Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
Fascism is unacceptable everywhere, except Ukraine. Crimea has been eternally part of Ukraine since 1954. Putin allowing Crimea to join Russia means he wants to conquer all Europe. That’s the picture the Western media have been giving us.
Western accounts leave out Kiev’s “Five Day War Machine”, the provocative government created by an intimidated parliament between Saturday 22nd February and Wednesday 26th. Having overturned a sensible compromise that had been reached on the 21st, parliament then repealed a 2012 law that gave official status to languages other than Ukrainian in regions where at least 10% spoke it. Rights for minority languages is in line with European norms, but this was ignored.
Russian was the main issue. At least a third of the population view Russia as their native tongue, and a lot more speak it sometimes. Very few people speak Russian in the west of Ukraine, and it seems they are trying to remake the whole country in their own image.
There are also other minority languages, some of these in the west. “Hungarian, Moldovan and Rumanian were declared official languages in several towns in Western Ukraine.”[i] And a quarter of a million Greek speakers.”[ii]
It’s always sad when yesterday’s victim becomes today’s oppressor. But it is also a hugely familiar pattern. Familiar too is the failure by outsiders to notice that people who behaved badly in the past now have an excellent case. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet Union held down Middle-Europe, at a time when they wanted to assert their own national identities and would probably have opted for Moderate Socialism, given a choice. But in Crimea, as in Georgia, Russia was opposing an aggressive small nation that was trying to oppress one of its own minorities.
It is normal for a caretaker government to avoid anything controversial until there are elections to determine the will of the people. But the politicians who led the original Orange Revolution were rejected by entirely fair elections in 2010 and 2012 and clearly don’t intend to risk it. The promise of a “unity” government was met by a government composed just of anti-Russian parties and including five ministers from an overtly Neo-Nazi party. It also did not include one notable anti-Russian party, the group led by the ex-boxer. I take this as an early sign that this “Brown Revolution” will produce leaders as useless and squabbling as the previous Orange Revolution, which is generally admitted to have failed.
What did the West do? The West did nothing.
For five days the Kiev regime behaved like conquering heroes. They must have supposed that with NATO’s mighty war machine behind them, they could do what they liked. And failed to notice that since the 1980s, the Anglosphere has typically been tough in the face of weakness and weak in the face of someone tough.
Everything changed on the 27th, when anti-Kiev forces took control of vital centres in Crimea, which had already expressed an ambition to quit Ukraine and perhaps join Russia. Putin had been content to see President Yanukovych’s rule end, but noted that the opposition had just declared him removed without bothering with the checks and balances in the existing constitution.[iii] His reaction, presumably, was to give the green light to Crimean separatists. If regular Russian forces were involved, then there was a real effort to disguise this.
It looks very much as if Putin was open to compromise and would have settled for much less than annexing Crimea. But I have found just one article in the mainstream Western press that notices this. It’s from The Guardian, which is mostly stuck in Cold-War thinking, but does sometimes contain sense:
“According to Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-linked analyst who has been taking part in official meetings with local politicians in Crimea, the initial plan was not to annex Crimea, and the final call to do so was taken only a fortnight ago.
“‘There are two major factors that played a role in the decision,’ he says. ‘The first was the demands of the Crimean elite, who did not want to end up like Abkhazia in international limbo and really pushed strongly to be part of Russia, and the second was the position of the west, who did not want to listen to any compromise.’
“Markov says Putin laid down several conditions to western leaders which he saw as a compromise solution but they viewed as unwarranted meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The conditions included ensuring that Ukraine’s interim government involved a coalition of all political forces, including Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, disbanding all armed revolutionary factions and making Russian an official state language.
“‘If this had happened, Crimea would still be part of Ukraine,’ says Markov.
