Proletarian issue 58 (February 2014)
|Solidaire, journal of the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB), interviewed Jean-Marie Chauvier in order to gain a better understanding of the current situation in the Ukraine. Jean-Marie is a Belgian journalist and essayist who specialises in the Ukraine and the former Soviet republics. He has known these countries and the Russian language for many years and contributes to Le Monde Diplomatique as well as other journals and websites. Interview by Jean Pestieau, translated from the original French by Proletarian.|
|What are the urgent economic problems faced by the Ukrainian population – the workers, small peasants and unemployed in particular?
Since the dismemberment of the Soviet Union in 1991, the population of the Ukraine has fallen from 51.4 million to 45 million. This drop is explained by a lowering of the birth rate and an increase in the death rate that is partly due to the dismantlement of the health service.
Emigration is very high, with 6.6 million Ukrainians currently living abroad. Many are people from the east of the country, who have left for work in Russia where wages are significantly higher; whereas people from the west of the country have tended rather to aim for western Europe – for example Andalucia in Spain or the construction industry in Portugal. Remittances to the Ukraine from emigrants amount to some $3bn.
While Ukrainian unemployment officially stands at 8 percent, a large part of the population is living below the poverty line – 25 percent according to official figures, though others estimate it to be up to 80 percent. Extreme poverty, accompanied by malnutrition, is estimated at between 2 or 3 percent officially, and up to 16 percent unofficially.
The average wage is US$322 a month, one of the lowest in Europe. The poorest regions are the rural regions of western Ukraine. Unemployment benefits are minimal and of limited duration.
These most urgent problems are worsened by the risks related to signing a free-trade agreement with the EU, which involves applying measures demanded by the IMF. This raises the prospect of the closure of industrial enterprises, especially in the east of the country, or of their being restructured or taken apart by multinationals.
As far as fertile land and agriculture are concerned, there is the prospect of the ruining of local production currently carried out by small peasants and the companies that have inherited the collective farms, and of the arrival of the big multinationals and their agribusiness.
There will be an accelerated purchase of the most productive land, as has happened with Landkom, a British group, which has bought 100,000 hectares (38.6 square miles), and with Renaissance, the Russian hedge fund, which has bought 300,000 hectares.
For the multinationals, therefore, there are plenty of good pickings: certain industries, oil and gas pipelines, fertile land and qualified labour.
What would be the advantages and disadvantages of a rapprochement with the EU?
Ukrainians, and especially the youth, dream of the EU – the freedom to travel, illusions of comfort, of good wages, prosperity, etc, which western governments appear to offer. The truth, however, is that there is no question of Ukraine being admitted to the EU. There is no question of freedom of movement for people.
The EU is offering very little, apart from the development of free trade, the import by Ukraine of a massive quantity of western products, and the imposition of European standards on products capable of being exported to the EU – which will create formidable barriers for Ukrainian exports.
Russia, for its part, should agreement be reached with the EU, is threatening to close its market to Ukrainian products … On the other hand, Moscow has offered compensations such as lowering by a third the price of petrol (which is support to the tune of $15bn) and a customs union with itself, Kazakhstan and Belarus …
Can you explain the regional differences that exist in the Ukraine?
There is no homogenous nation-state in Ukraine. There is diversity. There are contradictions between the regions. There is a diverse history.
Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have a common cradle, ie, the state of eastern Slavs (9th-11th centuries), with its capital at Kiev, which was called Rus, Russia or Ruthenia. The west was for a long time tied to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, to Polish kingdoms and to the Austro-Hungarian empire.
After the revolution in 1917 and the subsequent civil war, the first national entity named ‘Ukraine’ was born, and became a co-founder in 1922 of the USSR. The western part, annexed by Poland, was ‘recovered’ in 1939 and 1945, after which Ukraine’s present territory was once again enlarged in 1954 with the addition of the Crimea.
Eastern Ukraine is more industrialised, more working-class, more Russian-speaking, while the western part is more rural, more peasant, and more Ukrainian-speaking.
The east is orthodox christian, attached to the Kiev patriarchate since independence in 1991. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church dominant in the west in Galicia has traditionally been germanophile, often conflicting with the Polish Catholic Church.
The centre of Ukraine is, with Kiev, a mixture of east and west. Kiev is overwhelmingly Russian-speaking, and its elites are pro-opposition with close links to the ultra-liberals in Moscow.
So Ukraine is divided – historically, culturally, politically – between east and west, and it makes no sense to play one against the other, except to provoke conflict and even civil war, which is undoubtedly the intention on the part of some.
By pushing for a breach, as westerners and their local puppets are dong, the time may come when the EU and Nato succeed in breaking off ‘their piece’ – but then, of course, Russia will take its piece too! This won’t be the first country that is deliberately forced apart.
