The Demonstrations on Kiev's Maidan Square - Indications of a Democracy Movement?
Yes, democracy matters more than ever. Democracy. It becomes meaningful, it becomes attainable, if and when people wake up and empower themselves, thus ceasing to be run by others who claim to know better. Democracy movements, genuine ones, oppose those who crave power, who want to monopolize influence, who build their political careers on connections. A democracy movement turns against THOSE WHO LINK UP WITH THE ECONOMICALLY POWERFUL - eager to safeguard the status quo that is so marred by inequality and by the lack of a real say in the res publica(1), as far as the rank-and-file is concerned, ordinary people...
Freedom, somebody said, is inseparable from equality - and not just equality before the law, or the principle that each person has one vote, regardless of whether he is a billionaire or a beggar. Freedom's got to be real freedom or it isn't at all. Its real content is that we are able to take part in the world, in the societal process of deciding how to move on, as a society. And how to tackle the basic problems that humanity is faced with.
As it is, equality is also meaningless without freedom: meaningless without that other freedom that exists when you see your idiosyncrasies tolerated, and perhaps not only tolerated by accepted and respected. We do not have to dance to the same tune, we have no need of goose-stepping, we don't, basically, like to march into the future.(2)
I saw people demanding real democracy - in the streets and on the squares of Barcelona, Madrid, Athens, New York, Oakland, Chicago. I know they were welcomed by truncheons made of hard plastic or rubber, by stern officers in a martial outfit, officers ready to use the weapons they carried --- tasers, CS gas, even guns, at times.
When I saw the protesters on Maidan Square, in Kiev, I thought, "They ARE our sisters and brothers - fed up with the make-believe democracy of politicians (and parties) in league with oligarchs - no matter whether these oligarchs or their pols speak Ukrainian or Russian."
To my sursprise, the radio broadcasts I heard at home, and the papers I had a look at, did not scoff at these demonstrators, as they had done when 250,000 people took to the streets in Barcelona.(3) Or when half a million people filled the squares in Madrid, protesting against the government and its anti-people policies that serve the interests of the bankers, the IMF, the ECB, and God knows whom I'm forgetting to mention now.
All over Europe and in the US, the combined force of the media attacked the people in the streets, peaceful people, who demanded change, who had believed, in the US, what Obama had promised when he first ran for president, Yes - we can bring change. O well, he never said WHAT kind of change; it was an empty promise. But the people who took to the streets meant it; it was real and they had a lot in mind that they wanted to change: Just think of the destructive course of our consumer society that devastates the planet. Or 40 million hungry people in the US alone, and a lot more in the world. Basic things, that no government tackled successfully or has at least started to do something about, in the last 50 years. In the press, they said about Occupy Wall Street: THESE PEOPLE DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THEY WANT. It was an untruth, and the people who wrote that trash knew it - but they had to lie, to denounce, or they might have lost their damn job.(4)
In Kiev, our sisters and brothers were out in the street, clamouring for the Yanukovich government to step down. What was the reason for that demand? What else did they want? And why, astonishingly, were the media in the US and Western Europe so euphoric, so positive when they reported about the protests?
As I understand it, Yanukovich is a corrupt son-of-a-bitch, in league with oligarchs, relying on a network of cronies who succeed to accumulate wealth. Just like he did. The demonstrators, many of them, apparently supported Yanukovich's predecessor, Ms. Timoshenko, a multimillionaire or billionaire who is in league with oligarchs, who waxed rich, in post-"real"-socialist Ukraine, like these guys and gals all waxed rich: through clever ways of conning people, connections, corruption.
So what was the point when the CROWDS IN THE STREETS AND ON MAIDAN SQUARE supported the one, in prison because of corruption or a similar crime, while they demanded that the other step down. A president who was, just recently, democratically elected, as all our politicians are elected these days: that is to say, thanks to relations with the superrich who finance campaigns, thanks to propaganda in the media, thanks to words and images that help to discredit and smear the opponent, and that spread lies, or that spread the word about the great promises their candidate made. Promises that will never come true, however. Which they don't say - or at best, about the opponent.
