Ukraine: nothing to expect from Europe or Russia

As we promised already a few weeks ago, here we finally publish the English translation of the OCL text, originally available in French on http://oclibertaire.free.fr/spip.php?article1506. Very interesting text especially because of its materialist and non-idealist method that analyzes the movement, its process and its dynamics, only after it tackles its weaknesses, its lacks, the illusions of its protagonists, their ideologies, nationalism, the influence of far right, etc.

CA 238 March 2014
Ukraine: Nothing to expect from Europe or Russia
Wednesday, March 26th, 2014, by ocl–lyon
http://oclibertaire.free.fr/spip.php?article1506

Between the Orange Revolution of 2004 and “EuroMaidan” 2014, many things have changed in Ukraine. The picture of a European Eldorado that can attract the “post-communist” populations became considerably tarnished through drastic austerity measures and IMF’s diktats. Ukrainian political leaders still had some credibility. They now partly lost it: in 2014 the “leaders” proclaim themselves as such and are not necessarily followed by the crowd. During ten years, the parties successively became allies and then fought with each others, following one another in leading the country without anything changes for an impoverished population, which was kept under the yoke of a dictatorship, a soft or a hard one, and with several heads according to the period.

Remember the so-called Orange Revolution and its aftermath

We wrote in January 2005 that if most of the Western media presented the “orange revolution” as a spontaneous movement for democracy, on thinking it over we saw that spontaneity owed more to the CIA than to Ukrainians themselves and that the significant presence of fascist elements in this movement tempered singularly the democratic spirit! In 2004, the candidate supported by the EU and the United States, Viktor Yushchenko was the winner of the “third” Ukrainian presidential round. It could not be otherwise as the West had invested forces and dollars in the game to ensure that the country would swing to the Euro-Atlantic camp. Yet the fact to get 43% of the votes for the candidate considered as a “pro-Russian” (already Yanukovych) showed that nothing was resolved domestically.

Then followed a long period of musical chairs between the main actors in politics who are most of them still active now. Yulia Tymoshenko (1) is for a short time Prime Minister before being sacked in September 2005. She is back at this function in December 2007 and she is then defeated in the 2010 presidential elections by Viktor Yanukovych (already two times prime minister – 2002 and 2004) who brings up to date the alliance with Moscow and puts Yulia Tymoshenko in jail (recently released to open an umpteenth career after Yanukovych’s removal).

At no point did these alternations allow improving the lot of the Ukrainians, moreover they have ruined the credibility of the politician sphere considered as more and more corrupt. This has allowed this time that a significant part of the “people’s speech” freed itself from both leaders, including the fascists, and big brothers, European or Russian ones.

A fantasized desire of Europe but that is not the only driving force of the revolt!

The movement called EuroMaidan, born on November 27th, 2013 officially to oppose the government’s decision to ratify an Association Agreement with the European Union, quickly overwhelmed its initial demand, but didn’t give it up however. Through its dynamics of massive occupation of the streets and squares it built it up and solidified around another demand: the overthrow of President Yanukovych and his government and implicitly the cleansing of the corrupt state apparatus. For a Ukrainian revolutionary syndicalist militant, “EU integration is not the central issue of the protests at all, but it is implicitly regarded by the protesters as a natural step which should eventually be taken by the “good” government after the fall of Yanukovych.” [2]

It’s a bit taking the Ukrainians for poorly informed idiots as to proclaim that the people took to the street only because Europe massively represents in its opinion values of freedom and democracy. This somewhat idyllic view of Europe with high wages, guaranteed social security with unlimited freedom of speech and a good life could be explained in 2004 in the Ukraine of the Orange Revolution which didn’t experience any economic and social improvement since the independence in 1991 and because at that time the EU didn’t know its current adjustment, restructuring and austerity policies. Years of economic depression, fall of living standard, widespread corruption got the better of the hopes created by the end of “real communism”, and it’s a country exasperated by a more than authoritarian regime of Leonid Kuchma who was the President supported by the U.S. since 1994, and then by his successor Yanukovych that characterizes the state of mind of the majority of the then Ukrainian population.

