Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Ukraine again

/ lesser / evilism /
Chided for my doubts about the situation in the Ukraine by Doug Muir in my previous post about the Orange revolution, I was referred to this Timothy Garton Ash piece on Ukraine, in which he acknowledges the shortcomings of the "pro-Western" candidate and the other doubts that surround him, but nonetheless he sets the unbelievers straight: Yushchenko is still the better option... No! Really? I thought the guy with the dioxin seemed pretty nice on camera! The problem with the whole article was of course that it wasn't really cynical enough (much as the author tried) or bothered to go beyond today... So I had to wait for the above linked article of ex-exile journalist Matt Taibbi in order to be vindicated, by someone who is far more cynical tha I am. He too pretty much agrees that Yu is better than Ya, but points out that this is incidental to the problem, which is of course that one shouldn't really hold one's breath expecting far reaching democratic reforms or even a decline in corruption from either of the two. He also stresses the really annoying part of this whole furore, to me at least (a point I was much less eloquently trying to make earlier) concerning the coverage the whole thing has been receiving:

...This whole debate, it seems to me, is ridiculous.

Of course the U.S. is improperly influencing the domestic politics of places like Ukraine, Georgia and Serbia. It has been shamelessly injecting its proteges in ex-Soviet governments ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, and it has used groups like Freedom House and the NDI and USAID to funnel money to all sorts of unsavory characters. That's why the reaction of certain people familiar with these mechanisms has been to balk at the Orange Revolution—because it's seldom failed to be true that anyone described in the New York Times or other major American dailies as a "pro-Western politician" has ever turned out to be anything other than a scumbag of the highest order.

Hell, just look at this quote from Alessandra Stanley of the Times a few years back:

Under the leadership of President Leonid Kuchma, elected last July, the once isolated and economically ruined Ukraine has turned pro-Western and pro-economic-reform...

Within a few years, Kuchma would be chopping off the heads of journalists, and a few years after that, he'd be stealing elections. Next thing you know, this same pro-Western president is showing up in the news as the "Kremlin puppet," and his successor's opponent is being hailed as the Thomas Jefferson type. It should be noted that Yuschenko's chief pro-Western quality is that he opposes the government of the old pro-Western guy, Kuchma.

Anyone familiar with ex-Soviet politics has seen this script repeated endlessly over the last decade or so. It has always been next to impossible to identify the "pro-Western" politician by his politics alone, as he, too, steals elections (see: Boris Yeltsin's theft of the 1993 referendum), represses the media (Kuchma, lately the bad anti-West guy, beheaded Gongadze; Yeltsin, at the time still the good pro-West guy, whacked Dmitri Kholodov), and commits gargantuan acts of thievery (too numerous on all sides to detail).

Now, let me be clear, at first analysis I'm all for people in the streets - generally it's good. I'm sure that there are Ukrainians who seriously hope and believe that a Yushchenko government will mean the decline of the corruption and authoritarianism that have marked the previous years, and I'd wager that there are not a few Yushchenko supporters that believe that his economic program will make them less poor, or something equally IMHO outlandish. Good for them, and I hope they continue to join demonstrations and protests in the event that their current leadership fails them (which, if it happens of course, will be page 12 news in the same newspapers that have hailed the Orange revolution as a democratic Revelations of sorts). I also genuinely hope that Ukraine will be the exception rather than the rule and that things start looking up for this tortured republic. I really hope I'm being too cynical about it. Yet, I'm sorry, I find both the rhetoric and the expectations unrealistic. I can only hope that the exaggerated emphasis on reform will act as a force to push through some measure of true democratic changes and lead the country, at least, away from the mafioso decapitators and poisoners that seem to dominate its political life. But, people, I have to repeat this: the pro-Western candidate in previous Ukranian elections was Kuchma. Kuchma! The same man described currently as Putin's puppet.

So, what's not to be cynical about here?

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