Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blogging Post-Soviet Style

Ukrainian newspaper The Day (also available in English) has recently run an article [ukr] about the growing role of blogging and cyber-activism in the post-Soviet world. The newspaper interviewed me fot the article in a capacity of a GV author, plus, they referred to two of my GV stories: the one on how social media pushed traditional press to cover anti-Tax Code protests, and the one about bloggers spreading information about political repressions in Ukraine.

English version of the article can be accessed here:

Blogging post-Soviet style

By Jakub PARUSINSKI, The Day

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Untold Story of the Victory Day Clashes in Lviv

I was devastated by May 9 clashes in Lviv (Lvov) and the way our media covered it, as well as by how many Ukrainians bought into the picture they saw on TV. I'm still overwhelmed by it all and am not sure I could write anything good about the events. Instead I've decided to link to a well-written post by a new GV author Will Partlett - it provides a general overview of the situation and puts it into a perspective by drawing parallels with other post-Soviet countries. Will also quotes from one of the numerous eyewitness accounts that have recently emerged online, telling how things were staged and how violence was sparked by numerous provocations. 

While  the question of what really happened in Lviv on the Victory Day remains controversial, one thing is clear - the discussion around raising red flags on the holiday in general and tensions in Lviv in particular (together with the whole media hype around it) were meant to deepen divisions in a Ukrainian society, and take peoples' minds off the current anti-government sentiments and critical social and economic issues. 

Will's post can be accessed here:

Ukraine: The Untold Story of the Victory Day Clashes in Lvov

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Show on Maidan Must Go On?

Ever since over half a million of Ukrainians gathered in Kyiv to peacefully protest 2004 electoral fraud (events that later became known as Orange Revolution), country’s main square Maidan Nezalezhnosti (en. - Independence Square) has remained a powerful symbol of peaceful civic resistance, tolerance and democracy. Moreover, the events in Kyiv were so unprecedented that they inspired similar episodes in many cities and towns across Ukraine.
Orange Revolution participants on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv, photo by
And although Ukrainians have grown largely disillusioned with leaders and outcomes of the Orange Revolution, the experience itself and values manifested on maidans (main squares) around the country are still remembered. For instance, a leading Internet hub of civic activism in Ukraine is called Maidan, and genuine popular protests are still commonly referred to as “maidans” by both people and the media.

However, it seems that those memories as well as the symbolic power of Kyiv’s Maidan have recently come under intense attack from the side of certain authorities and the media. After mass tax protests of late 2010 – when participants have set up a tent city on the central square much like 2004 “orange” protesters – it has become clear that having Maidan Nezalezhnosti in its current role of a powerful emblematic and physical center of civic resistance may not be so desirable  in a country, where the protest sentiments are said to run rampant among 45.3% of the population and government's popularity continues to decline [ru].

After a partial victory on the side of tax protesters, their tent city has been quickly removed by municipal workers and law enforcement at dawn (see this GV post). Afterwards, city authorities have explained that ahead of winter holidays a country’s main Christmas tree had to be installed on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [ru], while the square itself had to be prepared for New Year’s celebrations.
Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv around New Year is occupied by a tree, two stages and a skating ring. Photo by LJ user denmes 
The holidays have passed, but the issue of what to do with the crucial space in the center of Kyiv remained. In February, a “reconstruction” of the square has been carried out to replace tiles damaged by tax protesters’ tents (an offence for which several of them faced criminal charges [ru]). The state of Maidan Nezalezhnosti during that time had been captured on camera by LJ user gk-bang, who ironically pointed out that the extent of the damage and reconstruction activities hardly required encircling the whole square with a solid Soviet-style wooden fence (see this GV post).
Reconstruction of Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Feb. 2011, photos by LJ user gk-bang
 However, it was clear that a more permanent remedy to “Maidan issue” was needed. In March a new grandiose dance show ”Maidan’s” has been started in Ukraine, during which teams of 500 dancers from different cities compete on the main square while being broadcasted live on a national TV channel “Inter” (associated with the head of Ukraine’s state security service Valeriy Khoroshkovsky). On my recent trip to Kyiv, I have witnessed how because of the show Maidan Nezalezhnosti remains fenced and is blocked for access by regular public on weekends. 
Maidan Nezalezhnosti in May of 2011, photos by Kateryna Krasynska

News agency UNIAN attempted to investigate the funding of the show, officially organized by “Inter” TV channel and Kyiv city administration. According to their findings [uk], such show must cost at least $250,000-300,000, but its financial profitability for a channel whose main audience constitutes of pensioners is highly questionable.
Curiously, organizers of “Maidan’s” refer to it as a “dancing revolution”, and try to present it as a real “people’s show” [uk] by sharing stories of pregnant or elderly participants that volunteer to dance. The show itself, as well-observed by Taras of Ukrainiana, sometimes reminds of Soviet-style choreography (see his video below). 

