“All the world acknowledges and Ukraine acknowledges that the state is on the brink of civil war.” – former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, January 28, 2014.
The photos have circled the internet, often with descriptors such as “apocalyptic”, as the political crisis in Ukraine deteriorated. As of printing, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov—who just the week before was asked to leave the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos due to the increasingly violent tactics of his regime—had resigned from his position and dissolved his party’s government. President Victor Yanukovych fled, leaving his opulent estate open for peaceful protestors to tour his private zoo and golf course, and leaving the government of Ukraine in the hands of Parliament.
Protests were initially sparked in late November, when President Yanukovych canceled negotiations indefinitely to form a trade agreement with the European Union, just days before the agreement was to be signed, and publicly reoriented his country toward an eastern trading parter—Russia—by accepting a $15bn (£9bn) bailout. Neither Russia nor the European Union would allow Ukraine to sign a deal with one if it wanted a deal with the other. On the European Union side, an agreement would mean stronger long-term trading prospects and a path towards stronger democratic values; on Russia’s side, an agreement would mean an influx of money and cheap gas from a historic friend.
But on the ground, in the midst of the protests, it is not so simple. The country hardly prospered under the Soviet Union, but parts of the country—namely the southeast’s heavy industry sector—still have very close trade ties with Russia. The country’s politics are aligned along ethno-linguistic barriers: 4 out of 6 people are ethnic Ukrainian and speak Ukrainian, but 1 out of 6 are ethnic Russian and speak Russian, and 1 out of 6 are ethnic Ukrainian but speak Russian; 44.5 percent of people in the south and 40.8 percent in the east self-identify as belonging to a Soviet or Russian cultural tradition. Furthermore, over 50 percent of people in both the southern and eastern regions say they regret the Soviet Union fell apart, while only 17 percent in the western region report the same sentiment.
But protests spread across Ukraine, even into President Yanukovych’s base in the east, and protestors began to occupy several government buildings. Government corruption is rife, and a general consensus now seems to be growing among a certain portion of Ukrainians that Yanukovych—a man with two assault and robbery convictions, who served as governor of Donetsk during the peak of violent criminal activity in the region, and who occasionally uses criminal slang in his public speeches—sat at the top of this system.
This perception was not improved by the passing of a group of ten laws on January 16, 2014 collectively known as either the “anti-protest laws” or the "dictatorship laws". The laws criminalized a broad range of protest activity, including wearing masks, blocking access to any building, or in many cases even being caught near a protest; allowed for the trial of individuals in absentia; extended amnesty from prosecution for crimes committed against protestors to law enforcement officials and Berkut security forces; and put in place provisions for controlling and censoring internet content.
After the laws were put in place, reports began to emerge from the country of injured protestors disappearing from hospitals, only to be found brutally beaten to death and raped in the forest outside of Kiev. Protestors received mass text messages, reading, “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” This chilling Orwellian move was made possible by government-controlled technology used to pinpoint the locations of phones in use near clashes, tracing the user’s signal directly.
International leaders and Ukrainian opposition parties alike pushed back immediately. Previously-jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said in a statement, “I ask the opposition and civil society to act quickly and decisively because we won't be defending the law, which Yanukovych humiliated on January 16, but Ukrainian parliamentary system which is the final barricade before the total establishment of dictatorship. I ask the opposition to act immediately.” European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said in a tweet that he was "profoundly concerned by new legislation limiting freedoms." Wikipedia announced it would black out its Ukrainian language version from 4 to 4:30 PM from January 21 onward in protest.
January 16th, now referred to as “Black Sunday” by Ukrainian opposition groups, brought millions more people to the Euromaidan. Brutal police force changed protests that U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt earlier praised as “Gandhian” to a movement filled with violence responding to violence.
Protests continued through January and into February, with opposition leaders stating they refused to end their occupation of Kiev's Independence Square until President Yanukovych was out of office. A truce was reached in mid-February, and observers wondered if it could be the beginnings of a political resolution to the violence. But the situation deteriorated radically on February 19th and 20th.
Police moved into Independence Square, pushing out protestors and recapturing much of the ground they had occupied. Many thought the opposition would be crushed by morning. But then, for reasons not quite understood, police began to shoot at the remaining protestors hunkered down in the square, hiding behind barricades. Suddenly, in the early hours of the morning, a group of "young men in ski masks" slipped through an opening in the barricades and rushed the line of security forces across 100 yards of smoldering debris and live ammunition. Dozens were mowed down, although more made it to the police stronghold and managed to regain much of the lost ground. For the first time, people had been killed under the flag of the European Union. War had broken out in Kiev, and all it would take was a spark for it to spread through the country.
The next day began a series of frantic political negotiations—all of which failed when faced with the anger growing in the streets. Finally, when President Yanukovych refused to resign or leave the country, Ukraine's Parliament dismissed him, voting 328 to 122 that he should be removed from office. At the same time, the Parliament amended the criminal code, and voted to release former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been jailed on allegedly trumped-up charges of public corruption.
Ukraine is not yet to safe place. Leaders of eastern regions of the country, with ties to Russia, are challenging the legitimacy of Parliament's actions. Yanukovych is nowhere to be found—although he is rumored to be hiding in Crimea, attempting to flee to Moscow—and a warrant for his arrest has been issued on charges of the "mass killings" of protestors. Peaceful protestors, in awe at the opulence he kept hidden from the country, have toured his house, posting photos to social media of the former president's classic car collection, functional pirate ship, and private zoo with ostriches from three continents. Anger continues to grow as proof of corruption is released, including information that 50 percent of state contracts over the past month have gone to Yanukovych's brother. Meanwhile, since being cut off from Russian aid, Ukraine faces an economic emergency, with experts predicting the country will be bankrupt in just about six weeks without a bailout.
The long-term effects of the political crisis are still unknown. How will Russia's relationship with the European Union and the U.S. be affected? Will Ukraine find, like Egypt has, that it is easier to start a revolution than it is to finish one?
This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier's March/April 2014 print edition. It has been updated and expanded to reflect current developments.
All photos courtesy of Bigstock Photos.
But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?
Let’s start with gold.
Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.
In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.
It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.
And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.
It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.
We’ve already agreed.
Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.
Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.
In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.
Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.
This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.
But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently. Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.
Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?
We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.
What if education was a new gold standard?
And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?
Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.
By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?
Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.
Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.
These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.” —George Washington