“As well as merely reacting to events in Ukraine, there was also a sense that the Crimea situation is a culmination of many years of grievances with what Putin sees as an unfair international system…
“The events of recent months have also solidified the hold of ‘Eurasianism’ on the imaginations of Russia’s top lawmakers. This ideology envisions Russia’s re-emergence as a conservative world power in direct opposition to the geopolitical hegemony and liberal values of the west… Upset with western criticism of him when he returned to the presidency for a third term in 2012, Putin realised that an independent Russia could never be part of the ‘western club’ as he had previously wanted.”[iv]
The same article cites Michael McFaul, who was US ambassador to Russia until last month, saying that Russia’s reaction surprised the USA, and indeed many top Russians. He blames it on Putin, of course, not seeing anything wrong in the way the USA treated Russia after it renounced its global-hegemony ambitions by dissolving the Soviet Union.
The bill overturning the 2012 language compromise was vetoed on the 27th, but it was too little and too late. The basic anti-Russian stance was maintained and the Fascist remained in government, with major clashes in Eastern Crimea.
How did the West react? With bluster. They blamed everything on Putin. They declared that the West was so powerful and superior that Putin would have to back down.
If for some nefarious reason they wanted to ensure that the Crimean take-over would end with Russian annexation, then it was well calculated for force Putin to do just that, to avoid looking weak. But I seriously doubt this was the case: I’d call it yet another blunder by the conceited fools who currently make Western foreign policy.
In the ten years since the Orange Revolution, the Ukrainian Opposition (now in power) have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. They don’t do compromise, they expect the other side to submit. The West had the option of pressurising them behind the scenes, and evidently did not. Instead the West changed the story of what had just happened. The BBC’s “Timeline” stopped mentioning the Compromise of the 21st,[v] just as if their role was to be a “Ministry of Truth” for the British establishment. The BBC also say as little as possible about the brief attempt to impose monolingualism on multi-lingual Ukraine.
The current version of the BBC timeline places great emphasis on the mysterious shootings that happened on the 20th and 21st. But ignores the curious fact that demonstrators and the security forces opposing them seem to have been shot with the same weapons.[vi] Or the very odd choice of targets – an out-of-control security force will typically shoot men of military age, as happened on Bloody Sunday in Derry, but this incident had all sorts of people shot, including women.[vii]. Even more strangely, while 18 members of the moderate-fascist Svoboda were killed, none of the Hard-Right militias died.[viii] This makes no sense unless they did the shooting. (The CIA used to do such things and perhaps still does, but would probable have had an impeccably different and plausible set of weapons to shoot the two sides.)
Since the fascists have very different aims than the pro-Western mainstream, shooting people who thought they were allies would not have caused them any calms. Nor shooting a few rival fascists: that sort of thing is common among such people.
The strategy of carrying through a second Orange Revolution depended on Russia being overawed by the power of the West, and this failed to happen. One reason the West can’t take a hard line is that critical voices would get listened to when the costs to ordinary Westerners became significant, as happened in the USA with their Vietnam War. When the going gets tough, the weak start wilting, and there are a lot of weak wilting people about. The West is ready to fight to the last Ukrainian, but not to suffer any significant economic pain to inflict similar pain on Russia.
In general terms, it is not a good idea to try to out-tough a Russian: something more subtle would be better. Britain and France did indeed manage to out-tough Russia in the 19th century Crimean War, but in those days a lot more of them were willing to trust their leaders, bungling though they often were. They saw the matter as worth suffering for, as they did in the Great War and World War Two. But that was a feature of a traditionalist and hierarchical society, the sort of thing that capitalism has undermined in favour of a fluid and asocial inequality.
Nowadays, huge numbers of people in the West are demoralised, frightened and greedy. The New Right has no large body of enthusiasts for its own creed. A “Book of New Right Martyrs” would have remarkably few entries: none I can think of from the New Right elite. In the USA they need to draft in a bunch of right-wing pseudo-Christians, yet the USA is now following Europe with a gradual decline in all sorts of Christianity. Beyond that there are mostly those deluded enough to still see New Right as functional conservatives, and they too are a dying breed.
