Jan Ladzínski reports on Ukraine
Much has happened in Kiev since 21 November. Most of it went unnoticed in the Western media, except for engrossing images of the destruction of Lenin’s statue and protesters using a bulldozer against the police.
The little information in the mainstream British media quickly dampened any left enthusiasm for the protesters. It seemed the activists provoking clashes with the police were fascists. And their main demand was to integrate Ukraine with the European Union, rather than to sign a multibillion dollar agreement with Russia.
The boxer politician Vitalii Klitschko and his liberal UDAR party seemed to be leading the movement. And the fascist Svoboda was heavily involved. There appeared to be no space left on ‘Euromaidan’ for revolutionary socialists.
Such an image, however, should be examined carefully before dismissing the Ukrainian movement. The fascist Svoboda activists are involved in the protest, but they do not represent the movement as a whole. The fact that the Ukrainian president Yanukovych and Russian ambassador to the EU both blame ‘nationalist extremists’ for the violence should make us especially cautious.
In fact, the rally on Sunday gathered some 80,000 protesters. On Wednesday, after the deaths of three protesters, 50,000 defied the new anti-protest legislation and the police violence. The decline in living standards after the economic crisis and the abysmally low wages give Ukrainians many reasons to protest. This is not just ‘nationalist extremism’ or faith in the European Union.
It is not surprising that Svoboda and other opposition parties are tyring to direct the protest. But it is increasingly unlikely that they can succeed in the longer term.
Frustration is growing over a lack of clear leadership. And the protesters see the negotiations with Yanukovych as pointless. On Sunday, leaders of three main opposition parties were shouted down during the rally.
The three opposition parties are likely to lose even more control over the movement after recent events. Following the deaths of activists, two of them shot with combat ammunition, calls have started for the removal of Yanukovych. People on social media criticised Klitschko for shaking hands with the president while police continued using rubber bullets, gas and water cannons.
The demonstrations in favour of integration with the EU are now turning into a broad antigovernment protest. The initial demands were to end Russian influence and bring European standards of democracy and rule of law to Ukraine. But because of police brutality and repressive legislation, this can easily escalate into more explicit economic and political demands. The call for Yanukovych to step down can be seen as the first step in such an escalation.
We should recognise that although the Ukrainian movement is broad and infiltrated by the far right, it nevertheless reflects many grievances of the poorest Ukrainians. And of course many many people from Eastern and Southern Ukraine have opposed the protests because they see the EU as a threat to their jobs and industries. But as demands escalate beyond the EU, there is a potential to attract them too.
The history of Russian imperialism in the region needs to be taken into account. Justified resentment over Russian influence in Ukrainian economy and politics should be separated from the rabid nationalism of some groups in Kiev.
However, it’s also true that EU cannot solve Ukrainian problems. The EU would merely subjugate the country’s economy to Western European interests.
The real answer to deprivation in Ukraine lies neither in Brussels nor in Moscow. It lies in the way the struggle is escalating out of the control of all the parties.