Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Ukraine revisited

/ political / spontaneity / planned /
Katrina vanden Heuvel, [link via the Angry Arab] pretty much expresses my rather undecided reaction to events in Ukraine. Especially combined with this Ian Traynor report from the Guardian... there seems to be more than meets the eye playing out in Ukraine at the moment.
Yeah, I know that Ahmetov and the corrupt Kuchma regime is behind Yanukovich, but isn't (beautiful, powerful, ex(?)-oligarch) Yulia Tymoshenko behind Yushchenko? Wasn't the decapitator himself a "pro-western moderate" backed by the same Western powers that are now backing Yushchenko? Wasn't Yushchenko prime minister under Kuchma? Weren't the 2002 elections at least as flawed? Who gave a damn then?

I do not know. Honestly I can't tell you either way... I can only direct you to this BBC report from the 2002 elections and point out a few of the things mentioned:

...Myth 2: Former Prime Minister Victor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc is "an opposition alliance"

Mr Yushchenko has never described himself as "an opposition" politician. On the contrary, he once even called himself the "son of the president."

...Myth 5: Ukraine is divided between nationalist regions in the west, and pro-Russian regions in the east

Elections from 1991 to 1998 did indeed show up such a divide. But the 1999 presidential election was won by Mr Kuchma on pro-European ticket with strong support from western Ukraine, and a reasonable level of support from central and eastern Ukraine too.
This time, Mr Yushchenko's Our Ukraine alliance has gone some way towards repeating Mr Kuchma's 1999 achievement, with good results in the west, and some success in the central and north-eastern part of Ukraine.

Myth 6: The election was won (a) by Russia (b) by the pro-Western / pro-American Our Ukraine alliance

Both ideas are untrue.
Moscow-based commentators have noted that three parties endorsed by the Kremlin - the pro-presidential For United Ukraine, the Communists and Social-Democrats - picked up nearly 200 of the parliament's 450 seats.
But that fails to reflect the pro-EU orientation of the president's bloc, and the fact that the Communists have recently been toning down their pro-Russian rhetoric... Mr Yushchenko's pro-westernism is also easily exaggerated - his bloc's list of candidates includes many self-made businessmen with commercial interests in Russia.
Mr Yushchenko himself has never said anything bad about Russia, the Russian language or the ethnic Russian community in Ukraine.
His campaign advertisements widely featured him with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his current employment is as director of the Russian-Ukrainian Management Institute...

Of relevance perhaps is this 2002 public opinion survey of Ukraine, [pdf] including a wide variety of issues relevant to public political perceptions, priorities and preferences.

Finally if you're eager to draw obvious geopolitical lines, in this case, it's not that simple: Yushchenko has vowed to withdraw Ukrainian troops from Iraq, troops that were sent there by the decapitator himself (as a tribute perhaps to his former career as pro-western moderate?)

1 comment:

talos said...

old comments

Doug Muir:

Geez. What /would/ it take to make you happy about what's happening in Ukraine?

Yushchenko's no saint. Well, there are no saints in post-Soviet politics. (I'm old enough to remember when we all thought Solzhenitzyn was a saint. Whoops.) That doesn't mean there aren't shades of bad and worse. Yanukovic is a thug, plain and simple. Yushchenko, for all his very real flaws, is just plain better.

There are bad people around Yushchenko. Ibid. Lovely Yulia gives me the creeps too. But the crowd around Yanukovic is worse.

The West, including the Bush administration, supports Yushchenko. And this support is to a great extent self-interested. Yes, well… when our ideals run in parallel with our interests, does that mean it's time to abandon ideals and interests alike?

You have an authentic popular movement in favor of liberty and good government. Progressives should be lining up solidly behind this. Yet a large section of the left seems to be standing on the sidelines wringing hands — oh dear, Mr. Yushchenko has a rather questionable history, doesn't he? And, um, isn't the whole thing a bit… nationalistic? And, oh no! The CIA has been involved. Well, now I can't possibly make up my mind.

Well: I don't think the CIA put 150,000 people on the streets of Kiev.

It almost seems like these people are working to find a reason to stand on the sidelines. Wait: we haven't protested all the /other/ stolen elections! So haven't we lost the moral standing to protest this one?

The Orange Revolution may yet go horribly wrong — corrupted victory, bloody defeat, you name it. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be supporting it right now.

