Sunday, November 28, 2004
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So is Fleet Street on crack or what?
The British press has some very interesting takes on what's happening in Ukraine.
In the Guardian, Ian Traynor thinks the "Orange Revolution" is made in the USA:
Laughland is associated with the British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG), which should not be confused with British Chapter of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. BHHRG has posted two scathing reports about the Orange Revolution -- one on Yushchenko's "Shadow of Anti-Semitism" and this report on the election's second round, in which they conclude, "BHHRG finds no reason to believe that the final result of the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine was not generally representative of genuine popular will."
Well, now it's clear to me -- the Bush administration has carefully crafted a crisis in Ukraine to force western Europe back into our arms while finally installing an anti-Semitic government in Ukraine.
[Seriously?--ed.] Seriously, there are a couple of things going on here. Let's deal with BHHRG and Laughland first -- well, let's reference this Chris Bertram post first, since it encapsulates where this line of criticism is coming from. Basically, if a cartoon version of Edmund Burke were divined into existence and asked to monitor elections in regions outside Western Christendom, the result would be BHHRG. In the former Soviet bloc, this means they expect voters to prefer Slavophiles over Western reformers -- and if they prefer the latter, it must be because of perfidious Western interference. Their suspicion of outsiders, particularly poor outsiders, is also at the roots of Unwin's fears of Ukrainan entrance into the EU.
Their charge of anti-Semitism seems partially blunted by the fact that a) Principal elements of the Jewish community support Yushchenko; and b) As someone who's travelled all around that country, let's be clear that a mild form of anti-Semitism is probably one of the few traits that unites the different regions.
As for Traynor's allegations, they are both true and vastly exaggerated. It's probably true that the groups identified by Traynor have helped fund opposition groups in the countries listed. That said, to suggest that the U.S. government was the architect behind the massive demonstrations that ousted Slobodan Milosevic, Eduard Shevardnandze, and are threatening Leonid Kuchma overlooks a) The genuine resentment these leaders have generated among their populations; and b) The ability of the U.S. government to "coordinate" such a disparate bunch of organizations (Traynor's thesis requires the Bush administration to be in league with George Soros). There's an element of the paranoid style in these reports that sounds... vaguely familiar. [UPDATE: This charge of American orchestration of events seems particularly amusing after reading Bradford Plumer castigate the Bush administration over at the Mother Jones blog for not planning enough for these contingencies. From what I've read, this is a case where all the planning in the world wasn't going to change what happened.]
Finally, as to the charge of corruption among Yushchenko's supporters -- particularly Ms. Tymoshenko -- click here, here, and here for more background (and here's a link to Tymoshenko's web site). I have no doubt that Yushchenko and his supporters are not as clean as the driven snow. However, while Tymoshenko's stage of primitive accumulation seems well past, Yanukovich's supporters are still in their prime and show no signs of changing tack.
Which is pretty much the way to evaluate the current lay of the land in Ukraine. Yushchenko and his supporters are not innocent democrats -- but I'm not sure that anyone who has ever held political office (save maybe Vaclav Havel) fits that description.
For another corrective to these reports, see Nick Paton Walsh's article in the... er... Guardian.
As to Unwin's realpolitik concerns, those can not just be dismissed away, and I'll try to blog about them soon.
UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias makes some excellent contrarian points. To be clear -- I find the arguments made by Laughland, Traynor, and BHHRG to be badly slanted and grossly exaggerated -- but some of the points they are making not completely devoid of truth.posted by Dan on 11.28.04 at 10:21 PM
Dan, I can dismiss Unwin's concerns, which resemble realpolitik only if one thinks Europe faces a bigger threat from the United States than from turmoil on its eastern border.
There are evidently some Europeans or at least a few Guardian columnists who think precisely that. But Putin's problem is fundamentally the same one Russia has faced for years. He sees his mission as restoring Russian power over lands formerly incorporated in the Soviet Union, a task now well beyond Russia's strength. As long as Russia remains dedicated to expanding its influence in the "near abroad" it will not deal in timely or effective ways with the things that keep it weak -- which are, in turn, mostly the dead legacy of Communism.
