The Bottom Line nails the big talking points and the lessons to be learned from the past week across the globe. This week, Sean Gibson reflects on the swelling anti-establishment protests in both Ukraine and Thailand, as well as a notable state intervention in the wild nightlife of Sydney, Australia.
An increasingly seismic movement is being felt in Ukraine after the months-long Euromaidan protest arrived at a full-blown stand-off with the government two weeks ago.
An anti-protest law, which has since been hastily repealed, led to violent clashes and several deaths on the streets of Kiev. The running and pitched battles over several days last week sparked a flurry of activity elsewhere in the country, with several regional councils being stormed and occupied by protesters.
The uprisings began in the west but began to spread to the more traditionally Russian-influenced east, even as far as Zaporizhya – the home of President Yanukovich, who has found himself increasingly on the defensive in the past fortnight.
— Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) January 23, 2014
There is a weight of recent history in this colossal fallout that stretches far beyond the initial protest against the Ukrainian government’s recoil from more fully aligning itself with Europe and the eurozone bloc. Opposition leaders are now walking the highwire in negotiations with the president – torn between compromising for some tangible reward for their efforts, and staying true to many protesters’ desire for radical change – beginning with the ousting of President Yanukovich.
The protests themselves produced many contentious pictures. While in the UK the mayor of London Boris Johnson is pushing for the availability of water cannons the next time he is faced with a riot, the demonstrations in Kiev provided a startling showcase of the equipment in action. There were serious concerns about the use of water cannons with temperatures in the capital rooted around minus-10 degrees celcius, but the hoses were deployed regardless.
Perhaps of greater concern were reports that the Ukrainian authorities were wrapping stun grenades in nails in order to cause trauma – a tactic you might hope won’t gain favour elsewhere.
Amateur video recordings spread quickly around the world, many showing the decidedly rough treatment of protesters by the police. One showed a particularly disturbing scene of a male protester stripped naked and made to pose for photos with the ‘victorious’ peacekeepers. Several others revealed the scenes as those regional councils were breached and occupied by protesters.
*ADVISORY: VIDEO BELOW CONTAINS GRAPHIC/POTENTIALLY DISTURBING SCENES*
Beyond these outright traumatic scenes was something altogether more subtle and discomfiting. While plenty of protesters and witnesses of the Euromaidan clashes were able to succesfully harness online resources to share their stories and raise global awareness, the Ukrainian establishment showed they were equally tech-savvy by tracing mobile phone activity in the area around the protests.
The police then sent a text message directly to each phone informing them that they were “registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.
This message arrived in everyone’s inboxes shortly after the government pushed through a law banning public demonstrations. It is disturbing to hink that a state could blacklist you for even being near the epicentre of a disturbance. It’s a dark foreshadowing of a potential technological war in such stand-offs in future.
Although the remarkable scenes surrounding the stand-off in Ukraine finally bludgeoned their way into the western mainstream media, less has been seen of the ongoing tensions in Thailand.
On the 21 January the government declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and its surrounding territories, following two months of protest against the incumbent prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
The state of emergency can last for up to 60 days and permits detention of suspects without the charge, the enforcement of a curfew, a clamp-down on freedom of the press and – most pertinently in this case – prevents political gatherings of any significant size.
The governments has stressed that police, and not the army, will be enforcing the state of emergency, in what is the latest episode of an eight-year saga. The military toppled Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, from the prime minister post in 2006 and in a week’s time, on 2 February, the embattled premier will hold what is expected to be a largely pointless election. Yingluck will most likely win comfortably and the opposition has already promised a boycott
Sydney is poised for a serious tightening of alcohol licensing laws, with central drinking establishments ordered to close their doors to new entrants at 1:30am and stop selling alcohol at 3:00am.
The intervention from the state government is an attempt to tackle alcohol-induced violence in the previously party-friendly city.
Many people have expressed concerns that the new measures will drive revellers into the street in the middle of the night – despite the fact that premises can remain open until 5:00am – and that there isn’t sufficient provision for public transport to cope.
There are a number of exempted areas and bars further from the centre, as well as those within tourist accommodation, will not be affected.
Off licences, however, will be forced to shut up at 10:00pm – a measure which is currently operated in Scotland.
It is a moot point whether these measures will do enough to challenge the problems of drunken violence an to balance the impingements and logistical challenges they entail. Whether licensing laws are the appropriate route through which to tackle what is a fundamentally social and cultural problem is another matter entirely.
Are you in Ukraine, Thailand or Australia? Where are the respective protests in Kiev and Bangkok leading in the long-term? Do you think revellers in Sydney should be so restricted? Let us know your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below and tell us what else has been going on in international news.
Lead image: Ivan Bandura
Inset (right): Johan Fantenberg
Inset (left): Natalie Ingram