From protests to civil war, the international stage has seen a sandstorm of political unrest. Luis Barrueto looks at these conflicts across the globe, with focus on the rising tensions in Ukraine and Venezuela in a Special Report for Pandeia.
In Ukraine, clashes between protesters and policy have turned deadly, amassing a death toll of over 100 people after a short-lived truce. In Venezuela, protesters have been on the streets for over a week now in demonstrations against their government that are rapidly becoming violent, with the death toll at 8 people so far amidst increasing tension with the government. While each of these conflicts may seem unique at first glance, all of the clashes began as a struggle by populations against their governments’ abuses and have intensified by state tyranny. Although admittedly with different levels of clearness, underlying each struggle is a shared conviction that their citizens should live their lives in peace and tolerance. Yet, their governments continue to silence the cries for freedom.
“The average person faces the fear of being murdered, kidnapped or assaulted not only by criminals but by the state itself”
Gabriel Salas, from Estudiantes por la Libertad Venezuela, has summarized the situation, above. The current protests began as a peaceful demonstration against the high degree of insecurity, the growing scarcity of common consumer products, inflation and the abuse of power that has been common since Nicolás Maduro rose to power in April 2013. Last February 12, the protest that demanded the release of several students detained without their due process resulted in violence that counted 3 killed people, 23 hurt and hundreds of detainees.
Following this, counts rose to 13 official deaths, dozens of tortured individuals and many more captured, including that of Leopoldo Lopez, the assumed leader of the opposition after his call to the 12F protest. After his surrender to the state forces, the Venezuelan people seem to have awoken from the stagnation that the opposition leaders Henrique Capriles and his Democratic Unity Roundtable had found themselves in. Declarations by Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, show this by asking for his formal support, long absent since the beginning of this crisis.
Constant repression has shown in two fronts: the National Guard and so-called “collectives”, paramilitary organizations that have been used by the officialism to strike against the opposition in cases where policy involvement is too crude of a prospect. At the time of this writing, militarization seems even a bigger threat, though those who go off to the streets find the protest as the only alternative to the increasingly crude conditions of life in Venezuela.
In Ukraine, the movement endured a different sort of birth. President Viktor Yanukovich gave up on a trade agreement with the European Union, in exchange for a 15 billion bailout, three months ago. Maria Semykoz, Young Voices Advocate, explains that the motifs have changed since then:
“It started with the EU treaty. The regime used violence to crack down the peaceful protest. This shocked the society. From that point on,the protest was increasingly about holding those guilty in the first blood dropped on Maidan to accountability and ensuring police and state forces will not be able to beat up innocent citizens in the future. However, the regime didn’t get the message”.
Progressively, violence escalated towards its peak between February 17 and 19, rising the death toll to 26. “Citizens had little choice but to demand the president’s resignation – and with it, the dismantling the whole regime, wired to steal, lie, kill and torture. As we saw over the last 2 days, people are ready to stand behind this demand until death”, adds Semykoz.
After this escalade in violence, President Yanukovich declared a short lived truce that was broken within hours and added up to a 100 killings in total since the beginning of the protests. At the time of writing, the elite Berkut police unit seen as responsible for many of the deaths have been disbanded in attempts to quell the ever heightening tensions.
Thailand and Venezuela ignited protests domestically, whereas the shadow of Russia and the West have been all the more present in Ukraine and also, in Syria. “Russia’s involvement is complex, as it delves into power relationships surrounding the energy markets as well as Putin’s dream to resurrect Russian domination in the region”, explains Irena Schneider, expert in political economy for post-Soviet countries, adding that “Though Russia has tried to promote paranoia and fear of destabilization, too much blood has been spilled for the Eurasian project to maintain a shred of credibility for all free thinking, critically-minded people in the world”.
Dissent taken to the streets
All of these countries are struggling between the people’s will and the politicians’ impositions. Schneider argues that “the open society has a universal attraction, and has touched the hearts and minds of citizens in both Russia and Ukraine. The ideas of liberty are stronger than those of brute force and oppression”. Salas has argued that “young Venezuelan students go to the streets because they fear that life and all their dreams are shattered by policies that suppress individuality and prosperity”.
Both Venezuela and Ukraine show – with a difference of degree – that when a government overreaches from its proper limits, citizens are willing to fight for ideals like democracy, liberty and justice. As Benjamin Constant said, abstract ideas take concrete individuals as their victims.
Elie Wiesel wrote that “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”. From a distance, readers of this article can do best by taking a side, get informed and put pressure on their own governments not to remain silent when they witness injustice.