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Archive for the tag “Ukraine”

What’s really going on in Ukraine?

For the last year or more, Ukraine has been descending into violence. This week, we are told, a group of leaders are meeting in Belarus to try to find a peaceful solution to the problems, but nobody seems very hopeful that a solution that all interested parties can agree on can be found. Leaders locked in Minsk talks on Ukraine ceasefire | World news | The Guardian:

Russian, Ukrainian, German and French officials, as well as separatist leaders and officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OECD) are locked in talks in Minsk trying to smooth the way for a summit deal leading to the demilitarisation of eastern Ukraine.

The leaders of the four countries are expected to meet in the Belarusian capital on Wednesday in an attempt to secure a ceasefire in the region, where pro-Russia separatists have been expanding the territory under their control in recent weeks.

Fighting raged in east Ukraine on Tuesday as both sides tried to make territorial gains before the proposed summit, which is being billed as a last chance to prevent the conflict from spiralling out of control.

It would be nice if they could find a peaceful solution, but I doubt that they will, because no one really seems to want one. And it is also very difficult to know what is really happening there, because most of the media reports one reads are tendentious and biased to one side or the other, so one has to read between the lines, and reading between the lines is often a misreading.

So here is the picture I have.

It is probably simplistic, and possibly wildly inaccurate, but I have no way of knowing, because the news media can’t be trusted.

I tend to interpret what is happening in Ukraine in the light of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory, because it seems to have predicted such clashes with uncanny accuracy, and what is happening in Ukraine seems to be almost a paradigm case.

Huntington identified nine civilizations, and compared the boundaries between them with the geological fault lines between tectonic plates. He predicted that most post-Cold War conflicts would take place along these fault lines, and that when they did, the more powerful countries in the civilizations would tend to be drawn into the conflict, and often use a local conflict on the fault line as a proxy for larger civilisational conflicts.

Civilizations and theoir boundaries, according to Huntington

Civilizations and their boundaries, according to Huntington (1996)

There is one inaccuracy in the map, however. According to Huntington’s theory, the fault line between the Western and the Orthodox civilizations should run right through the middle of Ukraine, though the map does not show that clearly.

In Western Ukraine Ukrainian nationalism is stronger, and more people speak the Ukrainian language (as opposed to Russian). In the past it was ruled by Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and there were significant minorities of Poles and other peoples. In much of Western Ukraine the Roman Catholic Church was strong, either in its Latin form, or in its Eastern Rite (Uniate) form. These characteristics tend to put it into Huntington’s Western Civilization.

Eastern Ukraine, by contrast, has many people who speak Russian in preference to Ukrainian, and the strongest church is the Orthodox Church, linked to the Patriarchate of Moscow. It was never ruled by Western empires, except briefly, in the 1940s, by the German Third Reich.  This tends to put it into Huntington’s Orthodox Civilization.

The differences between east and west tend to shade off towards the centre of the country with a more mixed popularion. Eastern and Western Ukraine have tended to support different political parties, though all seem to have been characterised by corruption. The parties supported by western Ukrainians have tended to be supported by Western Europe, and have tended to favour trade and cultural links with Western Europe. The partes supported by eastern Ukrainians have tended to be supported by Russia, and to favour trade and cultural links with Russia.

Here’s my take on it:

It would be in the interests of a stable, free and prosperous Ukraine if there could be a balance between the interests of east and west, so that one would not dominate or threaten to dominate the other.

The present crisis started when President Viktor Yanukovych (whose support was mostly in the east) cancelled a proposed trade agreement with the European Union (EU) and proposed making one with Russia instead. Those in favour of closer ties with the West protested, initially in the main square in the capital Kiev, but also in other centres as well. The protests became increasingly violent, with violence being used by some protesters and the police. It was at this point that several clergy and monks were seen standing between protesters and the police, praying for peace.

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

On 21 February 2014 President Yanukovych fled from the capital, perhaps fearing a coup, and the following day the Ukrainian parliament voted to depose him (unconstitutionally, and apparently with unseemly haste). Russia gave asylum to Yanukovych, and said that his deposition was a coup, and said it would protect Russian speakers in Ukraine; the West supported Yanukovych’s opponents, and the pressure from these outside interests gave it all the marks of a classic clash of civilizations.

And now some of the eastern parts of the country want independence, and this has developed into a civil war, which is also, because of the backers of each side, a proxy war in the clash of civilizations.