A recent poll showed six out of ten US citizens felt no need to do anything about Ukraine losing Crimea. And two-thirds of them are against giving Ukraine military aid.[ix]
Speaking from an older tradition, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger also knows better. He was part of the tail-end of the successful Keynesian era. His achievement in making peace with China with Mao’s approval paved the way for the overthrow of Maoism by moderates within Chinese Communism after Mao’s death. Elements of the New Right appeared under Nixon, but Nixon mostly knew better and Kissinger always showed shrewd judgement. So it is unsurprising that he said:
“The Ukrainians are the decisive element. They live in a country with a complex history and a polyglot composition. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939 , when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian, became part of Ukraine only in 1954 , when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th-year celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The west is largely Catholic; the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other — as has been the pattern — would lead eventually to civil war or break up. To treat Ukraine as part of an East-West confrontation would scuttle for decades any prospect to bring Russia and the West — especially Russia and Europe — into a cooperative international system.”[x]
Actually it is only the numerically stronger West that has attempted to dominate the East. The East has mostly sought compromise.
My guess would be that the polarisation suits both the Ukrainian fascists and Kremlin hard-liners, whom Putin has now joined. It disables any possible opposition – even Gorbachev has now supported taking Crimea.[xi] Of course Gorbachev has long been insignificant, but the Russian Communist Party and other major alternatives also have no choice currently except to back Putin.
The terms “fascist” or “neo-Nazi” are often used loosely and inaccurately. In the Ukraine, most Western commentators try to cast a slur on the Russian and Russian-Ukrainian use of the term. But turns out to be turning a blind eye to facts that a serious journalist could have discovered in an hour or two.
Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis now have five ministers in the “Unity” government. They nowadays call themselves Svoboda, meaning Freedom. But they began in 1995 as the Social-National Party of Ukraine[xii], with a logo highly similar to the Nazi swastika, though it was based on one version of an ancient heraldic element called the Wolfsangel.[xiii] (Wolf-hook, based on an actual device hidden in meat to catch wolves.)
This group cleaned itself up in 2004, adopting the name Svoboda, meaning Freedom. Of course Nazis and other Far-Right groups including the Klu Klux Klan do genuinely regard themselves as upholders of freedom. But their leader has in the past made remarks showing that he believes the Nazi notion of an International Jewish Conspiracy.[xiv]
Svoboda became an electoral force in the Far West of Ukraine in local elections in 2009. (The part of the Ukraine ruled by Austria-Hungary before World War One.) In the parliamentary elections, they came 4th in terms of seats, 35 out of 450. With 13% of the votes they were about level with the Communist Party of Ukraine.[xv]
That Svoboda are currently willing to work with Jews and give reassurances to Israel means very little. Italian Fascism was initially not anti-Jewish, and had a large Jewish membership before the link-up with Hitler. One lady, Margherita Sarfatti, was even known as ‘the Jewish mother of Fascism’.[xvi] There were also Jews who fought in alliance with the Nazis, as part of the Finnish Army.[xvii] Quite possibly Hitler could have had a lot more Jews on his side if he’d been willing to give them a chance, instead of treating them all as enemies when he still had a war to win.
The mainstream anti-Russian parties of the original Orange Revolution show great respect for Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUM). This was a home-grown Far-Right organisation that emerged in the chaos of the overthrow of Tsarism, and were driven into exile when the Soviet Union consolidated itself. In the run-up to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, they were trained by the Germans as either allies or auxiliaries. But in 1940, they split into the OUM-M and the more radical OUM-B, which was led by Stepan Bandera. Eight days after Germany’s invasion of the USSR, on June 30, 1941, they proclaimed the establishment of Ukrainian State in German-occupied Lviv, (known as Lvov in Russian). This ethnic-Ukrainian area had been part of Poland and then taken by the Soviet Union when Poland was defeated, along with other areas that were not ethnic-Polish.
The Germans had not authorised an independent Ukraine – they acted very much as if Hitler’s original idea of replacing Ukrainians with German settlers was still the intention. Definitely, they suppressed it OUN-B and arrested its leaders. Meantime the OUN-M remained loyal supporters, including helping to suppress their former comrades in the OUN-B. But it too was suppressed later on, when the Germans decided it was too strong.