At to Traynor:

He's right that OTPOR played an important role. Wrong to think that it was crucial. (OTPOR never had much influence outside of Belgrade and a few other cities.) The OTPOR tactics have been copied because they're cheap and easy and cool, not because they're guaranteed effective.

He's also right that OTPOR was funded by USAID. Wrong to think that made them a puppet. OTPOR's brilliant branding was its own work, and kudos to those Serbian students for it. (I think I already mentioned that the great OTPOR symbol — a graffiti-stencil of a white hand — was the work of a kid who wanted to be a fantasy artist, and was based on the "white hand" symbol of J.R.R. Tolkein's evil wizard Saruman.)

OTPOR also ignored its western advisors (NDI and Liberty House, to name two) when they recommended that it join with one of the other parties. They preferred to be critics and gadflies working "outside the system". As it turned out, this was a mistake, and OTPOR rapidly declined in influence after 2001. They finally recognized this, and announced that they'd join with another party, in the summer of this year. But while staying independent from 2000 to 2004 was a mistake, it was their own mistake — if Soros or the US embassy had been pulling their strings, it wouldn't have happened.

He's right to note that OTPOR's model has been vastly influential. Yet he seems to think this is purely because the US has been pushing it. Georgians and Ukrainians aren't bright enough to pick up clever ideas on their own? Hm.

In brief, the whole article suffers from the notion that the US is masterminding all these movements. OSCE is an American tool? The NDI and the IRI — the foreign-aid and international policy-teaching arms of the US Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively — are working hand in hand? George Soros is in cahoots with George Bush's State Department? Hmm.

That said, there is an important point buried here. What's emerging is a set of tactics, from cool stencil graffitti to flash crowds. While they work best with certain groups (students, young educated white-collar workers, city dwellers), they're basically value neutral. The next group to use them may be obnoxious nationalists, religious fundamentalists, or worse. C'est la politique.

Final thought: how are the Greek media treating this? There's a Russophile streak among some Greek intellectuals and nationalists; does this come out in the news reports as well? At least some Greeks do seem to think that what's bad for Russia must be bad for Greece. I think this is, ah, very wrong, myself, but that strain seems to be there… is it showing up now?

Doug M.

2004-12-01 08:00

Well Doug it's not that I'm not happy… it's just that I've seen this play before and I'm not sure the ending is happy. Basically my problem is the geopolitical considerations that have painted Yanukovic as an evil and corrupt despot while they were pretty miuch OK with Kuchma. Talk about double standards…

Also I'm concerned about a couple of more things:

First of all there seems to be an underlying issue of national identification involved here, that transcends who is who's thug. It's beyond doubt that the Russian / Russian speaking part of the population in the East and South have an agenda that would probably still be there regardless of who is running for office.

Then there's the non-trivial issue of Ukrainian nationalism and it's (rather dark - on a par with Croatian and Lithuanian) history and the sort of very scary nationalist thugs that have endorsed Yushchenko. It's no coincidence that the Jewish community in Ukraine seems to have preferred Yanukovich over Yuschenko (see comment on my previous post about Ukraine). I can tell you that it seems that a majority of the Ukrainian Greeks have voted for Yanukovich (though the "succesful enterpreneurs" voted for Yushchenko) according to reports from Mariupol and the Azof area - probably because of fears of nationalist imposition on a "non-Ukrainian" population).

I can also tell you that I'm not at all convinced that the current US administration (of which Powell is an ex-member I remind you) is wholehartedly behind Yus. It seems to me that the EU has been leading the diplomatic initiatives. Again note the "paradox" of the candidates' positions on Iraq - which isn't much of a paradox when you realise that the Soros foundation is (probably) not at all happy with the occupation of Iraq anyway…

Finally,about the methods and the sponsoring: I'm against it - as if anyone cared… I''m deeply and cynically suspicious of any "revolt" that is sponsored (nay initiated) by a party with geopolitical interests. In the case of Eastern Europe, you'll have to admit that my cynicism is probably justified. Or do you think, say, Georgia is moving along wonderfully on the road to freedom? I'm not even going to comment on the economic policies of the two candidates and their differences and effects on the population…

As for the Greek coverage it has been initially sympathetic to Yushchenko, with recent doubts about the "authenticity" and foreign role in this (pretty much as I suggest above). Greek business interests are probably quite secure regardless of who wins anyway… Eleftherotypia's correspondent (an excellent journalist, gone native in Moscow), I should translate some of his reporting from Kiev… Let's say that an extensive stay in the former USSR has turned him into a hardened cynic… It's not that he has any doubts that Yan. is scum, it's just that he's certain that the other guy is potentially as bad. He went around Kiev asking people about their hopes if Yu wins and then he quoted Yu's planned economic policies in contrast. He makes the exile.ru folks seem like starry eyed optimists.

