journalist, writer, translator. Senior Fellow of the American University in Moscow
1. In his "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” Karl Marx commented dryly on the well-worn truth that history repeats itself: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
In this light, these days’ fracturing and general danse macabre in Ukraine appears in many respects as a travesty of the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, although, as we shall see, not all features of these two events fall within the Marxian tragedy vs. farce dichotomy.
Looking back at the anti-Communist, anti-Soviet, democratic revolution in which I took part as a foot soldier of democracy (I still think of myself in such terms, though with diminishing pride), I cannot for the life of me recall anything that could be called farcical, comical, ridiculous, or anything like that. We were certified idealists, and we were in dead earnest about what we wished to achieve: end of totalitarianism, respect for human rights and freedoms, democracy, market economy. Of course, history played its favorite dirty trick on us, as crooks and outright bandits in Russia proper and rabid nationalists in the outlying regions garnered the fruits of the idealists’ victory. But that’s merely the sad irony apparently inherent in any revolution, and thus fatalistically to be accepted. But – farcical?! Not in the least, no sir.
The current goings-on in Ukraine are in the sharpest possible contrast to our 1991 revolution. First, there is the obvious difference in magnitude: the Soviet Union was a superpower, whereas Ukraine is not even a regional power, and right now the epithet failed state is unquestionably its most fitting description. A coup d’etat in such a quasi-state is reminiscent of the endless past revolutions in Latin America, and thus farcical enough, though it does involve any number of personal and collective tragedies. In this sense, if it is a farce, it is a lousy one.
2. What makes it especially unappetizing, mere food for gallows humor, is the characters now most visibly cavorting on the boards of history in Ukraine. One may say anything one likes about the stature and quality of statesmanship of men who presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union – people like Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Kravchuk, Shushkevich, Gaidar, Burbulis, et al. However, one fact about them is beyond doubt: there was no taint of common-or-garden criminality attached to them.
Now, take a look at the clowns currently capering on Ukraine’s political scene.
Yanukovich, still the country’s only legally elected president, did a couple of stretches in the clink even in Soviet times – for snatching fur-hats in public toilets, as I hear. In the years he served as the country’s leader, he continued in the same vein, amassing personal wealth by methods that differed from his former pursuits in scope rather than nature.
Or take Kuchma, another former president of Ukraine and now one of the sages ponderously advising the Kiev junta and sternly criticizing Russia. It has been proved conclusively that, while in office, he gave orders to kill the journalist Gongadze. Anyone interested enough in that piece of beastliness can read it all on the net, complete with gory details about the strangling of the luckless journalist, beheading the corpse, its burial and later recovery, confessions of the strangler, and so on.
Former Ukraine Premier Lazarenko is now doing time in the U.S.A. for money laundering, fraud, and extortion. His business colleague Yulia Timoshenko, whose complicity in those crimes was proved beyond all reasonable doubt by U.S. investigators, fearing the same fate, sought immunity by moving into politics. In this capacity she was permitted to run free in recognition of her anti-Russian stance and her role as leader of the Orange Revolution, one of a series of color revolutions along Russia’s perimeter bankrolled by the West (more specifically, by the Americans).
Timoshenko is the person whom ordinary people of Ukraine have called vorovka, feminine for thief, to her face. Indeed, the source of the billions this "engineer-economist” (her position in Soviet times) amassed in the ‘90s is perfectly obvious: pocketing the money for gas that came from Russia to Ukraine and Europe. Getting payment for the gas that Timoshenko’s corporation was always a wrangle, and at times impossible. She salted away her booty in European banks, often carrying bags of cash across the border, for which she was repeatedly arrested but wriggled out of jail sentences by suborning judges and such. Again, all this is on record.
Russia lost some $5 billion annually through that thievery which the West, and Europe in particular, politely called "gas wars.” Incidentally, a sideshow in those wars was the story of a competitor of Timoshenko’s: he said he walked in fear of his life as M-me T. had put out a contract on him; the man was duly killed. In all, it has been estimated that some 25 businessmen involved in the gas shenanigans lost their lives – deaths that Timoshenko and her erstwhile patron and lover Pavel Lazarenko profited by.
Kicked out of her position as head of Ukraine’s Energy Corp., Timoshenko lost much of her wealth and was later even jailed by Yanukovich. Thieves have this tendency to fall out, you know. The February coup d’etat set her free, and she is now intent on staging a comeback as presidential candidate. She says the main plank of her program is fighting the oligarchs, which can only cause Homeric laughter. If she is supported by the West and those "good” oligarchs she will forget to fight, it will be for the same reason as before – her hatred of Russia. Indeed, how can she help hating Russia that refuses to let her line her pockets anymore?
Then, consider the case of Klichko, until recently the blue-eyed boy of the Maidan with presidential ambitions. His early criminal background and tender friendships with criminal kingpins like Victor Rybalko, the man who spent 17 years behind bars and was eventually machine-gunned by ungrateful colleagues, are a mystery only to those who refuse to know anything about such matters. As professional boxers, the Klichko brothers were a project funded by Rybalko and other top dogs of Kiev’s underworld. These gentlemen of fortune have been taking a slice of the brothers’ winnings, and nowadays they certainly expect to be paid bigger dividends if their puppet Vitaly becomes a member of Ukraine’s government. So far their hopes have been thwarted by Ms. Nuland, who distributes posts in Ukraine’s government in no uncertain, if somewhat obscene terms. She has apparently decided that Klitchko is too big for his pants, and he was forced to lower his sights to the office of Kiev’s mayor, selling his presidential ambitions to Poroshenko. Kiev denizens will watch with bated breath the spectacle of Mayor Klichko stamping out banditry in their city, and especially leaning on the hoods that started him in business.
