Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

25 March 2014

The Dark Side of Ukraine, and of Western Media


I swore that Saturday’s essay would be my last on Ukraine, at least for a while. But something new came up.

In his recent speech annexing Crimea, Putin accused the Maidan demonstrators of being nationalists, Fascists, Russophobes and anti-Semites. In my recent essay on his speech, I called his claim “propaganda” and scoffed at it. Now I fear I may owe Putin an apology.

Here are some facts that readers and our State Department might want to consider in analyzing the crisis in Ukraine:

1. “Svoboda.” After Yanukovych’s fall, an extreme nationalist Ukrainian political party called “Svoboda” or “Freedom” (Свобода in the Cyrillic alphabet) became perhaps the most powerful party in Ukraine.

2. Svoboda’s power. In the most recent Ukrainian general election, Svoboda got only 10% of the votes. So you might think it’s a fringe party. Not so. Here’s a short list of its members now in key positions of power in Ukraine:
    a. Vice Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Alexandr Sych;

    b. Agriculture Minister (and one of Ukraine’s largest landholders) Igor Shvaika;

    c. Ecology Minister Andriy Moknyk;

    d. Director of the National Security Council Andriy Paruby (also commander of the party’s own militia);

    e. State Solicitor General Oleh Makhnitsky;

    f. Education Minister Serhiy Kvit; and

    g. Six provincial governors.
Former Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh, a member of Svoboda, today resigned under pressure for peacefully evacuating Ukranian troops from Crimea, although that decision staved off bloodshed and civil war and was practically inevitable. Information in a previous version of this post that Parliament had not accepted his resignation was erroneous.

3. Svoboda’s “platform.” As of 2010, Svoboda’s Website reportedly contained the following “program”: “To create a free Ukraine, we must abolish Parliament and parliamentarianism, outlaw all political parties, nationalize all media, purge all officialdom, and discharge (or execute) all members of anti-Ukranian political parties.”

4. Svoboda’s tacit goals. Here’s how a distinguished Catalonian professor of political and social science, who also lectures at Johns Hopkins University, describes Svoboda’s tacit goals (translated from the Spanish):
“[Svoboda] wants to purify Ukrainian society, violently persecuting homosexuals, prohibiting abortion, establishing a disciplined and hierarchical order, emphasizing masculinity and military paraphernalia, calling for the expulsion of the Jewish-Muscovite mafia and eliminating Communism, beginning by outlawing the Communist Party and persecuting its members or related intellectuals.”
5. Svoboda’s Origins. Founded in 1991, the same year the Soviet Union collapsed, Svoboda is the direct successor to the Organization of Nationalists of Ukraine (ONU), a notorious twentieth-century political-military party in Ukraine. ONU’s founder was Stepan Bandera, a famous Ukrainian patriot who showed his patriotism by fighting with the Nazis in World War II. He commanded two Ukrainian battallions integrated with the Nazi SS, which, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, arrested 4,000 Jews and sent them to Nazi concentration camps in Lviv in July 1941. The surviving writings of ONU call explicitly for racial cleansing and eliminating Jews.

* * *


Dwelling on past wrongs is seldom productive, as I have written often on this blog, especially with respect to Russia and Germany. And no understanding of the crisis in Ukraine can be complete without appreciating the magnitude of both Stalin’s starvation and near-genocide of Ukraine before World War II and Russia’s catastrophic losses and suffering in its Pyrrhic victory over the Nazis.

Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows. Honoring Ukrainian patriots is understandable, even if the choices they felt they had to make in past harsh times were also harsh. And it’s clear that the nascent Ukrainian nation needs some fighters to solidify its independence and keep order.

But this is the twenty-first century. There is absolutely no excuse in our modern world for maintaining the sort of racist, anti-democratic, extreme-right-wing agenda described above. No Yank should be asked to support such an evil philosophy with tax dollars, let alone personal military sacrifice.

The greatest insult of all is what appears to have been a conspiracy of silence among our Yankee media and diplomats. Margaret Warner of PBS, one of our best TV reporters, spent all of last week reporting personally from Ukraine. Yet she breathed not a word of any of this. Was she duped by Yankee diplomats on the spot?

With so little relevant information available in our media, there has to have been some kind of diplomatic effort to conceal these facts from the American people. If there was, the most likely culprit would be Victoria Nuland, our Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Reportedly pushed for nomination by Dick Cheney under Dubya, she was inexplicably carried over by the Obama Administration. She is reportedly the author of the helpful diplomatic comment “Fuck the EU!” The distinguished Spanish professor describes her as “a functionary of the hard ultraright” and characterizes her as supporting Svoboda “most strongly and openly” and “insisting that [our] government take [Svoboda] into account, for all the bad image that it creates” and for its mere 10% showing in the last Ukrainian elections.

The President should interrogate Nuland on the reason for our apparent Yankee conspiracy of silence about Svoboda. If he finds her responsible, he should fire her summarily and replace her with someone a little more diplomatic, who can at least listen to stories on both sides.

And the rest of us Yanks should wait for more reliable information about Svoboda before making up our minds on the level of our support for Ukraine. If Ukraine is to be a one-party state for the foreseeable future, as appears likely, we Yanks should think long and hard about that party’s agenda. To put it as starkly as I can, I have no wish to support neo-Nazis just to pick a fight with Russia or Putin.

We Yanks made horrendous mistakes in Vietnam and Iran. We certainly don’t want to add to the list in the heart of Europe.

Footnote: The precise Spanish verb Navarro used in his report, which he wrote was the same in the original, was “ejecutar.” That Spanish word has many English meanings, including “dismiss“ or “discharge.” Not being a native speaker of Spanish, I would give the writers of the tract the benefit of the doubt.

Sources

It is sad, but true, that I had to discover the foregoing facts by reading foreign news sources in Spanish. It is sadder still that the ultimate source of facts for one of the foreign reports (Navarro’s) was an American professor of history, Gary Leupp, and his paper, “Ukraine: The Sovereignty Argument and the Real Problem of Fascism,” CounterPunch, March 10, 2014.

Here are the two sources from which all the facts in this post come, plus a little about the authors and the publications in which they appeared:

Source 1. Vincenç Navarro, “What is not being said about Ukraine” (in Spanish), La Vanguardia (Barcelona), March 18, 2014, available online here. Navarro is Professor of Political and Social Sciences at University Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Catalonia is Spain’s chief commercial province, and La Vanguardia is its leading newspaper and the one with the fourth-highest general circulation in all of Spain. According to Wikipedia, “Its editorial line leans to the centre of politics and is moderate in its opinions, although under Franco it has followed the francoist ideology.” In other words, La Vanguardia is no Russian partisan.

Source 2. Rafael Poch (Special Dispatch from Odessa), “The extreme right grows stronger in Ukraine’s new pro-Western government,” (in Spanish), La Vanguardia (Barcelona), March 8, 2014, available online here. Poch is a senior foreign correspondent for La Vanguardia, who spent twenty years reporting from Moscow and Beijing. If you read his sensitive and even-handed analysis of Russia’s policies, you will see that he, too, is no Russia partisan, let alone a fan of Putin.

Both of these men have given us Yanks insights into Ukraine unavailable in our own mass media. Where are our own reporters?

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