Another guest post on the Ukraine

Following up the post from Tom Oates last week, reader Dan Hardie sends another (long) piece, by Tarik Amar, who, Dan says, is doing a PhD on Soviet history and speaks Ukranian, German and Russian, among other languages, and knows the place very well. Lacking any of these qualifications, I can only pass his analysis on to you with the observation that it’s well worth reading, and gives lots of detail on the machinations of the incumbent president.

From what I’ve read, including Tarik’s piece, this all seems very similar to Marcos in the Phillipines and Milosevic in Serbia, and hopefully will be resolved in a similar fashion.

Into the Zone? – The Coup in Ukraine

However divisive the recent US Presidential Elections were, nobody suggested they might end in a coup or a revolution. Ukraine was not so lucky. That country’s Presidential race has led to a coup, in which the serving pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is clinging to power by stealing the clear victory of pro-European reformer Viktor Yushchenko. Nobody in Ukraine, outside the government, knew in advance whether this contest would be decided by ballots or by force. By now all would agree with the Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, that Ukraine is at a turning-point as important as the achievement of independence thirteen years ago. Since then the capital Kyiv and the country have not witnessed demonstrations on the current scale.

The Yushchenko victory has opened the way for an eastern-Slavonic, largely orthodox nation to leave the shadow of an – again – increasingly authoritarian and plainly meddlesome Russia and orient itself towards the European Union, with a real chance of establishing not a corrupt post-Soviet but a genuinely non-Soviet state. If Yanukovych’s seizure of power succeeds, Ukrainian elections will finally be reduced to the empty formality they are in most post-Soviet states.

For the Russian government, Ukraine’s cultural and historical links with Russia may now turn out less a source of strength and influence in the Ukrainian “near abroad” than a reason to fear that Ukraine may set an example for the Russian population. While Putin has successfully established a state in which a third of all government offices are taken up by secret service officers and democracy has been “directed” into a coma, a real election – with a result contrary to the express wishes of the government – in Ukraine raises the possibility that not only Polish and Czech Western Slavs can practice democracy but orthodox Eastern Slavs, too. Perhaps, this is more important than the often noted geopolitical anxieties of a Russia whose increasingly ostentatious nationalism does not seem to help in dealing with the pain of imperial contraction. It is hard to explain otherwise the international isolation into which Russia has manoeuvred itself with its rushed recognition of Yanukovych’s usurpation.

The first round of the elections ended on 31 October and eliminated all candidates but the two Viktors. Even then the bad non-news for Ukraine was that its leaders were trying to cheat it of its choice. The good news was that they did not manage to do so at once. Ubiquitous electoral fraud and a demonstrative display of military hardware in the capital Kyiv on election night number one suggested a will to do what is being done now: impose regime candidate Viktor Yanukovych by fraud and the threat of force. Yet, with Yanukovych and Yushchenko both – officially – polling around 40% of the vote, the stalemate had to be broken in a run-off on 21 November.

A smooth hand-over of the president’s wide-ranging powers has always been unlikely. Ukrainians have all been talking about electoral fraud since Ukraine’s Central Electoral Commission, Ukraine’s universally distrusted and by now widely despised chief vote counter, was unable to count a remnant of about three percent of the vote for ten days after round one. I have not found a single Ukrainian who does not take it for granted that this was intended to diminish Yushchenko’s real success in round one and keep him from campaigning for round two, which by law he could do only after the final announcement of the results of round one. Now, two members of the Commission, admitting that the Commission has failed, have resigned and called on their remaining colleagues to do the same.

The opposition has piled up thousands of cases of evidence of electoral fraud in favour of Yanukovych: Blank protocols, signed and sealed, odd delays and detours in the transmission of results, and multiple voting by ballot-box stuffing squads. Those were the final touches to the regime’s abuse of its incumbent position, composed of monopolization of the media, the purging of electoral rolls, and systematic smear campaigns and panic-mongering. Even after round one the facts of large-scale fraud were hard to dispute. While the opposition said that three million Ukrainians were deprived of their franchise in round one, a member of the Central Electoral Commission thought one million was closer to reality. The same official rejected allegations that the head of the Commission, Sergey Kivalov is being blackmailed through the business interests of his daughter in Odessa, but admitted that Kivalov at any rate is not independent.

During the campaign, the major TV channels, controlled by the state and oligarchic clans, made no pretence of giving the opposition fair news coverage. In their reporting it occupied a void between horrid and unmentionable. Viewers were systematically frightened with dark prophecies of “instability” in case of an opposition victory. A few days before round two, a pro-regime crooner launched a new song shmaltzing away about how beautiful “our Ukraine” can be, as long as there is no civil war – here his clip, much aired on state television, showed footage of the opposition leaders.

