Thursday, October 27, 2005

Rotting Oranges

/ revolutions / mock /
Remember the Orange revolution? The exile's Kyrill Pankratov, very cynically gives a brief account of its apparent decay in the provocatory article linked above:

"...Revolutions do eat their children -- it is a fairly common fate. But few expected such a rapid, incredible unraveling as what happened after the Orange Revolution. In the first months of the Yushchenko-Timoshenko government the economy nosedived. Instead of attracting foreign investments, both from Russia and Europe, investors were scared away en masse by Timoshenko's militant re-privatization talk. During the spring and summer the government managed to stumble into the 'gasoline crisis,' the 'flour crisis,' the 'sugar crisis' and so on -- all of them completely unnecessary -- without producing even a fraction of promised and advertised reforms. From the rapid 12% growth of last year, and around 10% average for the Kuchma's second term in office, growth slowed down to some 5% in the first half of this year and came to a halt in recent months (in August there was even an economic contraction). The first corruption scandals of the new government already exploded, and utter incompetence in many areas became too painfully visible..."

You might recall that the revolution was heralded to be about bringing Ukraine "into the free market age", as Time magazine put it back then. Well a month ago, after firing Yulia Tymoshenko, last year's icon of the revolt, in an anti-corruption move, he was supported by the same Victor Yanukovich who (as Time and many more Western publications described) was described as "a throwback to the Soviet era". It now seems that Ukraine is repositioning itself vis-a-vis Russia [free reg. - this might help], to which it is still tied by business and geopolitical considerations (energy being prominent among them). There seems to be disappointment regarding the way the Orange Revolutionaries handled government, evident in public perceptions as well as,

"...a poll of Kyivites found that 73.1% did not believe that corruption had declined with only 20.4% agreeing (Zerkalo Tyzhnia/Nedeli, September 10-16, 2005). Another poll found that only 31% of Ukrainians believed that the government had successfully battled corruption, with 59% disagreeing (UNIAN, September 9)..."

One of the problems - evident even before the latest euroconstitution referendum, was that re-orienting towards the EU, can only be achieved if the EU is interested in expanding your way. It isn't. The Turkish accession drive, whatever its final outcome, has surely made any further addition to the accession lists quite difficult, not to mention that it is becoming more and more evident to many in the EU, that any further hasty expansion would indeed reduce the European Union to just a free trade zone. The EU isn't seriously interested in the Ukraine - but Russia is, and it's quite evident that Russian and Ukrainian economic well-being will go hand-in-hand. Joining NATO, will similarly, have to confront the unwillingness of many countries in NATO to challenge Russia - not to mention the fact that a majority in Ukraine is far from eager to join the Alliance, as public support for joining NATO is possibly less than 20%. (Α sign of rationality from the Ukrainian citizens, no doubt, as joining NATO will have exactly two immediate effects: joining a cold-war relic which nowadays serves the purpose of a fig-leaf for American unilateralism, and seriously expanding their defense budgets so as to purchase NATO-compatible weapons and equipment - from the proper manufacturers, of course). BTW the same enlightened western powers who supported Yushchenko last year, supported Kuchma a few years back - if that says something about the wisdom and idealism of western policy.

While I'm always in favour of people on the streets demanding better government, I have four points to make: a. I do think that placing one's hopes of improving democracy on a set of political actors with known oligarch/mob connections (trying to displace another mob), not taking into account that the oligarchs expect from your democrats of choice quite different things from your average protestor, and are vastly more likely to get them, is a sure sign of wishful thinking - slightly less childish than the belief in Santa Claus. b.Geography and history are to a large extent destiny, which can only be overcome by vast societal/geopolitical changes. c. If one is really determined to change things for the better, one has to persist in the original tactics: massive and repeated demonstrations and assorted hellraising demanding more democracy - and trying to be as inclusive as possible. Lastly this: Russia is a behemoth of a country surrounding much of Ukraine; the idea of a policy based on mostly snubbing Russia (even worse, with no realistic alternative on offer) is as realistic as, say, Mexico deciding to avoid any contact with the US in favour or preferential economic ties with the EU: one could propose such a policy - but it would have few prospects of success. Actually the Ukraine/Russia relationship is even more compulsive than the Mexico/US case, as a large part of Ukraine is Russian/pro-Russian - and until 15 years ago they were parts of the same country.