The antecedents of many Ukrainian oligarchs, of whom 18 have been appointed regional governors by the junta, simply don’t bear examination. If you hear that one of them started his business career as a card sharp, that’s about as innocent a finding as you are likely to make. Just try and investigate the background of one of these billionaires, recently arrested in Austria on U.S. charges. A conscientious student of these antecedents might come up with a multivolume bestseller in the roman policier genre.
The armed neo-Nazi rabble that has carried off the coup d’etat and installed the present junta (which Timoshenko has publicly referred to as a "snake pit,” only the Russian word she used is much more expressive) would be outlawed and jailed in any self-respecting European country. Tired of fighting for freedom and democracy, Maidan heroes have now turned to sheer banditry, racketeering, and marauding with such vim that even the demoralized police had to do something about it.
The story of Aleksandr Muzychko, the big news these days, is truly emblematic. This prominent member of the neo-Nazi Right Sector party terrorized the local legislative assembly in Rovno, robbed local businessmen of tens and hundreds of thousands of Euros, beat up a public prosecutor on camera, and committed many other heroic deeds in the name of the pro-European revolution. Eventually the police tried to arrest him; he started shooting at the police; the police fired back and wounded him; then, to make sure double sure, they tore up his shirt to see that he had no bulletproof vest, and shot him through the heart; some said twice, for good measure. Muzychko’s comrades now say it was politically motivated murder and swear vengeance (last heard of, they threatened to storm the parliament building), while his comrade-in-arms and Right Sector leader Yarosh runs for president. Beautiful. That’s Ukrainian law and order situation and the nature of its politics in a nutshell.
All this is frightening enough, but there is evidence of even more scary developments – evidence of the neo-Nazis’ attempts to lay their hands on weapons of mass destruction. Timoshenko may yell that she is going to start the Third World War after which "not even a burnt-out field will be left of Russia,” but that’s mere female hysterics that puts a final touch to her character. However, certain hard, unpleasant facts, no fruit of anyone’s hysterics, are now coming to light. The neo-Nazis are paying regular reconnaissance visits to nuclear power stations, with obvious intent to hold the whole world hostage, not just Russia or Europe. They have paid visits to bacteriological laboratories and, according to the people working there, got hold of bacteriological material that can be used for biological warfare. The handiest weapon for provocation, I’d say. Right Sector publicly threatens Russia with guerrilla warfare. What better weapon to use in such warfare than WMD? Other terrorists have merely been dreaming of such weapons – Ukrainian ones, with the connivance of or on direct orders from someone in the junta, may actually use them – to Senator McCain’s delight.
3. Russia’s government should take these threats very seriously indeed. Many people here still remember what kind of animals ordinary human beings turn into when the bug of nationalism bites them and their worst, bestial instincts are aroused. We remember the massacres in Fergana, Sumgait, Nagorny Karabakh, and in many, too many other places. Azeris murdering Armenians, Tadjiks murdering Uzbeks and vice versa, and generally everyone murdering anyone not of their tribe. Most horribly, it wasn’t just knifing and shooting; people were burnt alive; pregnant women’s bellies were ripped open; men, women and children were raped, then tied to cars and torn apart. There was a great deal more, and many of us older men and women are alive who remember it all – and we know what to expect of human-like creatures with nationalist poison in their systems.
Just compare this with our own anti-totalitarian, democratic revolution. I took part in every single one of those mammoth rallies and marches of the late 1980s and early 1990s. I could never make myself like Yeltsin, but he put it rather aptly when he said that no one even trod on anyone else’s corns in those solid masses of humanity flooding Moscow’s endless streets and vast squares. Sure, there was some shoving and pushing with the police, as well as verbal exchanges in very colloquial, very juicy Russian. But that was all. No, not quite all. I vividly remember a police major, obviously a provincial, staring with something like awe at my lady friend of the day – a mink-coated militant of exquisite beauty and miniature proportions; stammering slightly, he offered to detail a couple of men to see her to the Metro "when this is over.” We lost just three young men during the Commie putsch. My eyes filled with tears during their funeral, but I later came to think that, had they shown less revolutionary zeal and left that wretched armored personnel carrier in that underpass alone, they’d still be alive, and no harm done to historical progress. But that’s sheer hindsight wisdom, of course.
No question about that: ours was a peaceful, clean revolution that put paid to Communism but triggered off a geopolitical tragedy – the disintegration of a mighty power. It also showed clearly that where the atavistic, nationalistic element is kept at bay, as in Russia with its 182 different ethnic groups, democracy, human rights and freedoms have a chance, and the revolution is a triumph, even if its triumphal euphoria is short-lived. Where the nationalist and ultra-nationalist element takes the upper hand, all these nice things go by the board. That was what happened in the ethnic republics of the Soviet Union, some of which are now pseudo-monarchies or dictatorships in more or less convincing democratic camouflage. And that is what is happening in 2014 in Ukraine.
