Geopolitics

For Maidan, Ukraine's Election Is Not The End

Maidan protesters remain in Independence Square, keeping guard despite the election of a new president. When will they leave? The vegetable gardens and henhouses suggest no time soon.

Maidan protesters aren't going anywhere.
Maidan protesters aren't going anywhere.
Yanina Sokolovskaya

KIEV — Ukraine's current leaders have a healthy respect for the Maidan protesters, who both brought them to power and could take that power away at any moment.

"In general, Maidan said that it will stick around until the presidential elections, and then disperse after the election of a legitimate leader," Ukraine's President-elect Peter Poroshenko said during the campaign.

In an interview with Kommersant, he expressed hope that Ukraine would not repeat the mistakes of the early 20th century, when Ukraine lost its independence due to "internal strife, chaos and the Makhnovshchina," the latter being an anarchist army of peasants and workers during the Russian civil war.

These days, Kiev residents use the Makhnovshnina moniker to describe the "heroes of the revolution," the Maidan protesters who still occupy the city square and main street. But in his comments, Poroshenko probably wasn't likening Maidan protesters to the Makhnovshchina, instead referring to separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In fact, none of the "nationally oriented" political leaders allow themselves to criticize Maidan protesters who have decided to stay in the capital indefinitely. It's dangerous to enter into conflict with them because even a politician who has won election fairly could be accused of betraying the revolution's ideals — and quickly share the same fate as the last president to do so, Viktor Yanukovych.

Maidan activists seem to agree that it's too early to leave the square. They say they intend to wait not just for the president to be elected, but for the new government to be formed and for the parliamentary elections to take place. That means Maidan will be around throughout the summer and into the fall, at a minimum.

The activists have even planted dill and radishes in former flower beds and have set up pigsties and henhouses between tents. That has made Kiev's untrusting residents fearful that these guests will overstay their welcome.

"We are even gathering a third Maidan, because the new government still has the same civil servants, and we don't like that," says Maidan activist Peter Stepanenko.

The idea for a "third Maidan" actually originated with former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The Orange Princess was the first to warn that if an oligarch won the election she would call on people to protest again. Stepanenko likes that idea. He calls himself Maidan's "guard" and didn't even travel home to vote.

"It's difficult to get home," he explains, showing a copy of his passport.

When asked why he didn’t ask to vote elsewhere, he says he shouldn't have to go to the trouble. "My duty is to make sure there isn't trouble on Maidan," he says. "So that provocateurs from Crimea or Chechnya don't get in with bombs."

Today's Maidan camp

Despite the active search for saboteurs, Maidan looks more like an open-air museum than a military camp. There is no sign of armed self-defense soldiers. They recently stopped carrying weapons and are apparently listening to Poroshenko, who has warned that armed individuals need to leave the city center.

At the entrances to government buildings still controlled by Maidan activists, I did meet a couple people armed with clubs, but they were the exception. It's more common to run into "revolutionaries in civilian clothes," especially at Maidan's Internet cafe. It's impossible to stay in the cafe for long, because the tent where it is located heats up quickly in the 40 °C temperatures. (104 °F)

"As you can see, everything is quiet today," the cafe's systems administrator Andrei says when I visit on Ukraine's election day. He explains that he absolutely planned to vote, clarifying that nearly every candidate's program was good. The problem, he says, is whether their ideas would actually be implemented.

"The president doesn't own the country," he says. "He is hired by the people to be the manager. And if he does a poor job, if he tries to cheat the people, he will have to answer to Maidan."

Nearby, in the improvised canteen, a self-defense fighter named Viktor sits in the shade as visitors take photos with "Viktor the Cossack." Tourists in Kiev love Maidan, and it has become an essential stop on any visit to the city. There is everything for tourists here: food, drinks, even magnets made to look like the two-kilo gold brick activists found at Viktor Yanukovych's lavish home.

The signs in front of Yanukovych's former residence are no longer protesting anything. Instead, they are advertising snacks. On offer are plov, kebabs, beer and ice cream. At the entrance, people in camouflage collect 20 hryvnia (about $1.70) in return for "maintaining order on the territory." I ask whether they are planning to vote.

"We are guarding a place of national interest," one of the guard answers. "The vote will happen without us. Then we will evaluate the result and decide if this government works for us."

Experts in Kiev seem uncertain that the new president will be able to overcome the anarchy. "There will absolutely be a third Maidan," says political scientist Constantine Bondarenko. "It is unavoidable, because the people have felt their own power. And it will be hard for the new leader to meet their demands."

It is essential that the new Ukraine authorities convince Maidan activists to go home, because that's the only way Ukraine will be able to build a stable government. But it's still unclear who will be able to do that. And Maidan still has to wait for the autumn harvest. After all, it's not for nothing that these peasants from Western Ukraine have sowed their kitchen garden.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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