September 24, 2011

The Regionnaires’ Image Problem

The Regionnaires’ Image Problem

Ukraine's Orange Blues

Alexander J. Motyl
Take a close look at the three photos just below. They were taken in the week of September 5th by a friend in Kyiv, across the street from the spot where the Yulia Tymoshenko trial is taking place. The top photograph shows the Regionnaire supporters of the trial; the other two show Tymoshenko’s supporters.

Take note of the obvious things, such as the slogans (at least those that I can decipher). Here are some of the ones displayed by the Regionnaires: “I Don’t Believe [You],” “Tymoshenko—to Be Held Responsible,” “She Stole. She Is Not Ukraine,” “Enough.”

Here are a few from Tymoshenko’s camp: “No to Political Repression,” “Yulia Is the Leader of an Honest Ukraine,” “Tymoshenko Is Our Only Hope,” “Yanukovych: Take Your Hands off Tymoshenko,” “The Mafia Will Not Frighten Tymoshenko.”
Now here’s the funny thing. You may or may not agree with legitimacy of the trial, but it’s a fact that the official charge against Tymoshenko is “abuse of office.” In particular, she supposedly issued a “directive” without first getting the Cabinet’s approval, which would have been routinely given anyway. You can also disagree about whether that’s a criminal offense, a civil offense, a mistake, or just plain politics. But you cannot disagree that Tymoshenko is not on trial for corruption, theft, and the like. But that’s exactly what the Regionnaires are saying. Paradoxically, their slogans unintentionally undermine the court’s legitimacy. The flag-waving Regionnaires are effectively stating that the court is wrong—a sentiment that Tymoshenko’s supporters down the block would heartily agree with. Obviously, the pro-Tymoshenko slogans are also questioning the court’s legitimacy, but that’s their intent. The Regionnaires—surprise!—can’t even get elementary propaganda right.
Now take a look at some of the less obvious things in the photographs. First, the flags: the Regionnaire side is awash with banners, only a handful of which are Ukrainian. The Tymoshenko side also has its share of party flags, but the national flag is amply visible as well. Note also the “density” of flags. The Regionnaires obviously believe in banner-overkill. The Tymoshenko side does not. Since national flags aren’t exactly in short supply, it’s clear that the Regionnaires are making a point: they are not Ukraine.
Second, and more interesting, are the colors. The Tymoshenko tents are white, blue, yellow, and beige. Say what you will, but they’re all inviting. In contrast, the Regionnaire colors are … well, there aren’t any, except for one: black. Is that supposed to intimidate? Are they declaring a secret affinity for anarchism? Is the trial a funeral? Or are they saying that the Party of Regions is the political equivalent of the Black Death? Clearly, these guys haven’t given the semiotics of color much thought.
Third and final point. The Tymoshenko side is open. You can walk down the street, visit a tent, pick up some literature, express your support, express your condemnation—whatever. Unsurprisingly, the Regionnaire side is closed. Indeed, it’s cordoned off—isolated and separated from the people they fear and detest. Just like the Regionnaire-led regime of President Viktor Yanukovych.
My point, mind you, is not that Tymoshenko shouldn’t be on trial (although she shouldn’t), but that the Regionnaires are—surprise!—obtuse. If this demonstration were organized by a bunch of teenagers from Luhansk, they might be forgiven. But the Party of Regions has an enormous propaganda apparatus with tons of highly paid “political technologists” who are supposed to know a thing or two about politics.
Fire ’em, President Yanukovych: you’re not getting your money’s worth. And donate that flag-cloth to Russia’s man in black, Vlad Putin.

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