Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Ukraine Forces Must Act Differently

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Ukraine Forces Must Act Differently

Article excerpt

One gauge of how much a country embraces democracy is whether its security forces honor the right of assembly and refuse to shoot protesters. In Ukraine, the previous regime failed that test. Over the winter, forces under President Viktor Yanukovych killed more than 100 pro-democracy protesters in Kiev's public areas. After enough soldiers refused to shoot, he was forced to flee.

Now an interim regime, one with a strong commitment to democracy and fresh elections scheduled for May 25, faces a similar test. Will the same Ukrainian forces under a new commander be able to peacefully end the occupation of public buildings by Russian- speaking protesters in eastern cities?

Or will they resort to the same old shoot-and-kill?

On Tuesday, acting President Olexandr Turchinov initiated military operations to retake areas in the east where he has lost control. Many of the protesters are unarmed and simply seek autonomy for the region. But many are not. They may be backed by the Russian regime of President Vladimir Putin.

Ukrainian forces must act with restraint against peaceful protesters, but less so against those with guns in public places. If they can do this, they will have shown they have absorbed the civic value of a right to nonviolent protest.

Ukraine has had two revolutions for democracy (2004 and 2013). But it's not clear if democratic values have yet to sink in. While the rest of the world watches what Russia might do in Ukraine, just as important is what Ukrainian forces will do with the protesters in eastern cities.

Ukraine's string of demonstrations are the latest in a burst of protests worldwide. Between 2006 and mid-2013, 842 protests occurred in 84 countries, driven in large part by a lack of "real democracy," according to a survey by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue and a German foundation, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. …

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