Sunday, 23 February 2014

Ukraine Upheaval

We’ve learned not to celebrate too quickly after the despot is ousted, having seen the heady Egyptian revolt of 2011 deteriorate into a renewed military autocracy. While welcoming the departure of the guy who sent snipers out with high-powered rifles to assassinate rebellious youth and the nurses who tried to keep them alive, it’s hard to be sanguine about the collapse of a large country in the middle of Europe. And anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the history of the past century should wish this part of the world the best—they’ve suffered quite enough. (Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder is a grim primer.)

If anyone has found a reliable source of cyber-commentary beyond the reporting of events, please post it in comments as the dearth of trustworthy analysis forthcoming is surprising. Professor Juan Cole draws from his Middle East expertise to suggest lessons from the unhappy Egyptian experience and notes, on the positive side, that the Ukrainian army has stayed out of the way so far, like in successful Tunisia and unlike failed Egypt and unstable Libya and Yemen.

But the regional split so much discussed is a serious danger even if possibly overblown. While the Russian role has been nefarious, the Ukraine is, after all, a border state; if it were Mexico, Obama would do exactly the same. And the post-Cold War insistence by the West to expand NATO right up to the frontiers of the former Soviet states set the stage for the Ukraine to become a geopolitical football, so responsibility is widely and deeply shared.

I’m personally fascinated by the elusive nature of political power and how the Ukrainian uprising displayed revolutionary tendencies as the coercive capacity of the state melted away with police switching sides and eventually ceding the streets to the mobilized populace. Why wasn’t the army mobilized to crush the revolt? I hope knowledgeable historians or political scientists soon can tell us.

The country has reverted to a prior (2004) version of the amended constitution, scotching the one Yanukovych rammed through in 2010 to consolidate his rule. (This is a good reminder than being ‘elected’ to office doesn’t necessarily a state of law make—note the Maduro regime in Venezuela.) So there is continuity of sorts in the institutional realm, and that’s probably a good thing. But it would be better yet if the revolutionary momentum carried forward to crush the oligarchs, of which Yanukovych was only one.

For example, if the suddenly heroic Yulia Timoshenko, she of the golden braids, becomes the new president, Ukrainians won’t have gained much. She and the handful of obscenely wealthy crooks who have dominated the post-Soviet Ukraine stand ready to get back to business as usual, and that’s exactly what the unemployed kids should want to prevent. Will any of the political forces present on the streets of Kiev have the organizational wherewithal and political savvy to take this opportunity to the next stage and make sure the restoration of Ukrainian democracy translates into a decent life for its inhabitants? Rather than the replacement of one set of thug nouveaux riches with a new claque of kitsch collectors.

1 comment:

carnelian said...

actually, I think Snyder just had an article in the New YOrk Review on the Ukraine refuting the govt's contention that the rebels are fascists...TF