The remnants of the OUM-B formed a genuine third force, actually managing to be “against Stalin and Hitler”, which elsewhere was just a vain dream. They were the main such force in Ukraine. And were primarily anti-Russian and anti-Polish: much less concerned with Jews, though they did not accept Ukrainian Jews as fellow-citizens. They did shelter and protect Jews whom they found useful, doctors and skilled workers.
In September 1944, Bandera was released by the German authorities, to strengthen his resistance movement as the Red Army recovered the Ukraine. It tried to carry on but was suppressed in a few years, with Bandera assassinated by the KGB in 1959 while in exile in West Germany.
That Stepan Bandera was a fascist cannot be seriously disputed. He was not the only fascist to be at odds with Hitler: Otto Strasser was another and there were many more minor instances.
In 2010, the then-President of Ukraine and Orange Revolution leader Viktor Yushchenko awarded to Bandera the title of Hero of Ukraine. Understandably there were many protests, and not just from Russians or pro-Russian elements. It was annulled in 2011, after Yushchenko had been replaced by Viktor Yanukovich.
Why are the parties of the Orange Revolution in alliance with modern neo-Nazis? They failed before when they were in government, and perhaps fear loosing votes to their own hard-liners: this is one of the problems of Representative Democracy. If elections get to be held in Ukraine, don’t be surprised to see the Svoboda emerge much stronger.
Why does the West allows it? These are the same geniuses who allowed al-Qaeda to emerge out of the US-funded resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
[Svoboda and Right Sector have remained part of the Kiev government down to the present day (May 2015). The Azov Battalion is a fascist militia that has done a lot of fighting against the secessionists in the East, using the quasi-swaskika of the Wolfsangel as its core symbol.]
NATO as it existed up until 1989 was mostly defensive. The idea of the Soviet Union invading Western Europe was far from ridiculous. I supported NATO at the time. But I also suspected that NATO would misbehave given the chance.
Gorbachev inherited an ailing superpower and left behind a political wilderness. He let things drift until the entire system collapsed. He could have asked for the dissolution of NATO and neutral status for Poland and the rest of Middle-Europe as the price of ending the Cold War. He could have asked for this and more for those portions of the Soviet Union that wanted to separate. Instead he got nothing, apart from a verbal promise that NATO would not go east of United Germany.
The reality of the promise has been disputed. The German magazine Spiegel investigate and decided that such a promise had been made:
“For years former US Secretary of State James Baker, Shevardnadze’s American counterpart in 1990, has denied that there was any agreement between the two sides. But Jack Matlock, the US ambassador in Moscow at the time, has said in the past that Moscow was given a ‘clear commitment.’ Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister in 1990, says this was precisely not the case.
“After speaking with many of those involved and examining previously classified British and German documents in detail, SPIEGEL has concluded that there was no doubt that the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that NATO membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia…
“What the US secretary of state said on Feb. 9, 1990 in the magnificent St. Catherine’s Hall at the Kremlin is beyond dispute. There would be, in Baker’s words, ‘no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east,’ provided the Soviets agreed to the NATO membership of a unified Germany. Moscow would think about it, Gorbachev said, but added: ‘any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.’
“Now, 20 years later, Gorbachev is still outraged when he is asked about this episode. ‘One cannot depend on American politicians,’ he told SPIEGEL.” [xxi]
Gorbachev should have known that a verbal promise from one politician means nothing. It does not bind the next administration or the USA as a whole. His failure is in marked contrast to the deal Stalin got when he pulled out of the portion of Austria that he had been occupying and the conquest of Nazi Germany:
“As well as general regulations and recognition of the Austrian state, the minority rights of the Slovene and Croat minorities were also expressly detailed. Anschluss (political union) with the new Germany, as had happened in 1938, was forbidden. Nazi and fascist organisations were prohibited.
“Furthermore, Austria announced that it would declare itself permanently neutral after the enactment of the treaty. The USSR had expressed its wish for such a declaration of neutrality as a guarantee that Austria would not join NATO after Soviet troops had been withdrawn. Austrian neutrality was not actually in the original text of the treaty, but it was added by the Austrian parliament.”[xxii]
During the Soviet collapse of 1989-91, it could all have been done differently. Binding treaties of Neutrality could have been the price for Soviet troop withdrawal. Ukraine and other places could have been required to recognise minority languages in exchange for independence. Gorbachev was amazingly naïve, as was Yeltsin after him.