Nobody should overlook the fact, either, that choosing Europe would have military implications too. Nato would follow the EU, and immediately a question would arise regarding the Russian base at Sebastopol in the Crimea, which has a Russian majority and is strategically crucial for Russia’s military presence on the Black Sea.
One cannot imagine that Moscow would allow a US base to be installed in this place.
What do you think about the way that the present conflict is presented in our media?
It’s just like a Western! The good ‘pro-Europeans’ and the pro-Russian ‘baddies’. It’s crude, one-sided, and ignores Ukrainian reality. Most of the time, journalists interview people who think as they do; who say what the westerners want to hear, and who speak English or other western languages. And of course, there are lies by omission.
One major factor is left out of account: the Ukrainian people – the workers, the peasants – subjected to naked capitalism; to the systematic destruction of all their welfare gains, and to mafia powers on all sides.
Then there is the concealment or minimisation of a phenomenon labelled ‘nationalist’ but which is in fact neo-fascist – or, in other words, frankly nazi. This is mainly (though not solely) centred in the Svoboda [Freedom] party, whose leader is Oleg Tiagnibok, in the western region encompassing Poland’s former east Galicia.
How often have I seen, heard and read in the media quotations from this party and its leader as ‘opponents’ without any further detail given?
They speak of nice young people – ‘self-defence volunteers’ – arriving in Kiev from Lvov, when in fact these people are commandos raised by the far right in this region (Galicia), which is its bastion. The politicians and journalists carry a heavy responsibility when they play this game for the benefit of xenophobes, Russophobes and anti-semites; these racists who celebrate the memory of Nazi collaborators and the Waffen SS for whom Galicia (not the whole of Ukraine) was part of the ‘fatherland’.
And finally, the media remain silent about the multiple networks financed by the West (the US, the EU and Germany) for destabilisation of the country, and the direct interventions of western political figures.
Let’s imagine the neutral zone in Brussels under occupation for two months by tens of thousands of demonstrators demanding the resignation of the king and of the government, occupying the royal palace, cheered on by Russian, Chinese or Iranian government officials Can one imagine such a thing happening in Paris or Washington? This is what is happening in Maidan, Kiev.
My astonishment increases from day to day when I observe the distance between the so-called news provided by our media and those I have been able to gather from Russian and Ukrainian media. Neo-nazi violence, anti-semitic aggression, the occupation of regional administration buildings: there is nothing about this in our major media! The only point of view we hear is that of the Maidan protesters. The rest of Ukraine doesn’t exist, apparently!
Who are the principal participants in all this? Who are the people demonstrating in Kiev and elsewhere? What brings them together? What is the nature of the Ukrainian power structure?
The financial and industrial oligarchy that benefited from the privatisation of Ukraine’s socialist wealth is divided between groups courted by both Russia and the West.
Victor Yanukovych and his Party of the Regions represents the clans (and the majority of the population) of the east and south of the country. The Party of the Regions won both the presidential and parliamentary elections held in the autumn of 2013.
It also has strongholds in the west, in Transcarpathia (also called subcarpathian Ukraine), a multi-ethnic region that resists nationalism. But the present crisis, the hesitation and weaknesses of the president, run the risk of proving very costly for him and of discrediting his party.
The present government is largely responsible for the social crisis that the extreme right and the siren calls of the EU and Nato seek to exploit. It is a powerless government that defends a section of the oligarchy rather than the ‘whole nation’ as it claims. It has facilitated the extension of corruption and mafia practices.
In opposition to it are three political organisations based mainly in the west but also in the centre of the country.
Firstly there is Batkivshchyna (‘Fatherland’) led by Areseni Latseniuk, who succeeded Yulia Tymoshenko who is sick and in prison.
Then there is the Udar Party (the United Democratic Party for Reform), whose leader and founder is the former boxer, Vitali Klitschko. He is the favourite of Angela Merkel and the EU. His party cadres have been trained by the Adenauer Foundation [the German ‘think tank’ associated with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union].
And finally there is the neo-fascist Svoboda party led by Oleg Tiagnibok. Tiagnibok is directly affiliated to the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists – a fascist organisation modelled on Mussolini – founded in 1929 in eastern Galicia at a time it was ruled by Poland.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, contact was made with the slogan “We will take advantage of Germany in order to promote our demands”. Relations with the Nazis were sometimes fraught, since Hitler was not interested in an autonomous Ukraine, but all of them were firmly united in their common objective of eliminating communists and jews, and enslaving the Russians.
The Ukrainian fascists favoured the ‘European’ side of the Ukraine as opposed to its ‘Asiatic’, Russian side. In 1939, Andriy Melnik was in the leadership of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists with the support of Andriy Cheptytskyi, the head of the germanophile Greek Catholic Church and ‘spiritual leader’ of Galicia in 1939 when it passed to Soviet control.
