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Ukraine must join EU to ease unrest

Ukraine must join EU to ease unrest (credit: Eunice Oh/) Ukraine must join EU to ease unrest (credit: Eunice Oh/)
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A clash of ideology in East-Central Europe sounds like something out of the Cold War, but a clash is quite literally taking place in Ukraine. Protesters — numbering 100,000–150,000 people during peak days, according to Ukrainian English-language newspaper Kyiv Post — have been fighting police on the streets of Kiev, Ukraine’s capital city.

Why? Because Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, on the brink of accepting a giant trade deal with the European Union (EU), made a U-turn and truncated any association agreement that might have been enacted. Such an agreement would have allowed for higher volumes of trade, commerce, and diplomacy between the two entities, and would have been considered the first step toward Ukraine’s integration into the EU. If such an agreement had gone through, Ukraine would have needed to make significant adjustments to fit EU membership criteria, which includes a full-on democracy, a clear human rights code, and transparent government operations.

Obviously, such criteria would encourage a higher level of freedom of press and speech, as well as freedom for the people in general. On the other hand, it is understandable that some citizens think such an association would lead to homogenization, as well as a loss of culture, identity, and sovereignty.

Even though the eastern side of Ukraine feels more of a connection with Russia and Eastern Europe, a more modernistic outlook promises that joining the EU would be more favorable, not only for the Ukranian government and its development and businesses, but also for the Ukranian people. The following months will be crucial in determining if Yanukovych will mediate with the protesters or if the protesters will turn into revolutionaries.

On the night that the association agreement was called off, massive riots broke out. One of the most amazing things was that the transition from anger to action took place literally overnight — the night of November 23. The main party in opposition to the government, Batkivshchyna, which favors European integration, took to Twitter and dubbed the mysterious term “Euromaidan.”

Euromaidan spread like wildfire, and the next day 2,000 protesters gathered. On November 24, that number had grown to almost 100,000. Then, on November 30, riot police in Kiev launched a surprise attack on the rioters. A poll conducted in December showed that 46 percent supported EU integration. Meanwhile, 36 percent supported the Customs Union, a Russian-dominated trade union.

The violence continues and, leading up to the association agreement, there were signs that Yanukovych was already starting to turn on promises of democracy, justice, and general Westernization.

In 2011, a mere year after Yanukovych took office, Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader of opposing party Batkivshchyna, was imprisoned on charges of abuse of power. Tymoshenko was largely seen as the head of the EU integration movement, and was an enemy to Yanukovych because she championed movements similar in terms of size and magnitude to Euromaidan.

Many questions remain regarding Yanukovych’s true intentions. Does he intend to slowly tighten his grip around his presidency or is he trying to re-link Ukraine with Russia and Eastern Europe? What is he going to do about Ukraine’s dwindling economy, which could have been helped through association with the EU?

For Euromaidan supporters, the question now is if they can sustain their momentum, gather support, and eventually charge into a full-fledged revolution. Riot police are clearly willing to resort to violence, but are the rioters? Possibly, as rioters have been known to hurl dangerous objects like molotov cocktails at riot police, according to The Guardian.

Many feel that Ukraine is about to tip into a civil war. As a result, Yanukovych has renegotiated with opposition leaders and is now promising amnesty to jailed protesters, in addition to the larger promise of constitutional reform.

Will Yanukovych turn on his negotiations or will he follow through? Considering that Ukraine is about to default, Yanukovych must know that an economically-dead Ukraine is much worse than a Ukraine integrated into the EU.

Moreover, if Yanukovych wants to press for his pro-Russian policies, he will need Ukraine to have a somewhat healthy economy in order to incentivize Russia into signing any sort of trade deal. The protesters are awfully close to pushing through some sort of reform. Only time will tell its extent.