But why did the West choose to harass Russia, rather than trying to win over this former foe, as previous generation of US politicians won over West Germany, Italy and Japan? This must have been due to a new generation that accepts the drastically false New Right analysis of world politics, even when they doubt other New Right ideas. Everything Soviet is bad and must be eliminated, whatever the cost, just so long as they don’t pay that cost. This is more important than small matters like keeping your word or telling the truth.
Common among the New Right is admiration for Machiavelli. And no recognition of the awkward historic fact that no stable politics resulted from Machiavelli’s methods. Machiavelli had a point when he noted that a lot of successful politicians used unscrupulous methods to achieve their aims. What he missed was that this only works when dishonesty is used carefully and for dire necessity, not as a matter of routine.
Benn: the Pursuit of Heroic Failure [Death of Tony Benn]
“For a moment in the mid-1970s, Benn appeared to be the man of the age, able to say what was wrong with it and how it should put itself right. His problem was that people mostly refused to listen.
“Stagflation and industrial militancy destroyed Edward Heath’s Tory government in 1974. The battle between Benn’s ideas and those of the new right for addressing the crisis of British capitalism and democracy shattered the centre of British politics. Public opinion was more receptive to the views of Margaret Thatcher: she captured first the Conservative party, in 1975, and in the election four years later the British state.”[xxiii]
So spoke the Guardian obituary, and it’s not quite accurate. The Labour government of 1974-79 was doing the sort of things Labour governments had traditionally done, improving the lot of ordinary workers. Benn successfully broke the consensus, pushing Labour Left policies so hard that there was a mass defection by the traditionalist Labour Right as the Social Democrats. This then unwisely merged with the corrupt old Liberal party and vanished with barely a trace. Meantime many of those who had risen as part of the Labour Left suffered a total ideological collapse in the face of Thatcherism. They reinvented Labour as New Labour, almost a clone of Thatcherism.
All of this was avoidable. Elsewhere in Europe, it either did not happen or did not go so far. And while the Labour Party might still have self-destructed in the 1970s without Benn, no single individual did more to bring this about.
As many have noticed, Benn drifted from Labour mainstream to Labour Left. But at no time was he very realistic. He backed Concorde without realising that it would be a dead end, which the USA did correctly note and drop their own supersonic plans. As Postmaster General, his biggest idea was to have the Queen’s head removed from stamps, pointlessly offending many Labour voters. He was against both the European Union and Wage Restraint, helping the system to self-destruct. And though he did a small amount of good work promoting some short-lived Workers Cooperative, he was pretty much inactive on the key matter of the 1977 Committee of Enquiry on Industrial Democracy (Bullock Report). Presumably he was neutralised by the vehement opposition to the report by Ken Coates and the “Institute for Workers Control”, who applied the usual Trotskyist trick of rejecting what was possible in the belief that this would lead to something even better. Though Benn was no Trotskyist, you could say that he let them dominate his understanding of politics.
A lot of talent and idealism, but basically a wasted life. Such a pity.
We are coming up to the 111th anniversary of the May Coup in Serbia, in which the Serbian monarch, his wife, several relatives and the Prime Minister were murdered in a sudden coup.[xxiv].
From the time Serbia was freed from Ottoman Turkish control, there was rivalry between the rival Obrenovich and Karadjordjevic dynasties, both of them home-grown. The Obrenovich family tended to seek compromises, the Karadjordjevic family to take a hard line.
The coup of 28-29 May 1903 restored the Karadjordjevic dynasty, and was organised by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic. By 1914, he was both the leader of “Unification or Death” (Black Hand) and Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence. There was good reason for Austria-Hungary to suspect that he sent the assassins who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne. And entirely reasonable to ask that outsiders investigate the matter. Since the Serbian government had broadly the same aims as Dimitrijevic, it was sensible to doubt they would be willing to find anyone guilty beyond those already under arrest. There have been remarkably few cases of the intelligence services of any nation being punished for actions against foreign powers.
