Thursday, February 13, 2014

Euromaidan - Ukraine's Unrest

 In recent months European nationalist movements have seized political events and commemorations to revive the flame of passions with a disastrous past.  Sadly, we could give many more examples of this. The Ukrainian case is emblematic. Amongst the flags, very visible till December 5th, during the protests there were those of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), founded by nationalists under the Nazis’ occupation. The UPA, though it fought the Nazi German troops, also took part at times in joint military action with German troops, against Soviet troops, and Russian, Polish and Jewish civilians. Even after 1945, this organisation carried on attacking Russian and Polish forces, provoking the pro-Soviet Polish State into ethnically cleansing parts of land to “cut it from its base” (Operation Vistula, 1947).

The Euromaidan [maidan = square] is the wave of demonstrations and civil unrest that began on the night of 21 November 2013, when Ukrainian citizens started spontaneous protests in the capital of Kiev after the Ukrainian government suspended preparations for signing an Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. In turn, protesters have demanded the resignation of the current government and the impeachment of the president. Just as in Syria, the Western Powers are using movements to which they claim to be ideologically opposed to further their ends. That it's not about "democracy" but realpolitik as to which sphere of influence the Ukraine is to fall into: the West's (Germany's in particular) or Russia's. To be dependent on either Germany or Russia has always been the lot of the smaller states of east Europe. In the Ukraine some have wanted to side with Germany and some with Russia, as in the Second World War and still to-day.

 The main motive for the protests on the surface right now is the extreme unpopularity of the president. Of course, the actual reasons is the economic crisis, social inequality, corruption, decay of social services, poverty, unemployment - the usual set of grievances which make people go into the streets in  these days of austerity. The second thing is the sheer hatred towards the police forces, even though one of the leaders of the protests - Yuriy Lutsenko - himself used to be Minister of the Interior.  During that time Berkut and other special police forces existed as usual, and Lutsenko himself had announced that he would disperse protesting crowds with tear gas. It’s true that Ukrainian riot police are not beyond criticism. They were involved in deplorable actions, including vicious brutality against unresisting protesters, as footage clearly shows However, many of the people they stand against are far from peaceful and non-violent. They are geared up for rioting. While thousands of people take part in anti-government protests in Kiev, a small group were at the core of violent clashes. And judging by their looks and actions, they are armed, trained and prepared for war. And those ‘soldiers’ of the opposition appeared to be a close match to police, if not in terms of discipline, than certainly in terms of equipment.

In 2004 the "Orange Revolution" was a highly personalized protest. People concentrated on a specific goal - to install their leader, Viktor Yuschenko, in the president's seat. Yuschenko's political structures controlled the crowd pretty tightly and organized everything very smoothly. Everybody was shouting, “Yushchenko”.  In comparison, the difference today the three leaders of the parliamentary opposition are trusted by a majority of protesters. They represent Maidan at the negotiations with the President, but many people are not sure they have a mandate for that. For example they were booed by the crowd, and Maidan didn't accept their conditions which had been negotiated with Yanukovych. Despite all their anger, the politicians had to obey the crowd.  Generally, people are much more radical than their "representatives". The whole mobilization in November came as a surprise for them, and since then they couldn't grasp the events and take a lead. This vacuum was momentarily filled by the far-right groups. But today mainstream opposition don’t pay any attention to the bread and butter issues.

Large masses of people have an illusion about the fairy tale of Europe, which they want to join, like personally. And nobody says anything about the actual content of the Free Association Agreement with the EU which would mostly benefit the ultra-rich oligarchs of Ukraine. It is being deliberately construed as actual integration. Ukrainian leaders backed off from signing it at the last minute. Meanwhile, Russia is trying to pull Ukraine into her Customs Union by offering Kyiv a deal for promised purchases of billions of euro of Ukrainian products, and a 30 percent discount on Russian Natural Gas. Protesters naturally say that they want a truly democratic state, with the rule of law etc. They imagine that the only thing which separates them from this ideal is Viktor Yanukovych, And they are convinced that the EU membership is synonymous with democracy, also prosperity and all other good things. EU serves as a myth concentrating all their hopes; while Russia is a land of Mordor in this mythological view of the world.

Evidence has emerged of the opposition leaders plans to overthrow the current government with the financial and political support of Germany’s conservative Angela Merkel, the EU leaders from Brussels, and with visible support of the United States, whose envoy, conservative John McCain was the invited guest of the Euromaidan protesters.

An anarcho-syndicalist named Denys, from the Autonomous Worker’s Union in Ukraine debunks many of the myths surrounding the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine.  Denys explains what are the real facts and how are they reflected in a labyrinth of deformed mirrors, which one must remove from their way to understand the reality of life in Ukraine:

“The Ukrainian parliamentary politics basically consists of two large political parties – these two parties have pretty identical social, political and economical agendas. They both can be described as centrist-right populists. One party is the Party of Region, which is the ruling party, president Yanukovych is their chief, and the government consists of the Party of Regions’ members. The opposition consists of a bloc of three parliamentary opposition parties, which are basically the same, the only difference is that they speak Ukrainian. These opposition parties have their electoral base in the Central and Western Ukraine, while the Party of Regions people rather speak Russian, and they speculate on these cultural differences, since their voters live in the South and in the East. These are the parties which gather perhaps 60 percent of all votes. Also there is the “Communist” party of Ukraine which supports the Customs Union and for many years has had nothing to do with communism, its political programme and agenda can be rather described as conservative, just like a regular social conservative party. If you compared them with Marie Le Pen, you would not find much difference between them. And one of the so-called National Democratic Opposition is the Svoboda party, which is translated as “freedom”, but actually is a far-right party, identical to the other far-right populists from the European countries such as the Hungarian Jobbik party.

