Political uprising shakes Ukraine to its foundation (updated March 2)

"In the coming days and weeks there will be a wave of political analysis on the left that will frame the overthrow of the regime of Yanukovych as a pro-imperialist scheme being swallowed by a gullible population. The strong presence of extreme right-wing forces among those protesting the regime will be presented as proof positive. This will resemble the many simplistic analyses describing the course of the 'Arab Spring', particularly in Syria."

By Roger Annis

February 24, 2014 -- A Socialist in Canada, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- It is the aftermath in the Ukraine of the remarkable popular uprising Ukraine uprising that has torn down the authoritarian regime of President Viktor Yanukovych. The parliament that supported him has voted to remove him from power and has appointed a temporary replacement. Now it has issued a warrant for his arrest.

Yanukovych is accused of ordering police to fire on protesters in Kiev, killing hundreds in the past three weeks, including an estimated 80 people in recent days. His palatial residence and grounds have been opened to the public and will likely be nationalised and turned into a public park.

The parliament has also voted to free political prisoners, including former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. She was released on February 22 from a prison hospital and she spoke to the crowd in Independence Square on February 23. She also met that day with the envoys of the US and the European Union.

Tymoshenko is receiving a mixed response from those who rose up against Yanukovych. This is widely reported by foreign media, including in this informative article by Postmedia’s Mathew Fisher. Tymoshenko is likely to run for president in an election to take place on May 25.

All eyes are now on the east of the country and on Moscow. Russia has called the overthrow of Yanukovych a "coup" and there is speculation it would intervene militarily in the east of the country to secure a greater standing over Ukraine’s future. Here is an informative article from the February 24 Globe and Mail on this side of the story.

Ukrainians are deeply split over the country’s economic ties to Russia and the long history of difficult relations between the Russian and Ukrainian nationalities. Ukraine has suffered a deep national oppression through history at the hands of Russia, first during the empire of the Russian tzars, then under the tyrannical regime of Joseph Stalin and following his death in 1953.

One example of the consequences of this oppression was the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. The nuclear plant was located on Ukrainian territory; it was a flawed design operated by inadequately trained personnel. The accident has poisoned the soil and water of the north Ukraine and neighbouring countries for generations to come.

Russia wants the Ukraine to join the economic alliance it is forging in competition with the EU. It has a not-so-subtle claim to the Crimea Peninsula in the south of the country, which happens to be the base of its Black Sea naval base, at Sevastopol. This article from the UK Telegraph tells something of that history. Interestingly, it was the Ukrainian Nikita Khrushchev who ceded Crimea to the Ukraine Soviet Republic during the "thaw" that followed the death of Stalin. (Here is a simple map of Ukraine, here is a more detailed one.)

The February 24 edition of the Toronto Star described yesterday’s atmosphere in Independence Square (also called "The ‘Maidan", meaning "open square" in the Ukrainian language).

What comes through in this and other on-the-spot reports is the deep scepticism of many Ukrainians over the political and economic future of the country as a result of their disappointments over the "Orange Revolution" of 2004.

That earlier, popular uprising weakened the political and economic domination of Russia and was assumed by Ukrainians to open the door to a more prosperous and just future. Many, if not most, Ukrainians, hoped and expected that closer ties to the capitalist countries of Europe would solve the country’s perilous economic situation. Instead, they got a cabal of capitalist politicians in power, including Yulia Tymoshenko, who had little to offer and who proceeded to enrich themselves and their capitalist backers. Some were allied with Europe, others allied with Russia. 

Excerpt from the Toronto Star:

Sunday [February 23] passed with a kind of reverential calm on the Maidan, as tens of thousands wandered silently among the mounds of rubber tires, cordwood and water stations, stopping to pay respect among dozens of candlelight vigils for the fallen. A tall pile of bricks, brought in as projectiles, was stacked into a “wall of tears” 21 layers high, candles and flowers resting on top.

The failure of 2004’s Orange Revolution, however, hung thick in the smoky air. Unlike a decade ago, this attempt at transforming Ukraine comes wired for the digital age — live-streamed speeches and testimonials from the main stage and a frenzy of fast-moving Internet memes crystallizing the moments…

Russia’s fury at what it sees as a double-cross on Ukraine was evident in Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s weekend demand that Western leaders restrain the opposition’s “rampaging hooligans.”

In the Maidan, there are no sounds of concession to Russian warnings. “We cannot trust anybody. Not Putin. We must aim for total victory this time,” said Sergei Avramenko, 48, who worked in Moscow as an air traffic controller a decade ago, sitting on the sidelines when the Orange Revolution came and ultimately failed.