In 1940, the extremist Stepan Bandera became a dissident. His Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists formed two Wehrmacht batallions (Nachtigall and Roland) for the purpose of participating in the aggression unleashed against the Soviet Union by Germany and its allies on 22 June 1941. Immediately, a wave of pogroms was unleashed.
Several opinion polls show that after the 2004 ‘orange revolution’, Svoboda’s influence increased in Galicia and the whole of western Ukraine, even obtaining 20-30 percent of votes in the big cities. For the whole of the Ukraine, Svoboda’s electoral support stands at 10 percent . It is boosted by the support of neo-nazi groups that are even more extreme.
The three political organisations – Batkivshchyna, Udar and Svoboda – that the West supports have for last two months been demanding the overthrow of the government and of the President of the Republic. They are demanding fresh elections.
Svoboda is going even further, organising a coup d’état at local level. Wherever it is able to prevail with its terror regime, Svoboda outlaws the Party of the Regions and the Ukrainian Communist Party.
The Ukrainian Communist Party has for several weeks been appealing for sense to prevail. It has gathered over 3 million signatures in support of holding a referendum to find out whether Ukrainians want an association agreement with the EU or a customs union with Russia.
The threat of insurrection affects not only the three opposition parties but also the government, which has offered the country and its people ‘on a plate’ to the leaders of the pseudo-opposition – to neo-nazi groups of the extreme right, to violent nationalist organisations, to foreign politicians who are appealing to people to ‘radicalise their protests’ and to ‘fight to the end’.
The Communist Party focuses on social problems. Its position is the most democratic of all the political parties, but its influence is limited to the east and south of the Ukraine.
What game are the great powers (the US, the EU and Russia) playing in the present confrontation. What are they after?
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the famous and influential US geostrategist of Polish origin, laid out in the 1990s the strategy to be followed by the US in order to bring Eurasia under its control and install US hegemony there on a permanent basis.
Ukraine was an essential link. For this, the world was balkanised between Eurasia on one side and the Middle East on the other. His strategy came to fruition in Ukraine with the ‘orange revolution’ of 2004. A network of US foundations spread their tentacles in the country – such as that of financier George Soros and the National Endowment for Democracy, which paid thousands of people for their services in ‘promoting democracy’.
In 2013-14, the strategy has changed. It is, above all, Angela Merkel’s Germany and the EU that are in charge, assisted by US politicians like Senator John McCain. With great irresponsibility, they harangue the crowds in the Maidan and elsewhere: their objective is to make it easy to swing the Ukraine into the European camp and Nato, which they do by relying on the most anti-democratic elements of Ukrainian society.
But this objective is unattainable without causing the Ukraine to split into east and west, with the Crimea reverting to Russia as its population wants. The Crimean parliament has declared: “We will never agree to living under a Bandera-ist [fascist] regime.”
And as for Svoboda and other fascists, they are seeking revenge for the defeat of fascism in 1945. I believe that, in spite of everything, the vast majority of Ukrainians want nothing to do with this new civil war, nor to see the country split. But there is no doubt that Ukrainian society needs to be rebuilt!
Wikileaks cable reveals Udar leader Pynzenyk’s vision for ‘curing’ the Ukraine’s economic ills
Below is an unofficial translation of Pynzenyk’s ten preventative measures for Ukraine:
A. Government reform (functional structure). Eliminate six ministries; subordinate other government bodies to the ministries.
B. Increase the pension age: two years up for men; three years up for women. Cancel the right of early retirement and length-of-service calculation when one year is counted as two. (Note: For every year of work, workers in hazardous sectors – such as steel workers and miners – receive credit for two years worked. At the end of 20 years at work, for example, miners’ pensions are calculated on the basis of having worked 40 years.)
C. Limit pensions for working pensioners.
D. Cancel special pensions – these were distributed to high-level government officials, judges, scientists, or managers at state-owned firms and are higher than normal pensions.
E. Double gas prices for public consumption. Increase gas prices 50 percent for consumption by municipal heating companies. Increase electricity prices by 40 percent.
F. Grant the authority to set prices to public-service providers (for two years); increase service prices simultaneously with gas prices.
G. Cancel the legislative provision banning communal service providers from cutting off or fining consumers for non-payment of communal services.
H. Increase excise duty for petrol by €60. (Note: Not clear on what volume.) Cancel preferential rates, increase vehicle owner taxes by 50 percent.
I. Keep the minimum subsistence-level payment unchanged but introduce extra payments for the needy.
J. Bind privileges and social payments to incomes: if incomes are high, privileges and social payments will be lower.