“Maidan’s” performances often look fun, but they also serve a purpose of occupying both symbolic and physical space that recently played a crucial role in a formation of Ukrainian nation-state. However, the question of whether the phenomena of Maidan could be transformed into a simple show-business event replacing the memories and values symbolized by the square for the last seven years remains open. As does the question of how much longer Maidan Nezalezhnosti can be kept “occupied” in such a manner, and whether with time it could possibly lose its symbolic significance and be turned into a regular city square.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

World Press Freedom Day Sparks Discussions on the State of the Media in Ukraine

On May 3 - World Press Freedom Day, I have translated from online discussions about the state of the media in Ukraine and the possible reasons behind the shrinking of press freedom in the country. I'm sharing the post that has just been published on Global Voices below.

May 3 has been declared World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations, in order to raise awareness of the importance of media freedom around the globe.
As in many other countries, in Ukraine on this day journalists traditionally announce the results of an anti-rating “Enemies of the Free Press.” This year, the Institute for Mass Information and the Ukrainian Independent Media Trade Union have included the Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov at the top of the “black list.” Among the incidents [uk] that prompted the inclusion of President Yanukovych on the list were the disappearance of criticism of the regime from the “1+1” TV channel's story on his 100 days in office, a ban on photographing the presidential motorcade by journalists of Vechirni Visti newspaper, and reporters not being allowed to ask questions during his joint press conference with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
World Press Freedom Day has also provoked many online discussions about the state of the media in Ukraine and the possible reasons behind the shrinking of press freedom in the country.
On his blog on Ukrayinska Pravda, journalist Serhiy Leshchenko wrote [uk] about the difference between Ukraine’s official Journalist Day and World Press Freedom Day:
An [artificial] holiday – Journalist Day – exists in Ukraine, and is celebrated on June 6. This holiday has been initiated by state officials and declared by the Presidential decree. […] It is especially cynical, how ahead of the official June 6 Journalist Day different MPs and state officials attempt to greet editorial offices with their “professional holiday.” A culmination of such absurdity is a picture of the government awarding various honors to loyal media representatives for their “merit.”
It can be compared to, let’s say, a butcher greeting a cow on a Beef Day.
The real Journalist Day around the normal world is May 3 – World Press Freedom Day. It is a day when journalists do not celebrate anything, but remember their murdered colleagues, politicians who interfere with their work, and governments that institute censorship.
Zoryana Byndas, the executive editor of an Internet newspaper Pohlyadshared [uk] her experience with skeptical attitudes toward press freedom that prevail in the Ukrainian media industry:
I have recently attended a meeting with a potential advertiser. We discussed his services and how they could be best presented to our readers, clarifying details. At the end of the meeting, this man asked me about the owner of the Internet newspaperPohlyad. I responded that everything was stated on our website. Potential advertiser smirked and said, “Well, alright, you are in charge there, but whose property is it, who funds you, what political party.” I explained again. The man started getting nervous and told me how this newspaper was funded by this guy, who also owned a TV channel. And how that newspaper kept covering activities of a certain party, which meant it owned the outlet. The man was convinced that a small group of enthusiasts, like my friends and I, would not run an Internet newspaper, since such outlets were only created to [elevate some and discredit others in the public eyes].
“Well,” I thought to myself, “the man is right.” Independent press today is [unprecedented]. Even if it still exists somewhere, one is tempted to ask, What’s the catch?
On the Ukrainian political social network, user Serhiy Trehubenko criticized [uk] the Ukrainian media, stating that press freedom itself was not enough for Ukraine:
Ukrainian press carries on the functions of the Soviet press – on paper, it supports development, but the outcomes demonstrate that it is worse than the communist plague.
In civilized countries some things are granted, but in post-Soviet states they have to be discussed. Freedom of the press is not enough for us, we also need to create an intelligent and responsible press that would be able to explain things as they are and suggest ways for improvement.
On, blogger Viktoriya Yadoshchuk wrote [uk] about why World Press Freedom Day cannot be dismissed as a simple formality in Ukraine:
Of course, since the Orange Revolution, the Ukrainian society has democratized because of the press. But it is not enough because the full freedom of expression in Ukraine [has not been achieved]. Moreover, since [President] Yanukovych came to power, according to the watchdog Freedom House, freedom of expression has actually declined. […]
As we can see, the situation is critical: Ukrainians are once again afraid to speak the truth, because of fear for the lives. I think the society itself must address this problem. If the nation unites in speaking the truth, it would shake up the government and prompt them to [reconsider their actions]. Let’s put fear and doubts aside, let’s stay honest and not allow those in power to destroy the biggest value – freedom, freedom of choice, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression!
Ahead of the World Press Freedom Day, Freedom House released a report highlighting [ru] the continuous decline of press freedom in Ukraine – a piece of news that has been shared extensively by Ukrainian bloggers and Twitterers. Earlier this year, the organization also lowered [en] Ukraine’s freedom rating from “free” to “partly free.”