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The Foreigner’s Guide to Appropriate Protests by Some White Leftist From Brooklyn

Hey there, foreigner! I saw on Twitter that you’re having a demonstration. That’s great! It’s good to express your dissatisfaction with your government. I do that all the time on Twitter, and if we ever had a really revolutionary protest movement I’d probably definitely go. But here’s the thing- there’s a big difference between you and I.

See, I’m an American citizen. I’m a true dissident, speaking truth to power (i.e. posting) and battling Yankee imperialism from within the belly of the beast as Che called it. You, on the other hand, are a foreigner, most likely a resident of a country whose regime isn’t on the best terms with my government. Yes, we talk about being internationalists who care more about the poor oppressed people of the world unlike those neocons, shitlibs, and alt-right neo-Nazis who for some unknown reason keep supporting the same governments we defend,  but the reality is that this little issue of citizenship makes all the difference in the world.

If we in America are upset with our government, we have a right to protest. We live in a developed country and we are highly educated because we have Noam Chomsky and podcasts. You, on the other hand, are most likely living in a crucial square on the geopolitical chessboard, and that means that no matter how dire your grievance must seem, you first need to take into account our political system and our country’s foreign policy before you go out into the streets and cause trouble.

See, you might think you’re protesting because your leader and his friends and family siphon off the natural wealth of your country while arresting and sometimes torturing people for criticizing their behavior, but check this out: Did you ever consider that maybe your leaders are actually your legitimate, democratically elected governments, and the only real reason you think they’re bad is because our government says they are? Yeah, wild, I know, but if you had the brain capacity to understand books like Manufacturing Consent and Killing Hope, you too would understand that there are many “regimes” in the world which, contrary to the mainstream corporate media that only regurgitates US State Department talking points, are in fact demonized simply because they put the interests of their own citizens above those of the hegemonic US military-industrial complex. Also, it’s possible your country has oil, so the US just wants to take your oil. If your country doesn’t have significant oil reserves, then they most likely want to build a pipeline across your country and your government is refusing, probably on ecological grounds.

How do you know if your government is truly terrible or just maligned by American corporate elites? Well I’ve got good news- we’ll tell you! Yes, though the sum total of our international experience typically amounts to Spring Break in Mexico or possibly Amsterdam for the true globetrotters among us, we are experts in geopolitics and we will be sure to determine which side in your country’s dispute is worthy of support based on whatever official statements from US officials happen to grace the headline stories that we skim off our news feeds. To be honest, until recently the process would be much easier. We’d just skim the news until we found John McCain’s smiling mug next to the self-proclaimed leaders of some protest movement. That was all we needed to determine that said movement was in fact a US-organized coup against a legitimate government resisting imperialism. Nowadays, we actually have to read a few official statements, but don’t worry- we’re happy to help.

The most important thing to remember is that before you organize your protest movement, you need to clear it with a white leftist in the US or, failing that, Canada or the UK. Otherwise, you risk launching what we will have no choice but to designate as a US-backed coup against a government we have decided is  leftist. And if you’re going against a leftist government, you must be far-right. It’s pretty simple. So make sure you’ve consulted with us first so you can hopefully obtain our permission to be legitimate protesters like us, as opposed to mindless dupes of the CIA.

Now I’m sure you have some questions, so just because we in the left believe in a borderless world (save for sovereign anti-imperialist states who are forced to maintain strict border controls because imperialism) and internationalism, as an act of solidarity we will answer a limited number them.

Q: My government has never had a free or fair, competitive election in decades, and the lack of accountability has led to billions of dollars of our nation’s natural wealth being siphoned off by the ruling class and their cronies, much of it being stashed in your country. Anyone who tries to speak up against this gets arrested or harassed. Some have even been killed. Isn’t that enough to justify our protest movement? 

A: You’d think that, but no. I mean sure, if our government here in the US or some other leading industrialized country did even a fraction of that, we’d definitely have a protest march and post a lot of memes about our grievances, but you don’t live here, in the belly of the beast of US global hegemony.

You need to give us a chance to Google your country, skim the Wiki article, and then check our trusted sources of information like RT, Telesur, Jacobin, and The Real News in order to determine if all those things you say are actually happening, or if you’re actually just being duped by the CIA into thinking those things are happening in your country. We know it’s very possible that you don’t know what’s really happening in your country because you listen only to mainstream Western corporate media like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, BBC, NPR, RFERL, Al Jazeera, SkyNews, AFP, AP, Reuters, CBC, etc. If you listened to real, independent news sources like RT, you’d know what’s really happening or not happening in your country.

Q: Do I have to get permission from a white person? 

A: Well that’s the best bet if you want to get the approval of podcasters. But if you cannot find any white leftist, feel free to address a person of color so long as they have been raised in their Western country nearly all their life. You don’t want to slip up and accidentally seek permission from say, a “refugee” or emigrant who, based on our determination, may just be a CIA plant or some exiled billionaire masquerading as a fry cook.

Q: Do you really think you know what’s going on in my country more than we do? 

A: Look, we may never have been to your country. We may not speak the language. We may not have read anything about it beyond daily headlines and the Wiki article. But we understand something you don’t- our Western governments. And that’s what really matters- our leaders, our politics.

