By Zoltan Zigedy
As I wrote elsewhere (https://mltoday.com/tragedy-in-ukraine), Ukraine is a great tragedy for the people. Caught in the web of imperial powers, many Ukrainians were seduced by the European Union and the US into collaborating in the overthrow of the elected government. While the US and European media depicted events as reflecting a yearning for Western values and culture, they conveniently sidestepped the questions of constitutionality and electoral legitimation. The fact that the former leaders of Ukraine came to power through mechanisms worshiped in the West as the foundations of civility and the rule of law counts for nothing in the carving up of spheres of influence.
Even at the last moment, when the Ukraine government struck a deal with the opposition favorable to the anti-government insurgents and guaranteed by the EU, the Western media ignored the blatant betrayal of that agreement and the complicity of the guarantors. Shamefully, the media masked the critical role of the hyper-nationalist, Jew-baiting fascists in the front lines of the opposition’s street fighters.
In the US, the intellectual courtiers– the obsequious academics– dutifully filled the airwaves and newsprint with tributes to the heroic, democracy-loving opposition. They assured us that the opposition represented exactly what the US State Department said they were. How convenient!
Before the coup against Yanukovych, the Washington Post‘s Anne Applebaum wrote a column (Ukrainian smears and stereotypes, 2-20-14) promising to explain the Ukrainian “crisis” to those who might foolishly believe an illegal coup was brewing (“the Ukrainian crisis can seem murky”). She mocks the language of those questioning the legitimacy of the opposition in Ukraine and paints the Russians with vulgar Cold War invective and Russo-phobia: “At the same time, those who throw these terms [“fascist” or “Nazi”] around should remember that the strongest anti-Semitic, homophobic and xenophobic rhetoric in this region is not coming from the Ukrainian far right but from the Russian press, and ultimately the Russian regime.” So if the Ukrainian right are fascists, we should overlook it because the Russians are worse. Tu quoque!
It is a measure of our times that the Washington Post, on whose editorial board she serves, fails to reveal that Applebaum is married to the Polish foreign minister and is herself a Polish national, relationships that link her with the regime most ardently supportive of the opposition.
Others will know her as the Pulitzer prize-winning author of numerous “histories” of the Soviet era, all marked by an unconcealed hostility towards socialism. Her zeal for damning every aspect of the Soviet experience has earned her a place in the hearts of old Cold Warriors and on the pages of such rabid anti-Communist publications as The New York Review of Books. Her newly found status as a major media gas bag of the Bill O’Reilly school of historiography has apparently not tarnished her intellectual reputation among liberals.
Reaching for the same stature, her colleague, Timothy Snyder, is equally notorious with his histrionic and unfortunately celebrated book, Bloodlands, another victim-counting effort meant to equate Hitler and Stalin. Like Applebaum, Snyder is among a newer generation of offspring of Robert Conquest, the Cold War hack who gathered anecdotes and inflated them into millions of deaths at the hands of “blood-thirsty Bolsheviks.” We now know from Soviet archives that Conquest’s numbers were vastly exaggerated. We now know from further revelations that Conquest enjoyed sponsorship from US security agents in his efforts to rally gullible minds in the West. Unfortunately, no one with sufficient credentials and major media access will today counter the similarly inflated horror stories of Applebaum and Snyder.
But we can wonder why Amy Goodman would invite Snyder on her radio/TV show, Democracy Now! (2-24-14)for his opinion of events in Ukraine. From a promising beginning as a Left media voice, Goodman has too often given credence to those fawning after US imperial posture in her coverage of Eastern Europe, Libya, Syria and other imperialist ventures.
Predictably, Snyder mounts a vigorous defense of the opposition:
It [the opposition] included people from—included Muslims. It included Jews. It included professionals. It included working-class people. And the main demand of the movement the entire time was something like normality, the rule of law.
Strange that Snyder could paint such a diverse, liberal picture of the opposition from his perch at Yale University, particularly when Goodman’s other guest, Professor Petro, reporting from his vantage point in Ukraine, depicted an opposition welded together by fervent Ukrainian nationalism. Interestingly, the opposition-in-power’s first acts, as reported by Professor Petro, were to restrict local use of the Russian language and a resolution to outlaw the Communist Party– hardly an endorsement of diversity or liberalism. Snyder did not dispute this claim.
And Snyder demonizes Yanukovych:
And the reason why this demand [for the rule of law] could bring together such people of different political orientations, such different regional backgrounds, is that they were faced up against someone, the previous president, Yanukovych, whose game was to monopolize both financial and political as well as violent power in one place. The constitution, the legitimacy of which is now contested, was violated by him multiple times, and most of the protesters agree to that.
What a tangled argument! Snyder charges the former Ukrainian president with seriously violating his constitution which is immediately dismissed as “contested”! Which is it? Inviolable or not?
Nor does his concern for constitutionality and the rule of law lead him to condemn the opposition for ignoring the constitutionally sanctioned mechanisms for removing a president. Yanukovych’s alleged “monopoly” on violence fails to account for the street violence conceded by Western media through lurid pictures of masked “protesters” throwing fire bombs and attacking police. Snyder treats Goodman’s listeners to a dose of propaganda rather than a truthful commentary.
Professor Petro gently challenged Snyder’s account, returning again and again to the fanatical Ukrainian nationalism of the opposition. Snyder responded patronizingly:
Yeah, I mean, as Professor Petro probably knows, that’s the subject of my specialization. And, of course, I share his concern. Svoboda takes its example from the history of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, an interwar, extreme-right party which I would not hesitate to call fascist. The Pravi sector also refers to the same historical symbolism. Both of them speak of the necessity for a national revolution, especially Pravi sector. They are significant.
An honest “specialist” would note that the OUN was not merely extreme-right or even fascist, but made up of Nazi collaborators responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent Soviet civilians including much of the Jewish population. The OUN’s equation of Judaism and Bolshevism invited its identification with the Nazi occupiers. One would think that Snyder’s “specialization” in Eastern European history would demand that he call out the opposition on this point. At the very least, he should issue a demand to purge the coup-installed government of such elements. One would think, as well, that Amy Goodman would call out Snyder on this failing.
As Ukraine moves towards becoming the flash point of a regional or even broader war, my colleagues remind my of the similarities with Europe in 1914, with imperial powers elevating threats and demands, with a reckless empowering of forces beyond anyone’s control, and with nativist sentiments rabidly unleashed.
Unfortunately, we lack a significant anti-imperialist front in most European countries and the US. Even Samuel Gompers, the reactionary leader of the AFL at the turn of the last century joined US writer Mark Twain and numerous other luminaries in founding a US Anti-Imperialist League. Today, our labor movement leaders are complicit in or silent on US meddling in Ukraine and numerous other countries. And US liberals, in all too great numbers, endorse US imperialism as a crusade for democracy and the vaunted “rule of law.” With peace so desperately needed, we lack a vibrant peace movement to counter the threat of war.