Ten years later, things have changed a bit. If in Kiev the European flag is still waving, many Ukrainians also know that in Greece, Spain, Portugal or Italy, these flags are burned! If in 2004 one could reasonably believe that the rallying of the country to Europe could bring in to Ukraine consequent financial aids intended to give some fresh air to the economy, many know that now the situation has changed once again, that Barroso’s and Catherine Ashton’s Europe is that of imposed austerity, IMF’s diktats and that it’s now time for the stranglehold of populations rather than for the distribution of gifts to calm the people and to buy social peace. It’s noteworthy that the amounts of money poured on the Ukraine by the opposite bloc to maintain the Russian influence will also probably be significantly reduced, because of the crisis and the new situation.

Yanukovych’s failure since 2010

Beyond the latent internal conflict originating in a historical division of the country between the Russian-speaking East, industrial and culturally very close to Russia, and the West more “Ukrainian”, agrarian, Catholic (Eastern Greek and Roman Rite) less populated, more interested in Western Europe, further from Russia, the real reasons for the hatred of Yanukovych depend on both the corruption of his government and, ever since he came to power in 2010, his partly failed and postponed attempts to impose unpopular neoliberal measures: reform of health system leading to the closure of many hospitals, introduction of health insurance instead of unconditional coverage, a very unpopular pension reform (with an increase in retirement age for women) against the will of more than 90% of the population, attempt to write a new Labour Code that would have legalized a 48-hour work week and a 10-hour day, transformation of railways into a corporation...

But all these projects have been stopped and the government had to backtrack. Prices of natural gas, electricity, heating, water are frozen at a level that is one of the lowest in Europe and in the former USSR, draft Labour Code is buried in the parliament; pension reform (introduction of mandatory personal pension plan instead of a solidarity system) is crippled. The government has realized that it couldn’t get this package of measures through with such a low level of support in the population. And this, while living and housing conditions, wages and incomes of workers, as well as the general state of the economy, already leave much to be desired, and while people have all of them justified reasons for demanding better living conditions.

Radicalization of the movement in January 2014

The villainous laws of “Black Thursday”, on January 16th, led to a radicalization of the movement. They had to punish protesters for a whole series of actions: occupation of administrative buildings: 5 years of jail, wearing helmets and uniforms during demonstrations, motorcade or pitching a tent or a stage: 15 days, etc., plus fines, plus a whole range of possible sentences, all very vague, for simple comments deemed to be defamatory towards the authorities or dangerous as considered to be “extremist”.

The evacuation of the Town Hall of Kiev, headquarters of the protest movement, occupied since December and where about 700 people had found refuge, was the condition laid down by the government for the implementation of the law of amnesty for 234 demonstrators prosecuted for political offenses, some of them could get up to 15 years of jail. But the negotiations, exclusively conducted by the opposition parties, and the conditions laid down by the executive were far from meeting the demands of dozens of thousands of people who occupied the square. A sign of the tensions within the movement was the fact that paramilitary groups of the opposition nationalist parties immediately after the evacuation of the Town Hall on Sunday, February 16th, were deployed to defend the building in order to avoid it being reoccupied by other demonstrators. This gap has been immediately used by Yanukovich who has waited only two days to launch his retaliation offensive against the Maidan.

“As far as the “leading personalities” of the movement are concerned, we see the same thing as in Russia, Turkey, etc: politicians who are trying to put themselves at the head of the movement, but whom the great mass of protesters does not at all recognize as their leaders. Yes, there are various political currents in the movement, including Ukrainian nationalists (and also the Left, which is part of the “citizen sector” of the protesters), but the vast majority – as in Russia and elsewhere – are regular citizens, non-party political activists.” (Julia, Praxis Centre of Moscow http://www.praxiscentre.ru/)

Yanukovych’s decision to launch a bloody repression had been taken a long time ago, but delayed because of tactical considerations (trying to oppose both main opposition parties to each other, making some concessions while expecting the movement to decline, gaining time...). The protesters’ refusal to leave the square and a part of the buildings despite the withdrawal of the villainous laws and despite the amnesty, the expansion and radicalization of the movement, the consolidation of a self-defence organization likely to overthrow in the end the balance of force with anti-riot units (Berkut) [see Box 2], all that accelerated his decision to strike a blow.

