The Ongoing Saga of Ukraine versus Little Russia

Well it’s time for one of those posts, the kind that gets me shot in the back people on my own side. Yes, it’s time for another frank discussion about Ukrainian politics.

In order to stave off immediate accusations of ZRAAAADAAAAA!!! (treason), let me first state that I felt very positive throughout my most recent trip to Kyiv. I had many good interactions with the locals, and I am extremely grateful to Yevhen Fedchenko, dean of Kyiv Mohyla Academy’s school of journalism and co-founder of Stopfake, for inviting me to speak to a group of journalism students who have begun a master’s program. This was my first opportunity to directly address a group of young, civic-minded Ukrainians, and though it was entirely improvised I felt we had a good rapport. Their concerns and ideas were very interesting for me to hear.

As I suspected before the talk, there was some concern about entering the field of journalism given the political climate in Ukraine right now. Prior to my arrival the region was shocked by the apparent assassination of veteran journalist Pavel Sheremet. A couple days later, the office of the broadcaster Inter became the target of an arson attack  that was clearly politically motivated. Whereas American parents might express concern about their sons or daughters enlisting in the military, I get the feeling that becoming a journalist in Ukraine may be considered as dangerous as joining the military. In some ways it is more dangerous; at least in the Ukrainian army you have a weapon with which to defend yourself and your assailants have uniforms.

Naturally when it comes to the topic of the Inter attack, people are going to inevitably call the station out as pro-Kremlin. There is certainly some truth to this claim, but the attack is still inexcusable. There are other, legal ways to counter any actual pro-Kremlin messages being broadcast by Inter. The continued attacks on journalism in Ukraine, often carried out with total impunity, closely resemble what we’ve long observed happening in Russia to independent media voices.

Of course the idea that Ukraine is controlled by some kind of fascist regime is nothing but laughable propaganda, but this does not mean the country does not have a problem with far right extremism. It might be easy for the much larger segment of Ukrainian society to ignore something like an attack on Inter, but they do so at their own peril. I have more than enough experience with far-right movements to know that their definition of “patriotism” shifts rapidly and radically. So much so, in fact, that such groups often end up fighting among themselves.Today you may think yourself safe because you don’t express “pro-Russian” opinions in public, but that is not really up to you to decide; as is the case in Russia, the self-proclaimed “patriots” make that call. You may give them a pass for fighting for Ukraine, but what will you do when they decide you’re responsible for their inability to achieve victory? If that time should come, you’ll regret giving such people the leeway to determine what is good for Ukraine.

Another key thing I must remind those who supported Maidan is that you claimed that your revolution was about dignity, freedom, rule of law, and bringing Ukraine into 21st century Europe. If you supposedly chose the West over Russia, why, concretely is Russia bad? Is it because freedom of speech, the press, and assembly are basically a joke in that country? Is it because self-proclaimed patriots, often with the blessing of people in government, are allowed to harass dissidents at will? Is it because there is no rule of law but instead a system where connections open all doors? Is it because the state promotes hateful xenophobia and a myth of Russian superiority? If you agree that these are indeed good reasons to want to escape the Russian orbit, please do explain how the very same behaviors and ideas which you find so repugnant in Russia are somehow tolerable if not desirable in Ukraine. Essentially this is what I’ve gathered from Ukraine’s self-proclaimed “patriots” over the past couple years. Russia is labeled as backward, yet the very same things that make her backward will somehow boost Ukraine into the future.

Naturally someone will say, “But Ukraine is at war! This is a hybrid war in which propaganda plays a great role!” This is true, but to those who use that argument I can say two things. First, propaganda does play a large role in this war, but the greatest propaganda is practice. You can tell people you want freedom, that your society is freer than that of your opponent, or you can actually build that society and let people experience it for themselves. Until people both inside and outside of Ukraine can honestly say it has freedom of speech, freedom of press, and rule of law, Russia’s propaganda machine will happily proclaim that Ukraine’s Maidan revolution has accomplished nothing, and that Ukraine is no better than Russia when it comes to individual freedoms. And it pains me to admit it, but so far they’re mostly right.

The other thing I would say in response to those who raise the war card or say that Ukraine “has the truth on its side” is simply- so what? As I told those students last week, simply being morally right does not mean you’ll succeed or that justice will be handed to you on a silver platter. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way several times in my own personal life, and it applies here as well. Yes, it is unfair that Ukraine should grant freedom of speech and freedom of press to outlets or individuals who occasionally voice support for the aggressor nation, particularly considering how such dissenting voices are suppressed and harassed by that nation’s government. It also might seem unfair that Ukraine should face criticism for the continued use of far-right wing paramilitary groups while Russia’s neo-Nazi volunteers are rarely mentioned. It is unfair, but then again, so is life. If Ukraine is to succeed it must hold itself to a higher standard. It is simply not enough to say that it is different from Russia, it must actually be different. So often people look only at the military side of the current conflict without giving any thought whatsoever to the political side.