Those opposition spots that did make it on the screen were framed by smear adds imitating the opposition look. It has remained a transparent mystery who paid for this. Entirely unmysterious was their aim of associating the opposition with servility to the United States and unpatriotic intentions to discriminate against eastern Ukrainians. One add showed a cowboy rodeoing over a map of Ukraine, in another the same map was subdivided into three zones marking out – from western to eastern Ukraine – superior and inferior sorts of Ukrainians. This type of far-below-the-belt campaigning has been practiced virtually exclusively by the government camp and much of it has been done locally. Reports that women in several places only got to see a gynaecologist after signing declarations of support for Yanukovych have yet remained uninvestigated but are very typical.

In best Soviet tradition, the regime sought to exploit the memory of World War Two. In a particularly cynical move, the opposition’s “Nasha Ukraina” block, led by a man whose father saw German camps as a Soviet POW, was termed “Nashists” to rhyme with fascists, while Yushchenko himself was depicted on billboards with Hitler moustache and top boots. Taking the Kyiv underground before round one, I happened on an elderly gentleman who gave a rambling and crudely nationalist speech ostentatiously in favour of the opposition, which he concluded by a loud “Gott mit uns!” – in the original German. Looking around, I saw annoyed embarrassment at this silly but not unusual attempt to smear the opposition with “fascism.” Yet, the brutal abuse of the memory of a war which left Ukraine in ruins may have backfired. Shortly before round two, an amateur filmed Yanukovych munching sweets, while taking a World-War-Two memorial parade. Russian President Vladimir Putin standing at his elbow declined an offer to have some, too.

Outgoing president Kuchma’s prediction, or rather statement of intent, that these elections would be the dirtiest in independent Ukraine has come true. After round one, Yanukovych’s staff tried to counter-spin the evidence of pro-regime fraud by accusing the opposition of electoral fraud, too, and the Ukrainian general prosecutor opened investigations exclusively into cases of alleged opposition fraud. Given the Ukrainian prosecutor’s reputation, this most likely helped the opposition. With hindsight, Yanukovych’s managers may even regret the amount of cheating in their candidate’s favour in round one. By the time Ukrainians went to the polls again for round two, they were prepared for the worst. The rigged “defeat” of the opposition in the run-off served as the standard of rebellion. The student activists of “Pora” had stocked up on the tents and sleeping backs they are now using to occupy a freezingly cold Kyiv.

Yanukovych has always seemed perfectly fitted for this campaign to lay waste any remnant of civic trust. A big man of few words and two criminal convictions (strictly not political), Yanukovych confirmed his image as the candidate from the “zone” – i.e. jail – by publicly abusing his opponents and their voters as “goats”, prison slang for stool-pigeons and passive homosexuals. His penning his profession into official papers as the Ukrainian equivalent of “pryme-meenister” and his – very dubious – academic degree as “proffessor” were the comic relief of the campaign. Yanukovych’s tough order to his bodyguards to sort out a Second World War veteran, who dared challenge him, starkly contrasted with his already famous dying-swan performance when hit by a raw egg. Collapsing, he was hurried away in best line-of-fire fashion. Yanukovych’s talking Tarantino and turning tail, capped by his initial refusal to join a legally obligatory TV debate with Yushchenko before round two, hugely popularized jokes about eggs and Yanukovych – with eggs, by a simile common to many languages, standing for male courage or its absence.

The funny part is obviously over and his brutal attempt to usurp the presidency has made him widely hated. Walls in the capital now bear the defiant slogan “Kyiv won’t take the felon” and the crowds shout “Yanukovych must go.” Grotesquely, Yanukovych himself seems genuinely incapable of grasping just how much the majority of his countrymen wants him to leave them alone. In a surreal post-“election” appearance, the man who would be president by all means stretched out a hand to the cheated, assuring them they would also have a place in his Ukraine if, of course, they “reconciled themselves” to his “victory.” It is a statement of fact that, by now, most Ukrainians would not touch that hand.

While Yanukovych has tried to sell himself as a good manager, the economic situation is bad enough for all to see. Very little of some recent improvement in macroeconomic indicators has filtered down to the general population. Of more immediate combustibility, Yanukovych and his campaign manager, Tihipko, who also happens to be the head of the National Bank, have doled out pre-electoral cash to pensioners and students. Both groups suffer from long-standing but hitherto ignored poverty. Yet the government cannot show any way of financing the sudden fit of compassion and Ukrainians believe it will vanish as suddenly as it appeared. The opposition has been able to produce leaked documents showing that the cash was planned to dry up again immediately after the elections. Two days before round two, President Kuchma refused to sign a law to raise the minimum wage from about 90 dollars to 102.

Yet, Yanukovych literally went for broke before round two. He announced the coming of “social Ukraine” and promised benefits best summarized as everything for all at once. The sudden cash injection has made various price control schemes totter. While the official exchange rate with the dollar has scarcely changed, it has been difficult to buy dollars at the ubiquituous money changing booths. In a country where the dollar is still an indispensable second currency, it is hard to imagine a surer way to impress on Ukrainians that something is amiss with their meagre income.