If there is to be any peace in Ukraine, then it’s time for the big boys to back off, and not to back one side or the other, but simply to back peace. In other words, the civilisational leaders must stop playing a zero sum game, and must help the Ukrainians to look for a win-win solution. I suspect that the current talks will fail because the participants are not looking for peace, but victory, which would be the conclusion of trade agreements that would favour one side and not the other — in other words, a zero-sum game. But I pray that it is not so, and that there will be at leasst a glimmer of sanity.

Now my view may be ridiculously simplistic, and I have been assured by one blogger that it is based on totally wrong premises, and that there are no differences or differences of opinion between Eastern and Western Ukrainians, and they would all live together in perfect peace and harmony and unanimity if it weren’t for the evil Russians, or rather, one Russian in particular, the evil Putin.

Well, not having been to Ukraine myself, I’m in no position to refute it, but I do regard it with a great deal of scepticism, because everything I’ve read about the history of the region indicates that there is no unanimity between Eastern and Western Ukraine, though I do think they might do a better job of sorting out their problems among themselves if they weren’t being egged on by Russia and the West.

So I reject that interpretation, and still haven’t seen a better one than the one I have given above. Does anyone else have one that isn’t driven by blind nationalism or civilizational loyalty?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On rewriting history and the clash of civilizations

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auchwitz, and it has been marked by commemorative events, speeches by political leaders, articles about the Holocaust and the like.

Among these was a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putin: Those who rewrite history attempt to hide own disgrace. “The Russian president has blasted attempts to rewrite the history of WWII and hide the crimes of Nazism as inadmissible and immoral, adding that people who do this often try to distract attention from their nations’ collaboration with Hitler.”

“Direct attempts to silence history, to distort and rewrite history are inadmissible and immoral. Behind these attempts often lies the desire to hide one’s own disgrace, the disgrace of cowardice, hypocrisy and treachery, the intent to justify the direct or indirect collaboration with Nazism,” the Russian leader stated.

“In places where they imprint the ideas of ethnic and moral supremacy into people’s heads, where they destroy or scoff at human values, civilization is being quickly and inevitably replaced by barbarity,” Putin noted, adding that the process is often accompanied with war and aggression.

Well, one can’t cavil at those sentiments, and I wouldn’t want to, but the problem is the subtext. All historical writing carries what one historian called “the burden of the present”, and this is no exception. If you want to understand Putin’s words, you must read them in context, and the context is the present, and relations between Russia and Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin and Russia's chief rabbi Berl Lazar light the candles at the ceremony commemorating the Holocaust victims (RIA Novosti / Alexey Nikolsky)

Putin is talking about the past, but in the present there is a fight going on, and Putin has a dog in that fight, and his words need to be interpreted in that light. In his words he is having a dig at Ukraine, which, when occupied by the Nazis in WWII, in some places welcomed the occupiers and collaborated with them, including collaboration in the Holocaust.

And in this he has a point, as this article shows: How the world teaches the Holocaust – or ignores it.

Ukraine and Norway are two European countries where the Holocaust is not explicitly taight in school history textbooks

Ukraine and Norway are two European countries where the Holocaust is not explicitly taight in school history textbooks

So what Putin is apparently implying about Ukraine might be true, but it is nevertheless disingenuous.

I was recently told by a Ukrainian nationalist that I “supported Putin” because I referred to a civil war in Ukraine. I suppose that in the nationalist worldview anything less than enthusiastic support must mean that one sides with the enemy.

But this article illustrates what so many people seem to be at pains to deny: that there is a clash of civilizations. The conflict in Ukraine bears out, with uncanny accuracy, what Samuel Huntington wrote about “the clash of civilizations” twenty years ago.

Huntington pointed out that where a civil war took place entirely within a civilization, it would be less likely to become a clash of civilizations. The civil wars in Rwanda and Burundi 20 years ago bear this out.

But where the “fault lines” between civilisations run through a country, as they do in Ukraine, then such a civil war is likely to become a proxy war for the wider civilizations, and others become involved. The fact that most of much of the “news” about the Ukraine conflict in the Western media was composed of attacks by Western politicians on Putin bears this out. And this article on Putin’s speech about historical revisionism bears it out too, because Putin is clearly using it to have a dig at the Ukrainian leaders.

So Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” theory is being demonstrated every day, not merely by actual violence, but by the media spin put on events, and even the denialists sometimes show by their very denials that it is true.

 

 

Why do I support Putin?

I was gobsmacked to be told by another blogger recently that I supported Putin.

Tell Me Bill Maher Is Not an Idiot | Clarissa’s Blog: “Yet you support Putin whose belligerent war mongering makes both Obama and Bush look like babes in arms?”

That was news to me, and so I asked what made her think I supported Putin, and it was apparently because I had referred to the conflict in Ukraine as a “civil war”, perhaps in this earlier blog post: Some observations on the Ukraine crisis | Notes from underground.