The West may acclaim the Maidan revolution as the triumph of democracy, but millions of disenfranchised people who, on account of their ethnicity, have no say in determining the country’s future see it for what it is: an armed coup by a bunch of fanatical nationalists who have installed a junta subservient to them, and to the nationalists’ foreign sponsors. Even Hitler came to power through a democratic process; not so the direct descendants of galizische Division SS who in 1941 swore personal allegiance to Hitler (Ukraine was never mentioned in that SS oath).
4. That’s the sort of democracy Ukraine is going to enjoy under the Nazi-installed junta. Its attitude toward human rights stands out most graphically in its stance on the people’s right to speak their native language.
It will be useful to consider the situation with this right in a historical perspective, by considering the way things were in the Soviet Union and at the time of Russia’s democratic revolution of 1991. I need hardly say that this issue did not even arise in our revolution. There was nothing that we democratic revolutionaries could wish to improve on Soviet practices regarding this human right. The Communist movement was internationalist from the start, from the First International, and Soviet Communists kept up that tradition. It’s a well-known fact that many ethnic groups that had never had an alphabet were provided with one in the course of the cultural revolution (not the Mao Zedong version, thank God) begun in the 1920s. Sure, Russian was spoken throughout the country, just as it had been for centuries, but all ethnic groups had their literatures, schools, radio, TV in their own language in Soviet times.
More than that, Russian served as a vehicle for bringing the culture of countless ethnic communities within the USSR to the attention of the big wide world. One tiny personal illustration. Over some twenty years I earned my bread and caviar by doing translations for a variety of publishing houses; among other things, I translated into English, at one ruble forty kopeks a line, from Russian interlinear glossaries, the poetry of many native authors: Kabardinian, Dagestani, Lithuanian, Georgian, Estonian, Tadjik, Ukrainian, Belorussian, and many others, including such exotica as the myths of the Nivkhi (ever heard of them?). Most of this stuff appeared in the multilingual Soviet Literature monthly, but many were published in book form.
Like I say, there is nothing that Russia’s revolutionary intelligentsia wished to, or could actually do in this line. I still live in a Moscow street named after the greatest of Georgian poets, Shota Rustaveli. We could only observe with sadness that the nationalist revolutionaries in the outlying regions of the Soviet Union were doing their damnedest to break off cultural relations with Moscow, along with all other links. In a very small way, I too suffered from this silly nationalism. I translated into English a whole book of poems by that great Georgian poet, Akaki Tsereteli, for Ganatleba Publishers in Tbilisi. But that was 1990, too many people out there were already thinking in terms of "Georgia for Georgians,” so I am still waiting to be paid.
That sort of linguistic/cultural separatism was unpleasant, to be sure, but did not do much harm to anyone except the separatists themselves. What is now happening in this area in Ukraine is on a totally different, lethal level and can only be described as a crime against humanity: the nationalists openly pursue the goal of stamping out the Russian language in Ukraine completely.
The junta’s very first act was abrogation of legislation protecting the minorities’ linguistic rights. That act was primarily aimed at Russian speakers, of course; this in a country where 80 percent of the population are either bilingual or regard Russian as their native tongue. Say, whenever Ms. Timoshenko gets too excited or plain hysterical, she forgets all her Ukrainian and slings Russian with the same abandon as does Ms. Nuland her Anglo-Saxon.
Trained as a professional linguist, I’d like to make a few comments on this language situation, and especially on what is known as the Ukrainian language. Educated men and women the world over know, or pretend to know, at least a few Russian writers’ names, and have read some of their books if they read books at all. Question: do any of these educated people know any Ukrainian writers’ names? There you are. No one does (except in Russia, of course).
The reason is obvious to anyone who bothered to look into the matter. Before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the situation was simple: all the educated classes in Malorossia (Little Russia) spoke Russian both at home and in public, while the uneducated ones spoke what linguists call by the Greek term demotike; that is, a patois, a dialect or dialects existing in spoken form only or primarily.
As in many other European countries, the Romantic Movement in literature was linked with a rise in the native intelligentsia’s national consciousness. In the area of the Russian Empire known as Malorossia it produced a certain body of texts in the form of speech used by the uneducated masses, texts of folkloristic nature without any observable impact on the world literary process. The only writer of any standing of that time, Taras Shevchenko, was purely and simply a bilingual author, writing poetry in Ukrainian and prose in Russian. The second best author of that movement, Lesya Ukrainka, wrote in Russian, Ukrainian, and French; frankly, I tackled her poetry several times but each time found I could think of less masochistic pursuits.
The language situation changed significantly after the Bolshevik revolution. In the course of the Civil War or rather series of wars, the educated classes were either decimated or fled Europeward en masse. Ukraine became a workers and peasants state, just like all the other Soviet republics. These workers and peasants, whose native tongue was the abovementioned vernacular, rose to positions at various levels in administration, industry, the Army, education, science, culture, etc. There was no one to educate them except the remaining old, Russian-speaking intelligentsia. Thus an educated person was still a Russian-speaking one, just as in pre-Bolshevik Russia an educated individual spoke and wrote French as a matter of course.
