Elections in Ukraine restrict revolutionary icon

If you are familiar with the events of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine between November 2004 and January 2005, then undoubtedly you recognize Independence Square in the center of Kiev...

Amidst reports of a tainted election, thousands of concerned voters took to the square to demand a fair process – a move that eventually disrupted the balance of power from the disputed Viktor Yanukovych to Viktor Yushchenko.

The landmark location is where the large-scale protests took place that reshaped the political make-up of the country and it is arguably the most important symbol of one of Ukraine’s most defining historical moments. Now, in a twist of irony, the powerful and nostalgic site has been declared off limits as the same power players run against each other once again, vying for the position of head of state.

On January 17, 2010 Ukraine will hold its latest round of presidential elections. In an interesting move, and by decree of a local Kiev district administrative court, all demonstrations or meetings are banned on Independence Square between January 9 and February 5, 2010. According to the Russian wire service RIA Novosti, the request to dampen activities on the square during the election timeline came from the city, although no reason was given for the motion.

There are currently 18 candidates in the field, but the three drawing the most attention are names quite familiar in the realm of Ukrainian politics – Viktor Yanukovich, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. Interestingly enough, these presidential hopefuls are the same three candidates with the strongest ties to Independence Square, and thus have the most to gain or lose from the abandonment of its use.

Tymoshenko has closely aligned her image in connection with the square, holding pre-election rallies and even her New Years address to the country from the famous location. There is speculation from those closely watching the election that the move to close the square is calculated to stifle Tymoshenko herself.

Nikolay Azarov, who heads Yunokovich’s campaign, alleges that Tymoshenko, should she lose the election, is already prepared to actively challenge the decision through the court system.

“In her circles she is already freely saying that she knows she will lose, and the only way to get to power is through courts and rallies at the main square,” Azarov said. He also asserts that Yunokovich’s Party of Regions is prepared to join in the battle as well. “We submitted a request, and we will gather our supporters at the same square – as many as needed. We will take all measures allowed under the Constitution and legislation,” Azarov said.

Although the ban on the square seems disadvantageous for Tymoshenko in particular, there is also reason to believe that the move is to maintain general order during a potentially contentious process. Given both candidates’ eagerness to employ Independence Square as a stage for their own causes, it is understandable why authorities might want to remove the location from the playing field.

One of the presidential candidates, Protyvsih is so against the status quo in Ukraine that he legally changed his last name to one that literally translates to “against all.” Though his chances of winning are not favorable, his supporters have made a commitment to maintain order during the election process.

Taras Palchy, who aligns himself with Protyvsih recognizes the need to maintain order on the square and says he is working to make sure that a repeat of the Orange Revolution doesn’t occur.

“If Yanukovich wins, Timoshenko’s supporters will come out to the square, if Timoshenko wins, Yanukovich’s people will come. They want us to be involved in that again, but we will not let them make brothers go against brothers,” Palchy said.

Whether the conditions are ripe for an event similar to the Orange Revolution or not, it is clear Ukraine is keen on keeping its symbols from being exploited by the candidates. At the same time, those candidates who were active during the revolution have said that they will make their voices heard in that same venue. No matter the outcome of the presidential elections in Ukraine, it seems there will be discontent among the candidates at least.

Through the court system, the City of Kiev has decided that Independence Square will not be the theater in which the drama will unfold. Whether or not the presidential candidates honor the city’s decision remains to be seen.

Sean Thomas, RT

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