A war of words over Ukrainian violence

  • 21 January 2014
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The Ukranian capital of Kiev erupted in another round of violence this weekend, as forces loyal to the government and opposition protesters clashed in the streets.

BBC's Daniel Sandford describes central Kiev as a scene of "serious devastation".

The intensity of the conflict has been reflected in the commentary in media outlets and on the internet in the ensuing days.

The editors of Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukraine see their country on the brink of a civil war:

Leaders of the opposition are losing control over the situation. Unfortunately, more and more Ukrainians are ready to follow the example of radical nationalists with sticks and Molotov cocktails and storm government buildings. What's next?

An article in Ukrayina Moloda quotes the pundit Volodymyr Fesenko:

Negotiations are called to find a compromise. Neither side should be issuing ultimatums. The opposition have to understand: [Ukraine President Viktor] Yanukovych will not resign. What can they agree on? On repealing the laws that provoked the last wave of the crisis. On demilitarization of the Kiev city centre - the Interior Troops and Berkut [riot police] detachments have to leave it. For its part, the opposition have to remove barricades on Maydan [Independence Square] and vacate the Kiev council building.

In Russia newspaper commentators have decried the outbreak of violence over the weekend - Kiev's "baptism by fire", as Oleg Bazak in Moskovskiy Komsomolets puts it.

"Opposition newspapers are already referring to the developments as a revolution," he writes. "Meanwhile, politicians have been increasingly using the phrase 'civil war' in their comments. Neither the authorities nor the opposition, which has lost control over the situation, have an idea how to return to the 'zero option'... From the outset none of the sides is ready for compromise."

"Hatred and impunity have spilled over central Kiev," writes Pavel Dulman in Rossiyskaya Gazeta. "Not more than 1,500 militants are burning and crashing everything around. The situation is peculiar because the opposition leaders say they denounce the use of violence, while in fact they are encouraging government opponents to act unlawfully and then reap the benefits of acts of provocation staged by nationalists."

Valeriy Kalnysh and Sergey Strokan write in Kommersant:

Despite the fact that dialogue between the country leadership and its moderate opposition appears to be the last chance for maintaining civil peace in Ukraine, none of the sides intends yet to make a serious compromise... In these circumstances, the moderate opposition as well as the authorities will find it difficult to reach concessions that would enable both of them to save face.

The conflict is spilling into social media as well.

"Jokes are over," writes journalist Serhiy Vysotskyy on his Facebook page. "The tough revolutionary daily routine has begun. Now victory is a matter of our physical survival. They will either throw us in prison or kill us without trial. Join Maydan's Self-Defence on the basis of which people's militias should be formed."

The website quotes from the Facebook page of Mr Yanukovych's younger son, Viktor:

"When the political struggle escalates into unbridled violence and endangers human lives - those guilty must be brought to account. I have already said that no confrontation is worth human casualties," Yanukovych Jr wrote. "Because the opposition does not realize the consequences their actions have entailed, they will not shoulder responsibility for what is going on. I wonder who is going to pay for the damage Ukraine, the capital and the Ukrainian people have sustained."

Ukrainian Facebook users supporting the anti-government protests have generally condoned the use of violence by opposition activists during the ongoing street clashes with riot police in central Kiev. The majority stressed, however, that they only approved because it had become obvious that all the peaceful avenues of negotiations with the authorities had exhausted themselves.

The general mood was summed up in journalist Yuri Makarov's remark:

Somebody should have done this. I personally did not feel prepared to. So instead of me this was done by people who are not at all close to me, of whom I do not approve, with whom I would hardly find a common language. However, they are the only people who will make these ghouls [the authorities] wake up from their self-complacent dream.

Facebook users were particularly outraged at the fact that the authorities had brought so-called titushkos or yobs (hired heavies) to Kiev from the regions to provoke street violence.

Arthur Welf noted:

Elsewhere in the world, it is the protesters who smash shop windows, loot shops and burn locals' cars, while the authorities do everything in their powers to stop them. It is only in Ukraine that the authorities bring yobs from the regions and pay them a nightly rate of 200-300 hryvnyas [around 25-35 dollars] to smash shop windows, loot shops and burn Kievans' cars; the protesters catch these yobs, but when they attempt to hand them over to the police, the police turn their backs and run away.

Sergey Yarygin commented: "The titushko have been let loose in Kiev. Was it the authorities' aim to motivate us to start forming local self-defence squads? Indeed, how much longer do we have to procrastinate the creation of self-defence squads?"

User Kirill Sazonov criticized the US for first promising to impose sanctions on Ukrainian state officials and then failing to do so: "I wonder how long until our opposition geniuses finally realize that the West is not going to help them."

Popular singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk posted: "I am off to the centre [of Kiev] with my friends! We will not allow the bastards to smash shop windows, vandalize cars and beat up people! It is our city!"

Volodymyr Zolotorov commented: "The state has monopolized violence, it controls the police... Citizens are forced to protect their own property and capture bandits. Do you still support the idea of monopoly to violence?"

Larysa Denysenko wrote: "I am against violence, but I am for uprisings. If there is no other way to get a reaction from the authorities, and they have no intention of stepping down but are instead adopting a number of anti-constitutional bills, the people has the right to mutiny."

Alex Molchanov expressed his shock at the sight of groups of violent youths roaming the streets of Kiev at night, vandalizing public property and attacking motorists, amid complete absence of police patrols.

"Anyone can do whatever they want anywhere in Kiev now, any time they like," he noted, adding that victims of attack could not rely on the police for protection, and that their only help would come from "members of the Auto-Maydan [pro-EU motorist movement] who have been badmouthed by the official media".

He stressed: "Like the overwhelming majority of people, I am above the hassle but I am also caught in it, and the only thing I want is for people to come to their senses and for the street clashes to stop." He called on both sides in the conflict to stop the violence, exchange promises not to persecute their opponents, and negotiate a way out of the crisis.

Nevertheless, Mr Molchanov ended his post with the statement: "I am 45, I am a retired officer, and I am not afraid of anything. I would better die standing than live kneeling."

(From reports provided by BBC Monitoring)