However, ideologically motivated Ukrainian Bolsheviks made a concerted effort to transform the lower classes’ patois into a literary language – in much the same way as they built the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic out of Malorossia, Novorossia, and other disparate parts. They went at it with such gusto that in 1937 Lev Mekhlis, head of the Communist Party’s Central Committee Press and Publishing Department, wrote a furious letter to Stalin, Kaganovich, and other top Bolshevik leaders to inform them of the abject position of Russian press in the Ukraine amounting to virtual nonexistence. Say, there were eleven papers published in Kiev, and not one of them in Russian, though there were papers in German, Polish, Yiddish, Bulgarian, and of course Ukrainian. Internationalism with a twist, one might say. The same situation prevailed throughout Ukraine. That was the work of Ukrainian "bourgeois nationalists,” Mekhlis wrote.
I think Lev Mekhlis used the word "bourgeois” simply as a political label, a black mark, a finger pointing at men who were to be shot at the time of The Great Terror (the letter is dated 1937). Surely they were Communists, but they were bad Communists because they were nationalists. Thus present-day Ukrainian nationalists follow in the footsteps of their Bolshevik predecessors, only they go much farther.
Russian is being banished from all spheres of public communication. Numerous instances have been recorded, especially on the internet, of people being attacked or threatened with mayhem or murder for speaking Russian. It is but one step to burning Russian authors’ books, and I am not sure that this step has not been taken.
The nationalists’ objective of total Ukrainization, if achieved, will create a situation where millions of people whose native tongue is Russian will have to read Russian literature, classical and otherwise, in translations into Ukrainian, a tongue that has only recently made the shift from a demotike to literary language and can only boast of a literature whose most singular feature is paucity.
This is not an invention of mine that can be brushed off as alarmist. Ukrainian authorities, educationalists included, have already started the process. A professor in Kharkov who refused to lecture on Russian literature in Ukrainian has been fired. Other patriotic litterateurs have rewritten Gogol, inserting the word "Ukrainian” where Gogol has "Russian,” in black and white. Had these patriots managed to keep the Crimea, they would have done the same to the saga of the battle of Sevastopol in 1854 written by a certain artillery officer called Leo Tolstoy. We would then learn that Ukrainians, and no one but Ukrainians, defended Sevastopol for nearly two years against British, French, Turkish, German, Italian, Polish and Swiss troops. Who was Leo Tolstoy, then, and what was he doing in Sevastopol? Well, they’d think of something.
These are but parlor games that are of interest to specialists only, but Ukrainization of masses of living, real people is another matter. The effort to stamp out Russian went on apace even during Yanukovich’s term in office, though he had won the presidency by promising eastern and southern regions that he would defend the Russians’ rights and generally work for stronger ties with Russia. Well, he cheated them about this as about so much else; need we wonder then that these people reacted so coolly to his downfall.
Nowadays Yanukovich is gone, his Party of the Regions all but gone, and there aren’t any political forces or leaders to defend the rights of Russians in Ukraine except Russians themselves. However, they are unorganized and unarmed, they are no match for the tens of thousands of armed nationalists, call them the National Guard or whatever. The junta will certainly redouble its efforts to Ukrainize everyone in sight, while those guardians of human rights, the European Union and the United States, will turn a blind eye. They’ve had plenty of practice with this blind-eye trick in places like Latvia, where nearly half the population are "non-citizens”; in plain English, second-class citizens. Apartheid without the color prejudice flourishing under the protective wing of NATO promoting democracy for all it’s worth, leaving one undecided whether to laugh or puke.
The only thing the EU does to protect the rights of Russians in the Baltics is spouting hypocritical rhetoric now and then. That’s exactly what it is doing now about the Ukrainian Nazis’ criminal project to deprive millions of Russians of their basic right, of their identity. On the ground, that project is already being enforced by bandit methods. It can engender nothing but hatred – and the prospect of a military confrontation of unpredictable proportions. Any way you look at it, it’s criminal idiocy on the part of the junta and the Western powers aiding and abetting it.
5. Freedom of speech, now. What was the most remarkable, I’d say stunning feature of Russia’s revolution of 1991 and the Perestroika years that prepared it? Anyone who lived through those times will answer unhesitatingly: glasnost. Literally, it means "voicedness,” a situation in which people find their voice.
In Soviet times, the intelligentsia’s favorite pastime was nocturnal debates in the hallowed halls of free speech, their own kitchens, on those eternal, some said accursed, questions: Who is to blame for the way things are, and what is to be done about them? Special features of those debates were discussion of samizdat publications (a Russian tradition that goes back centuries); anti-Soviet and anti-Party jokes, of which some jokesmiths collected vast repertoires; and singing or listening to tape-recordings of underground or simply counter-cultural ballads.
With glasnost, all this burst out into the open, the intelligentsia masses turned glasnostics and spoke up. The most popular question, the first question one asked an acquaintance at meeting was, "Have you read…?” Acute minds popped up from the underground, as well as from the ruling class, that knew exactly what was wrong with the country, and what was to be done to straighten things out. I remember subscribing to about 18 publications at the time – dailies, weeklies, and monthlies. The print-runs of Moskovskie novosti and Ogonyok went into millions, and still that was not enough; the weeklies were passed from hand to hand till they fell apart. Unable to get a subscription to a Russian or English version of MN, I had to read it in the French edition, "Les nouvelles de Moscou,” little thinking that pretty soon time would come when I would run MN for ten years.
