recent decisions. They did not vote for him and will not support him.

While rounding-up videos of the protests, Fisher flags the clip above:

This is important: Most protesters are not violent, and what’s happening in Kiev is not, despite some government assertions to the contrary, a “mass riot.” Still, there’s been violence, with some protesters throwing flares at the vast rows of security forces. This video shows what it looks like from the police’s perspective …