Yes, the media - the same media that always make propaganda for the pols and that always denounced Occupy Wall Street and the Democracy Ya movement and the protests in Athens, in Rome, in Stuttgart and Berlin - were all FOR THE DEMONSTRATIONS: for the crowd that protested LOUD BUT PEACEFULLY, at first. But they were also saying no negative word about those who threw stones or molotov cocktails... Those who arrived on the square with guns, with steel helmets and gas masks... Those who occupied public buildings.
In the papers I even saw high-ranking politicians rubbing shoulders and shaking hands with demonstrators on Maidan Square. You could also see them on television: Mr. Biden, the US vice president; his special envoy, Victoria Nuland; Ms. Ashton from Britain, representing the EU, to name just a few. That's pretty untypical, not really diplometic etiquette. I never saw Mr. Putin in New York, encouraging the sisters and brothers in Zuccotti park, or Dilma Rousseff and Cristina Kirchner hand in hand with those young gals and guys, walking towards the police, ready to push through the row of cops, to hand bankers on Wall Street a paper with all their demands, things like - let's criminalize property speculation and gentrification and the wave of foreclosures that made so many homeless. And reign in financial capital! And void the foreign debt of countries like Argentina that have paid in interest already so much more than they ever got in loans.
When the demonstrators in Kiev occupied public buildings, the press, radio and television gleefully reported it over here. They were all for it. I wonder how they would have received a week-long occupation of the New York stock exchange, and of city hall. And perhaps the offices of the New York Times and of Mr. Murdoch's paper, and the studios of his foxy television network to boot.
There is something strange about the enthusiasm in our papers and other media. and about the heartfelt (if they have a heart) SUPPORT of Western politicians for our sisters and brothers in Maidan Square. Seems that it has a lot to do with Western political and economic stakes in the course the Ukraine is going to embark on.
But is there also something wrong with our protesting brothers and sisters? Are they deceived, misguided, manipulated? OR ARE THEY VERY HAPPY WITH THE WAY THEY ARE INSTRUMENTALIZED because it is in line with what they, too, may want?
And if so, what do they want?
Two things stand out, at least from the perspective of
an outside observer.
In other words, having gained Ukrainian independence and having made Ukrainian rather than Russian the official language after independence was achieved, they now want those areas that are heavily populated by citizens whose native language is Russian, to bow to their demand that they speak Ukrainian, at least when it is a matter of official business. Thus in a town in the Donbass industrial region, with - say - 80 percent Russian-speaking citizens, a citizen who is a native speaker of Russian would have to speak Ukrainian with a cop or person in city hall, even if that person is a native speaker of Russian. This is patently absurd, but you have similar quarrels about the official language that should be used in a given area, in Belgium. Nationalism creates strange effects.
Some other demands seem to play a role as well, like stripping Russian-speaking citizens not born in Ukraine of their citizenship, or awarding citizenship to Ukrainians who live abroad and who have not lived in Ukraine for decades.
In addition to nationalism, there are consumerist dreams of acquiring a better standard of living if Ukraine joins the European Community. Probably, the opposite would be the result. But regardless of this, the question is, What do we really need if the planet is to be protected and if humanity is to survive? A Mercedes-Benz? An American refrigerator?
Not all the dreams and desires that may drive people on Maidan must be put in question. I'm certain that there are those who have a lot in common with our sisters and brothers in New York who confronted the police not too long ago, ready to "occupy Wall Street."
A DESIRE FOR A MORE GENUINE - PARTICIPATORY - DEMOCRACY is not something that must be ridiculed, regardless of whether it motivates people in America or in Russia or Ukraine to take to the streets.
More recently, reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere highlighted the fact that in a real sense, our country is not a democracy, it is a plutocratic oligarchy, and the masses have the right to vote but little or no real say in the affairs of their country. And, yes, even the right to vote is denied, at times, either by long queues or difficulties to register or the policy of state governments to disenfranchise some people.