Despite the terrible repression of the first day, with twenty dead, the movement stood firm and reoccupied the square as well as rebuilt the barricades during the night. The second day, with at least 47 dead, the already weakened power played its ace while launching a second bloody offensive, while officially militarizing the Berkut (the “Eagles”, riot police) with weapons of war and police who don’t bother anymore to hide when turning into snipers and shooting at the crowd with Kalashnikov.

Meanwhile in Lvov, largest city in the West, people gained control of the place after having neutralized the police and they proclaim the autonomy of the city, while in many areas, police reinforcements are blocked by protesters and in Kiev, mass reinforcements are flocking from nearby rural areas and suburbs to lend a hand and resist the Berkut’s attacks supported by gangs of “Titushkis” (civilian thugs recruited by the regime). During the fighting, 67 police officers were taken prisoner by the insurgents and thousands of protesters succeeded in facing up to things behind their shields made of metal or wood, to defend the square every inch of the way and spend there all the night. Finally the police withdrew.

Despite the terrible death toll, the repression didn’t win, that is to say it has already lost, that the balance of force has not been reversed and that the street imposes its power. Obviously at this stage the continuation of an excessive repression against thousands of people who are willing to defend themselves by all means, including with guns, would have led to an unimaginable spiral. The fragility of the President’s political power, the internal contradictions of the ruling class, external pressures (from Germany, France and Poland as well as Russia) did finally the rest and forced Yanukovych to accept a truce (imposed by the EU and Russia), which will prove to be a surrender.

The logical and inevitable radicalization of the movement at this time, its extension to new populations and social strata, and its possible generalization to a large part of the territory as well as the likely increase in its level of “military” confrontations pushed the neighbouring continental powers (mainly the EU and Russia) to intervene, under cover of behaving as fire-fighters and calming things down, in order to restore foremost social and institutional law and order. In addition, as AWU comrades said: “The EU, Russia and other global powers are unlikely to allow a chaotic war zone in a country which has major gas and oil transit routes, 15 atomic reactors etc.” (3)

At this time, the EU and Russia should push Yanukovych towards the exit and change the ruling team in the country while giving the parliamentary opposition a boost, which is in charge for maintaining the balance between the interests of European capital and those of the Putin’s regime.

Moreover neither the EU nor Russia have an interest in letting develop movements that could echo what happened lately in the Balkans (Croatia, Slovenia) and this winter in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Tuzla, Mostar, Sarajevo...) where a social movement emerged, ignoring the ethnic divisions imposed by the European Union and especially Germany, and unified the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians trying to impose a local authority controlled by general assemblies against official administrations established and controlled by the international community.

The main elements of the crisis

Ukrainian crisis depends on several levels, with different actors and with an equal issue.

First of all there is the polarization which emerges into the confrontation between Yanukovych and the protest movement and that, with armed clashes days of February 19th and 20th, could only continue and expand as long as another outcome was not found. However, internal tensions of the street and Independence square movement reflect both a competition between different political groups (right and far-right) but also between different organized groups and a new movement dynamics born in January when the power promulgated the “laws of January 16th”, which experienced a new mobilization and the emergence of new people, who didn’t obey to any leader nor party in the occupation of the square and streets: an heterogeneous set but able to assert itself and apart from already structured political groups, and this despite the importance of their role, particularly “militarily” speaking. Socially also, the composition seems to have changed slightly since mid-January. If participants to the movement continue to come from all social strata and classes as at the beginning, these recent weeks a more “proletarian” component has been noticed, including the notable presence of many youth from suburb areas.