Most of the political parties which described do support the integration into the European Union, including most of the businessmen who support the Party of Regions, the ruling party of President Yanukovych. During this year, there emerged an opposition, based on pro-Russian conservative grounds, inside the Party of Regions, but it was suppressed. The would-be leader of that opposition, a member of the parliament, was expelled from the Parliament, on grounds that he rigged the elections in his constituency.

Many people have relatives in Russia, not to mention things like the common mass-culture. Many people watch the Russian TV channels, so that is much more common in the regular lives of people in central, eastern, and southern regions. People in the Central and Southern region have many things in common with the Russians, in their lifestyle, and they don’t feel they are the same as the European people. But at the same time, a large part of the Ukrainian population is now currently living abroad, in the European Union, especially in Spain, Italy, Poland and Czech Republic and Portugal. Mostly these are people from Western regions, but not exclusively.

Up until the end of November it was thought Ukraine would sign that Association Agreement with the EU then things changed rapidly, as far as can be understood, when the president and the prime-minister looked at the figures and they just realized that they can’t do it because the trade was with Russia and because of the situation of the State’s finances which couldn’t afford the losses which would be brought about by that association Agreement. Obviously nobody read that agreement at all until at that moment, because until the moment they backed off, the prime-minister and the president were the main Euro-optimists in the country. Overnight then they became the main Euro-skeptics.

Most of the people who are on the streets are concerned with rather more practical issues, such as police brutality, which was shown on the night of December 1st, and generally they are not happy with the government and the president. So the European integration remains a wider issue, but today it’s kind of the second place.

Indeed the social issues regarding the workers’ rights are not on the agenda at all. The working class, as a class, does not take part in these events at all. The workers naturally do take sides, but they are not organized in class-like organisations, in unions, as such they just don’t participate in these events. And they have good reasons for this, because both sides just talk about the cultural, political issues, which don’t have any direct connection to needs of an average worker. The protesters who support the EU have the utterly false impression about Europe as some paradise where everything is all right, everything is much better than in Ukraine or anywhere else. It’s useless to tell them about the protests within the EU, about the austerity programs. They just don’t listen and they would say, “Ah, so you would better join Russia, wouldn’t you!” So this false choice is just overwhelming and I think the same could be said about the opposite side. The leftist agenda, the workers’ rights agenda, is just not present at any of these squares where people protest.

When they say “Well, you must be pro-Russia if you’re against this”, could you say “Well, actually there’s another way.” Do you find that opens up a lot of conversations for you? “No” The people are very hyped-up. You could be in real physical danger, if you start saying something like this because you’d be immediately considered a provocateur from the ruling party. There were a couple of such incidents at the Euromaidan, when people from different leftist groups were trying to do exactly that and some of them were brutally beaten up, others were just pushed out. This is because the problem is that the whole situation in the rank and file in the euromaidan, the security and the local managers/organisers of the protests, who do stuff, they are heavily infiltrated by the far right groups that actually have their own things to say to the left. And they have the trust of the normal, the political people, so if some neo- Nazi says, “Look, these are communist provocateurs, they just support Yanukovych,” nobody would listen to you anymore. You’d be like pushed away. “This is the mass hysteria in which I do not think it is possible to do much agitation...”

The populations of Eastern Europe have nothing to gain from the return of nationalisms which ravaged this part of the World several times. They expect expect from the powers which want to obtain their adhesion to fake alliances, to utterly unbalanced agreements, that would only benefit to the ones who already possess and control everything, on each side. Workers in Croatia and Poland can testify that belonging to the European Union has changed practically nothing to their material situation in the last years, but the fact that social inequalities have deepened.

Those who take advantage of the differences in development between the different parts of the continent have a lot more to gain from the nationalist divisions which hide the particularly brutal class relationships within these societies, where underpaid workers make the fortunes of bureaucrats turned plain capitalists. The question is not about the “independence” of Ukraine, or of the other countries, but about how the economic agreements which will affect the real life of the populations of the continent  are decided upon. The stakes of today clearly are international, nobody can make it “on his own”, we are all interdependent. As long as the masses will let themselves be taken in national and individual adventures, which actually only are games of alliances between the German or Russian bourgeoisie on one side, and this or that fraction of the local nouveaux riches on the other side, their situation will only worsen.

Any socialists would obviously be saying a plague on both your houses.


National Anarchism is growing trend  in the Ukraine, adopting  the leftist anti-capitalism narrative mixed with national things, which looks very trendy and cool with the youth, mainly with teenagers who just don’t see any problem in trying to combine these things. And it’s especially poignant in Ukraine because of a very big myth about Nestor Makhno. Today he’s an integral part of the national myth, he’s considered a nationalist because he fought the Bolsheviks, therefore he must be for Ukraine, for independent Ukraine, and for the rule of the nation and so on. Obviously this is false because in addition to fighting the Reds his insurrectionary army fought against the Austro-German puppet, the Hetman, and also the nationalist Greens of Petlura, but this mythology is very popular and it adds to the popularity of that left-right synthesis.

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