So this morning I was reading a very timely and necessary article criticizing liberal tolerance for violent fascist groups. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the debate and don’t have time to read that article right now, it goes something like this:
Fascist: “We’re going to take control of your country and then use the state to suppress people we don’t like by force.”
Radical leftist:”I’d like to see you try, punk!”
Liberal: “Both sides are wrong! There’s no difference at all!”
In case that’s not clear enough, you could phrase it as liberal tolerance for intolerance. This sounds like a joke but it’s actually a very simple concept. Tolerance means that if you’re following the law and not harming anyone, you should have all the rights and freedoms of any other citizen. But what happens when you have someone who doesn’t want to follow this simple rule? They want to place restrictions on certain groups of people based on factors that have nothing to do with their individual behavior. They want to privilege certain groups while persecuting, maybe even eliminating others. And all the while, they want to use state power, i.e. a monopoly on legal violence, to enforce this system. This is something that should not be tolerated, and nobody should feel obligated to do so.
All in all it was a good article, until I got to this point…
“The current Ukrainian government used nationalists as shock troops to depose Viktor Yanukovych.”
Uh…No. No it did not. For one thing, the current Ukrainian government didn’t exist in any form until after Viktor Yanukovych deposed himself by running away. Second, the nationalists had their own parties, both of which found themselves shut out of the government as soon as new elections were held. And lastly- radical nationalists were a minority in the Euromaidan protests, which they did not initiate. A very loud minority capable of garnering more media attention, but a minority still. And I might also note that this is phrased in a way that makes it seem as if Yanukovych hadn’t deserved being driven out of power after years of rampant theft and an attempt to severely curtail people’s civil rights.
Overall I get the point the author was going for in that paragraph (you really have to read the context), and on that point I agree- reactionary right wing politics are on the march all over the world. I don’t think the author had any intention of deliberately spreading Kremlin propaganda. I think the problem is that even after two years of being in the world spotlight, Ukraine is still a media blind spot, more obscure and inaccessible in some ways than Russia.
Russia is obscure largely due to physical accessibility (you need a visa just to visit) and the language barrier, but anyone wanting to write about Russia will find their work much easier for a number of reasons. First of all, there are plenty of Russia experts out there but few Ukraine experts. Among the latter, you’re bound to encounter a few, shall we say, eccentric academics from time to time. Russian politics, as bleak as they can be, are simplified by Putin’s dictatorial system. Russia’s ruling class is for the most part rallied around Putin, the head of the state which serves as their feeding trough for wealth. By contrast Ukraine’s ruling class is fractured into groups with competing interests. Lastly, learning the Russian language is no small feat, but there are far more resources for doing so compared to Ukrainian. Although knowing Ukrainian isn’t necessary to communicate in Ukraine if you already speak Russian, it is essential for monitoring the Ukrainian press as well as chatter on social media.
With Western media attention leaving Ukraine even as fighting continues to escalate in the Donbas, we can be sure that coverage will continue to repeat the same cliches we’ve come to know and hate over the past few years. “Ukraine is a divided country consisting of the Ukrainian-speaking West and Russian-speaking East, Ukrainians literally died to join Europe,” and so on.