This was the key demand that Serbia refused, causing the war. A point that no one would have guessed from the recent BBC drama 37 Days, which left the sticking point unspecified.
“Older people vote – that’s why George Osborne’s budget is for them
“Less than half our younger generation go to the polls. So it’s no surprise the chancellor is increasingly hanging them out to dry”.[xxv] (Polly Toynbee)
The 1970s showed that radical change for left-wing ends is difficult and slow. And that it is disastrous to give up on it. Currently there are too many little smart-arses who go on saying “they are all the same”, when things have actually shifted massively against people like them.
Every day, the BBC has been using at least a quarter of its news bulletin for live coverage of several different people explaining that they know nothing more than they knew yesterday about the tragic disappearance of a Malaysian air liner. And for live shots of empty ocean where nothing has so far been confirmed as coming from the lost aircraft.[xxvi]
Since I don’t watch all of this non-news, I’m not sure how much coverage has been given to proposals to improve automatic reporting that were made when an Air France plane went missing . The airlines didn’t feel like doing it, and the regulators have mostly lost their nerve about overriding the wishes of business.
The issue has now been raised again by the British team who used new methods to work out where the Malaysian aircraft had actually gone.
“McLaughlin told CNN that there was no further analysis possible of the data. ‘Sadly this is the limit. There’s no global decision even after the Air France loss [in June 2009, where it took two years to recover the plane from the sea] to make direction and distance reporting compulsory. Ships have to log in every six hours; with aircraft travelling at 500 knots they would have to log in every 15 minutes. That could be done tomorrow but the mandate is not there globally.'”[xxvii]
Modern business likes risks and resents regulation. This probably contributed to the Washington mud slide disaster.
“A scientist who documented the landslide conditions on a Washington hill that buckled last weekend in a massive mudslide warned in a 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of ‘the potential for a large catastrophic failure.'”[xxviii]
And was shocked to later see houses being built in the danger area.
As of the morning of 26th March, 16 people are confirmed dead and another 176 missing under the mud.
It’s the same spirit that has led the USA to do as little as possibly about greenhouse gases, on the grounds that it might not be as bad as forecast. Ignoring the much greater chance that it will be as bad or worse.
“Open in his criticism of the Chinese government, Ai was famously detained for months in 2011, then released to house arrest. ‘I don’t see myself as a dissident artist,’ he says. ‘I see them as a dissident government!'”[xxix]
Which is entirely true. Ai Weiwei is one of many, in China and elsewhere, who are overawed by the power of the USA and uncritically respectful of it. He objects to the current Chinese government failing to share these sentiments.
He fails to look at what happens to governments that have been overawed by US power and failed to dissent. This worked for some governments in the era when New Deal values were the norm, though it meant junking a lot of cultural distinctiveness. But since then it has failed badly. A messy break-up for Former Yugoslavia. Massive economic decline for both Russia and Ukraine, with a recovery in Russia when Putin started disrespecting US power, but a continuous mess in Ukraine. Not to mention massive chaos and religious extremism in Iraq, and now in Libya.
In Thailand, the courts have just rewarded the people who sabotaged an election they knew they could not win.[xxx] It had confirmed the popularity of the current government, but is now treated as invalid. Part of a ding-dong battle between Red and Yellow factions, with the Reds representing mild radicalism favoured by a clear majority and the Yellows representing the old order.
What has the West being doing? Basically nothing, just as they ignored popular protests against all the big and little monarchies in Arabia.
[v] For instance [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26643141] and [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26680250]
[vii] I could find nothing available in English giving details of the demonstrators who were shot, despite them being hailed as martyrs. I asked ([http://www.quora.com/What-sort-of-people-were-the-protestors-shot-during-the-final-stages]) and got few details. This in itself is highly suspicious: it is normal to give praise to victims of a brutal regime. Suggesting that someone somewhere knows something was wrong, and no one else dares to challenge them.
[xxvi] As at 25th March