2 years ago

20 years of European journalism & history

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Twenty years doesn't seem a lot. Certainly not in the light of European history. But while we were writing this magazine for the 20th anniversary of EUobserver, we were surprised just how much happened in the European Union in those two decades.

The 'Revolution

The 'Revolution of Dignity' had begun three months earlier, at about 8PM on 21 November 2013, with a Facebook post by Ukrainian journalist Mustafa Nayyem. Sea coast, by three men, two of whom also went free, it also sparked a wave of disgust on social media and street protests against Yanukovych's "world". "Let's get serious ... Who's ready to come to Maidan before midnight? 'Likes' don't count", Nayyem wrote, after Yanukovych, earlier the same day, had halted preparations to sign an EU accord and opted to stay, instead, in what Matviychuk called "the Russian world". Matviychuk and about 1,000 others heeded Nayyem's call. "Everyone was smiling that night, even though it was freezing ... but, inside, I was concentrated, because I knew 1,000 people were not enough to stop the ruin of our country," Matviychuk said. As days and weeks went by, to her "huge surprise", the crowds kept growing, at points numbering over 500,000, despite increasing police brutality, including the first lethal shootings of protesters - Serhiy Nigoyan, Roman Senyk, and Mikhail Zhyznewski - on 22 January 2014. Fast forward to 2020, and two new presidents later - Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky - and, for Matviychuk, the fight for "dignity" goes on. Her NGO - the Centre for Civil Liberties - is still fighting in the courts for justice for the 83 protesters killed on the Maidan. They are also seeking justice for the 18 policemen who died. "These men were also tools used by the regime", Matviychuk said. "Nobody believes they [the Maidan snipers] were Georgian or Italian mercenaries, or any other Russian propaganda stories, but what we need are court verdicts, not popular knowledge," Matviychuk said. Her struggle was made harder when Zelensky, last year, Some were also happily surprised when top EU and US diplomats visited the Maidan. But for Matviychuk, what counted was "support from ordinary people, not just the political elite". "When violence broke out on 11 December, we were scared because our relatives were on the Maidan and we didn't know what would come next," she said. "It was deep into the night, but, suddenly, our Facebook page was flooded with messages: 'Spain is with you. Italy is with you. France is with you ...", she said. "These gestures were so important, because we knew we weren't the only ones who weren't sleeping, that we were not alone", she said. Oleksandra Matviychuk: 'There's still a lot of work to do' Photo: Oleksandra Matviychuk let five key suspects - officers from Ukraine's 'Berkut' special police - flee to Russia in exchange for Ukrainian soldiers and civilians taken hostage in the war in east Ukraine. Nayyem's Facebook post has gone down in history, but for Matviychuk, the revolt had deeper roots - and its first casualties were women. And her fight is being obstructed by Yanukovych-era officials, who never left their posts, and some of whom have crimes to hide. When 29-year old Iryna Krashkova was raped and beaten half-to-death by two policemen in the village of Vradiivka in June 2013, one of whom went free because of relatives in high places, it prompted protests against regime lawlessness from Lviv in western Ukraine to Donetsk in the east. And when 18-year old Oksana Makar was raped and murdered in March 2012 in Mykolaiv, on Ukraine's Black "It's not just about top officials who ordered attacks, or Berkut officers who killed people - you must consider the whole chain-of-command, the responsibility of the middle ranks, and these people are not so interested in our investigations," she said. "We still have to build the institutions our country needs, and we have to protect Ukraine from Russian aggression, so there's a lot of work." 30 — EUOBSERVER ANNIVERSARY 2020

REFUGEE CRISIS - THE MALIAN the year POET WHO GOT ASYLUM 2015 Over one million people seeking refuge arrived in the European Union in 2015 - among them a Malian political activist and poet, who has since been granted asylum in Italy. By Nikolaj Nielsen Soumaila Diawara was the leader of a far-left wing youth movement in Mali in 2012. Three years later he was granted asylum in Italy, where he now works as an interpreter for a prefecture in Rome. He also teaches school kids about migration and has published two books of poetry in Italian. "Europeans need to know that the problems of Europe are not due to Africa, or that the problems in Africa are not due to Europe," says Diawara. "The problem is due to a system that exploits," he says, noting both Africans and Europeans have been victims. Born in 1988 in Mali's capital city of Bamako, Diawara's story is one of political persecution in a country wrecked by poverty and violence. Mali's military coup in early 2012 forced him to flee, after authorities started arresting political activists, sentencing some to death. Most arrived from Turkey before heading up through the Western Balkans and then towards Austria, Germany, Sweden and elsewhere. Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel called it a "historic test" for Europe. An EU plan to disperse some 160,000 arrivals throughout member states ended up generating tensions on quotas that still reverberates and divides some capitals today. "Those who are proposing it, know full well it won't work," said Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban at the time. It is a familiar refrain that has since scuppered many attempts to reform EU-wide asylum laws. Today, the European Commission's 2020 proposal is more fixated on returns, and keeping people from leaving their countries in the first place. Other efforts were made in Malta at a summit on migration in late 2015. Diawara had been in Burkina Faso at the time of the arrests in Mali. His home was ransacked. Unable to return, he went to Algeria and then eventually to Libya. That meeting was followed up with a political declaration to set up a new EU Emergency Trust Fund, which now co-finances, among other things, the Libyan Coast Guard. Poverty in Mali's capital city Bamako drives many to the extremes Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service Arrested in Libya, he spent ten days in a notorious detention centre in Tripoli before paying some €800 for his freedom. He then packed onto a boat on Christmas eve 2014 along with others and arrived in Sicily. "We were saved by a Maltese boat and transferred to an Italian one," he said. Eight months later, in 2015, he was granted asylum in a country, Italy, that broadly viewed migration with suspicion. Rallies were held in Rome against immigrants, as the farright Northern League party was growing in popularity. The year, 2015, is also seen as a pivotal turning point for the politics surrounding migration and asylum in Europe. Some one million people, many of them refugees from the civil war in Syria, had sought sanctuary in a Europe that promised open arms. That coast guard returns to Libya anyone who attempts to leave the country by boat. Many are sent to detention centres, often run by rogue militia outfits where people are sometimes sold off into human slavery. In one of his poems, Diawara weighs survival chances between hunger, war and crossing the Mediterranean Sea. "In the desert of the sea," he writes, "the odds a little are higher." 31 — EUOBSERVER ANNIVERSARY 2020

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