Ukraine’s divide over Europe is not just between East and West, but big business versus the individual

For Ukraine’s businessmen, integration no longer means gaining a new market, but losing a most important one

Share
Related Topics

In the city of Dnipropetrovsk, eastern Ukraine, a small group of demonstrators huddle round to listen to one of their speakers. He’s reading the resolution passed by close to a hundred thousand of their fellow Ukrainians during an enormous rally in the capital on Sunday.

It’s dark, and freezing cold. The organisers have put up tents and hung banners. They’re protesting the government’s decision to abandon an Association Agreement with the EU, which would have brought Ukraine into the European fold with a comprehensive free trade treaty and greater political integration. A number of policemen stand around, watching wistfully.

Suddenly, thirty athletic men in masks and leather jackets descend on the demonstration. They tear down the tents and banners. They assault the speaker and anyone that gets in their way, raining punches and kicks down on protesters they have already knocked over. Equally suddenly, the police are nowhere to be seen. The hooligans continue their dirty work for several minutes before fleeing.

Dnipropetrovsk is Ukraine’s fourth largest city with a population of just over a million. It is a heavy industry powerhouse, manufacturing aircraft, tractors and refrigerators. Most of these will be sold to Russia, still Ukraine’s largest trading partner. Appalled by the prospect of ceding influence over its former Soviet satellite to Europe, Russia has threatened a trade blockade of Ukraine if it decides to sign the agreement.

So for Ukraine’s eastern businessmen, European integration no longer means gaining a new market, but losing its most important one. And it is these businessmen, with their multi-million dollar fortunes, that hold sway over a government ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world. Indeed, in many cases these businessmen actually are the government. Little wonder then that a suspiciously well-organised gang of thugs could break up a pro-Europe rally under the very noses of the police.

For the pro-European demonstrators attacked in Dnipropetrovsk, and the tens of thousands across the country that have braved rain, snow and tear gas everyday this week, Europe is much more than just a market. It means an official commitment to democracy and human rights reform. It means putting a stop to the government’s gradual backslide towards authoritarianism.

In the run up to Sunday’s summit at Vilnius, where Ukraine had been expected to sign the Association Agreement, a number of major media outlets have changed hands, and editors and high-profile journalists suddenly sacked. Media watchdogs warn that this is part of a concerted campaign to stifle free speech before Presidential elections in 2015.

Earlier this month Ukraine’s East European Petrol and Energy company purchased Ukrainian Media Holdings, which owns some 50 internet, television and radio brands, in a reported $340 million dollar deal. Soon afterwards there was a mass exodus of editors and journalists from two of their major publications, previously renowned for exposing corruption and criticizing government.

According to The Global Post, journalists from one of the publications, Forbes Ukraine, were told they could no longer pursue stories about lawmakers from Yanukovych’s ruling Party of Regions.

Unlike his less subtle neighbours in Belarus and Azerbaijan, President Yanukovych and his businessman backers have refrained from clamping down on dissent in a brutal and obvious fashion. Rather than banning pro-European demonstrations from Maidan, Kiev’s main square and birthplace of the 2004 Orange Revolution, they build an enormous Christmas tree and an ice rink there. Rather than shut down media outlets promoting a point of view they disagree with, they buy them.

But this will only last as long as Yanukovych still wants to keep the door to Europe open. If that door is shut, we can expect to see far less restraint. And if it is shut during the summit at Vilnius on Friday, it may well be that this weekend’s demonstrations are not so peaceful.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game