Monday, March 03, 2014

Ukraine: propaganda and reality

Two more articles on Ukraine that are worth your time. I cannot comment on the situation in general, not having the expertise. I liked both these articles because they told me I was right not to. But they deal with something that does interest me, how arguments are constructed and transmitted, often against empirical evidence. Both address the propaganda being bandied about at the moment and are by people who do have considerable expertise on Ukraine and its history.

Timothy Snyder, author of a well-recieved history of Ukraine in the Second World War, follows up an earlier article with this piece in the New York Review of Books. It is a passionate defence of the revolution against its presentation as a nationalist or fascist coup, as repeated in the western world by those like the unlovely combination of Lyndon LaRouche, Ron Paul and the Guardian.

Instead, he argues:
... it was a classic popular revolution. It began with an unmistakably reactionary regime. A leader sought to gather all power, political as well as financial, in his own hands. ... The country, Ukraine, was in effect an oligarchy, where much of the wealth was in the hands of people who could fit in one elevator. But even this sort of pluralism, the presence of more than one very rich person, was too much for the leader, Viktor Yanukovych. He wanted to be not only the president but the oligarch-in-chief. ... Tens of billions of dollars simply disappeared from the state budget.  
It is hard to have all of the power and all of the money at the same time, because power comes from the state, and the state has to have a budget. If a leader steals so much from the people that the state goes bankrupt, then his power is diminished. Yanukovych actually faced this problem last year. And so, despite everything, he became vulnerable, in a very curious way. He needed someone to finance the immediate debts of the Ukrainian state so that his regime would not fall along with it.
For Snyder, the uprisisng is a diverse popular struggle against kleptocracy.

The second, by Anton Shekhovtsov, is a more detailed rebuttal of another article. He links to a petition on by specialists on the Ukrainian far-right that makes for telling reading.
While we are critical of far right activities on the EuroMaidan, we are, nevertheless, disturbed by a dangerous tendency in too many international media reports dealing with the recent events in Ukraine. An increasing number of lay assessments of the Ukrainian protest movement, to one degree or another, misrepresents the role, salience and impact of Ukraine’s far right within the protest movement. Numerous reports allege that the pro-European movement is being infiltrated, driven or taken over by radically ethnocentrist groups of the lunatic fringe. Some presentations create the misleading impression that ultra-nationalist actors and ideas are at the core or helm of the Ukrainian protests. Graphic pictures, juicy quotes, sweeping comparisons and dark historical references are in high demand. They are combined with a disproportionate consideration of one particularly visible, yet politically minor segment within the confusing mosaic that is formed by the hundreds of thousands of protesters with their different motivations, backgrounds and aims.
Their conclusion has universal application,
...we call upon all those who have either no particular interest for, or no deeper knowledge of, Ukraine to not comment on this region’s complicated national questions without engaging in some in-depth research. ... Reporters who have the necessary time, energy and resources should visit Ukraine, or/and do some serious reading on the issues their articles address. Those who are unable to do so may want to turn their attention to other, more familiar, uncomplicated and less ambivalent topics. This should help to avoid, in the future, the unfortunately numerous clichés, factual errors, and misinformed opinion that often accompany discussions of events in Ukraine.
Reporters doing proper research? Whatever next.


George S said...

Well, yes, this was the BBC Newsnight's line too - 'a dangerous fascist conspiracy.' And Jonathan Steele in the Guardian today. Plus the comments below, of course.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

The presentation of Ukrainian goings-on as a nationalist or fascist coup is definitely over the top. Bullshit.

Saying this, the enthusiastic participation of ultra-nationalist and purely fascist fractions in the uprising plus their popularity shouldn't be underestimated too.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Not a bad article on BBC today:

Mostly matches what my Russian/Ukrainian contacts say: Svoboda might go extra-far right, yet it might not, depends on quite a few factors, economy being the top one.