Even before round one the government suffered two signal defeats. An attempt to shut down Ukraine’s only pro-opposition TV channel failed. More than 200 journalists from the state and oligarch controlled channels declared their solidarity with their hunger-striking colleagues. The Ukrainian Constitutional Court also broke with submissive tradition and blocked a government initiative to open about 40 additional electoral precincts in Russia, which were widely suspected of increasing the opportunities for fraud. On election night of round two three of the scheduled chief presenters for the election night special publicly declined to appear because they would not take secret propaganda instructions from the government anymore. After most prominent news presenters joined the rebellion, the main state channel has difficulties putting together its usual news show and is now feeding its audience a balanced diet of American blockbusters and Soviet oldies. Ukrainians joke that, at least, it’s not Swan Lake. As everybody in post-Sovietistan knows, Swan Lake was broadcast non-stop during the coup attempt in Russia in 1991.

The regime’s brazenness has promoted unprecedented unity among the opposition. Complaining that they have been cheated of most of their vote, the Socialists, the only important opposition party missing from Yushchenko’s block, joined it after round one. The regime’s heavy-handed attempts to repress a quickly growing student movement were counterproductive. The planting of explosives on students labelled – sign of the times – “terrorists” was widely mocked, while the expulsion of the “terrorists” from their universities mobilized more of them. The unwelcome attention of foreigners has also been attracted. Amnesty International has recognized as prisoners of conscience six students arrested for – correctly – insisting during round one that their local electoral commission announce its results publicly. By now, the students are an indispensable part of the resistance against the coup.

Crucially, even in round one the opposition managed to win all Ukrainian regions in the West as well as the Centre of the country, including – by a large margin – the largely Russiophone capital city Kyiv. The government has always liked to pretend that the opposition’s base was restricted to the Ukrainophone West, implying that it was “nationalist”, even “separatist.” Some Western observers still cling to these facile stereotypes. It is Yanukovych who has been cornered in a minority of eastern oblasts. If anybody represents an above-regional Ukrainian solidarity, it is clearly Yushchenko. He speaks proper Russian as well as Ukrainian and his being a native of one of Ukraine’s most eastern oblasts and having spent his student and working life in western as well as central Ukraine cannot be matched by Yanukovych, whose biography is strictly mono-regional and whose Ukrainian is not perfect.

It is a much abused quarter-truth that Ukraine divides between a “nationalist” West and a “Russophile” East. While there are important differences between regions in Ukraine, the West-East divide has been deliberately talked up by President Kuchma’s regime to enable it to pose as a neutral arbiter. Now his chosen successor Yanukovych is escalating this reckless rhetoric to threaten with “civil war” a recalcitrant society whose political ethics and maturity seem to simply elude him. It is true that the quintessential Eastern, Russified region of Donetsk has voted overwhelmingly for its ex-governor as well as ex-petty criminal Yanukovych. Yet, a local voter turn-out of about 95 per cent, at some precincts even of 104 per cent, should make everybody very careful about attributing these results to the way its inhabitants have really voted or would have liked to vote. Donetsk is firmly in the hand of Ukraine’s most ruthless oligarcho-mafiotic clan, of whom Yanukovych is a card-carrying member. As the ex-governor told President Kuchma long ago, the Donetsk clan could get an “Orang-Utan” elected. Independent trade unions report that workers and miners in the region had to sign undated dismissal requests. They were told these would be put to punitive use if Yanukovych obtained too few votes at their precinct. During the election campaign, Ukraine’s only neutral, hence by now pro-opposition, channel was deprived of its cable licence in the region.

Russia has certainly not forgotten Ukraine. In a prime-time appearance on Ukrainian TV just before round one of the elections, Russian President Vladimir Putin regretted the end of the Soviet Union, conceding that “it cannot be restored in its former shape” but promised to introduce double citizenship for Ukrainians. Putin avoided any mention of opposition leader Yushchenko and praised Yanukovych. Russian advisers in Yanukovych’s camp – allegedly including a make-up artist from Moscow –, Russian-sponsored exit-polls of curious methodology and election observers who see no evil are assisting the Ukrainian regime.
Putin went back for a second visit before round two. President Kuchma and Prime Minister Yanukovych hurried to meet him on the Crimea, demonstratively snubbing Polish foreign minister and Council of Europe chairman Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who was also visiting and, as a result got to meet only Yushchenko. The Russian intervention has been brazen but not effective. Apart from international isolation, what President Putin may have achieved with this open pressure is a growing mood against Russia all across Ukraine, and not only in the traditionally Russia-weary West. Rumours making it into several reputable Ukrainian newspapers about Russian special forces in disguise taking part in the coup may or may not be true. They are, at any rate, indicative of Putin’s successful if unwitting raising the spectre of the imperialist “ugly Russian.” Demonstrators have now started chanting “Ukraina bez Putina” – Ukraine without Putin.