Apart from those established publications, there were veritable acres of stands in the streets and underpasses where anyone who had something to say, and had some sort of access to a printing machine, said it and offered it to the avid public.
Even on TV, the floodgates were open. When the Vzglyad (Outlook) program went on air, city streets emptied completely. I recall an acquaintance muttering: "Vzglyad today. That means today is Friday.” You will agree it’s a curious way of keeping time.
I could go on and on reminiscing, but the picture is clear, I hope. Let’s take a leap into the present and consider the way things are in Ukraine. I’d say the most nauseating features of the situation there are the behavior of the media and the junta’s policy in this matter.
This last is illustrated most graphically by an episode that even the most fertile journalistic mind would find hard to invent. A bunch of post-coup Rada (that’s their parliament) members broke into a TV channel manager’s office, broke his nose and collarbone, half-strangled him, and made him sign a letter of resignation – all because he had showed on TV snatches of Putin’s speech in St. George’s Hall on the Crimea returning to Russia’s fold. These hoodlums were led – attention, please – by a deputy chairman of the Rada Freedom of Speech Committee. They even made a video of this celebration of media freedom and put it on YouTube, to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind as to how totally free Ukrainian media are, or are going to be.
Rada further consolidated this freedom by directing a Kiev court to ban Russian TV channels on Ukrainian territory, with criminal charges to be preferred against anyone breaking that ban. This makes Ukrainian media outlets, all of them without exception belonging to the oligarchs, free to tell total lies unchallenged.
Thus, when Putin asked for, and received the Federation Council’s permission to use armed force in case of Ukrainian army or illegal, nationalist bands starting warfare on Russia’s compatriots, a really curious situation developed. Not one Russian soldier crossed Ukraine’s border; Russian servicemen in Sevastopol were there, and had been there for years, in accordance with a treaty between the two states signed long ago. Yet all Ukrainian media presented Russian "invasion” as a fait accompli.
Sadly, this fib was picked up and spread far and wide by the Western media – a clear act of information warfare and an abuse of journalism as a profession. Bloggers the world over (Russia included) followed suit. The joke widely current at the time was: All you need to do to put an end to World War Three is switch off the internet.
Unfortunately, no one could switch off those mendacious Ukrainian and Western media. Their lies were so ubiquitous that even Xinhua, that cautious behemoth, the mouthpiece of Chinese officialdom, wrote: "Russia struck back. Now, with Russian military personnel deployed in eastern Ukraine…” As we say in Russian, Okstis’! Cross yourself! Who saw a single Russian unit or soldier deployed in Eastern Ukraine? No one, because there aren’t any. But then what would you. In times of information warfare, reality falls by the roadside, propaganda surges on.
One wants to believe that Xinhua made an honest mistake. Not so Western media. A chap who was in the Crimea on the day of the referendum says that Western journalists saw with their own eyes the scenes of jubilation, of grown-up men weeping with joy as they voted, old women making the sign of the cross over those slips of paper, and so on. The most popular karaoke number everywhere was Russia’s national anthem. Those Western journalists saw it all, they talked of it with some animation with their Russian colleagues – then went and cabled their editors that the 96.3 result in favor of rejoining Russia had been achieved "at gun point.”
Surely, this sort of thing is enough to make one lose one’s faith in the human race. It reminds me of something I recently heard: practically all Japanese schoolchildren believe that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atom-bombed in 1945 by Russian planes. Enough to make one shudder at the thought that the media’s powers of zombification are practically unlimited. Ninety point something percent of Russians approve of Putin’s readiness to defend Russians in Ukraine against Nazi persecution, no more and no less; and still the average citizen in Rovno or Zhitomir will be dead sure that those ninety percent are a bunch of ignorant fools, imperialists and aggressors to a man.
For twenty-three years Ukrainian media have been hammering these ideas into their heads; apparently the resistance of the human brain to such hammering is limited – especially since humans are naturally prone to point the finger at an outside enemy as the cause of their own misfortunes. Freedom of speech in Ukraine now means one thing – the media are as free to express their hatred of Russia as they care. Tyagnibok, leader of the "social-nationalist” party Svoboda and presidential candidate, declares his intention to ride through Moscow’s Red Square on a tank, and this evidence of severe mental disorder is gleefully taken up by the entire Ukrainian journalistic community. Another presidential candidate gives vent to her desire to "shoot those damned katsapy (swearword for Russians) with nuclear weapons,” and this too is accepted by the media as evidence of sterling Ukrainian patriotism.
There you have it. In Russia proper, the triumph of glasnost described at the beginning of this section was devoid of any discernible nationalist coloring. In other former Soviet republics with their strong nationalist tendencies glasnost became distorted, sometimes beyond recognition, becoming a one-way channel for Russophobia. Ukraine is an extreme case in point, accurately described long ago by a classic like George Orwell. A farce? I don’t know. It’s too suicidal to be the least bit funny.
6. Generally, whatever Marx may have said about history, developments in Ukraine are getting far beyond a farce. There is, however, a strikingly obvious farcical element in the current situation, and that’s the attitude of the West, of the EU and of the U.S.A.