For Ukraine to be a smaller version of Russia with a perpetual frozen conflict is the path of least resistance. Tribalism and crude “patriotism” can be uplifting and simplify a complicated world. By contrast, building not a Little Russia but rather a free Ukraine is complex, counter-intuitive, and humbling. But whereas nationalist posturing and ego-stroking is akin to sitting around and masturbating, working towards a truly free Ukraine is like training for the Olympics. It takes time and it’s tiring, even painful, but you emerge from it stronger.

 

 

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17 thoughts on “The Ongoing Saga of Ukraine versus Little Russia

  1. Samurai Sam

    “A couple days later, the office of the broadcaster Inter became the target of an arson attack that was clearly politically motivated. Whereas American parents might express concern about their sons or daughters enlisting in the military, I get the feeling that becoming a journalist in Ukraine may be considered as dangerous as joining the military. In some ways it is more dangerous; at least in the Ukrainian army you have a weapon with which to defend yourself and your assailants have uniforms.”

    aaaaand the bullshit coming out of this blog continues (i read no further than this).

    the murder of sheremet was a tragedy. the perpetrators are unknown. the president of Ukraine has called it a tragedy. There is certainly no reason to believe that it was in any way orchestrated by the UA government – Sheremet’s employers, Ukraiinska Pravda carries on as before. Contrast this to RU, where if there is a murdered journalist or politician, if we hear anything official at all, it’s that the victim was an inconsequential piece of shit not worth putin’s time anyway.

    You purposely spun the events surrounding the events at Inter tv in Kyiv in the most cryptic and ukraine-damning light. Inter TV is a state broadcaster in ukraine with what is seen as a pro-russian bias – a few protesters lit a fire which spread to the building and were promptly arrested for doing so. The employees at inter, if they are indeed journalists, were never in any danger.

    Can ukraine improve? of course. but its reporters without borders press freedom index is in the same RSF banding as italy and japan… hardly the “journalists living in fear” situation you describe.

    as usual, this blog shows itself quite knowledgeable on russia and TOTALLY IGNORANT ON ACTUAL UKRAINE, several tourist visits or no.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I’m sorry did you not read carefully enough to notice that I NEVER implicated the Ukrainian government in the attack? The only failure on the government’s part in regards to incidents like these is not condemning them strongly enough or taking the investigations more seriously. That’s it.

      “You purposely spun the events surrounding the events at Inter tv in Kyiv in the most cryptic and ukraine-damning light. Inter TV is a state broadcaster in ukraine with what is seen as a pro-russian bias – a few protesters lit a fire which spread to the building and were promptly arrested for doing so. The employees at inter, if they are indeed journalists, were never in any danger.”

      Gee that’s strange, because I clearly didn’t do that and I acknowledged Inter’s well-deserved reputation for having a pro-Russian bias. In other words, strike two.

      ” TOTALLY IGNORANT ON ACTUAL UKRAINE, several tourist visits or no.”

      Actually it’s a total of 8 visits, four of them for work, not tourism. That and I have dozens of contacts in Ukraine.

      Had you actually bothered to read the article instead of going off at the half-cock, you would have noticed that I never implied the Ukrainian government was behind the attack, nor did I conceal Inter’s pro-Russian bias.

      I think I’ll leave this comment up here to remind you that you need to read things more carefully before becoming enraged. I did that myself earlier today.

      Reply
  2. Mr. Hack

    Perhaps a few more examples of what it is exactly you’re rallying against might make this one a little more poignant? Is it ‘far right extremism’, ‘propaganda’, ‘morality’, ‘politics’ or even ‘patriotism’. Although you seem to have some important things in mind that should be discussed, I think that you’ve hung them all together here in much to short a manner?…

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      It’s mostly the far right and tolerance for the far right. There are certainly more examples. Take the bomb thrown at the Rada last year, the shootout in Mukacheve, or the shooting of Buzyna.

      None of these are government-sponsored actions, but some day the government needs to wake up and crack down on right-wing militant units. They’re far more trouble than they’re worth.

      Reply
  3. Mr. Hack

    I’m getting ready to go to work, and have had time to only read half of what you’ve written in your newest, finely written piece (above) about ‘Russian realism ‘. Now this is the way to really get into something and make your point(s)!

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Yeah it’s a long one. I’ve run into a cluster of these folks lately. I really hope Mr. Ehrlich learns to question his new friends a little more.