One prediction has always been easy to make. Ukraine was going to change after these elections. The tense and unstable status quo of the discredited but tolerated Kuchma Presidency could not last. If Viktor Yanukovych “wins”, the state is likely to be colonized by his Donetsk clan for good. Ukrainians in and outside Donetsk will adapt but few will prosper and many will retreat into depressed niches. What is happening in Ukraine is not about “Cold War” hangovers, and certainly not about “Western aggression.” It is the Ukrainian opposition which has been against sending Ukrainian soldiers to Iraq from the beginning of the war, while the regime has sought to buy American good will and toleration of its retrograde domestic policy by providing an underpaid, badly equipped contingent, a large share of whose casualties have been due to accidents and suicide. Even if some Western minds jaded by overfeeding on “Civil Society” rhetoric may find it old hat, for Ukraine things are at stake that were achieved in Poland in 1989: essential respect for the law and the sovereign people, pluralism, and, indeed, freedom from fear.

Ukraine is facing a choice not between different policies or regions but between mutually exclusive political cultures. Without undue idealization, the opposition stands for a reasonable understanding of rules, laws, and good faith in observing them. There is no lack of promises in Yushchenko’s program and in an impoverished country many of them will remain long unfulfilled. Yet he is perhaps the only Ukrainian politician whose curriculum vitae combines long and prominent public service, first as head of the National Bank, then as prime minister, with enjoying the trust of the majority of the population. Regime attempts to depict him as a disappointed careerist bent on a comeback have overlooked that crucial fact: none of the current regime figures would ever stand a chance at a comeback by a popular vote. A Yushchenko government, successful or less so, would at least enable Ukrainians to feel, for better or worse, that Ukraine is their country.

On the other side, the current regime’s election spoliation campaign and its usurpation attempt have proven a Ukraine-fatigued Western observer’s bitter quip: Those ruling Ukraine now seem unable to grasp the difference between playing by rules and playing with them. Worse, as bad losers they are now not only bending the rules but breaking them to fight to stay in power.

Dark references to a coup were made even before round one. In case it succeeds, independent Ukraine’s prospects will be bleak even by comparison with its cheerless past. Ukrainians are clearly afraid. Before the election, recognizing a foreigner, Ukrainians asked me what I think about their prospects. Usually, they provided the answer themselves: Bida, misery. In a recent interview, the head of the Institute of Philosophy of Ukraine’s Academy of Science called on the West to recognize the exceptional nature of these elections, which would either finally turn the country into a genuine democracy or usher in a hopeless authoritarianism – “possibly bloody, too.” Yet, even the Minister of the Interior, who loves to remind the population of the special forces and armoured personnel carriers at his disposal, has talked about the dread “Georgian variant”, i.e. a rebellion against electoral fraud. This is precisely what the student activists of “Pora”, inspired by Serbian and Georgian examples are doing now. The minister insisted, it would not happen here. Yet it is happening. Ukrainians are rightly afraid of rule by an ex-convict who is proving he won’t be a useful member of society. The most important news from Ukraine is that they are also willing to stand up for their vote. If that is the courage of despair, the current regime has done everything to make the people desperate.

33 thoughts on “Another guest post on the Ukraine

  1. I’m interested in the firmness or otherwise of Putin’s backing for Yanukovych, and have seen differing views on this. It’s obvious that Putin would prefer a thug and client like Yanukovych if his victory could be arranged quietly, but that’s clearly not going to happen now. Putin could earn a lot of points with the EU by persuading Yanukovych to back down. On the other hand, he could demonstrate strength (of the worse sort) by imposing his own candidate.

  2. Victory by client thugs can always be ‘arranged quietly’ if you are ruthless enough. But to keep them in power is expensive, as Putin has found in the case of Lukashenko. Ukraine is five times bigger than Belarus, and Russia can afford neither to guarantee it an export market nor supply it with cheap energy.

  3. Ukraine is very much subject to its very difficult past and its especially uncertain future.

    Liquidation of the legacy of the Soviet Union will be a long process.

    Among the stickiest of those legacies is the existence of a large Russophone minority in “foreign” territory.

    One’s prejudices are usually in favour of majoritarianism. And one hopes that the Ukrainian majority continues to be as liberal and inclusive of minorities as they proclaim themselves to be.

    The future of the Ukraine, impacted as ever between Russia and Western Europe, is complicated by the reality that Western Europe relies more and more on Russia for gas and oil.

    Perhaps Putin is looking for an excuse to strike pre-emptively in defence of Russophone human rights in the Ukraine.

    A bigger question arises over whether Putin or his successors could ignore genuine cases of persecution of the Russophone minority in the Ukraine. This is a real danger because the depth of Ukrainian sentiment in favour of a tolerant civil society is very uncertain indeed.

  4. Forgive my scepticism. Forgive ignorance of recently Ukrainian politics. Tarik Ari polemic could be right. However, being fresh to the subject I need a little less polemic and a lot more explanation based on information with references that are checkable.