It was they who had largely prepared and instigated the crisis in Ukraine (more of this in p.7), but now their immediate, prime concern is to punish Russia by applying an array of sanctions (of course, in some such devious manner as not to punish themselves – no mean feat in a globalized world). Punish Russia for what? For acceding to the democratically expressed wish of the Crimean people to return where they belong, and have always belonged. Why do the Crimean people wish to do so? Their leaders keep telling the world why till they are blue in the face: because they fear the coming of armed neo-Nazi hordes to their land in order to make Crimean Russians forget their native tongue, their traditions, their glorious history and, last but by no means least, their own interests.
But the Crimeans obstinately refuse to forget the fact, among many other such facts, that Crimea only happened to be included in Ukraine because one heavy drinker, Khrushchev, handed the peninsula over to his cronies on the Politburo in 1954, and an even heavier drinker, Yeltsin, forgot to reclaim the land in 1991. Yeltsin actually told a friend of his that he could have drawn a line on the map from Kharkov to Odessa – and gotten those lands back for Russia. But he did not do it. Why not? Elementary, dear reader. He was too busy fighting Gorbachev for ultimate power, and he needed allies. Kravchuk, Ukrainian Communist Party’s secretary for ideology with presidential ambitions, was a natural ally. As these "servants of the people” played their dirty games, Narod bezmolvstvoval, to use a phrase from a tragedy of Pushkin’s. The people were silent.
Well, this time round, they refused to be silent. They turned out in unprecedented numbers and voted in an unheard-of majority to rejoin their native land. The referendum was illegal, says Obama, and the whole West repeats that nonsense. Why illegal? Because there was nothing in the Ukrainian Constitution to provide for such a referendum, they insist.
Really, U.S. President Obama ought to know that the right of peoples to self-determination was practically invented by another U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson. In his famous self-determination speech on 11 February 1918 President Wilson said: "National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. Self determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action…” Did Mr. Wilson say anything about a people asking someone’s permission to hold a referendum? No sir, he did not. An imperative principle is an imperative principle.
It transpired lately that it is too much to expect Barack Obama to remember such historical facts. He blooped miserably about much more recent events, declaring that Kosovo Albanians achieved self-determination through a referendum. Russia’s Foreign Ministry had to point out to Mr. Obama that he had been… er… grievously misinformed: no referendum at all was held in Kosovo even by the Kosovars, not to mention the downtrodden Kosovo Serbs. These were forced to vote the other way – with their feet.
The argument about the Crimean referendum being illegal under the Ukrainian Constitution is such a bad joke, it would be boo’d off a circus arena. Remember the agreement signed by President Yanukovich and the opposition on 21 February and countersigned by France, Germany and Poland? Remember Point 1 of that agreement? It stipulated that Ukraine’s constitution was to be changed WITHIN FORTY-EIGHT HOURS! How’s that for legality? Both Ukrainian Constitutions, the one in effect before February 21 and the one after, envisage a prolonged procedure for changing the Constitution: approval by a constitutional majority in two different sessions of parliament with an interval of several months; approval by the Constitutional Court, and so on. Nothing of the sort was done, especially as the Constitutional Court had been disbanded, and orders had been given to the Prosecutor General to institute criminal proceedings against its members; this last in itself a farce without precedent.
Citing an illegal Constitution as a basis for declaring the Crimean referendum illegal, that takes some beating. Yet even such respectable politicians as Angela Merkel insist on this rubbish. All I can say is, it will take them years and years to live down this shame.
You know, I sometimes think that the United Nations ought to recognize present-day realities and eventually pass a resolution declaring double standards to be the cornerstone of international law as actually practiced.
In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, and the Federal Republic of Germany swallowed the Democratic Republic of Germany at a single gulp, without any semblance of a referendum. This was accepted as celebration of international law, Gorbachev was declared the best of Germans, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Was the reunification of Germany justified? Sure. Only we are not talking here of right or wrong, but of this issue of legality now being raised by the West re Crimea. I must insist that the reunification of Russia and the Crimea has greater legality than that of Germany, being unequivocally endorsed by a free expression of the people’s will in a referendum.
My next example is even more graphic. In the winter of 1991 three leaders of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russia, Ukraine, and Belorussia) secretly got together in a hunting lodge in Belorussia and decided to dissolve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – in direct contravention of the results of the referendum in March of the same year, where nearly 78 percent of the voters said yes, we want the USSR to continue in existence as a single whole. Did the international community, which for no convincing reason primarily means the West, question the legality of that decision? No one even bothered to mention such trifles. By rights, those three individuals ought to have been thrown out of office for violating the democratically expressed wishes of the people – or else handed a Nobel Prize apiece; all they got was an encouraging slap on the back.
These are just a couple of cases from the history of the Soviet Union/Russia. Any number of other instances of total disregard for law, international or otherwise, by today’s critics of Russia are all too easy to cite. Disregard of law, hell. When it suited them, they resorted to the law of the jungle, disregarding the very right of men, women, and children to live: in tiny Grenada in 1983, then in Iraq (twice), in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya. What price legality as practiced by people who thought nothing of using depleted uranium shells on civilians yesterday and raise a stink about the results of a peaceful referendum today?