      See when it comes to Western pro-Kremlin types I’m like Batman- I’m really trying to help them. I went through that stage a long time ago and saw the bullshit as it is.

      Reply
  4. Mr. Hack

    As you know, I’ve only started to read your blog several moths ago. On all accounts, you seem like an articulate, intelligent sort. If somebody other than yourself had told me that you’re some sort of a 21st century ‘Marxist’. I would have questioned their sanity. But then again, I don’t see you pushing this view very much these days? Perhaps, you’re slowly coming out of this stage too?? 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Not at all. It’s just that when I started this blog, I wanted it to have mainstream appeal rather than being a platform for my political beliefs. Once you go that route, the thing turns into a Marxist theoretical blog and there’s very limited appeal for that. Everything is either theoretical polemics or people demanding a justification of Stalin or whatever.

      More importantly, since 2014 I’ve been abandoned by a lot of self-proclaimed Marxists and other leftists for my principled stand on issues like Ukraine. They have a moribund, outdated view of the world that sets the US as the ultimate evil and anyone seen as opposing the US is automatically virtuous and the victim of “neocon propaganda” or whatever.

      Of course there are lots of Trotskyites who might support my opinions on issues like Ukraine, but on the downside- they’re Trotskyites.

      Reply
      1. Mr. Hack

        That’s all good, and I understand your desire to go beyond just a blog covering politics, and especially narrowing this to Marxist politics. But an occasional piece that would help pinpoint your ‘Marxist’ views would help and probably not be out of order? I really don’t even understand what 21st century Marxism is all about? It’s certainly an acquired taste 🙂
        The first artcile of your’s that I read and instantly liked was the one about the current crop of novels and literature that the average Russian has access to – a great little expose!

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        The problem is right now the left is in serious moral crisis. At times you have the ultra-anal retentiveness of the so-called “social justice warriors,” followers of identity politics who live to show how morally superior they are to others, and at times its the cynicism and whataboutism. “Oh ISIS burned a guy alive? Well people used to do that to black Americans.” (Yes, this is a real thing that I wrote about last year)

        I could go on but this is the basic problem.

        My problem right now is I’ve got a conundrum and due to the aforementioned problems and my isolation I’ve got no one to discuss the problem with. It’s a matter of universal basic income and how it affects Marxist theory. Some famous Marxists (like Zizek, whom I can’t stand) lash out at the UBI idea, because they see it as a threat. I don’t. I actually see it as a potential high-speed path to socialism and Communism, but before it can become that we have to try to work out what it’s effect would be in our current capitalist market system.

        The reason this is difficult to tackle is because it has serious implications for the working class or proletariat. Marx defined these people as those who relied on the sale of their labor power in the market to survive and reproduce. But with a UBI, you technically don’t need your labor power, and you’d get a higher price for it.

        There are other political matters to consider (particularly the fact that a UBI has been endorsed by die-hard supporters of capitalism), but this is the major question I think.

      3. wildthang

        Would you mind explaining or giving me some cues on how to distinguish between marxist and trotskyites, I thought the latter were just some invention by the Stalin propaganda machinery. And what kind of other hardcore leftists are out there? I have heard of Maoists, do they want to fuck everything up, in order to rebuild it afterwards (like in the great purge in 1968)?
        I am genuinely curious, growing up within the German minority in the UDSSR I learned to hate everything that is even remotely left wing, and only recently started to look at it with an unbiased view.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        This is a really long answer. Marxism was a very broad category of thought, since Marx influenced a lot of fields (particularly sociology). Many people have borrowed from his work but added it to their own ideas. Also, some groups of Marxists, like the Trotskyites, are famous for having constant splits into different tendencies. For this reason you can’t always be sure what position they’ll take. But there are some key points I can lay out here:

        Marxism is basically a critique of capitalism and its ideology, liberalism. It isn’t opposed to the values of liberalism, i.e. liberty, equality, democracy, rather it seeks to truly fulfill those values by resolving the contradictions in capitalism that make real liberty and equality impossible. A really good primer on this can be found on the site of Dr. Richard Wolff. He has (or at least had) some video lectures where he talked about Marx’s history and how he got into philosophy.

        Marx believed that resolving those contradictions would mean overthrowing the capitalist mode of production and replacing it with a higher form of production called Communism. He once referred to a lower and higher stage of Communism, which later came to be known by Marxists as socialism and Communism. For this reason, 20th century socialist states did not claim to be Communist but rather socialist.

        The Leninism in Marxism-Leninism comes from what many Communists saw as key theoretical contributions Lenin made to Marxist thought. One major contribution was his theory of modern imperialism, which differed from the earlier imperialism of Marx’s era. The other contribution was his thoughts on organization for revolutions, often referred to as a vanguard party. This idea of a vanguard is vehemently opposed by Anarchists and Left Communists. Lenin’s theories gained respect because objectively, they worked.

