WORLD AFFAIRS.  Visitors to Kyiv will notice that the Regionnaire-controlled city administration has “captured” the downtown area, encompassing the capital city’s Broadway, the Khreshchatyk, and Independence Square, the site of the Orange Revolution and all other popular protests since the late 1980s. And small wonder. Ever since the Entrepreneurs’ Rebellion of late November 2010, President Viktor Yanukovych has been terrified of a second Orange Revolution. And those fears have only been amplified by widespread recognition in Ukraine that the sultan—Yanukovych—has no clothes and that his regime has been a complete bust.

Despite their proclivity for pigheadedness, even the Regionnaires understand that a heavy-handed police presence, although effective in stopping protest, might raise a few eyebrows and further tarnish their already dreadful international image. So they’ve done what all authoritarians always do: they’ve decided to fill the space and thereby deny it to opponents.

The Regionnaires have gone about filling Kyiv’s downtown in two ways—with things and with sounds. First, the city administration has left intact two large stages—usually dismantled after winter holiday festivities—on both sides of Independence Square. In effect, the stages deny regime opponents the space to hold rallies and protests. Naturally, the city authorities would deny any such dastardly intent. Quite the contrary, they’d insist, the stages are only meant to offer Kyivites entertainment. After all, what’s wrong with a bit of Regionnaire fun?

Second, the authorities have taken to piping in music all along the Khreshchatyk on weekends, when it’s transformed into a pedestrian zone. In a bizarrely Orwellian move, the Regionnaires have left in place the loudspeakers they set up a few weeks ago. At first, Kyivites going out for a stroll would be inundated with the insistent sounds of cheap Russian pop music. More recently, bad pop has been replaced by endless broadcasts of Soviet patriotic songs, marches, and romances. Just think about it. It’s as if the Berlin authorities played “Lili Marlene” and the “Horst Wessel Song” on Unter den Linden.

The non-stop musical barrage has a threefold purpose. The constant noise interferes with, and distracts from, serious conversation—and, thus, potential criticism of the regime. It appeals to teary-eyed war veterans and babushkas, who are rapidly becoming the only Ukrainian constituency with any degree of enthusiasm for Yanukovych and the Regionnaires. And it sends a not too subliminal message—that the Regionnaires are turning back the clock and pushing Ukraine eastward.

Of course, being screamingly incompetent and inherently incapable of appreciating that Ukrainians can actually think for themselves, the Regionnaires don’t understand that their efforts to control downtown will backfire. Kyivites are smart and sophisticated. Most of them have no love for Yanukovych and his cronies and understand what the city authorities are up to. And they resent being treated as cattle. Young people, who regard the Khreshchatyk and Independence Square as a cool place to congregate, show off their clothes and gadgets, and drink beer, will only sneer at Regionnaire attempts to impose their antediluvian musical and ideological tastes on hip post-Soviet generations. And foreign visitors to Kyiv will wonder just how such transparently heavy-handed violations of public tranquility square with Yanukovych’s assertions that he loves Europe and wants nothing but European integration for Ukraine.

In the final analysis, Regionnaire attempts to control Kyiv’s downtown are just one more indication of the weakness, brittleness, and instability of Yanukovych’s regime. Self-confident rulers have no reason to fear freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. Only miserable failures who hear the music do.

Alexander Motyl


Ukrayinska Dumka


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