If Russia's government does not show more skill and prudence than it has so far, Yanukovych's supporters in the eastern Ukraine could well take extreme actions that would present Putin with a choice of appearing to betray them or involving his country in a Ukrainian civil war. There are limits to what either the United States or European governments can do to bail Putin out of the position he has gotten himself into. Treating both Putin and his country as if they were fragile psychiatric patients whose psyches required sympathy and understanding does not get us anywhere.posted by: Zathras on 11.28.04 at 10:21 PM [permalink]
Dan, ...while Tymoshenko's stage of primitive accumulation seems well past, Yanukovich's supporters are still in their prime and show no signs of changing tack.... Yushchenko and his supporters are not innocent democrats -- but I'm not sure that anyone who has ever held political office (save maybe Vaclav Havel) fits that description.
My, my-- such cynicism. Nice that you admit that Yushchenko is indeed neither innocent nor a democrat. But let's be clear about Tymoshenko. She's a combination of Berezovsky and a Salinas/Collor-style pseudo-reformer, a thuggish thief on a grand scale who's not to be trusted anywhere near the reins of power. Your breezily ironic use of marxist terminology to describe her theft ("primitive accumulation") obscures the truth: the scam that Tymoshenko and Pavel Lazarenko, former Ukrainian PM recently convicted in California for money-laundering and other crimes, pulled off is one of the great crimes of the last century.
It's beyond naivete to argue that the thieves who strong-armed the entire Ukrainian energy industry into funnelling all cash flow and profits through a bogus company controlled by themselves alone-- income totaling about 20% of the entire Ukrainian GDP-- have, as you suggest, left this behavior "well past." Of course Tymoshenko still has her hand in the pie, and will plunder every state asset she can dig her talons into once she's back in power.
And of course this unbelievable-- to us, anyway-- record of grand larceny, fraud, and initimidation bespeaks a deep contempt for liberal democratic values. Bizarre that this needs to be pointed out. Shameful, really, that it's left to the nutjobs at the Guardian to point out what's obvious to anyone who's ever done business in Ukraine of Russia.
The fact is that the Guardian's take is closer to the truth here than yours. This is not a velvet revolution in the making or a demonstration of "people power" but a battle of two kleptocratic clans, one of them slightly more western-oriented and better at mouthing liberal pieties, both of them profoundly hostile to principles of transparency and good governance.
Sorry to piss on everyone's parade, but we've been duped before. Remember Yeltsin and his reformist "dynamic duo" of Chubais and Nemtsov? Yeltsin's re-election and Zyuganov's defeat were made possible by the theft of ca. 40% of Russia's GDP by seven pro-Yeltsin clans. Yeltsin trashed the Duma, did little to build an independent judiciary, did absolutely nothing to build anything like a banking system (how can you have capitalism without real banks?), and handed power over to an FSB stooge in exchange for complete protection from prosecution. This is what Ukraine can look forward to when the Yushchenko/Tymoshenko clan get their hands on power.
The stakes here are enormous. If another Yeltsin-style grand theft occurs under the banner of "reform" and liberal democracy, the miserable Ukrainian people will lose a generation, just as their northern neighbors have done. The best thing the US can do here is to signal its refusal to tolerate fraud of both the electoral and the grand larceny varieties and withhold any support or favors for Yushchenko and the comely Comrade Criminal until and unless they demonstrate real evidence of transparency and respect for law. Unwinding the cluster-f of an energy "holding company" that Yulia and her cronies set up would be a necessary first step.posted by: won't get fooled again on 11.28.04 at 10:21 PM [permalink]
To be fair to the Guardian their Moscow correspondent gives different perspective (http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1361616,00.html) and this is also relfected in their editorials. You didn't mention Timoty Garton-Ash's piece last week explicitly calling for support for Yushchenko.