        Maoism is a theory where the peasantry and not the urban proletariat is seen as a main driver of revolution. This is seen as more correct in backward or colonized countries with small working classes. Mao was actually not the first to come up with such an idea, however. At the moment I’m studying the lost history of Ukrainian Communists who were for Ukrainian independence. They argued that Ukraine was a colony of Russia and that without independence and a peasant-focused program, Russian domination would still continue under Soviet rule. History has more or less proven them right.

        Anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism is largely based on the work of Albanian leader Enver Hoxha, who accused post-Stalin Soviet leaders of revisionism, i.e. the removal of revolutionary elements from Marxist theory and the restoration of capitalism or capitalist norms. Initially the Chinese supported the Albanians in these accusations, but eventually Albania saw China’s Maoism as revisionist and accommodationist, especially when they teamed up with the US in 1969. While some may chafe at Hoxha’s praise of Stalin, there can be no doubt that from Khruschev onward the USSR radically changed its economic policies, often adopting half-assed market-based reforms that only caused more and more problems.

        Trotskyites- The reason I don’t get on well with these people is that it’s basically like a cult, where all the failures of 20th century socialism can be blamed on Stalin and “Stalinists,” and none of this would have happened if Trotsky, “Lenin’s rightful heir” had been made General Secretary instead of Stalin. Many Trotskyite arguments are extremely contradictory or too counter-factual.

        As someone who has spent quite a bit of time studying more recent literature on Stalin, I find it funny that they condemn him while insisting that Trotsky was Lenin’s loyal heir. The truth is that Stalin’s methods and behaviors did not really differ much from Lenin, so if you have a problem with Stalin, you have a problem with Lenin. Here’s where the anarchists have a much better ground to stand on.

        Speaking personally, and I am virtually alone here, I think there needs to be a completely new socialist movement which starts with Marx’s basic theories and applies them to the past 30 years or so- in other words, the most relevant period of history for people now. The movement must be rooted in a simple, easy-to-understand moral imperative. It can’t just be about a scientific understanding of class and society. Science that isn’t guided by morality often goes awry. Instead of cynically dismissing liberal concepts such as human rights and democracy, we need to embrace them, and demand that they be truly and concretely fulfilled.

        Anyway, that’s as much as I’ll say for the moment. I haven’t been on this soapbox for a long time and these questions have very complex answers.

  5. Mr. Hack

    You seem to be old enough to remember the Beatles. Perhaps, you’ve taken to heart their famous words relating to Marxist inspired ‘revolution’:

    ‘If you go around with pictures of Chairman Mao…you aint gonna make it with anybody, anyhow’….

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      When you’re a history buff you “remember” all sorts of things that were before your time. But I would not get my political philosophy from pop bands. After all, Lennon sang: “Imagine no possessions,” while he lived in a million-dollar flat in NYC.

      Reply
  6. Mr. Hack

    You’re right about Lennon 🙂 I try to embellish my own views by reading and studying history too, Fukiyama has had a great influence on my thoughts as regards to the viability of Marxism in today’s world. Hayek, in the last century too.

    .

    Reply
  7. Mr. Hack

    UBI??

    ‘United Bicycle Institute
    Academic & Science » Universities

    UBI
    Union Bank of India
    Business » Banking

    UBI
    United Business Institutes
    Academic & Science » Universities

    UBI
    Unified Business Identifier
    Business » General

    UBI
    Ultraviolet Blood Irradiation
    Medical » Laboratory
    :
    UBI
    Unexplained Beer Injury 🙂
    Community » Law & Legal

    UBI
    Universal Business Identifier
    Business » General

    UBI
    Buin, Papua New Guinea
    Regional » Airport Codes
    Rate it:
    UBI
    Upstate Biotech, Inc.
    Business » Companies & Firms — and more…

    UBI
    Usage Billing Information
    Computing » Telecom

    UBI
    Usage Based Insurance
    Business » Insurance
    :
    UBI
    Universal Basic Income
    Miscellaneous » Unclassified

    UBI
    Unrelated Business Income
    Miscellaneous » Unclassified

    UBI
    Unified Business Investment
    Business » General

    UBI
    United Biomedical Inc
    Business » Companies & Firms

    UBI
    Unsorted Block Images
    Miscellaneous » Unclassified

    UBI
    United Bank of India
    Business » Banking

    UBI
    Universal Bus Interface
    Miscellaneous » Unclassified

    UBI
    Universidade da Beira Interior
    Miscellaneous » Unclassified

    UBI
    University of Beira Interior
    Academic & Science » Universities

    UBI
    Universal Biosensors Ltd

    Reply

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