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Though the protests in Ukraine have waned over the past few days, Harvard scholars said during a panel on Monday that the country still has some work to be done in order to repair its democracy.
“The activists need to keep pushing, and the new government shouldn’t go on a Miss World tour first either,” Olga Onuch, a fellow at the Ukrainian Research Center, said.
The title of the event, “Why Is Kyiv Burning? The Turn to Violence in Ukraine’s Protest Movement and Its Political and Geostrategic Implications,” underwent three name changes as the crisis in Ukraine fluctuated, according to Lubomyr Hajda, the associate director of the Ukrainian Research Center.
However, Hajda added that even by the time of the seminar the title was still not an accurate reflection of rapidly-changing crisis.
Political turmoil has raged in the country since now former President Viktor Yanukovich refused to sign the country’s association agreement with the European Union. Currently, their parliament has deposed the president, and a transitional government is being formed.
In addition to Onuch and Hajda, the seminar also included discussion from Timothy J. Colton, the chair of the government department and a scholar of Russian politics, Jaroslaw M. Domanski, a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and Nadiya V. Kravets, a fellow at the Ukrainian Research Institute.
Many of the panelists focused on dispelling myths about the crisis that they said were propagated in Western media. Onuch, who conducted numerous interviews and polls during the protests, said statistics showed that the protesting population was not made up of mostly young people from western regions of the country, contrary to what much of the mass media reported.
“Middle-aged and older protesters have not been presented well in analyses today,” Onuch said. “In addition, many key protest leaders were from the center and eastern portions of the country.”
With Yanukovich’s government now out of office, the rest of the seminar centered on what lies in store for Ukraine, especially in terms of foreign relations.
“Foreign policy is what fueled the protests in the first place, and there’s a new force for the country’s foreign policy: the people,” Kravets said. “I hope Ukrainian policy will become more procedure-based and not oligarchy-based.”
Domanski, who worked with the EU’s delegation to Ukraine, emphasized the need for the Union’s involvement in the country now.
“The EU inability to play hardball means it entered the geopolitical game with Russia without the necessary tools,” he said. “Now, going forward Ukraine needs economic assistance and political will from the EU.”
Colton also stressed the importance of Russia’s continued financial support for Ukraine.
“Russia has sustained a major loss, and it doesn’t quite know what to do,” he said. “If the Russians are thinking straight, they will continue to give money to Ukraine even with Yanukovich gone in order to maintain the country’s stability and their influence in it.”
—Staff writer Michael Avi-Yonah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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