Now she is Ukrainian, and I am not and I’ve never been to Ukraine. I have read a little of its history, and according to the history I have read, Eastern and Western Ukraine have different histories and this sometimes leads to differences of opinion. Blogger Clarissa denies this, says that there are no differences of opinion among Ukrainians, and all the problems are caused by outside interference in Ukraine’s domestic affairs — from Putin, of course.

Well, to misquote Bob Dylan, Oh, no, no, no, I’ve been through this movie before. We were told during the era of the Verwoerdian dream that black people and white people in South Africa lived in perfect harmony, and any appearance to the contrary was caused by outside agitators from Moscow. And therefore anyone who spoke of differences of opinion was ipso facto a Communist, and was therefore supporting Stalin or Krushchev or Brezhnev or Andropov or whoever happened to be the head honcho of the USSR at the moment. We even had laws that defined “communist” in such terms.

José Mujica, President of Uruguay

José Mujica, President of Uruguay

I hold no brief for Putin. I don’t know what he’s up to most of the time, and I wonder if the citizens of Russia know what he’s up to most of the time either. To all accounts he’s an exponent of Realpolitik, but the same appears to be true or Obama, Cameron, Merkel and the rest of them. So I don’t “support” any of them.

The only political leader I might just possibly support is the President of Uruquay. José Mujica. If we had a politician like that, I’d support him. But in voting in our election earlier this year it was a matter of deciding which was the least of 29 evils, and it was a hard choice.

As for Ukraine, I just wish the Ukrainians would sort out their differences peaceully, whether or not they have any differences, with minimal interference from politicians in other countries, all of whom, I suspect, are using Ukraine as a political football.

 

Been through this movie before?

I’ve just “shared” three appeals for peace on Facebook — one from a Christian, one from a Muslim, one from a Jew.

People say that “religion” is responsible for most of the violent conflict in the world, so how come it is the secular politicians who are fanning the flames of conflict in the world, while is is the “religious” people who are calling for peace?

Remember what happened 100 years ago tomorrow?

19140804I’ve just been reading about it in this book, an hour by hour account of that day, with what led up to it, and the aftermath. Come tomorrow, when I’ve finished the book, I’ll review it (now finished, review here)  but what disturbs me is that nothing has changed. While the world media’s spotlight is on Gaza this week, they haven’t stopped killing people in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Three civil wars and a quasi civil war in Gaza.

But what are the world’s politicians doing about it? Are they trying to urge the warring parties to get together and try to find a peaceful solution? No, they are grandstanding and making threats against each other, just as they did a century ago. Back then it was called jingoism, and it’s much the same to day.

We don’t want to fight
But By Jingo! if we do
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the guns
we’ve got the money too.

What can ordinary people do to promote peace when the politicians of the world’s most powerful nations are in the driving seat and driving in top gear to hell?

For what it’s worth, here are some of the appeals for peace:

But what is happening?

With Syria buried in the news, hopes fade for ending world’s bloodiest war | Al Jazeera America

What are other countries doing? Supplying arms to the combatants, that’s what.

Church leaders express concern about the sabre-rattling rhetoric: Statement by the diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in Australia regarding the situation in Ukraine:

The Church is concerned that much of the rhetoric appearing in the media is biased and ill-informed; based upon the geo-political aspirations of certain stakeholders, which can only lead to further conflict and, God forbid, outright war.

And even some retired politicians recognise the danger — Ex-chancellor Schmidt slams EU over Ukraine – The Local:

Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt said on Friday the Ukraine standoff recalls the lead-up to World War I and blamed the “megalomania” of EU bureaucrats for sparking the crisis.

For the moment, these are separate conflicts, but remember that the Second World War started when a lot of separate smaller conflicts coalesced into one big one — Italy versus Ethiopia, Japan versus China, Germany versus Poland. And suddenly it became a free-for-all.

Can we learn the lessons of history, before it’s too late?

 

 

 

Some observations on the Ukraine crisis

Three weeks ago I wrote about the lies that the media were feeding us on the “Ukraine crisis”.

It struck me that when they showed us “breaking news” on Ukraine, it would almost invariably be Barack Obama, John Kerry, David Cameron or William Hague looking stern and serious and admonitory, and warning Russia of severe consequences.

I was a bit hesitant about writing about Ukraine (as opposed to writing about the media writing about Ukraine), since I am no fundi on Ukraine, but if the Western politicians can have their say, so can I. I don’t have a coherent story to tell, or any warnings to give, just some rather disjointed observations.

