Protests in Ukraine and Venezuela have turned deadly. In Ukraine, demonstrations were triggered by brokering economic deals with Russia and pulling away from deals with the European Union. In Venezuela, citizens are raising their voices against the state of crime and human rights violations. Governments and media are dancing around the big issue attributing the cause of these protests to a number of problems without addressing the central theme.
Protesters are not just upset with current conditions, but are instead fighting against many years of oppression reflecting the style of former governments. The escalation of communist-leaning measures in these supposedly “democratic” nations has placed the people on edge as the governments appear to be reverting to their old dictatorial ways.
Both nations have been characterized by the demonstrations of unhappy masses. Large-scale peaceful protests, in an almost recurring trend for Ukraine, have erupted at 10 year intervals for the past 20 years. In Venezuela, violent protests have flared up several times since former president Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999.
Responding to current protests, Nicolás Maduro’s current administration in Venezuela and the former administration of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine have both focused on crushing protests rather than trying to fix the root causes of civil unrest. Yanukovch having close ties to Russia, and Maduro acting as a much harsher form of Chavez, cannot seem to shift their communist allegiances.
In Ukraine the protests seen today, termed Euromaidan, stem from Yanukovych’s rejection of an European Union Association agreement in favor of economic deals with Putin, who wants to set up a Russian-led customs union involving ex-USSR nations. Many Western Ukrainians, shocked by this move, mobilized peaceful demonstrations against the Ukrainian government. But the protests intensified violently after garnering no response from the Yanukovych administration.
In Venezuela, the ongoing nationwide protest was triggered on Feb. 12 when outrage over the mishandling of an attempted rape case inspired students to act. Following years of rising crime, increasing censorship, growing shortages and expanding impunity beginning during Chavez’s reign, the protesters’ concerns have widened.
In short, both of these countries’ problems are connected to relations with past oppressive regimes.
Many citizens in both nations feel as though their government is not being held accountable to the people anymore but instead is following the shadow of former communist leader’s actions. Maduro in particular has been described as relying largely on Cuba, a strong ally of Chavez because he lacks the charisma and leadership that his predecessor held. Yanukovych, on the other hand, clearly acted in the interests of Russia and the Eastern Ukrainians who are of Russian descent.
The actions of the Maduro and Yanukovych administrations have distressed many in their countries. After the fall of the USSR, Ukraine broke free from the communist block but still maintained close ties to Moscow that have stunted economic and political progress.
Following in Chavez’s footsteps, Maduro has continued the push to systematically repress virtually all forms of political dissent and has given the presidency a stronger reign on the government. This increased power has given Maduro all the room he wants to deny people their basic rights and to control the state.
Citizens of both nations are upset with these developments and have called for similar actions: the resignation and removal of their respective head of state. Problems in each nation regarding the political and economic situation have only amplified calls for constitutional changes to reduce the powers of the presidency as well.
Existing under the influence of regimes like the USSR, or that of Chavez, has made it hard for leaders in either nation to think that they can operate under a different governing structure. But that is exactly what the people want. They want change. They do not want to continue to be suppressed like many of them have been for so many years in the past.
Just as many nations have fought to shed the skin of former empires, Ukraine and Venezuela today are in the midst of breaking free of the bonds of former regimes that haunt their history.
Stephen Nemeth is an undeclared first-year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @WklySNemeth.