Russia, EU watch as Eastern European country sees protests erupt in Kiev

John Brannen
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NEW GLASGOW – Philip Krakowski of New Glasgow remembers the stories his parents would tell him of life back in Poland.

Philip Krakowski’s parents immigrated to Canada to escape the persecution of Communist authorities in Poland. Krakowski of New Glasgow has been watching with great interest the events unfolding in Poland’s neighbour, Ukraine, as the country decides whether or not it will pursue an EU or Russian trade union. JOHN BRANNEN – THE NEWS

Under a harsh Communist regime and the watchful eyes of the Soviet Union, his educated parents, originally from Poznan, sought a better life elsewhere. With the help of the Canadian embassy in West Germany they filed as political refugees, and immigrated to Canada and settled in Halifax.

“They emigrated from Poland in the early 1980s because of the Soviet occupation of Poland after World War Two,” said Krakowski. “The Communist government and economy led to extreme shortages of food and essential goods.”

Krakowski, who now works in Stellarton at Sobeys head office, is glad they made the move. For people like his parents, an economist and math teacher, the Polish government viewed them with suspicion. 

“The circumstances under which my parents were living in Poland were typical of what other Eastern Bloc countries were experiencing – the big ones being suppression of freedom of speech, and suppression of movement,” he noted.

While Poland has been able to transition to a democracy after communism fell with the Berlin Wall, breakup of the Soviet Union and Polish Solidarity movement, its neighbours, such as Ukraine and Belarus have had less success.

Protests have been ongoing in the Ukrainian capital since President Victor Yanukovych rejected a trade and co-operation deal with the EU in favour of a deal with Russia. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Kiev, signaling their desire to see the nation strengthen ties with the EU.

While Krakowski doesn’t have any direct family connections to the protests, they’re big news within his family. Poland, an EU member, shares a border with Belarus and Ukraine.

“Yanukovych has tried to save face by stating he would strive for EU membership and appearing pro-West, but has done a U-turn and is now trying to align with Russia and Putin,” said Krakowski. “It is viewed as a betrayal by pro-EU/pro-West Ukrainians – of which there are many.”

According to Dr. Lavinia Stan, a political science professor at St. Francis Xavier University, this tug-of-war between the EU and Russia is nothing new.

“Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and especially with the Eastern enlargement of the European Union, Ukraine and the western republics of the former Soviet Union have been caught in between the European Union and Russia,” she said. “There are significant segments of their population that believe that rapprochement with either the EU or Russia is best for the republic.”

Several former Soviet republics, such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have already become EU members. Others, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, have opted to stay in Russia’s orbit. The toppling of a statue of Lenin in Kiev, while symbolic, shows the great divisions that exist between the people and politicians of Ukraine.

“Ukraine stands thus by itself, remaining a Russian outpost at the edge of the EU… the protests also show that the people have a voice, and the political project they envisage for their country contradicts the one supported by their politicians,” said Stan.

Recently, Yanukovych indicated he would revisit the earlier decision to reject the EU after promises of more aid came from the 28-country bloc. A positive move, said Stan.

“But the underlying issues of representation, accountability, reform will continue to be there as long as the Ukrainian democracy remains unstable.”

Krakowski is hopeful Ukraine will start down the path of his parents’ homeland and join the EU.

“The EU and Russia have a lot to gain or lose depending on the outcome. Naturally Poland and the EU would prefer Ukraine to join,” he said.

On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn

Organizations: European Union, St. Francis Xavier University

Geographic location: Russia, Poland, Soviet Union Ukraine Kiev Belarus Poznan West Germany Canada Halifax Stellarton Berlin Wall Latvia Lithuania Estonia Kazakhstan

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