On a more philosophical note, this seems like a sanguine review of the myths of the Orange revolution.


Anonymous said...

The folks who jumped up and down proclaiming that the Orange Revolution had brought Freedom! Democracy! and the Free Market! to Ukraine were, at best, grossly premature.

So are you. Settle back in your chair. It's going to be years, one way or another.

BTW, Ukraine : Russia :: Mexico : US is a weak analogy. Mexico's economy is less than 1/10 the size of the US', while Ukraine's is more like 1/5 the size of Russia's. More to the point, Mexico's foreign policy has been determinedly independent -- and at times actively anti-American -- for many, many years.

A Ukraine that was as independent of Russia as Mexico is of the US would be, well, revolutionary.

Doug M.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, almost forgot. Guardian interviews Chomsky on Srebrenica, via Eric Gordy.

Doug M.

talos said...

Doug: What's the one way and what's the other? At this point it is kind of simple: if you're backed by corrupt oligarchs you'll be owned by corrupt oligarchs. I'm not saying that there is something fatalistic about it - just that unless you get rid of the said corrupt oligarchs you're not going anyplace interesting - or at least not anywhere interesting that's nice.

Yet my point (and this applies to the Mexico analogy too) is that *economically* the Ukraine is tied to Russia, for historical and geopolitical reasons, in such a way as to make a radical break with Russia impossible. Yulia herself went to pay tribute to Vlad the Inscrutable a short while ago.

Re: Chomsky. I saw it and stopped reading after the rather stale claim that according to Chomsky "in the overall context of Cambodian history, the Khmer Rouge weren't as bad as everyone makes out" which I know is utter bollocks. Since it would have been trivially simple to ask Chomsky to confirm this and she didn't, and she obviously doesn;t like Chomsky to start with, I'd wait for Chomsky's response before I take anything she wrote verbatim.

BTW: That Srebrenica was "exaggerated", is quite accurate: and I'm not talking about the death toll. I'm preparing a follow-up post (continuously revised and taking forever) to the previous Srebrenica related post - trying to refocus the discussion on what in fact was either exaggerated or biased in the Srebrenica *coverage* which is what has shaped public perceptions of the whole Bosnia conflict.

(BTW: Chomsky's weak on the Balkans and is sometimes caught oversimplifying - yet he's oversimplifying in an interesting way: regarding Greece for example the description of what the civil war was about:

"Anti-imperialist peasants and workers were resisting the royalty imposed by the British; after Britain was weakened post World War I and cited its inability to aid the rulers, the U.S stepped in to preserve the status quo. Greece was regarded as a Middle East outpost and a 1948 CIA study warned that in the event of a rebel victory, the U.S would face "the possible loss of the petroleum resources of the Middle East." A non-existent Russian threat was invented and the ensuing U.S. mission was bloody. Shamelessly the U.S manipulated the ensuing election and put its puppets into power. "

... is oversimplified, yes, but as oversimplifications go, it isn't that bad!

talos said...

The ever alert Lenin, writes about the Guardian "Halloween hatchet-job" on Chomsky. Spot-on.

Anonymous said...

Corrupt oligarchs: now that /is/ an oversimplification. Not every important actor in Ukrainian politics is an oligarch, corrupt or otherwise.

Radical break with Russia: this is a straw man, albeit one that Russian and Russophile media have been pushing hard. Yushchenko has never been anti-Russian, and he's always recognized the realities of power; his first trip abroad was to Moscow, to kiss Putin's ring and, basically, apologize for winning.

