While visiting family in Lithuania over the winter holidays, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how many young Lithuanians were pas- sionate about supporting the protesters in Ukraine. Upon my return to St Andrews, however, I was sadly reminded of the apathy with which many students regarded the protests. Is the political revolution in Ukraine really irrelevant to us ‘westerners’?
In order to best understand my profound interest in Ukranian politics, I invite you to join me in a quick review of Lithuanian history. Lithuania, because of its geographical position, has always been of interest to its wealthier neighbours. In the late 18th century it was forcefully appropriated into Russian Empire and did not regain its independence for the whole of 19th century.
The ‘Russification’ of Lithuania began immediately after its annexa- tion, the Lithuanian language and the Latin alphabet banned to encourage Orthodox tradition and demolish any cultural heritage. The country was granted a little breathing room in the beginning of the 20th century (1918- 1940), but this was short lived as the Soviet Union ‘reclaimed’ Lithuania for nearly a half-century.
Today, the Republic of Lithuania is a part of both NATO and the European Union and has been independent for nearly 24 years. While growing up, I was continuously reminded by my parents of how much they had yearned for this freedom, which I was fortunate enough to have been born in to. Unity was the key word, running through their reminiscences of the wondrous change that came before my birth. Although I was not there for the peaceful demonstrations that took
place before the USSR fell (the most impressive being ‘The Baltic Way’, a two-million-man chain spreading across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) I still sensed a unity among my people, even as I saw my country gradually enter the process of ‘Westernisation’.
I witnessed this same unity in news reports showing the hundreds of thousands of people gathering in the Independence Square in Kiev. Young people, students, had initiated the protests, indignant over their government’s eschewal of a trade deal with the EU in favor of an agreement with Russia.
As Ukrainian journalist Taras Ilkiv told Business Insider that declining the EU path was simply the catalyst, bringing to boil a long-sim- mering rancor over the actions of the Ukranian government. Even then, the protestors remained calm and patient, peaceful in their unity. News media, however, tells another story. Current articles and images portray the protests as outbreaks of violence, rather than thoughtful stands for revolutionary change.
A second year Ukrainian International Relations student, who chose to remain anonymous, said, “First of all, the media makes it seem like all of Kiev is a war zone. This, however, is not true, as the main protests are limited to one area and [people in] the rest of the city can get on with their lives without being endangered. Secondly, back in November when the protests had just begun, the protesters were peaceful and remained so until mid January, when the government was thought to have provoked the people.
I do not believe that these protests are irrelevant to the Western world. In fact, I think that the West should be more than interested in this budding Ukraine, one that revolts against dictatorial leadership and turns to face democracy.
We can all relate to the Ukrainian struggle for representative government and respect for basic rights, two fundamental aspects of a functioning state that we often take for granted, and shouldn’t. Fighting for change is difficult, but resisting it is often more work. Let us hope that the Ukrainian government admits defeat, and allows its country and its citizens to move out of the darkness.