BUT HOW MANY IN MAIDAN SQUARE WERE DRIVEN BY A HEARTFELT DESIRE FOR REAL DEMOCRACY?
If I see the faces of some, if I see the banners with white power symbols, the 14 ("for teen") abbreviation used by neo-fascists, the 88 (eight-eight, or eitsh eitsh, Heil Hitler) signs, I AM SADDENED.
No, I don't despise them. I don't feel something approaching hate, a very destructive, and self-destructive impulse.
But I fear that THEY WHO USE THESE SYMBOLS AND CARRY THESE FLAGS are moved by feelings of hate. Hate for the Russians. If I may take the word of one of their leaders at face value, it is even hate for Russians, Jews, liberals and leftists.(5)
Do I grasp why?
Nationalism is an old scourge, it breeds such feelings of the Other as these kids (and their "leaders") express. And racism is a very old, very deep-rooted reality - both in Europe and the U.S.
It has deep-roots, I said. Deep, in that it is not necessarily
conscious but often more deeply buried in our minds, our soul than we surmise.
The real or pretended humanism inscribed in the project that turned towards methods of dictatorial discipline and repression of dissent since the days of Lenin, or at least since Stalin, has posed as an antidote to the old nationalism in the years between the two world wars and again, after the second one. It did not succeed to quell it, it only pushed it into some "underground" - some hidden area of deep and bitter resentment in the mind of Ukrainian nationalists.
That nationalism was alive and "well" in 1917, 1918, and 1919 already, when the old authoritarian and monarchic regimes of Germany and Austria-Hungary collapsed.
The nationalism that existed in Poland, the Baltic countries, Czechoslovakia, Hungaria and the Balkans in the late 19th century and the first decades of the 20th (and obviously also in, Ruthenian Western Ukraine as well as the central Ukrainian heartland) was basically rooted in the same civilization that French or English nationalism were rooted in. There was the Christian anti-judaism, there was the "White" superiority complex and racism of peoples who knew that Europeans has conquered and subjected the rest of the world.
But in the Balkans and Eastern Europe (or Eastern Central Europe, to be more accurate) SOMETHING ADDED A STRAIN TO THIS NATIONALISM that was due to the long denial of statehood and cultural autonomy in these areas. The repression suffered before 1918 caused a backlash, made bad nationalism - the common scourge of all of Europe - even worse in the newly founded states. And thus, after independence was gained (or at least fought for, as in Western Ukraine), it exacerbated nationalist feelings in populations that, it soon became clear, had not truly emancipated themselves as free people, but that soon succumbed (with the exception of Czechoslovakia) to new authoritarian regimes.
The example of Marshall Piludsky who already locked up opponents in concentration camps before the - of course far worse - German Nazis built their death camps, is no exception.(6) The situation in Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Hungary was hardly more positive.(7) But then, Greece under the dictatorship of Mataxas (since 1936); Italy under Mussolini (who was prime minister since 1922 and dictator from 1925 till 1943), Portugal under Salazar (since 1932); Austria under Dollfuss (also since 1932) provide example outside the Balkans and formerly Czarist regions in Europe, of a stark nationalism coupled with authoritarianism.
I must say that I don't like this heritage, and I look with concern to those places where it is rekindled and revived, as in Hungary, for instance (on a level that exceeds by far everything we have seen more recently in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Norway or Sweden).
It is as worrying to see these tendencies resurface in Ukraine, as it is elsewhere. I can only wish all those good luck who today stand up for a different Ukraine, generous rather than narrowminded, free-thinking rather than nationalist, bent on a good understanding between the different linguistic and socio-cultural communities of the country and on achieving good, honest, neighborly relations with both Poland and Russia, Transnistria, Moldavia and Romania - countries that border on the young Ukrainian Republic.
It is apparent that the road toward a democracy more worthy
of that name than the present one will be a long road. But that is also
true of Russia, of the EU, and the U.S.A.
- Gaby MOORE
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