That said, why is Ukraine inevitably doomed to be a Russian satellite when -- say -- Poland, the Baltic States, Finland and Georgia are not?

Ukraine today is IMO rather reminiscent of Romania around 1997-8, or Serbia in 2001-3. Fragile coalition governments, check. Stumbling economy, check. (Romania had a very nasty recession in 1997-9 -- GDP actually contracted.) EU membership at least a decade away, check. Yushchenko isn't nearly as embarrassing as Constantinescu (remember him?), nor are Iulia T. and Yanukovich bedfellows as odd as Djindjic, Karadzic and Kostunica. And (googling) Ukraine today is in just about the same income range.

Note that Serbia's economy just hit takeoff -- it grew at 7% in 2004, and will probably break 6% in 2005. They got more FDI so far this year than in the three previous years combined, inflation is falling, employment is rising, and the trade gap is starting to narrow.

So. If the analogy holds, then Ukraine is in for a wobbly next two or three years. And Yushchenko may not win re-election. Constantinescu didn't... he ended up so despised that he'll never hold office here again. And Djindjic, of course, paid with his life.

But by 2010 or so, things may look very different in Ukraine. As they do in Romania today.

Srebrenica: this should be interesting. The biggest mass murder in Europe since WWII got more press than it should have? Hm.

Chomsky: the Lenin piece seems to consist of "the interviewer has a nasty tone, and doesn't give Chomsky the respect we know he's due." Spot on what, exactly?

Chomsky's squishiness on Cambodia is nothing new. He had a number of good things to say about Pol Pot both during and in the immediate aftermath of the mass killings. ("If a serious study.. is someday undertaken, it may well be discovered... that the Khmer Rouge programs elicited a positive response... because they dealt with fundamental problems rooted in the feudal past and exacerbated by the imperial system." _After the Cataclysm_, 1979.)

He's stopped doing that. But he's never acknowledged that Pol Pot was uniquely evil, nor that the regime committed genocide. N.B., I'm not asking anyone to prove a negative here. I've thrown this one out to Chomskyites before. "Show me a quote where Chomsky acknowledged that PP committed genocide and/or killed ~2 million people, and/or was evil in something more than a 'mistakes were made' sort of way." No one ever has.

More to the point, Chomsky on Bosnia is just plain wrong, and always has been. "In the early 1990s, primarily for cynical great power reasons, the U.S. selected Bosnian Muslims as their Balkan clients..." Riiight. Because the Muslims were, you know, the strongest. Just like we cynicaly picked those regional bullies and strongmen, the Albanians. And the US forces at Camp Bondsteel are there to defend the cross-Balkan oil pipeline. You know, the one that has yet to be built.

And Living Marxism wasn't "probably correct". They were lying. They got sued for lying, and lost. I followed that case, and LM just sucked. They wiggled and wriggled and squirmed, but at the end of the day it was painfully clear that they'd just lied.

Ah well. We're not going to agree on this... nobody ever does, on Chomsky.

Doug M.

talos said...

Regarding Cambodia here's all that needs to be said. In short, the whole "Pol Pot apologist" is at best a misreading of Chomsky. Your claim regarding Chomsky's alleged unwillingness to admit to Pol Pot's horrendous crimes is inaccurate though: "I mean the great act of genocide in the modern period is Pol Pot, 1975 through 1978 - that atrocity - I think it would be hard to find any example of a comparable outrage and outpouring of fury and so on and so forth." -- Noam Chomsky, in the documentary "Manufacturing Consent," 1993". Mind you I'm etymologically unwilling to concede that it is possible for a member of an ethnic group to commit genocide against that ethnic group - and frankly the word has lost its meaning nowadays and substitutes for "really bad shit going down" too easily.