    The ABC reported on the same demonstration in Kiev. The ABC focused on the anti-government demonstrations. However, it pointed to the police being used to divide opposing groups. True, it could be a government organised counter demonstration but the lack of independent and critical English speaking journalists in the Ukraine leads me to doubt such as propaganda form one side

    The ABC then reports that the US and Russia have different interpretations of the Ukrainian elections. Putin and his KGB connection make me sceptical about Russian integrity. Recent US electoral history (with it pregnant chards and questionable electoral administrations) and the imperial Bush foreign policy has made me sceptical about the US integrity too.

    Ari then dismisses the ethnical divisions in the Ukraine as government propaganda. This is the one piece of information I can reference. The Financial Times World Desk Reference 2004 (London: Dorling Kingsley, 2004, pp.590-593) reports that there are ethnic tension between the Ukrainians and Russians. Further to this, my memory is that the ABC points to Russian support for the current regime while the opposition is drawn form the Ukrainian west of the country. From these pieces of information, I could surmise that Putin’s intervention might be force by pressures within the Russian state. There could be fears that a new Ukrainian government will follow the Latvian and Estonian example in persecuting significant Russian minorities. Both have a history of denying Russian minorities citizenship and suppressed the Russian language and identity (p.242, 362).

    As someone with communist sympathies, the fall of the Soviet empire was the best thing for the left. The real problem is what replaced it – government by characters of questionable integrity with questionable industries like child pornography. Transparency is needed. Yet, as this cynic gets older, I keep asking “transparent to whom”?

  5. Michael, this is being covered at least enthusiastically in the blogosphere, for which Fistful of Euros is a great central point. Of course the blogosphere is engaged – it is romantic, aside from anything else – but people are also bilingual and speaking from experience.

    As we know from Iraq, that paints a confusing portrait of its own, but at least it adds a heap of telling detail.

    You will have to trawl, but your issues are dealt with. Credibly? – all we can do is cross-correlate.

  6. David,

    Thanks for the suggestion. As I was reading your comments, I was listening to a News Radio braodcasting a BBC analysis on Ukrainian election. At the same time, I was tracing links from a “Fist Full of Euros”. The same problem emerged that I had with Tarik Ari essay – polemic essays (in other words, propaganda)passing as analysis.

    During the BBC analysis, some commentator accused miners southern and eastern Ukraine lack adequate information because their primary source is Russian, not “Western” source.

    I am crying for a crediable independant analysis which treats each side with respect. It does not accuse one side of dirty tactics.

    Most of all, I want checkable facts. the problem with the left thought in the past is that we go with our hearts – not our minds.

  7. John, cheers for this. I’d say that I owe you a drink, except that it’s forbidden for any Englishman to buy a drink for anyone except himself. Any chance of cross-posting it on CT?

  8. Shorter Michael Boswell: Having established that I am a Communist sympathiser who does not speak a word of any local language, I hereby discount as propaganda (which I believe to be identical to ‘polemic’- yes, I’m that poorly educated) any account of conditions in the Ukraine which do not announce that all sides are equally guilty of dirty tricks. One or two sentences in a Financial Times desk reference dealing with Ukranian politics in the most superficial manner are to be trusted beyond the testimony of someone who speaks fluent Ukranian and Russian and has spent several years travelling the Ukraine. Say it loud, I’m a moron and proud.

  9. Your are right Dan Harding, I am a moron on the Ukraine but so are most of us. I remember reading all the free propaganda that came from North Korea. The Great Leader Leader, Kim Ill Sun (spelling might be off), was still alive and kicking. I did not know the language, I had no little idea of the history but I then realise some of the information was, to put it plainly, crap.

    I started to read the piece by Tarik Amar (thanks for the correction in the spelling) that John Quinnin had kindly place here – I had a similar reaction. Something was not being said. This cynic felt like a mushroom.

    That was until I read the Guardian’s coverage. Jonathan Steele analysis seems to be closer to a critical look that I sought. Steele is not interested in who is right but the wider political environment. In general, the Guardian’s coverage seems to be balanced given the different perspectives it has published.

    Lastly about trust. Some of my former communist friends trusted what was being said by “experts” and their opponents trusted what was being said by a different group of “experts”. John A. McKenzie’s book A Challenging Faith point to this about Franco’s Spain and Stalin’s Russia (p.79f). If Taril Amar is so right, he should stand any test applied. His assertion that the ethnic divide is a piece of “pro-Russian” propaganda failed a quick check with a general refernece book. The book was recently written but predates the current ‘crisis’. I am having faith that the Financial Times itself used people familar with the history, languages and culture of the region. Can you provide evidence to the contrary? Until one can disprove the reference text cited, this moron will stand by what he has written. It is a question of trust, not just a few lines in a general text.

