Yes to Europe, but ... | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 13.12.2013
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Yes to Europe, but ...

Surrounded by riot police, although more for their protection, supporters of Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych are also demonstrating in Kyiv. They say they also want Europe, but not just now.

"Nobody wants to hear our voice," said Natalia, a woman in her late 40s. "The Western media ignore us." She reserved much of her scorn for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton: "She should get a hearing aid and glasses, so that she can see and hear the people here." Ashton recently visited Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kyiv, where opponents of President Viktor Yanukovych have been protesting for weeks - but she did not meet with any of his supporters.

Natalia is one of an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people who have been demonstraing in Mariinsky Park, next to the Ukrainian parliament, in support of Yanukovych and his Party of the Regions. She is a housewife from Kyiv.

Natalia and other protesters

Natalia from Kyiv said she would never protest for money

Most people here have traveled from the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine - Yanukovich's strongholds.

Ukrainian media claim these demonstrators have been paid to attend. But the people DW spoke to denied this. "I would never demonstrate for money," Natalia said. But when we asked more questions about this, their tone became aggressive - a possible sign of their distrust of Western media.

Fenced-off protests

But you really would not need a hearing aid - as Natalia had suggested - to hear the demonstrators. Even the president himself, whose office is a few hundred meters away, would have no trouble hearing their speeches and the loud music.

Group of protesters

The pro-government protests take place away from the world's TV cameras

This anti-Maidan is located in the fenced-off government district on a hill above the city center. But its location is a problem for the protesters because even on normal days, only a few people pass by.

Unlike their political opponents, Yanukovych supporters are, for all practical purposes, demonstrating to each other. Only the policemen who guard them and the government district are likely to get the message.

What's more, the rally for Yanukovych is taking place behind a fence more than two meters high. And the remaining demonstrators are surrounded by chest-high plates - even though they have no fear of an attack. On the contrary, several buses with riot police block the surrounding streets. Opposition activists do not come here.

Yes to Europe, but…

"Yes to Europe, no to unrest." This is the pro-Yanukovych message from these demonstrators. It can be seen on giant banners and is repeated by speakers on the stage again and again, who say the protests on Independence Square are an attempted coup, inspired and financed by the West.

Protesters holding banners

'Yes to Europe, no to unrest' is a common slogan

"We have come here to prevent a coup by the opposition," said Lyudmila, an elderly woman from Kyiv. She, too, was "for Europe, but not under these conditions." They voice sentiments similar to those of President Yanukovych when he put the finished negotiated association agreements with the EU on ice.

"We are not yet ready to move closer to the EU, because our economy is still too weak," said a young man from Poltava in the heart of Ukraine. That the president had only now noticed this, even though the agreement with the European Union had been ready to be signed for two years, doesn't bother the protesters.

Some of them had strange, or wrong ideas, about the EU. "In Europe, chickens must have one square meter space for themselves. Our farmers cannot afford that," Natalia said. "To sell milk in Europe, you must buy a massage device for the cows," she said in all seriousness.

Unwilling Yanukovich supporters

Not all those demonstrating in Mariinsky Park saw all the protesters on Independence Square as opponents or even enemies. Not all stand unconditionally behind Yanukovich. "Those on the Maidan are ordinary people who have a right to demonstrate," a man said. "Yanukovych made a mistake when he attempted to clear the Maidan," a woman declared.

Ukraine Kundgebung Janukowitsch Anhänger 12.12.2013

The pro-government protests look like the anti-governmment ones, minus the enthusiasm

There are also people who are against the president. "I think Yanukovych's policies are bad," said a man in his late 50s who wanted to remain anonymous, refusing to say which city he came from. "But if I said that, I would lose my job immediately," he said with a smile on his face.

He revealed only that he worked in a heavy industry operating in southern Ukraine, whose owner belongs to Yanukovych's party. "They brought us here with buses for one day." He ignored the question of whether he received money to do this.

At the end of the conversation, he even outed himself as a follower of opposition leader and detained former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko: "She can inspire and electrify the people, Yanukovych cannot."

Applause without enthusiasm

Overall, the Yanukovych supporters' camp looked like a copy of the opposition Maidan. Here, too, were tents and warm porridge. Ukrainian patriotic songs blasted out of loudspeakers. There were many flags of Ukraine and the European Union. And yet it became clear that this is the "other" Maidan when one of the president's speeches was played. There were no whistles, just applause. But there was no enthusiasm.

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