WILL THE CURRENT TURMOIL BRING
AN ECHO OF HUNGARY IN 1956?
Until the last few weeks, the big news out of Kiev was the Femen, those topless feminist agitators-cum-strippers known for their bare-breasted protests across Europe (as I discussed in my post of September 29). But now we’ve been shown scenes of Tiananmen Square-type killing and torture of demonstrators protesting the increasingly Soviet-style governing tactics of the regime headed by President Viktor Yanukovych.
As I observed back in September…
“Ukraine is a country that has a pretty low profile in the U.S., reflecting the fact that there are only about 960,000 Americans of Ukrainian descent (as of the 2006 census), which represents a mere 0.33 percent of the American population.”
It’s one of those seemingly marginal areas where great — often tragic — human events have unfolded to influence the course of world history. Also from that post…
“We know Ukraine as the fabled breadbasket of Eastern Europe; the heartland of the Kievan-Rus, from whom sprang a family of Slavic peoples, including the Russians and Belarus…”
That breadbasket — so named for its endless gain fields — was responsible for feeding a goodly portion of the Russian Empire. But in 1932-33, when the people resisted Stalinist collectivization and Soviet suppression of Ukrainian culture, language and national pride to the Russian identity being imposed, the Communists intentionally disrupted farming and confiscated food supplies, creating a genocidal famine whose death toll is estimated to be as high as 7 million.
Consequently, many Ukrainians welcomed the invading Germans in World War II. A blot on Ukrainian history — though a somewhat understandable one — is the service of Ukrainian units among Nazi forces (and even as guards in several death camps).
When the Soviet Union broke apart, the future of Ukraine looked bright — for awhile. With lots of oil and gas beneath its fertile soil, and warm-water ports on the Black Sea, Ukrainians stood to grow wealthy servicing energy-hungry Western Europe.
Indeed, some did, as the nation’s resources fell increasingly into the hands of a new class of oligarchs — mainly former Communist apparatchiks — who went into a Russian-style frenzy of graft and acquisition divvying up the holdings of formerly nationalized industries.
Since then, we’ve seen one shaky and/or corrupt regime after another performing a balancing act that has sought to play the West against an increasingly assertive Russia eager to reclaim lost land and glory.
A harbinger of the current strife was the so-called Orange Revolution, a series of protests that stirred the borscht pot during the winter of 2004-05 in response to election fraud and the attempted assassination of a candidate — Viktor Yushchenko — on whom, for awhile, the hopes of the reformers had ridden. An unprecedented third round of voting eventually brought Yushchenko to power. But his government subsequently collapsed amid charges of corruption, and internal divisions in the coalition that had supported it.
Since then Ukraine has seen domestic political turmoil and growing tension between pro-West and pro-Russia factions. The government’s withdrawal from an agreement for Ukraine to increase ties with the European Union set the spark to these current protests.
As this post is being written, the BBC reports that the regime has pretty much yielded to the opposition, police have abandoned the lines which had been set up to contain protesters, Parliament has dismissed the Speaker, Attorney General, and Interior Minister, and the whereabouts of President Yanukovych are unknown.
Have the protestors won? Is Ukraine finally on the path of true reform?
Well, let’s not run all over ourselves with optimism.
It seems to me that the guy holding the strongest cards in this dangerous game is Vladimir Putin, whom I lovingly refer to as Stalin-Lite. That man of the friendly sociopath stare, who has so graciously welcomed the world to this year’s Winter Olympic Games, is the one who will decide how much of a threat any serious reform movement represents to Russian imperial dreams.
Remember Hungary in 1956?
It could be deja vu all over again, in the words of the immortal Yogi Berra. Or, depending on the loyalties of Ukraine’s own military leadership, the dirty work could be done by proxy.
President Obama is reportedly having long talks with his pal, Vladimir, about restoring peace and amity in the breadbasket. One can only assume Obama is drawing on that reserve of flexibility he promised Dmitry Medvedev he’d have in dealing with Russia after he was reelected.
Flexibility aside, I don’t see there’s much the U.S. or the European Union can do to assure a smooth Ukrainian transition to honest government and genuine freedom. Is anybody prepared to draw a line over which Putin must not step in his pressuring of Ukraine?
The U.S. has endured more than a decade of draining wars along with six years of fantasy-as-foreign-policy. The European Union is barely able to hold itself together. In the absence of a credible Western stick, is there any attractive carrot we can offer to show the Russians it’s in their interest to restrain themselves?
Like most people descended from immigrants — which is to say like the majority of Americans — I’m pretty detached from my overseas roots (in Ukraine). I’d be interested in the thoughts of somebody reading this who has more knowledge of the country and deeper insight into the current situation. If that’s you, please do share your perspective. For that matter, write in a comment even if all you have to share is the anxiety I’m feeling right now.
I could provide a lot of news links, but with things happening so fast, whatever you read is likely out of date already. To glimpse the human side of the protest — and a very effective use of social media in drawing attention to a cause — take a few minutes to view this video featuring an attractive Ukrainian girl named Yulia…
“‘It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate,’ Mrs Rice said.”
“Mrs Rice said it would be a mistake for Mr Putin to view the tumult as a Cold War battle between the East and West.
“‘That’s a pretty dated perspective that doesn’t reflect where the people of Ukraine are coming from. This is not about the US and Russia,’ she said.
“The country need not be torn apart on a cultural fault line between pro-Russian and pro-Europe Ukrainians, Mrs Rice said.”
Yep. That’ll make Puty think twice…
“grave doubts about the legitimacy of those in power in Ukraine following President Viktor Yanukovich’s ouster, saying their recognition by some states was an ‘aberration.’”
Ah, an aberration. How can Puty stand by and allow an illegitimate government take over in dear old Ukraine, the heartland of our Slavic heritage?