    By the way, I thought I said I had communist sympathies but I am not a communist. Sorry to offend but I was just being honest. Most communists would deny me the title because of my Christian faith and a refusal to accept a purely materialist explanation of the world. On that alone, most communists would exclude me.

  10. Why am I a bit doubtful about all this? Undoubtedly a much bigger demonstration could be organised against John Howard or George Bush (by the young urban and educated as in Kiev) than could be organised for them, but they are more popular with the silent majority. Ukrainian nationalism is not very strong and the independence of the country (even more so with Belarus and the Central Asian republics) was a result rather than a cause of the collapse of the USSR (unlike the Baltic states).

  11. ‘That was until I read the Guardian’s coverage. Jonathan Steele analysis seems to be closer to a critical look that I sought. Steele is not interested in who is right but the wider political environment. In general, the Guardian’s coverage seems to be balanced given the different perspectives it has published.’

    Listen, Steele is an ex-member of the pro-Soviet faction of the Communist Party of Great Britain (known as ‘tankies’ to us witty Poms, due to their support for Soviet tanks in Prague in ’68) and the other main commentator on the Guardian’s comment pages is John Laughland- who to my certain knowledge speaks not a word of either Russian or Ukranian, and has published a number of defences (mainly in the Spectator) not only of Slobodan Milosevic but also, notoriously, of Jean Marie Le Pen. The Guardian’s current comment editor is another ex-CPGB ‘tankie’, Seumas Milne.

    Steele is indeed interested in who is right and he thinks he it is Yanukovych. I can see what Steele is doing in the Guardian’s pages, since he is actually an intelligent journalist who speaks Russian, although not Ukranian, but the presence of a fascist like Laughland in Britain’s ‘progressive’ newspaper is simply an embarrassment.

  12. “It is a much abused quarter-truth that Ukraine divides between a “nationalistâ€? West and a “Russophileâ€? East. While there are important differences between regions in Ukraine, the West-East divide has been deliberately talked up . . . reckless rhetoric to threaten with “civil warâ€?. . .”

    I think this is an especially important point. As David Tiley alludes to, it’s a bit “romantic” to some to see such a divide or “civil war.” Honestly, though, the “split” in the country is being overplayed by many in the media in the West, as well as trying to be used as a wedge-issue here.

    My Ukrainian friends come from Ukrainian backgrounds, Russian backgrounds, and other backgrounds. However, they all identify themselves with the country of Ukraine. Even my friends who have moved from Donetsk to Kyiv are strong Yushchenko supporters.

  13. The piece by Tarik Amar was nothing but propaganda. Speaking the language and visitng the country doesn’t make you an expert. I can speak Russian and I’ve visited different parts of Ukraine on several occasions, most recently in June this year, and my wife is Ukrainian, so perhaps that makes me an “expert” as well. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the real fraud here is being perpetrated by Yuschenko and his backers in the West. Yanukovich was declared the winner by a margin of 3%, which would be a landslide in Australian terms. A simple understanding of the demographics and geography of Ukraine would suggest to most objective observers that such a result would not be out of line with expectations. Although it doesn’t get reported by the pro-Western media, a majority of the local regions covering almost two-thirds of the population have come out in support of the declared election result. But, as we have seen in Yugoslavia and Georgia, democracy is only desirable if the West’s favoured candidate wins. The standard line that gets peddled by the West when the “wrong” candidate wins is that the vote was rigged. No evidence is required, just rely on some conflicting exit polls (by the way, perhaps the US election was also rigged because didn’t the exit polls call it for Kerry?). The tactic might work in weak, small countries but the risk of trying it in Ukraine is that most of the key economic regions are pro-Yanukovich. Key regions such as Odessa, Crimea, Donetsk and Kharkov, which have most of the wealth and industry and well over half of the population of the country are unlikely to accept a Yuschenko coup and will most likely move to secede. If that were to happen, the so called “democrats” would be left with Kiev and a largely impoverished rump in the west, another basket case economy like Moldova, where people are exploited by criminals and forced into the sex or organ trade just to survive.

  14. concerning Michael Boswell: Your allegation that most of my materials cannot be referenced is mistaken. They can, but not by you because you don’t read Ukrainian or Russian or Polish (I guess from your lack of basic knowledge, apologies if I am wrong). As to the ethnic factor. You say I “dismiss” it. Read again. I do not. What I do say is that it has been “talked up”, i.e. intentionally exaggerated for purposes of divide et impera by the Kuchma regime (and indeed long before that). I cannoy provide a primer on this for you because I am in Kyiv and pretty busy. Read Mykola Ryabchuk, the best Ukrainian write on this, preferably his later books because there he already reacts to and discusses criticism. At least some of Ryabchuk has been translated into French.