In Russian, we have a rhyming proverb particularly suited to such cases as this talk about legality: somebody else’s cow might moo; yours ought to keep its mouth shut.
7. Comparison of the democratic revolution in the Soviet Union and the December through February coup in Kiev would not be complete if I forbore to discuss yet another factor that played a vital part in both: the ignorance, stupidity, and cupidity of the masses and elites.
Wherein did these qualities manifest themselves in the past, and how do they figure in the present Ukrainian situation? Answer: that common denominator is the conviction, amounting to unreasoning, quasi-religious faith that all of the people’s own problems will be solved the moment their country joins the West or, in the cherished phrase of the masses’ guiding spirits, the intelligentsia, the community of civilized nations.
Let me describe first, in the briefest outline, what I myself observed and lived through when the Soviet Union began to totter and collapsed. Whole libraries have been written about why that happened. I, too, contributed not a little toward the discussion, writing a weekly essay on the subject for MN for nearly ten years.
Thinking back on all this now, I’d say the main factor was this: the average man in the Soviet street got sick and tired of the unending shortages of consumer goods. It could be soap one month, socks another, cigarettes the next, and toilet paper at all times, not to mention such things as refrigerators, cars, or housing. When the Iron Curtain began to show cracks and traveling abroad became easier, the simple Soviet man or woman got a shock. There is that story, which to me sounded portentous and symbolic already at the time, of a guy who wandered goggle-eyed through a supermarket somewhere in the West and gave vent to this sentiment: "If communism means one tenth of this plenty, I am all for communism.”
From this, it was but a short step to the realization that communism and plenty just do not mix (which was correct) and to the view that, if you did away with communism, all that fabulous plenty would fall in your lap like a ripe pear. That was a stupid, tragic error for which we are still paying.
I shan’t dwell here on what actually happened after the fall of communism. It was total chaos and ruin in every sphere – administration, economy, finance; degradation in the armed forces, education and culture; IMF bondage; humanitarian aid for the needy (which meant practically the whole population); rampant crime; collapse of law and order; the oligarchs privatizing huge chunks of what was state property only yesterday for no other reason than being pally with members of Yeltsin’s family --The Family. And so on and so forth, up to, and including, the nation defaulting on its debts in 1998. It was the pits, and we’ve been climbing out of that chaos slowly, very slowly, ever since Yeltsin’s retirement.
But we are climbing out. Enough people in Russia have learned the lesson: no one, neither East nor West nor South, is going to help us if we don’t help ourselves. The dream of joining the brotherhood of civilized nations by euphoric singing of the Ode to Joy, Unarmt euch, Millionen, etc., is a very silly dream. It is an idealistic dream in a filthily materialistic world. The civilized nations may uns umarmen, embrace us, but only to squeeze every penny they can out of us. Nothing personal; business is business.
In this squeezing process they were eagerly helped by certain sections of Russia’s "elite,” like Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Khodorkovsky, and a myriad others stealing the country blind and burying stolen treasure in Western banks, just like pirates of old had done, sometimes on the same offshore islands. That was the other lesson most Russians learned. For us to remain a nation, a single whole and a player on the international arena, for Russia not to become a semi-colony or a bunch of perpetually warring semi-colonies ruled by compradors living off the fat of the land and despising that land and its people, it must have a national elite. Creating one is a tough job, like pulling a behemoth out of a swamp, as we say in Russian; but it is something that has to be done. Both the people and significant parts of the elite realize that.
Neither of these lessons has been learned in Ukraine. The oligarchs there, whether of the Yanukovich or the anti-Yanukovich clan, talk big about the great Ukraine they are going to build, but in reality they do nothing but exploit the people mercilessly, plunder its dwindling resources, and hide the spoils of plunder in Western banks and other assets. This is what makes them so easily managed by the Western puppeteers.
The recent coup demonstrated this with painful clarity. When the anti-Yanukovich clan started the Maidan mess, and kept it up for three months at considerable expense (it clearly takes a great deal of money to provide food, tents, firewood, dry closets, entertainment, and financial handouts for tens of thousands of people), members of the pro-Yanukovich clan (like Ukraine’s wealthiest man, Renat Akhmetov) could not lift a finger in his defense: the threat of having their assets in the West frozen scared them stiff. No, there is no national elite in Ukraine, one that would care for what is good for the nation rather than for its own appetites. All those turbulent political events like orange revolutions end in one and the same thing: in the country’s government, one bunch of crooks is replaced by another bunch of crooks, with an even greater flair for robbery, corruption, and fraud.
The other lesson not learned out there is, if possible, even worse. The masses (or at least nearly half the masses) believe that the moment they join the EU, all their problems will vanish as if by magic, and they will overnight find themselves in the European paradise. This faith has been nurtured by more than twenty years of agitation and propaganda by the Russophobic media, politicians who were even more Russophobic, and by a Third Force.
This Third Force business deserves special attention. It was entirely absent in the anti-Soviet, democratic revolution in my country and in my time. There were no foreign NGOs or NCOs then; if Soviet people wanted to fool themselves, they did so of their own accord. That was why they learned that lesson in self-reliance fast enough, and when the NGOs, etc. came, it was already too late. By that time, a "color” revolution in Moscow was not even a remote possibility, and those who believe that this is only because Putin is such a ruthless tyrant are not fooling anyone but themselves.