“Now I understand things much better. By day I supervise a jet maintenance team here in Kyiv. By night, I go to war here at the Maidan. Later we can sleep. For now we must keep pushing to win it all.”

In the coming days and weeks there will be a wave of political analysis on the left that will frame the overthrow of the regime of Yanukovych as a pro-imperialist scheme being swallowed by a gullible population. The strong presence of extreme right-wing forces among those protesting the regime will be presented as proof positive. This will resemble the many simplistic analyses describing the course of the "Arab Spring", particularly in Syria.

A good counterpoint to such analysis, including much valuable information, appeared in the US Socialist Worker, authored by Alan Maass and Sean Larson.

It is naïve to think that a population in the Ukraine that has been excluded from political democracy and engagement for decades and which has no example of socially progressive government in Europe to which to turn for lessons and with which to ally can quickly figure out its political future. This will take time and experience. Meanwhile, in the recent events, they have blazed an example for others in Europe to follow. It so happens that they have also provided a fitting counterpoint to the "festival of corporate greed" that has just wrapped up in Sochi, Russia.

Political left facing huge challenges as rightist government assumes office

By Roger Annis

March 2, 2014 -- Rabble.ca, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- The governments of the United States, Europe and Canada are working furiously to help consolidate the conservative and rightist government that has come into office in Ukraine following the overthrow of the authoritarian regime of Victor Yanukovych in that country ten days ago.

The overthrow of the regime came about through a confluence of mass protests against its authoritarian rule and retrograde social and economic policies and a very active intervention by right-wing and fascist political forces. The rightists of the Svoboda party along with fascists of the Right Sector constellation dominated much of the street protests of the past several months. Some leaders of Svoboda have been appointed as ministers of the new government.

The protest movement has been named by many observers as "the Euromaidan" for the views of many of its participants in favour of closer economic ties to capitalist Europe and for the main square in the center of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, which is called the Maidan.

The government of Russia is very unsettled by the overthrow of Yanukovych and will strive for a dominant role in the future of Ukraine. It has intervened militarily in the Crimea Peninsula in order to protect its military installations there and to assure for itself the dominant political role in the region going forward. A referendum on autonomy may take place in Crimea as soon as March 30. The “autonomy” vote will effectively be a proposal that the majority Russian-speaking region loosen its ties with Ukraine and deepen them with Russia.

The political left in Ukraine is small and facing very difficult conditions of dominance of right-wing ideology, assault and violence in the protest movement and in the country as a whole. A very good English-language source of articles and documents translated from Ukrainian and Russian is the East Europe-based website, LeftEast. Below is a selection of key material in English that has appeared on that website in the past several months about the crisis in Ukraine.

A few of these examples of material on LeftEast are an informative commentary by a Russian writer who visited Kiev in late 2013: "Ukraine: Days of Decisions, Days of Struggle"; and a column that appeared in The Guardian on February 28: "Ukraine has not experienced a genuine revolution, merely a change of elites".

Two articles by Russian socialist and writer Boris Kagarlitsky have recently been translated and published on the Australia-based Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. A March 1 article by Tony Iltis in Australia's Green Left Weekly is an excellent summary and interpretation of recent events as well as the history of Ukraine.

Following Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine yesterday, one of the editors of LeftEast has written, "In my view, any denunciation of the Russian military operations which does not ALSO take explicit distance from the coup politics of the West and its collusion with the far-right forces in Ukraine is using both the peace movement and Eastern Europe for other interests. It is especially sad if such denunciations are expressed by Western leftists."

Selected articles about Ukraine on the website LeftEast:

"Ukraine has not experienced a genuine revolution, merely a change of elites", from The Guardian, February28, 2014.

"A time to mourn, a time to act: Open letter to the Ukraine left", February 22, 2014

"Blood and soil or communal power?", February 21, 2014.

"Ukraine’s protest movement: the far-right in focus", February18, 2014.

"Ukraine’s protest movement: Is a ‘left sector’ possible?", February 12, 2014. Also by the same author: "Ukraine: Days of Decisions, Days of Struggle", December 17, 2013.

"Ukrainian protesters must make a decisive break with the far right", February 8, 2014.

"Is Tiahnybok a patriot? How the spread of Banderite slogans and symbols undermines Ukrainian nation-building", January 28, 2014.

"Ukraine’s protests", from The Guardian, January 23, 2014.

"Manifesto: Ten Тheses of the Leftist Opposition in Ukraine", January 14, 2014.