Yet “you can’t say that “the working class entered Maidan”. Yes, the number of working-class representatives increased, but, as I said, they don’t consider themselves a class, for them it is an irrelevant category. So, there’s no “class-for-itself” at Maidan. And the majority of the working-class population in Kyiv is still apathetic. [...] As I said, the class composition is now “universal”. The majority, I think, is still represented by students and petite bourgeoisie plus proletarians from the Western regions of Ukraine. That’s especially true for those who stay there permanently.” (2)

Emergence of autonomous popular initiatives

The only unpredictable element – and incomprehensible to various elites – which loomed up in front of negotiations and “normalization” in order to achieve mutually beneficial agreements to these various institutional actors, was the fact that dozens of thousands of determined persons refused to leave Maidan in exchange for the removal of villainous laws or amnesty, while trusting only their own ability to struggle and self-defence, even if all witnesses agree to say that the various fascist groups have played a significant role in the defence of the barricades.

But below the barricades and the front line of street fighters, in the space that it appropriated in the heart of the capital city, the occupy movement is also something else: self-managed campgrounds, information centres, mutual aid spaces, self-organized emergency care centres, places of hot meals distribution... in short, the paradigmatic features of a contemporary and mixed urban uprising, with its dynamics of individual involvement, collective solidarity, horizontal assuming of tasks... all that coexisting with the occupations of government buildings, mostly initiated and controlled by organized groups (mainly Svoboda), the noticeable presence of self-defence units and the high visibility of a far right propaganda, its countless Celtic crosses, flags and other distinctive insignias.

The far right

Many things have been said often contradictory, or at least very different, on the presence and importance of the far right. While some openly minimize it and want to ignore it, others do exactly the contrary, they only talk about that, they only see fascists in action or manoeuvring; whether among some “antifa” and other “conspiracy theorists” who claim to see behind every social movement, every internal conflict in a country belonging to the camp they defend, the hand of the CIA, the U.S. administration, Wall Street and fascism, using the same mechanics as Western politicians did who believed seeing the “hand of Moscow” in every social or anti-colonial significant movement.

In this line, the PCF is going very far: it explains the Ukrainian situation by the appearance of Nazi movements, using thus the same recipe than that used to explain the strikes in Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956 by the presence of pro-Western fascist elements.

This being said, the far right movements are indeed present in the movement.

The most well-known of them is the Svoboda Party (Freedom Party), which won 10.44% of the vote (over 2 million) in the last parliamentary elections in 2012. Until 2004 it was called National Social Party of Ukraine. With 38 deputies in the parliament, it is the only party to be active in the street and to initiate several occupations of buildings in Kiev, in Lvov. It is now pro-European, when yet three years ago it militated against the integration into the European Union. It claims the legacy of nationalist movements of the past that actively collaborated with the German occupiers, by anti-Soviet ideology and nationalism, during the Second World War. It is openly xenophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic.

Red and black flags that can be seen flying in the demonstrations, the occupation of the Town Hall, it’s them. In Western Ukraine this party seems to win relatively important votes in the working class (except in Kiev where it is especially supported by a part of the educated and wealthy middle class), while in Eastern Ukraine it is the populist Communist Party and the Party of Regions which get the most the workers’ vote.

According to an activist of the Autonomous Workers Union, we must make a distinction between the militants and the diffuse sympathy they may encounter in a part of the opinion. “Both political camps are dominated by right populist ideologies – a wild mix of conservatism and nationalism. That’s the main problem, because the actual number of the ultra right activists is not that big, it’s even tiny compared to the crowd which at some times consisted of 100 thousand people or even more; while the full mobilization potential of fascists from all Ukraine is approximately 1-2 thousands. But, first of all, their ideas are welcome among the apolitical crowd; second of all, they are very well organized, and also people love their “radicalism”. An average Ukrainian worker hates the police and the government but he will never fight them openly and risk his comfort. So he or she welcomes a “vanguard” which is ready to fight on their behalf; especially if that vanguard shares “good” patriotic values.” (2)

But he adds that people do not mix, “there is a certain distance between Nazi fighters and “normal” protesters, even the physical one”. It is a feature found by several witnesses and actors of the situation: many people, especially among the youth, mix ideological references and are going to draw on both right-wing ideas (tradition, machismo...) and left-wing ones (anti-capitalism), on a mythical national past or other sources (New Age) something to build references, models and a social-political imagination. There is even a group Avtonomniy Opir (Autonomous Resistance), which happily mixes anarchism and ultra-conservative nationalism.