Things were different in Ukraine. According to Ms. Nuland, the United States alone spent $5 billion on fine organizations like USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy there, and I have reason to suspect she was much too modest. Anyone interested in the subject will find enough material on the net about the 20 years of hard work the CIA put in there, and that presumably cost a pretty penny, too. The coup itself has been publicly described as a playbook CIA operation. The same operatives were observed doing their stuff as had been active in the color revolutions in Belgrade, Georgia, Kirghizia, and Ukraine itself in 2004.
And you know what? All the politicians and media spouting Russophobia and European-choice propaganda over 20 years, all those NGOs, all those U.S. and EU politicians who enjoyed so much the photo ops on the Maidan, THEY HAVE ALL BEEN LYING. Bamboozling those simple, trusting souls. No one is going to make Ukraine an EU member in the foreseeable future. Not during my lifetime, at least; I will wager my right arm on that. Association is not membership, it’s semi-colonial status. If the EU wished to receive Ukraine into its fold, why didn’t it do so when that arch-Russophobe Yushchenko was president, and an anti-European Maidan would have been unthinkable?
The reason could not be simpler: no one wants Ukraine in the EU; the EU has enough economic problems as it is, without adding Europe’s poorest and least stable country to the list of its woes.
The whole frame of reference in the current debate on Ukraine is for the most part askew: it is not about the EU and Ukraine, it is about the West (America and the EU) and Russia. The West is resolved not to let Ukraine come within Russia’s sphere of influence, and if the people of Ukraine suffer in this tug of war, that’s just too bad. Collateral damage, so to speak.
And suffer the Ukrainian people will, make no mistake about that. So far, Yatsenyuk has signed only the political part of the Association Agreement with the EU; that is to say, a few pages of blah-blah-blah. Someone will eventually have to sign the economic part, the same 6,000-page document that scared the pants off Yanukovich when someone explained the gist of it to him. He begged for delay, to think things over, and in the meantime ran to Putin for cheap, long-term credits and a gas price discount. This mightily displeased the Western geopolitical masterminds, a coup ensued, and Yanukovich was lucky to escape with his life.
OK, Yanukovich is out, but that 6,000 pages still hangs over the heads of the unsuspecting Ukrainian hoi polloi like the sword of Damocles. The way it has been explained to me, its burden is frightening indeed. Under that Association Agreement, Ukraine is to open its markets to European goods, matching its uncompetitive commodities against superior European ones. Russia will automatically protect its own markets against those European goods being resold here, and that will mean the end of Ukrainian industries cooperating with Russia. Millions will lose their jobs. All this, on top of the austerity measures demanded by the IMF. And what of the prospects? It has been estimated that Ukraine will need some $160 billion to adapt its industries to European standards. Who is going to pay for that? Any takers?
As a dominion of the EU, Ukraine faces a bleak future, a time of ever greater hardship; that is patently clear to anyone prepared to take an unbiased view of the facts. It is just as clear that an external enemy is simply a vital necessity to psychological operations artists who will have to explain to the people where the root of their misfortunes lies. Hence the sanctions against big bad Russia, that awful aggressor ever on the brink of attacking Ukraine and wantonly demanding to be paid for its gas.
You know, I have a grudge against U.S. Congress and the EU. Why isn’t my name on the sanctions list? After all, I have been grossly interfering in Ukrainian affairs for twenty years. From April to November, I live at my dacha 70 km from Moscow, and for twenty years a chap from Odessa called Victor (Vitya to me) has been coming to that place to build more and more dachas that keep springing up there. He even built himself a nice home across the road from my place. Whenever I wanted something done, he was there to do it – and be paid for it. Last year my wife and I decided we needed a smaller, cozier home there, and Victor and his team built one for us. We paid him half a million rubles; there is plenty of work still to be done to finish the house, and we are prepared to pay him even more this year.
Actually, my wife and I are not the only despicable Russian aggressors interfering so brazenly in Ukrainian affairs in Safonovo. We are but a small part of the operations for Victor and his team of three or four he brings over each year. In fact, three and a half million such Vityas are coming over to Russia annually, not counting the millions who live here permanently and whose remittances help millions of Ukrainian families back home keep body and soul together.
No good deed must go unpunished; hence the sanctions against Russia. Experts say that they may indeed do damage to the Russian economy and make Russians poorer. Maybe then those dachas around Moscow and a hundred other cities will stop growing like mushrooms after a warm rain. Maybe those three and a half million workers from Ukraine will stop coming here and head for Europe, to areas where unemployment figures are not yet impressive enough. Ukrainians are sure to be followed by Belorussians, more than a million Georgians, and uncounted millions of Tadjiks, Uzbeks, Kirghiz, Azeris, and anyone else who can afford to buy a Ukrainian passport (printing Ukrainian passports will have every chance of becoming a thriving cottage industry). Maybe then the Eurocrats will realize that this European choice business was not such a great geopolitical triumph after all.
What will happen then? For one thing, Marine Le Pen will be set to be elected France’s next president by a landslide. What else? Quite likely, more sanctions will be introduced to punish Russia. Punish Russia for what? Oh, they’ll think of something. Russophobia, like imbecility, is incurable.