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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/30/13

Background on Ukraine; A Reply to Mr. Michael Hammerschlag

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Jumping into a mess and risking one's own life for a story certainly makes great journalism, but this approach makes analysis in depth impossible. This recount ( ) , clearly sympathizing with the protestors and biased against Yanukovitch, lacks the whole of background issue.

The Dnieper river marks everything in Ukraine, but understanding it requires going back into history of relationships between Russia and Poland. Today Poland is riding its international image on portraying itself as Russia's victim, but once it was the other way around. Poland was a European power back in 1500s and after "unification" with Lithuania in 1569, which Lithuania now regrets, the newly formed Pospolitan Empire had their eyes put on Moscow for further expansion. Moscow was not a European power yet, it existed somewhat apart and was seen as "uncivilized" by the rest of Europe. Accidental assassination of the heir to Russian throne by the hands of his own father -- Ivan the Terrible -- in 1581 and proven infertility of Fyodor, other son who occupied the throne, made it clear the dynasty ruling Russia for 700 years of before was coming to an end. Boris Godunov became the new Russian czar thanks for having gained the trust with and manipulated Fyodor for a long time. Boris' rule, however, was doomed: another son of Ivan's -- Dmitry -- had died as a child in 1591 in circumstances not clear until today. This death would favor ANYONE struggling for power in Moscow, but the one who finally would have got the throne also would have to bear suspicion of being the author of "the accident" (a very possible assassination). The suspicion fell over Boris for centuries and famous Russian art works -- Pushkin's drama and even more famous (abroad) Moussorgsky's opera -- explored it to the bottom along with portraying events known to have happened for sure.

Boris' death in 1605 and the appearance of "false Dmitrys" (two one after another) pretending Russian throne effectively led to chaos. The moment was proper for stirring up the appetites and Poland started to move all the strings: first the Poles gave support to the first false Dmitry who then was supported by a powerful house from Moscow adversary to Godunovs: the Shuisky Princes. However, the differences between nationalism, on one hand, and the desire for "stability" with just anyone in power, on another, erupted immediately both in people and among the nobles. The first false Dmitry was killed, Vassily Shuisky became the next Czar with Polish support turning soon against the Poles and being defeated by these right next. This led to open Polish invasion into Russia which was defeated by organized people's resistance. Names of Minin and Pozharski, organizers of the defense of Moscow and of further military actions against the Poles, are firm in Russian History as of National Heroes. The event portrayed later in the first Russian nationalist opera -- Glinka's "Ivan Soussanin" (personally I will never accept the title "A Life for the Czar") -- also really happened: after Russian nobles had chosen 15-years-old Mikhail Romanov as the new Czar, Poles launched their elite troops to catch him and kill him; these were lead into dark woods by the peasant Ivan Soussanin right in the middle of the famous Russian winter. Sure thing they had killed Soussanin, but they also froze to death. Minin and Pozharski made sure Polish defeat was definitive (interestingly, Russian Nationalism of 19th century inspired all the Eastern-European one, including Polish and Ukrainian).

The following events had precisely Ukraine for both diplomatic and military battlefield. Poland tried to get Cossacks on its side, but they proved to be hard to control. In 1654 the Rada (Cossack Assembly) celebrated in the town of Pereyaslavl chose to follow the call for reunification with Russia launched by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, now Ukraine's National Hero (Khmelnytsky's persecution against the Jews which apparently included burning their villages and neighborhoods was product of Anti-Semitism characteristic for the whole of Europe during centuries and it would better be a story for another discussion). Next war between Russia and Poland led to a treaty which was establishing precisely the Dnieper river crossing Ukraine by the middle as the border between the two powers. The Pospolitan Empire got weakened over the next century and in the late 18th , during the rule of Catherine the Great in Russia, was split between Russia, Prussia and Austria. It was only then when the whole of Ukraine was incorporated to the Russian Empire while Russia and Poland had their roles regarding one another inverted.