The far right undeniably holds an important place but is neither hegemonic nor the driving force of the mass movement and it is not true that its political objectives coincide with those of the protesters, whose only common denominator, let’s remind it, is Yanukovych’s resignation and a very limited confidence, or even no trust at all, in the opposition parties.

Meanwhile it is a fact that groups of the revolutionary left and anarchists are very small and have a real difficulty to put forward main lines that would allow introducing other issues on the ground of social needs particularly, and that would also open a political space that succeeds at least in counterbalancing the far right. The actual pressure exerted by fascist groups on one side and the failure of anti-capitalist and radical groups to agree on limited points, but specific and concrete ones (against the 50% increase in Kiev public transport, for example) on the other side, force them into a sort of semi-underground as well as scattered, more individual and toned-down interventions. Finally some leftists, in the name of antifascism, support the government or declare themselves not taking sides.

What’s next...?

Ukraine crisis is thus far from being resolved. On the one hand because Yanukovych’s fall and the movement that prompted it have not exhausted all their effects, including locally and regionally, and nobody can predict the dynamics to come. On the other hand and above all because the new government will have to hold together contradictory interests, which are the cause of the political crisis; and very concretely, will the weak and divided ruling class be able to recompose in this new political situation? Ukraine is in recession, the currency has been devalued, the public debt is increasing and makes the country nearly bankrupt (default in payment), that is to say in a crisis of liquid assets. It is said about limited reserves of less than three months... And then there are lots of unknowns: the sponsor role of Russia in this new environment, the EU actual means of putting pressure in this respect, the game and the actual place of the U.S. administration, etc.

The new Ukrainian interim Finance Minister Yuri Kolobov considered that “the amount of macroeconomic aid that Ukraine needs may reach $ 35 billion in 2014-2015” and he said that he asked the granting of an emergency credit “within a week or two” (4) without giving a precise the amount. And he added that he wanted an international conference of donors (EU, U.S., IMF...) which of course will not “give” anything but will lend under the strict conditions of “liberal” reforms likely to make the country a large profitable area for the purposes of capital – especially those reforms that Yanukovych wanted to implement but which he abandoned – as it has been done in post-communist Eastern Europe in the years 1990-2000, and then in peripheral countries of the Euro zone since 2008...

The EU has neither the means nor the will to lend anything outside of the Euro zone, so the IMF is suddenly – and very strongly – encouraged by government authorities of the European bourgeoisie to do the work, to urgently come take things in hand and do what he can do in this division of labour among key decision-makers in global capitalism.

OCL comrades
(late February 2014)

Notes:

(1) Yulia Tymoshenko was called the “gas princess” in Ukraine. The term was repeated in a loop in the Western press at the time of Orange Revolution. However, during the events of 2014 the pen pushers of the so-called free world didn’t use this term a lot and now she is called an “icon” or a “passionaria”. But Yulia Tymoshenko is nothing else than an oligarch who made her fortune thanks to the Ukrainian oil company and she got repeatedly nabbed for laundering and abuse of power. Everything is done now to conceal the economic aspects of the events that are reduced to a mere “political” opposition between two blocs and two parts of the country.

(2) “Maidan and Its contradictions: an interview with Ukrainian revolutionary syndicalist” Přátelé komunizace. http://pratelekomunizace.wordpress.com/

(3) “Politicians had to obey the crowd” , interview of 28 January 2013, available on our website: oclibertaire

(4) AFP, February 24th, 2014

Comments

Guerre de Classe
Jul 1 2014 16:29

The only reservation we would like to emphasize here concerns the fact that the text is on the one hand uncritical towards “revolutionary” unionism (although we understand that historically important sectors of the proletariat proclaimed this appellation) that is methodologically unable of being revolutionary just as parliamentarianism cannot.

And on the other hand it is uncritical towards “plenums” that developed as an answer from the dictatorship of democracy (no matter if it claims to be a parliamentary, “direct”, “workers” or another one) to the needs of our class at the time of the recent struggles in Bosnia-Herzegovina. These “plenums” have been so much criticized by many structures (local as well as international ones), which proclaim social revolution, “anarchism” or communism, to prevent anybody to rush again headlong into the trap of democratic myths. Good reading…