Today’s guest blogging post (and open thread) is by our friend, TerrytheTurtle.
What is happening in Ukraine is awful, bloody, murderously awful. Depending on where you come from in your world view, there are at least three ways of looking at what is happening:
1. If you follow the Western media, it is about Ukraine wishing to “join the EU” (quotes because there are many sources of this over-simplification) and the coverage is dumbed down to this one point time and again. But the EU trade agreement Yanukovych refused to sign after promising to in his manifesto, is only the catalyst, the problems lie much deeper than that.
2. This is part of the Neo-Cold War, pitting American power against the Czar of All the Russias and his part-dictatorship, part-kleptocracy. If you read the full transcript of the intercepted Nuland phone call two weeks ago, there is no question the US is picking sides, and picking which opposition horse to back, the whole point of which seems to be, to use the violence in Ukraine to win ground in a wider struggle. And for his part, Putin, by blaming ‘entirely, the terrorists and radicals’ for the violence, is shamelessly backing his client, Yanukovych, just like he has backed Syria’s Assad. It seems the US and Putin are both ‘playing cards’ and the people of Kiev are doing the dying.
3. The third thesis is that what we are watching is the Occupy movement of Ukraine. Ukraine’s government is controlled by a very small number of hyper-rich Ukrainians who owe their riches to a perpetuation of the same style of oligarchy and kleptocracy that Vladimir Putin sits atop in neighbouring Russia. They want the massive income inequality and lack of social justice to continue – its good for business. But you won’t hear this in the Western media. That kind of discussion is too close to home and would remind people of what Occupy Wall Street was all about. When Yanukovych returned to power, in 2010, as president (in an election the EU certified as fair), mainly because the Orange Revolution had stalled in the world depression after the financial crisis, he changed the constitution away from the 2004 constitution: more power to him and his cronies. Corruption blossomed again. You know the formula: billionaires, owning politicians for favours, closing and selling off factories, looting the old industries where ordinary people made a living and punishing dissent. The Kochs and Waltons would love these people.
What do Ukrainians think about some of this? The most recent poll I could find (Feb 5th) said:
Showing divisions between Ukrainians on foreign policy, 48% said Ukraine should reconsider its rejection of an EU partnership, but 40.3% said it should not.
Asked if the protests should continue, 48% said yes and 45.1% said no.
These divisions have an ethnic and geographic element to them – west is more likely to be ethnic Ukrainian and east and south more Russian. But like the American south, the Russian-leaning part is voting for more income inequality, more Russian-style “democracy”. But Ukrainians seem to distrust the EU only a little less than Russia, especially when it comes to helping them now. It seems to me they feel like they are on their own.
OK, so all this geopolitics aside, you just have to look at the faces of the people in the streets and in the makeshift hospitals to get an idea of which of these theses is closest to the truth and it is complicated, even if I am getting some coaching. :) That ordinary Ukrainians just want the freedom to have their government represent them and protect their freedoms from foreign powers (all of them!) and from their own “entitled” citizens and corporations. Just spend some time on the blogs (helpfully translated on request and forwarded to people like me by friends). You will see what I am seeing and hearing directly.
Yes, there are protesters with guns now and policemen have died, but today’s toll of death was far unbalanced to the 10s of thousands of mostly unarmed protesters, shot in the square, or beaten by police or paid thugs, the “tituski”, in the side streets as they try to leave to take care of families or escape the bloodshed. Or as volunteers try to treat them in makeshift hospitals while the police try to arrest them from the bloody floor where they lie.
Finally, and I wish it was finally, this article I was sent today goes roughly like this: A former policeman has come to Kiev to find his 19-year-old son, a student in Kiev. Like all fathers he wished his son did not go to the protests, but as a Ukrainian he was proud of his son to go. He holds in his hand the helmet he wore, covered in blood, a single sniper bullet hole in the helmet where his forehead was. Facebook posts are full of pictures of young people like this….
And yes, like Zooey said Thursday, this could be us too, someday soon.