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It has been almost two months since the people of Ukraine went on the streets protesting against the government. The protest, which spread to many cities, is criticizing the decision of the Ukrainian government to reject European Union’s Association agreement in favor of improving trade and traditional relations with Russia. Since then, the government has failed to cool down the tempers. The situation became even worse recently when the government of Ukraine made a law that sums up protesting as illegal. Protests which were gradually becoming mild, turned violent with protesters fighting the police and raiding government buildings.
While Ukraine is in the midst of a crisis, foreign media have been doing their best to propagate their own propaganda. Western media came out to the full support of European Union and the protests, whereas Russian media did their best criticizing the protests and supporting the Ukrainian government.
There was always this belief that Eastern Ukraine is more pro Russia, and western Ukraine is more tilted towards Europe. This division became prominent when pro-government rallies were organized in eastern parts of the country such as Donetsk. Though autonomous republic of Crimea is a part of Ukraine, people consider themselves as Russians and hold Russian passports. Crimea, along with rest of eastern Ukraine came out with strong support for the government.
At the time when divided media is dividing public opinion, it is very important to understand what actually is happening in Ukraine. For this reason, we surveyed native Ukrainians asking their opinion on recent protests and we got mixed responses as we had expected.
The survey was done asking a set of questions in person, on website and on social media from people belonging to different age groups, genders and regions of Ukraine.
We asked people, if given a choice between European Union and Russia, what would they choose? 60% of Ukrainians said they will prefer European Union, 33.33% said they want to align towards Russia or Customs union and 6.66% people said they want a free country, neither towards European Union or Russia.
We then asked the same people if they think Ukraine may have a better future with European Union. 33.33% percent people said no. whereas 53.33% said yes and 13.33% people were unsure. This statistic gives an interesting insight when compared with the one above. A significant number of people who wanted Ukraine to incline towards European Union were confused and unsure if it is good for Ukraine, assuming that those who want Ukraine to incline towards Russia will always deny the possibility of a better future with European Union.
European Union itself has been undergoing a financial crisis and the new member states, especially the countries of East Europe have in a number of times blamed EU of discrimination (take for example Bulgaria and Romania that are kept out of Schengen area). There are countries like United Kingdom who want to leave the European Union and there are countries like Iceland, Switzerland and Norway who do not want to join European Union. Greenland has left the European Union at its will. At this juncture, will Ukraine find a respectful position if it completely joins the European Union? Or bringing Ukraine to EU is just a plan to embarrass Russia? We asked the same question from the people we surveyed and we got mixed response: 40% people said yes, Ukraine may become a victim of discrimination, and 40% people said no.
At the moment Ukraine is having a political crisis where protesters have been so far successful in getting the Prime Minister of the country resign. There are clashes between principles. Protesters are raising their voice and demonstrating because they have every right to do so. However, the government believes they are elected majority, brought by the majority of the people of Ukraine, therefore they have every right to govern and do not want to give up.
As we were analysing the survey results, we could clearly see the east and west divide among Ukrainian population, where east supporting the government and west against it.
It is difficult to accurately determine which side has more supporters. In every democracy people have the right to elect their leaders and if they are not happy with the government then they have the right to make the government fall. Nevertheless, if the number of people who elected the government is more than the number of protesters, then is it democratic to force the government to quit? In any democracy, the party that has the largest support group should be the winning one… right? Considering the split of opinions between East and West dividing the country, it looks like one has the majority. I asked this same question to my Ukrainian friend who had come for a visit to India and he said that many west Ukrainians had boycotted the elections and did not cast their votes, thus president Viktor Yanukovich was put into power by easterns. So things might not be so simple after all.
European Union and Customs Union trying to gain Ukraine, made Ukrainians fight with each other, which is a sad reality. Now the question is not whether Ukraine will chose European Union or customs union, the question is whether Ukraine will let Yanukovich govern or not. He is serving one of the toughest times. After the resignation of Prime Minister Azarov, the President remains with less power. However, under the new constitution introduced in 2004, most of the power remains in the hands of the president. And the government can work for another two months without the Prime Minister.
The chaos in Ukraine started when the government refused to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. An association agreement is different than permanent membership of European Union. Such an agreement facilitates the cooperation between European Union and signatory countries in areas that include development of political, trade, social, cultural and security links. This agreement does not ensure better jobs, better lifestyle, access to Schengen region and other facilities and benefits which EU member states might enjoy. However, this agreement may make it easier for Ukraine to join European Union in the future, requiring an approval in the parliament or a public referendum.
European Union has certain membership criteria, and among them some criteria where Ukraine fails as of today are:
On the other hand, Russia has assured that it will not review its earlier signed agreements if the new government comes to the centre. Putin reiterated that the political crisis in Ukraine must be solved without any foreign interference. He further added, the international community, which has been calling on Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to act in a civilized way amid the crisis, should urge the opposition to do the same.
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