Well, obviously that division of the country by the Dnieper river marks Ukraine between European- and Russian-oriented parts until today. Today's issues, however, go far beyond cultural: honest voices in Europe give reason precisely to Yanukovitch saying the European Union needs a Greece of Ukrainian size at expenses of which to ride out of the crisis the Union itself let its bankers fabricate. Say what you want to say about Yanukovitch, he clearly showed brains and a sense of connection to reality by turning down IMF's dictates to sign alliance with Europe and accept "troika" s inspections as conditions for a loan ("troika" now wants to inspect countries that are not even members of the EU). Ukraine's previous President Yuschenko (whose questionable victory Yanukovitch had accepted in that moment) was from the pro-Western fraction, but proved to be the same as repressive and corrupt and had achieved absolutely nothing with exception of making relationships with Russia unnecessarily difficult and getting the Netherlands, country on Presidency of the EU at the moment of THOSE elections, into a scandal regarding financing his campaign. All economic analysts clearly and publicly warned that signing the deal with IMF and Europe would drive the prices of products satisfying the basic needs in Ukraine to the levels unbearable for the impoverished people in the whole of the country. Europe itself imports oil and gas from Russia, and Ukraine suffered more than anybody else from Yuschenko's brawls with Moscow regarding prices of Russian oil and gas going through its territory (Moscow had switched the pipes off for a moment and demanded money for Ukrainian share Kiev didn't have; the consequences of it were a total disaster for Ukraine).

However, the pro-Western protesters don't listen and prove to be hypocrites or simply stupid by having such a short memory. If allegations regarding "Yanukovitch's kleptocracy" are true and if it's true that he's trying to get people on his side by repression, well, I'm sorry about it since it's clear that especially the latter is not going to work (I repeat, Yuschenko had not proven to be any better). Mr. Michael Hammerschlag, however, is falling into a trap which one I wrote about already too many times in my comments on this site: the separation of politics from economics. The Western Governments talk in public about "freedom", "respect to Human Rights", etc. while actually putting fractions ("parties", "leaders", etc.) it favors in power everywhere. The relationship of these "favors" is purely economic and financial: Western governments always serve the interests of their own monopolies first in spite of the votes in their own countries, while monopolies need either natural resources either the markets of the "outside" countries so to solve their own (West's and monopolies') problems at everybody else's expenses. The disaster in these "outside" countries which is portrayed as "reign of freedom and democracy" simply doesn't matter (once again, Libya and Syria are the most despicable examples of it today: Libya with its giant concentration camps everyone keeps quiet about; image of a Syrian "freedom fighter" eating the heart and the liver of a Government Army soldier he had killed had made it to YouTube). Management of an economy as a whole implies limiting the personal freedoms to responsibility for the society as a whole. This is the part Mr. Yanukovitch understood while Mr. Hammerschlag didn't. Unfortunately, this mess goes a very long way back: get, if you can, "China Reflected" -- the issue of "Asian Exchange" magazine (Vol.18, No. 2, 2002/Vol.19 No.1, 2003 -- ARENA, Hong Kong, 2003) and read in particular the article "The 1989 Social Movement and the Historical Origins of the Neo-liberalism in China" by Wang Hui. Back in "socialist" times Poland's debt with the West came to surpass Soviet Union's, so the events there in the late 70s-early 80s were primarily the classical default crisis which the IMF provokes everywhere (Ceausescu's Romania joined the IMF in 1973 -- check IMF's own websites; Poland and Hungary also entered the IMF before the collapse of "communism", not after). Finally, the Berlin Wall was raised first than nothing to protect the Eastern part of the City against the punks from the West for whom the broken windshields of their share of the City weren't enough. Then it was the punks, today its' the terrorists. Thus we arrive to the core issue: while "communists" and nationalists often lack the moral to be up to the ideology they profess, the Western establishment simply doesn't care about its own -- "freedom and democracy". As long as peoples are addicted to the irresponsible idea of market being a magical solution for everything without caring about where all the things actually come from, the peoples can be manipulated. The REAL communism and REAL democracy are essentially the same thing -- the power of the people which so far has actually never existed anywhere. It will become possible only when the peoples acquire consciousness about the origin of things -- planet Earth, other people's work -- and everyone assumes responsibility for the fate of entire humanity, even at expenses of one's own freedoms.


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A Russian sociologist residing in CUBA
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