  15. concerning Steve Olvet: Your initial statement is below rebuttal as is your style of argument: I know about Ukrainian because I have been doing research on it for four years (part of a PhD for the Princeton History Department – I know,this proves I must be working for the CIA). Language skils, travel, and close personal links, which you seem to want to claim in your own position’s favour are only pre-conditions. After that, you have to sit down and learn – try it, it’s fun. As to your wild musings on organ and sex trade: as a matter of fact an international conference on the sex trade was held about a year ago using as working languages English, French and Ukrainian – the latter because Ukraine – under Kuchma – was already competing for the position of world exporter number one. I also advise you to look up the brutally cynical comments about Ukrainian women and their poverty made by Kuchma when asked about this by Italian journalists. And no, I won’t refence this for you, you have to do some work yourself.

  16. concerning Geoff Robinson: Your thesis that Ukrainian independence was rather a result of the Soviet collapse than its cause is trivial but can, if one feels that way, be defended. What you should get thinking about by now is that that is thirteen years ago and that many, often Russian prognoses that Ukraine would fall back into some from of tighter Russian domination again have turned out wrong – in fact they are just being reduced to what Trotsky might have called the rubbish heap of facile and superficial assumptions. Secondly, your implicit identification of the Ukrainian opposition (my chief topic, not “nationalism”) with “nationalism” betrays, I am afraid, a radically shortened perspective on Ukrainian politics and society. Ask yourself, by the way, what you would say if foreign observers, say Ukrainians, insisted on reducing all opposition politics in whatever your country is to something as simplistic and, for many Western sensibilities, backward as “nationalism.” Seems not only crude but unfair. Get empirical.

  17. To Tarik Amar: I’m sorry if I offended you with my previous comments. I made no claims to be an expert on the subject. I am just an ordinary citizen with an opinion and a healthy scepticism of the motives of those who would have us believe that there is only one version of events in Ukraine. I do not deny your experience, knowledge or academic achievements, even though you seem to want to denigrate mine with your less than subtle put-downs. You are absolutely correct to say that learning is fun and it is even more fun if you can do it without ideological blinkers and acquire the skills of critical analysis along the way. Someone’s “expertise” on a subject does not automatically confer impartiality or credibility, and, in my opinion, your essay fell short on both counts.

    My original point was essentially that there are two sides to every story and that we have been fed only one version of events. I was disappointed that your essay contributed nothing to a fair and balanced analysis of the situation. Your essay was selective in its use of facts and you chose to ignore information that could have been provided in the interests of balance. Two examples were your reference to Yanokovich’s “criminal record” without further details (which as I understand it relates to youthful indiscretions committed during the Soviet era) and your comments about Yuschenko’s “experience” as head of the National Bank but without mention of the fraud and corruption scandals that (to put it in the most neutral terms) “tainted” his tenure.

    You were also somewhat disingenuous in your discussion about the East-West split in Ukraine. On the one hand you played it down as not a real issue and nothing more than troublemaking by the pro-Yanukovich crowd but, on the other hand, you then sought to make it an issue yourself by referring to “Russified” (clearly not a term of endearment, given that your whole essay proceeds from the premise that everything to do with the West is “good” and everything to do with Russia is “bad”) regions in the East, thereby implying that they were somehow not “real” Ukrainians. There would not be one person out of the many that I have met in the East who would not consider themselves to be every bit as Ukrainian as their brethren in the West. They would be deeply insulted that you dismiss them simply as a “Russified” region and imply that they are simple-minded folk being manipulated by their political masters (of course, we couldn’t level this accusation at Yuschenko supporters, could we?).

    Selective use of facts, implication by omission and the denigration of a section of society or group of people are all tools of the propagandist.

    Clearly, a properly functioning democracy should have fair elections. I don’t know if the election in Ukraine was rigged and neither do you, but I do know that allegations of fraud have been made by and against both sides, something that the compliant mainstream Western media fails to tell us (of course, you are happy to tell us about them but obviously the fraud allegations against Yanukovich are true and those against Yuschenko are false, aren’t they?).

    A functioning democracy should also have respect for the law and due process. In a functioning democracy, it is the role of courts and judges to rule on and settle disputes and they should be free to do so without interference.

    The antics, threats and intimidation of the Yuschenko crowd in the past week display a distinct lack of respect for the law and due process and would not be tolerated by any Western democratic government. They cannot credibly be called the actions of a “liberal democrat”. In fact, with threats of reprisals against people in the East who don’t support him, Yuschenko’s actions more closely resemble those of a dictator in waiting.

    In your apparent intellectual arrogance, you addressed none of the concerns I raised in my original message, but instead chose to focus on Kuchma’s misogynist tendencies. That’s all very well but how are those who are claiming this is all about “people power” going to deal with the fact that half of the people in the country do not want this so called “popular revolution”? A true democracy gives all its citizens a stake in the country and true democratic politicians seek to unite rather than divide. It may well be that there are no politicians in Ukraine who are capable of rising above their petty differences and turf wars for the good of all the people in the country (wouldn’t be surprising because there aren’t many of them anywhere else in the world), but to suggest that Yuschenko and his crowd are beacons of progressive politics and liberal democracy (and therefore deserving of our unconditional support regardless of whether their actions are legal or not) is not credible. Is winning all that really matters to Yuschenko or does he have a plan for healing the rifts he has opened in the country, beyond “punishing” those in the East opposed to him?