Let me also add that it pisses me off beyond words to listen to certain people praise the Kiev demonstrations as a triumph for democracy - while they completely ignored the millions of people that demonstrated against the war in Iraq around the world.

2004-12-01 12:24
Doug Muir:

I''m deeply and cynically suspicious of any "revolt" that is sponsored (nay initiated) by a party with geopolitical interests.


I've yet to see a popular mass movement in Eastern Europe or the fUSSR initiated by outsiders. Encouraged, sure. Assisted, sure. But popular revolutions succeed when the country is ready for them, and not before. Georgia would have gone Rose without Western assistance; Belarus wasn't going to happen, even with it.

Do you really think that the Orange Revolution was /initiated/ by outsiders? That just strikes me as a deeply wrong reading of what's happening here.

Also: why do you have a problem with Western support, but (apparently) none with Russian? Putin put far more money and effort into pushing Yanukovic than the West did into supporting Yushchenko.

Russia's track record, within its currently limited sphere, is pretty horrible — look at the Central Asian "republics", or Belarus, or Transnistria, or what's happening right now in Abkhazia. Yet a fair chunk of the left seems willing to give Putin a complete bye. ISTM like the latest revival of the old Chomskyist "only Western countries violate international law" trope.

it pisses me off beyond words to listen to certain people praise the Kiev demonstrations as a triumph for democracy - while they completely ignored the millions of people that demonstrated against the war in Iraq

Not really relevant to the discussion at hand, but I have to say that it's a really weak analogy. In the US, most obviously, a clear majority of people supported the Iraq invasion. Large-scale public protests notwithstanding, that was a popular war. And the Americans have just re-elected the President and the party who designed and led it. You can call that disappointing, depressing, even disgusting — but you can't say it's not democratic.

Doug M.

2004-12-02 07:46
Doug Muir:

Sorry to comment twice in a row, but I see that Timothy Garton Ash has said the same things (only more elegantly) in today's Guardian:

For 25 years, I have heard these same old arguments against supporting the democratic oppositions in eastern Europe. Those oppositions, we are told, threaten European "stability". Behind or beside them are nasty nationalists and/or the CIA. We must respect the legitimate security interests of Moscow (an argument originally used to justify the continued existence of the Berlin Wall). A ghastly Pandora's box will be opened by… (fill this space with: Poland's Solidarnosc, Charter 77, the Leipzig demonstrators - sorry, mob - in 1989, anti-Milosevic students in Belgrade, Georgian rose revolutionaries, or now Ukrainians).

Oh yes, and tu quoque: someone else is just as bad, so a plague on both their houses. "Vladimir Putin," writes Simon Jenkins, "obliterated his opponents in Russia's last presidential election without a peep from the west." Well, exactly. But what follows from that is that we should have criticised Putin's election-rigging more strongly, not that we shouldn't criticise election-rigging in Ukraine.

Behind all these contorted reservations, we hear an inner voice which says, in effect, "Why won't all these bloody, semi-barbarian, east Europeans leave us alone, to go on living happily ever after in our right, tight, little west European (or merely British) paradise?" And, quite often, "Why are those bloody Americans stirring them up to disturb us?"

Garton Ash is no Pollyanna:

Ukraine has an appalling level of corruption, involving those on the opposition as well as the government side. Members or supporters of both do have connections to [mafias]. What follows an opposition victory will be messy, disappointing to most of those young orange supporters in Kiev's Independence Square, and sometimes unsavoury, as in all post-communist countries

But he grasps the key point: are they wrong to try for something better? If not, then shouldn't we support them?

His six pointed questions for reluctant Europeans are also worth pondering.

Okay, I stop now.

Doug M.

2004-12-02 12:38

Do you really think that the Orange Revolution was /initiated/ by outsiders? That just strikes me as a deeply wrong reading of what's happening here.