Laughland is given space on their opinion pages all the time to mutter darkly about conspiracy theories, I think in part to make Guardian readers reconsider their "right on" responses to situations like Dafur, Kosovo etc.. The fact that what he writes is generally complete tosh is secondary (the editors probably feel that their readership is intelligent enough to figure that one out themselves).posted by: Tadhgin on 11.28.04 at 10:21 PM [permalink]
The National Endowment for Democracy fomented revolutions in Haiti and Venezuela and was actively involved in subverting corrupt but nominally democratic governments. Is it so crazy to think they would be doing the same thing in Ukraine? You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist, just go to ned.org. Here's a passage from the program to create a core of democracy activists:
Clearly, through its Students for Parliament program, Youth Alternative has created a strong core of highly-skilled young activists who are well-positioned to go on to further leadership positions and who are genuinely committed to strengthening democracy in Ukraine.posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org on 11.28.04 at 10:21 PM [permalink]
Glad to see the link to Hofstadter (the "paranoid style"). Everyone should also read his book "The American Political Tradition." Wonderful, thoughtful, writing.posted by: Andrew Steele on 11.28.04 at 10:21 PM [permalink]
See David Aronovitch in, again, The Guardian on John Laughland http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,1362333,00.htmlposted by: Tadhgin on 11.28.04 at 10:21 PM [permalink]
The British Helsinki Human Rights Group looks, sounds, and acts like it's being supported by Russian money. Russian nationalist money.
N.B., I'm not saying it /is/. Just that it acts exactly like it is.
Pick any issue in the former USSR or Eastern Europe. Now model the Russian point of view. Voila: you know exactly where the BHHRG will stand.
Latvia? Crypto-fascists and porn-addicted degenerates who grotesquely oppress their Russian minority.
NATO? Malevolent, imperialist, expansionist, inherently warlike.
Transnistria? Sweet and innocent backwater inhabited by kindly-faced peasants, "many of whom still grow their own food".
Chechnya? Land full of evil, evil people who inexplicably hate Russians.
Kaliningrad? Neglected tourist paradise.
Putin? Misunderstood and maligned, almost Christ-like in his humility and patience. (I am not exaggerating. Sort through some of the BHHRG "reports", if you have the stomach for it.)
Abkhazia? Sturdy free people who have escaped from Georgian oppression.
Bulgaria? They could have been great, but instead they chose to join NATO and the EU. Now they're all heroin addicts and gangsters who read hardcore porn when they're not shooting at each other.
Pause for a moment and imagine a Russian nationalist's take on Albanians, OSCE, China, Turkey, Serbia, or the Rose Revolution in Georgia. Well, there's a BHHRG report saying...
It's really striking.
(Even more striking is what they ignore. If there's no Russian interest, they're probably not interested either.)
They're also fond of quoting anonymous but ubiquitous "observers", who seem a lot like Thomas Friedman's taxi drivers.
Laughland is yoked in harness there with a guy named Mark Almond, who was once an OK pop historian (he wrote a decent biography of Ceausescu) but who seems to have been taken by the Brain Eater sometime in the early '90s.
Anyhow, it's no surprise that BHHRG is going completely nuts over Ukraine. Short of a western-supported street revolution in Moscow itself, I can't imagine anything that would rile them more.
posted by: Doug Muir on 11.28.04 at 10:21 PM [permalink]
Excellent, Doug. You nailed it. Amazing the lengths such idiots go to in order to resurrect the Cold War. The real losers in all of this are the hundreds of millions of east Europeans who are "growing their own food", ie cultivating potatoes in tiny backyard plots in order to avoid starvation. And the millions in Kaliningrad and Russia and Latvia, even Estonia now, who have contracted AIDS in recent years (in these regions AIDS is spreading faster than anywhere else in the world, including Africa). And the tens of millions of talented, well-educated young Russians Ukrainians Latvians etc who want nothing more than to live in what they call "a normal country", ie one in which the government actually governs instead of stealing, in which companies actually strive to produce quality goods and services instead of stealing, in which professors actually teach instead of extorting bribes....
None of which has anything to do with the Cold War nostalgics' machinations. What a pathetic job of misinformation our MSM idiots have done regarding this unfortunate region. Dezinformatsiya, you might say.posted by: lex on 11.28.04 at 10:21 PM [permalink]
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