    I am sorry if you find it offensive for me to be asking these uncomfortable questions and challenging the so called conventional wisdom. I know it’s annoying and inconvenient, but I don’t see the world in terms of black and white. Everyone has an agenda and it would have been appropriate for you to declare yours before attempting to pass off your opinion piece as a critical, objective analysis. With your undoubted and self-proclaimed intellect, perhaps you can answer some of these difficult questions and actually contribute something to a balanced discussion of this issue, but I guess it’s always easier to live in a fantasy world of ideological certainties and prejudices than to face up to the hard realities of life, isn’t it?

  18. Steve, you’re a self-righteous bore. ‘I know it’s annoying and inconvenient, but I don’t see the world in terms of black and white, etc etc’. Is there any more hackneyed debating technique than announcing than this posing as a martyr for the truth?

    You stuff your post with cliches beyond number: it’s always easier to live in a fantasy world of ideological certainties and prejudices than to face up to the hard realities of life’- is there anybody older than fifteen who considers this kind of guff an adult contribution to debate? And could you at least acknowledge that Tarik’s ‘fantasy world, yadda yadda’ is at any rate currently located in Kyiv, where he is and where you are not?

    As far as I can see, you make two more-or-less substantive points. One is that Tarik is patronising the Eastern regions of the Ukraine by referring to them as Russified. Shocking. As a fellow native speaker of English, allow me to inform you that there is no derogatory connotation to the term ‘Russified’ and that in the circumstances it is an accurate description :the Eastern Ukraine contains several million ethnic Russians whose first language is Russian.

    Tarik notes that Yuschenko speaks Russian and that the Eastern regions have had their access to non-Yanukovych media, like Channel Five, blocked. You ignore his substantive points and trot out boilerplate rhetoric like this: ‘(you) imply that they are simple-minded folk being manipulated by their political masters (of course, we couldn’t level this accusation at Yuschenko supporters, could we?).’ He doesn’t say or imply that they are ‘simple-minded’, he gives substantive examples of why they might be opposed to Yushchenko (influence of the Donetsk mafia, banning of independent media, the justified fear that Yushchenko might close down some or all of their mines and factories)- all of which substantive points you ignore in favour of trotting out your lame sarcasm.

    Your second substantive point is that ‘The antics, threats and intimidation of the Yuschenko crowd in the past week display a distinct lack of respect for the law and due process and would not be tolerated by any Western democratic government.’ If credible charges of falsifying or suppressing millions of votes were brought against any Western democratic government, are you suggesting that there should not be popular protests? Are you suggesting that the people of that country should accept the government as lawfully elected, without requesting another round of properly-supervised elections? Are you so utterly stupid that you cannot see that if the charges of election theft against Yanukovych are true, as the preponderance of evidence appears to confirm, then Yanukovych *cannot be described as leading a democratic government, because democratic governments do not steal elections?

    When you say ‘I do know that allegations of fraud have been made by and against both sides, something that the compliant mainstream Western media fails to tell us ‘- you are telling a plain lie. I have just skimmed the websites of the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the New York Times and The Washington Post: all have said that ‘allegations of fraud have been made by and against both sides’. Now if you want to argue this point, go ahead: I will prove you for the liar you are by posting articles and links from these ‘compliant mainstream Western media’ to prove that you are telling a knowing and deliberate falsehood. A man who needs lies to argue does not have a strong case, Steve.

  19. ‘I do know that allegations of fraud have been made by and against both sides, something that the compliant mainstream Western media fails to tell us ‘.
    In fact, let’s put our money where our mouths are, Steve. I bet you £50 sterling (to a charity of your choice) that I can come up with articles from half a dozen ‘compliant mainstream Western media’ sources which do in fact note that ‘allegations of fraud have been made by and against both sides’. If I come up with this, will you send £50 to a charity of my choice? And if I can’t I’ll send £50 to a charity of your choice, although I tell you now that my money is safe. Come on, liar- do we have a bet?

  20. concerning Steve Olvet: As to the subtlety of the put-down you got and deserved – it was adequate to your insulting and indeed propagandistic style. It does not merit more, I am afraid. As to ideological blinkers – you are right: start working on them. As to,you do not know whether the elections in Ukraine were rigged or not: you choice of ignorance is up to you. Read up. As to, I do not know: I disagree, I do. They were rigged. Again, read up. I won’t spend more time on you. Have the last word if you like.

  21. Tarik Ari on the Ukraine election/coup
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  22. “to stand up for their vote”
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  23. Into the weekend
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  24. Ukraine: updates and commentary
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  25. Enter The People. Why We Are Wearing Orange.
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  26. What’s going on in the Ukraine?
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  27. Is this the resolution?
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