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

The story coming out of the Ukraine unrest that most impressed me was the story of clergy standing between sometimes-violent demonstrators and sometimes-violent riot police, and praying for peace. I found them much more interesting than  Obama, Cameron, Kerry, Hague & Co (herinafter referred to as OCKH). Unlike OCKH & Co, the praying clergy had boots on the ground, in Ukraine — see In Kiev, Protests Bring Orthodox Priests To Pray On The Frontline Despite Government Warnings. But that was not the kind of story the media like to tell, and so it got little coverage compared with OCKH & Co.

When it wasn’t all about OCKH & Co, then the narrative was all about Putin. He was clearly the bad guy in the Western narrative, which is further evidence for the truth and usefulness of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations thesis (see The Orange Revolution, Peeled | Notes from underground).

But when it comes to Putin, I found some interesting comments in an unexpected place: Russia’s Blunder Needs a Realist’s Response | The American Conservative. Hat-tip to my blogging friend Terry Cowan, who drew my attention to it, and recommended it thus:

Here is yet another excellent analysis from “The American Conservative.” For my left-leaning friends, do not be put-off by the word “Conservative” on their masthead. I know of no other site that so effectively battles that most American of all heresies—namely, the belief in our own exceptionalism. And for my rightist friends, be prepared for views widely at variance with Movement Conservatism. Both are conservative in the same way that Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss are both authors.

For myself, I’m not sure whether Crimea’s decision to leave Ukraine and join Russia was a good one or not. What I am sure of is that the US and UK’s decision to have a hissy fit about it was a very bad one. Basically what they are saying is that mob rule is good in Kiev, but bad in Sevastopol, but they haven’t seen fit to tell us why they think that.

And then there is the question whether it was Russia’s “blunder”. In what way was it a blunder?

Well, if I were President Putin, and if I were thinking in a purely secular political manner, I would see it as desirable to have Ukraine as a friendly neighbour, one that was willing to trade with me on advantageous terms and so on. To judge from news reports, the protests in Kiev were precisely against such an advantageous trade agreement with Russia, and the protesters would have preferred 0ne with the European Union. Why they think closer ties with the EU would be a good thing is a bit of a mystery to me — they just have to look at the fate of Greece to see the down side of that. But it’s their bed, and they will have to lie in it.

But if Crimea leaves Ukraine and joins Russia, it tips the balance of power in the rest of Ukraine to the western Ukraine, which is far less sympathetic to Russia, so it does seem to be a bit of a blunder on Russia’s part, and the alacrity with which they accepted Crimea’s request for incorporation seems a little short-sighted. But it has probably boosted Putin’s popularity, and hence his chances in the next election, and that kind of thing tends to carry more weight with politicians than long-term interests. It’s one of the draw-backs of democracy that we have to live with.

But I don’t live in Russia or Ukraine, so such mundane political considerations don’t concern me directly.

I suppose my concern is more ecclesiastical, and there other considerations carry more weight. This article can help give one a clue: RUSSIA – UKRAINE Crimea annexation frightens Patriarch of Moscow – Asia News:

When last March 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the federal parliament in impassioned defense of Great Russia, to justify the annexation of the Crimea, the expressions on the faces of the front rows of the assembly betrayed an unusual concern. Amid the Imam’s turban and the rabbi’s hat, the absence of Patriarch Kirill’s white tiara. Two rows behind the veiled miter of his vicar, the elderly Metropolitan Juvenalij, nodded uncertainly. He was sent to represent the Patriarchal Church, whose blessing was essential to confirm the necessary re-appropriation of the “holy land” of the Crimea.

Kirill’s absence was justified by his spokesman with uncertain references to his state of health (but the day before he had regularly presided over a long celebration) and the devout silence of Lent (but this should also apply to Juvenalij) . In reality, the absence of Kirill’s blessing demonstrates the extreme embarrassment of the Moscow Patriarchate over the Ukrainian crisis, which threatens to upset even the structure of the same ecclesiastical institutions, and obliterate the enlargement projects pursued with great tenacity by Kirill himself in recent years. It seems that Putin has gone too far for his spiritual fathers.

Now that is from a Roman Catholic source, and has its own (Western) axes to grind, but it does show that the Church is not necessarily cheering on the latest political developments. This is in part because of the complicated history of Christianity in Ukraine, as the Wikipedia article on the topic shows: History of Christianity in Ukraine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Currently, three major Ukrainian Orthodox Churches coexist, and often compete, in the country: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Additionally, a significant body of Christians belong to the Eastern Rite Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and a smaller number in the Ruthenian Catholic Church. While Western Christian traditions such as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have had a limited presence on the territory of Ukraine since at least the 16th century, worshipers of these traditions remain a relatively small minority in today’s Ukraine.

