The Force is strong in the Ukrainian Internet
Earlier this month, the Ukrainian authorities shut down a file-sharing website called Ex.ua, seemingly in an effort to combat copyright infraction and piracy.
The site allows you to do what in the West is a crime -- listen to music and watch movies without paying for them.
Dissatisfied computer geeks and wizards hit back hard. In two days they had brought the down the websites of Ukraine's president, Interior Ministry, Cabinet of Ministers, Security Service, and the official site of the ruling Party of Regions. The ruling powers are not as scary as you think, the hackers bragged.
The Ukrainian government blinked. In a few days Ex.ua was reinstated.
In a different twist but in a similar vein, a popular site that chronicles the misdeeds of Ukraine's notoriously corrupt traffic police was shut down by a court order.
Roadcontrol.org.ua filmed a traffic officer outside Odesa insulting the Ukrainian language, in another video a driver who stops at an inspection point and asks to use the toilet is subjected to a dressing down by a traffic officer who then insists on checking his papers.
The posted video attracted many comments. The officer in question was raked over the coals. It would seem that some of these comments scared him so much that he asked the courts to do something about it. The court, in its legal wisdom, shut the site down, only to reopen it some days later. Same court, same site. Same video, same situation.
They blinked again.
Now you could call this many things: an assault on Internet freedom, harassment, or Ukrainian big brother spinning out of control. But it seems to me this is about a very basic us-versus-them kind of thing. Every self-respecting Ukrainian is today armed with a mobile phone that can document all sorts of misdeeds. Much of what the authorities want to hide, the people see, document, and post to the web.
The force of the Internet is strong and the force of the Ukrainian authorities, well it isn't really a force, but more of a bully presence, and it is essentially weak. They continually bite off more than they can chew, go too far without thinking things through, and cut off their noses to spite their faces.
If they keep blinking like this, maybe they'll soon close their eyes altogether.
Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty