In case new readers aren’t aware, Michael Bohm is the head of The Moscow Times opinion page. He has acquired a reputation for extreme, unrepentant bias. It’s not clear if he was always this way, or if this was a reaction to the comments of Russophile fanatics, who see even the slightest criticism of Russia’s restaurant service as an example of vitriolic, “Anti-Russian” propaganda. On the other hand, rumors from my secret intelligence network say that he enthusiastically regurgitates the talking points of Western governments and leaders. On rare occasions he has shown the capability to write more objective, truthful articles that actually display insight. This is not one of them.
I’m not going to go into details but this is pretty standard Bohm fare- The state-run Russian media is spreading conspiracy theories about the US funding the Ukrainian protesters. Look how wacky the state-run Russian media is being! Are they paranoid or what? Am I right?
Now to be sure I’ve long past had it with hearing Russians pretend that nothing would be happening in Ukraine were it not for the intervention of the US State Department. For one thing, this is a dispute between the EU and Russia. There is little to nothing the US would gain in a Ukraine which signed the EU association agreement compared to what they already have now. Secondly, this infantile explanation basically reduces people to robots, which is why it’s particularly ironic coming from many Russians who may have, at least passively, supported the demonstrations in their own country in 2011 and 2012. People can stand up for some pretty stupid causes, but when you just write the whole thing off as a government plot you rob those people of their own agency, and agency is not a term I toss around frequently.
While Bohm focuses on the most radical conspiracy theories and spotlighting them as wacky, he quietly sweeps the facts under the rug. The truth is that there are indeed NGOs, both private and with government funding, which involve themselves with movements like Evromaidan. These organizations are not only American, of course, and many of them get the majority, if not all their funding from private sources as opposed to Western governments. Despite this, the line that these NGOs tend to support is one which is most amenable to the governments of industrialized countries. While their propaganda and publications are jam packed with poli-sci babble like “civil society,” one thing they’re always sure to bring to a country is an appreciation for “free trade” and “market-based solutions.” If you don’t get the human rights they promised, tough shit. Creditors need to get paid, and investors need to see returns. It’s the austerity mantra.
Bohm could have gone a different way with this piece. He could have done some research on the actual Western NGO’s involved in Evromaidan, checked their sources of funding, and maybe taken some wind out of the conspiracy theorists’ sails while simultaneously exposing the problem of powerful governments interfering in the politics of other nations. Of course he did not do this, because in the mind of folks like Bohm and the people for whom he serves as a cheerleader, it is entirely right for powerful nations to interfere in the affairs of weaker ones. Unless they are Russia, of course. Then it’s wrong.
I’m not going to delve deeper into the Russian conspiracy theories surrounding Evromaidan, but suffice to say that they deliberately ignore the nationalist element behind these protests. Incidentally, so does Bohm. Bohm seems to be regurgitating a particular Western liberal narrative about these protests, specifically that “Ukrainians are fed up with corruption,” along with the implication that this corruption is somehow caused by Russia.
There are a few problems with the “Ukrainians are rebelling against corruption” claim. The first is that there is absolutely no reason to believe that the European Union association agreement would do anything to seriously alleviate corruption. In certainly hasn’t had a big impact on corruption in several Eastern European EU member states. As for countries with EU associated agreements, Tunisia has had one since 1998, Egypt since 2004. Hmmm, were there any protests about corruption in either of those countries? Have they become closer to Europe and attained both “democracy” and prosperity? Nope.
Liberal narratives which claim that this is about “getting out of Russia’s orbit” are a bit closer to the truth, but the fact is that even among Evromaidan protesters who deny ties or support for right-wing fascist organizations like Pravy Sektor or Svoboda, anti-Russian prejudice is detectable. I’ve found that if you can listen to these people when they don’t think there are any Western eyes present, they tend to loosen up and act more frank about their real beliefs. True, many people are protesting against Russia’s influence and corruption, but this is because they blame their problems on Russians. This is scapegoating, pure and simple.
Bohm’s crowning achievement in this piece is that manages to totally avoid any mention of fascist, nationalist influence in these demonstrations. Well, almost. Here’s one of the piece’s two photographs, in which we clearly see a demonstrator wearing a Svoboda t-shirt and a Svoboda party flag in the background. By distorting the real motives of the most active elements in the chaos surrounding Evromaidan, and by failing to call out these elements, Michael Bohm is covering for them and therefore tacitly supporting them. Just as the “liberals” at Evromaidan bear responsibility for not repudiating the nationalists and even taking part in their demonstrations, so should Bohm be seen as a collaborator to the nationalist cause, particularly that of Svoboda. Own it.
Once again, Bohm missed an opportunity to report what a few courageous mainstream reporters have already exposed. Focusing on the nationalist element would have seriously undermined the Kremlin’s childish American conspiracy theories. It could have also brought up the fact that the nationalists’ success in recent years owes a great deal to the lack of an adequate progressive opposition movement. The Russian government supports intellectuals who deny the very existence of Ukrainian people and culture, and such people also encourage Russian-speaking Ukrainians to look towards Moscow, essentially marginalizing themselves and playing right into the hands of the Western Ukrainian nationalists. All of this Bohm could have done, but he didn’t. And so once again, readers outside Russia were left with more bullshit.