Regarding the Serbian economy - you do know better than that, I'm not biting. Mass privatizations, selling everything but the kitchen sink, can only get you so far. In the mean time I can wonder at what great news regarding inflation and unemployment (~30%, no?) you're referring to.

Anyway: what eactly was the achievment of the Orange stuff, if Yanukovich is sharing power, Yushchenko (and Yulia) is kowtowing to Putin and Andrei Yushchenko antics would make Marko Milosevic blush (I mean, really... copyrighting the symbols of the Orange Revolution? How is this particular unmeritocracy any different from Slobo's?)

As far as Lenin is concerned: what? you're in any doubt that Ms. Brocke's um... reporting is anything but a hatchet job? Well perhaps this response of Chomsky's might help.

Regarding Bosnia, I'll post a reply soon. But regardless of the fact that it does seem that "client" is not very accurate regarding the Bosniaks, surely the US doesn't always pick the strongest allies, does it? Unless you consider Savimbi or the Contras - or even the Chalabi con artists in Iraq, or the Greek quislings after WWII - as a major and powerful force in their regions, prior to American involvement.

Finally the LM issue: the Dutch report has a different story, but that's beside the point. I'm astonished that you seem to be so favourable to British libel laws and the fact that a major news network could effectively shut down a small magazine that republished a story - and in the process shut down any criticism of its work. I'm not a fan of the LM crowd (reborn as spiked online if I'm not mistaken) at all, but you might want to consider the larger picture (which was so brilliantly illustrated by the McLibel case)...

Anonymous said...

Chomsky: You're the first person to come up with that quote for me. Thank you.

(Why can't an ethnic group commit genocide against members of that same group? Would the 1933 famines have been something different, had Stalin been Ukrainian?)

Serbian inflation: Now you're being silly. They failed to meet their disinflation target this year. That doesn't mean they're not in disinflation. The current rate is around 13%, which is down from about 40% four years ago. They'll be under 10% by the end of next year.

(Montenegro has low inflation, BTW, because they're on the euro.)

Unemployment is either around 30% or 18%, depending on which measure you use. Either way, it's really high. But it's been falling (finally) in the last year.

The Dutch report: different how? That looked like a fair report to me, and not factually different from what I linked to. Though their emphasis is different, sure.

Libel: no, I got no problem with it. Republication is the same as publication; if you know it's true, and you go ahead and publish it anyway, you're on the hook.

"And in the process shut down any criticism..." Well, no. They shut down one source of (false and defamatory) criticism.

Look, we probably agree on one point: Bosnia was not well served by the western media, which lurched from ignoring it to spasms of hysteria and back again. In a perfect world, there would have been a process of critical appraisal within the media. Unfortunately, this just didn't happen.

What we got, instead, was a progressive critique that was even more one-sided than the MSM: Bosnophobe, Serbophile, and "revisionist" in the worst possible way. I have no problem with those guys getting hit on the snout. They went to a lot of effort and managed to be worse -- more biased, and more actively in bed with evil -- than the MSM.

Weak clients: we're agreed that the Bosniaks weren't US clients, and that Chomsky was wrong on this point. The broader question of clients, weak and strong, awaits another thread.

Greek quislings: now I'm curious. Would you have preferred that the other guys had won the Greek civil war?

Doug M.

talos said...

Just a quick note re the Greek civil war: Things would indeed be much better in Greece had the "other side won", especially if the efforts of the Brits and the US to induce the civil war were unsuccesful.

The facts suggest that EAM's aims (that included a non-communist majority of supporters) were (by necessity) very modest and rather realistic: a referendum to throw out the King, democratization and some sort of welfare state. What we got instead was pretty much what the rest of the Balkans got - only in reverse. (an interesting aside is that Yugoslavia was both more widely prosperous and - I'd guess - less oppressive until the late 70s).

Oh and: Genocide:The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.

Pol-Pot would have to kill off (or plan to kill) everybody in Cambodia and finish it off by committing suicide, in order to live up to the dictionary definition.