If you want to know more, read the full article, but one reason for the “Orthodox” divisions in Ukraine is the idea that ecclesiastical boundaries should follow ethinc and political ones.

This idea is a bit strange to Orthodox Christians in Africa, where we are all, east, west, north and south, under the jurisdiction of the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa. Orthodox Christians in Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa, in spite of living in different countries, under different flags, with different languages and cultures, are all part of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, under one Pope and Patriarch[1]. But Europeans, especially, seem obsessed with the idea that if one country becomes independent from another, it must have a separate church jurisdiction.

Monks and priests pray between protesters and police in Kiev

Monks and priests pray between protesters and police in Kiev

Orthodox bishops around the world are preparing for a Pan-Orthodox Council — the first such gathering since the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. It would be a pity if it were to be dominated by such nationalistic considerations as have given rise to the divisions in Ukraine, which the present political turmoil is only likely to exacerbate.

Yet the witness of Christians in Ukraine to a more excellent way of love and peace is important for the rest of the Church, and the world. And I hope it is that, rather than the divisiveness, that gets reflected in the Pan-Orthodox Council.

But all this makes the antics of OCKH & Co even more bizarre.

Fifteen years ago Nato, at the urging of Clinton and Blair, the predecessors of the OCKH cabal, bombed Yugoslavia in order to divide it — see 15 years on: Looking back at NATO’s ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Yugoslavia — RT News. Some 3000 people were killed. Yet they castigate Putin as evil for dividing Ukraine, without raining death from the skies. This resembles nothing so much as Orwell’s 1984 where good causes become evil at the whim of the authorities. They tell us it was a good thing to divide a country by massive bombing killing thousands of people, but that it is a very bad thing to divide another country by holding a referendum. That sounds like the Orwellian chant: War is Peace and Peace is War.

I prefer religion in the public square, boots on the ground, praying in Maidan.

__________

Notes

Actually it’s not quite as simple as that — there are actually two popes, both with the title of Theodore II, arising from a schism in the 6th century after disagreements at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but that is a different story.

The Orange Revolution, Peeled

The Orange Revolution, Peeled by Justin Raimondo — Antiwar.com:

To recall the media hype that accompanied Ukraine’s ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004, which propelled Viktor Yushchenko, a former central banker and alleged liberal democrat, into power, is like remembering a fever-dream in the morning: the memory of the details are blurred, and all that really remains is the sense that something strenuous, and ultimately unreal, has been passed through. The disputed election of 2004 – eventually decided in Yushchenko’s favor on account of mass street protests – ended with the defeat of Viktor Yanukovich, the candidate of the Russian-speaking eastern section of the country – the man whose comeback in Sunday’s election represented a stunning repudiation of the Orange Revolution and the regime that was born in its wake. How that ‘revolution’ came to be, and what it really represented, is about to undergo a major revision, one in striking contrast to the instant narrative provided by the Western media six years ago.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace

And now it appears that Yanukovich, the candidate the Western media wanted us all to hate, has won the election. Is it just that I’m getting more cynical as I’m getting older, or is the media hype getting worse?

Ukraine seems to exist as a case-study for Samuel Huntington’s Clash of civilizations thesis, with the fault line between Western and Orthodox civilisations running right through the country. If anything can confirm Huntington’s thesis, the Western media spin does.

Another commentator comments on the spin in this article: News Analysis – For Kremlin, Ukraine Election Cuts Two Ways – NYTimes.com

On Monday, for example, European election monitors praised the election that was held Sunday, calling it an impressive display of democracy. Ukraines election, in other words, did not follow the Kremlin blueprint…

What a bizarre statement. A Russian-favored candidate wins in a fair election, and somehow that is supposed to be evidence that Russia is in favor of unfair elections. In fact, their candidate winning in a fair election is the best possible blueprint for Russia.
Imagine what the NY Times would be saying if the election had been unfair!

In the short term, the Kremlin may have benefited from the election. Relations were tense under the incumbent president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, an Orange leader who wanted to pull Ukraine away from Moscows orbit by joining NATO.

Mr. Yanukovich does not support NATO membership and has indicated that he will abandon some other initiatives opposed by Russia. This is the only real news in the whole NY Times story. This was a major geopolitical / energy-politics victory for Russia. Once again a CIA-engineered Colored Revolution has been turned back. The NY Times does its best to bury this news near the bottom of their story, and even then they downplay it by saying the Kremlin ‘may’ have benefitted, but only in the ‘short term’.

What is lost in all this rhetoric about whether “the West” or “the Kremlin” benefited is what is surely more important: whether the people of Ukraine benefited.

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