No, not Ukraine, I'm deeply suspicious about say, Georgia (and I may be wrong). Keep in mind that I agree with what you said about the "readiness" of a society to revolt. Readiness isn't enough though. Remember the pots and pans demostrations in Allende's Chile? There were people with real fear of the socialists, no doubt, but the demonstartions were backed and planned by the CIA, we now know. Ditto, Venezuela these past few years.

Also: why do you have a problem with Western support, but (apparently) none with Russian?

I have a huge problem with Russian support, but they're not representing me. I tend to worry more about things done in my name… or at least things that I can, even remotely, have an effect on, or things that are done in the name of "western civilization".
I have a problem with Putin beyond words, check around this site and see that I am a firm believer in the conspiracy theories involving him in the 1999 appartment building bombings - not to mention his being guilty of war crimes in Chechnya that make Israeli occupation of Palestine seem downright humane.

(Yet I have to admit that geopolitically I want to see either one less, or a few more superpowers…)

As for the old Chomskyist "only Western countries violate international law" trope, I think the Chomskyite trope is somewhat like the following:
"I am personally responsible as a Western citizen of violations of international law, when they are committed by my governments, in my name, and I also am deeply suspicious when atrocities committed by other agents (i.e. Russia are given full coverage) are repaeated ad nauseam in the media, while others that have committed similar atrocities are presented in quite a different maner. See for example how easy Kuchma was left alone to behead journalists, while for some reason Yanukovich, an employee of the same oligarchy is suddenly portrayed as an undemocratic villain (which he probably is BTW)."

We could pretend not to be bothered that , say, Yeltsin was presented as a paragon of democracy and reform, while Putin is presented as an evil dictator, but we should ask ourselves, why? Is it perhaps that under the (truly dictatorial, evil etc.) Putin, Russia started having geopolitical aspirations again, while under Yeltsin it was a Western playground with obscenely rich mafiosos running the show at the benefit of said mafiosos and western "experts" and the impoverishment of everyone else in the country? Think about this: if Putin instituted martial law in the country and ruled exactly like Pinochet, while at the same time bent over backwards to accomodate western interests… who would give a damn, how often would it be reported?

As for the analogy: I was referring to the UK mostly… The US, I've resigned to the nutters. Just as I know that in a free and fair election Algeria would elect the Islamists, in the same way I expect that whoever sells more adroitly the chilling combo of safety, extreme nationalism and christian fundamentalism under the current state of seige in the US, will probably get elected. I'll feel just as sad for the secularists in Algeria as I feel for the "reality based community" in the US, which is among the most civilized and enlightened in the West BTW.

I still think that the US state department doesn't really care too much about the Ukraine elections either way… What do you think?

2004-12-02 12:49

You might be interested in Boris Kagarlitsky's take on this too:

"The election plays on the historic divisions in Ukraine between the Russified East of the country and the Ukrainian-speaking West, which has only been under Moscow's rule since 1940, when Stalin's USSR invaded and took over. But if the candidates have played up such differences, it's because their real policy differences are minimal.

The notion that that the crisis is simply Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine versus West Ukraine is "pure nonsense," Russian author and activist Boris Kagarlitsky told Socialist Worker. "The key place where you have most of the resistance to the government is Kiev, which is Russian-speaking," he said. "In class terms, it is petty bourgeois protests against the oligarchs of the East—and the oligarchs are Russian-speaking. You cannot describe this in purely class terms, unfortunately. Both sides are quite reactionary."

Kagarlitsky compares the mobilization to the "people power" mass protests in the Philippines in 2001, which forced out one conservative government—and led to its replacement by another.

Indeed, the crisis reflects the battle within the Ukrainian ruling class over how to orient to both Russia and the West. For example, Yanukovich, portrayed by the U.S. as a lackey of Moscow, has sent 1,600 Ukrainian troops to Iraq and ordered the Ukraine military to ferry NATO troops to Afghanistan.

And when a Russian steel firm tried to buy out a major Ukrainian one for $1.2 billion, Yanukovich blocked the deal and arranged for a sale to a Ukrainian government insider for just $800 million. Yushchenko, by contrast, sold off four utility companies to Russian-controlled companies."

2004-12-02 19:07

… Kagarlitsky's and the Socialist Worker's I should add…

2004-12-02 19:09