What do you think has more explanatory value? The things you see on your poor-ass streets everyday? The headlines in your newspapers written in weird alphabets consisting of backwards R’s or squiggly little lines? Or, the sum total of Cold War history as told by intellectual giants like Noam Chomsky, William Blum, Seymour Hersh, and Michael Parenti? You have to look at the big picture. You have to consider history. We can determine the political trajectory in your country far better than you can simply by flipping to the relevant chapter in Killing Hope. If something happened in the past, it must repeat exactly the same way every time, because that’s definitely how history and dialectics work.

Q: But I don’t think you understand. We are really poor here. The wealth inequality is unbelievable. We have a lot of things in common since I hear you guys talking about the same problems in your country.

A: Whoa, hold up there, comrade! We have little in common. For example, suppose I do some googling and find out that your country has state-provided universal healthcare. We have nothing like that here in the States. Suppose I do some more checking and found that from the time your country got full independence, infant mortality and life expectancy have gradually improved. Clearly you need to be happy with what you have.

Q: But our government has been imposing austerity measures on us for many years now. Isn’t that the same thing you people complain about?

A: They may be austerity measures, but it’s totally different. See it’s entirely possible that your government is only imposing those measures for your own good, because it is resisting US hegemonic imperialism. How can you know for sure? You can’t. We can. That’s why you need to consult with us first.

Q: What if we apply to you for legitimacy but you decide that our government is legitimate? Do we still have to go on suffering in poverty? 

A: Yes, I’m afraid so. The only possible alternative is inevitable US military intervention and occupation. It’s not easy to suffer in silence, but look at it this way- you’re opposing US imperialism!

Q: Shouldn’t you maybe, listen to people’s lived experience? I see you guys talking about that from time to time.

A: Oh sorry, that whole lived experience, listen to X marginalized group stuff only applies to people in our country. We’re happy to listen to people from your country give their opinions, for example your president, your prime minister, some other government officials, your state news presenters and the people they interview. These are clearly trustworthy sources. But we can’t just listen to anybody from your country. They could be paid by the CIA for all we know.

Q: No offense, but this all sounds well, kinda racist.

A: Impossible! I can’t be racist! I’m a leftist! I support BLM and Antifa! Why can’t you people just understand that we in the West have your best interests at heart?! I know my country has done so many terrible things to your country and I don’t want the CIA convincing a bunch of local ignorant people to rise up against its legitimate government! Don’t you realize that no matter how terrible you think your government is, US intervention will only make it worse?


The consequences of not getting permission from the Western left first: These Syrians didn’t get our blessing to revolt against Bashar al-Assad. We made our calculations based on a few statements of the Obama administration and determined that this uprising was in fact caused by the US, and the resistance, such as all the people in this photo, were nothing but CIA-armed jihadists. 

Well that’s all we have time for in this guide, so to wrap up, remember- before you get out in the streets, did you make sure to vet your organization with Western, preferably white American leftists? The cost of not-doing so can be dire. You don’t want to be labeled as fascist dupes of the CIA, do you? So think before you revolt, and be sure to get our blessing before you get out in the streets.



Sorting Out the Mess in Kyiv

I apologize for the long gap in blog posts. On the upside, I now have hosting for the podcast and I’ll be recording and hopefully releasing a new episode next week. I do plan to speak about the situation in Ukraine for part of that episode, so hopefully between that and this post, readers will have an idea of my stance on this.

I should point out that I’m going to try to keep this as brief and simplified as possible because as long-time readers and friends know, when it comes to Ukrainian politics I tend to get on my soapbox. And since my location prevents me from having a more hands on approach at the moment, I’ll save the stump speeches for another later.

So in case you’ve missed it, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship and who crossed the Ukrainian border illegally earlier this year, has been running around Kyiv trying to raise hell and calling for the impeachment of President Petro Poroshenko. There are arguments over the size of protest crowds and accusations of working for the Russians are flying like bullets at Gallipoli. Pro-Saakashvili people are trying to compare their movement to Maidan, while pro-Poroshenko people are starting to sound a lot like pro-Kremlin voices talking about Yanukovych during the actual Maidan revolution, right down to implying that the protesters are paid or duped without any agency.


A viper and a toad- the best descriptor for the Saakashvili-Poroshenko War of 2017.

Right from the start I must say that observing both sides (and I have friends and acquaintances on both sides of the barricades), I don’t think anyone sticking up for Saakashvili really puts much faith in him or even cares about him at all. Saakashvili seems to have made himself a rallying point around which opponents of the president can concentrate. Unlike the Russia-leaning Opposition Bloc, it’s kind of hard to pretend Saakashvili is really Russian when he, like Poroshenko, basically got into a shooting war with Moscow back in 2008. This means protesters can rally behind him while maintaining that all important “patriotism” that is so essential in Ukrainian politics these days.

For my part, I always felt bringing Saakashvili to Ukraine was a stupid gimmick, a feature of this idiotic idea that every country or individual who has some beef with the Kremlin must be a useful ally for that reason alone. That Saakashvili cleaned up corruption in Georgia and transformed that country is beyond question, something I’ve heard personally from Georgians who otherwise didn’t like the former president. Nonetheless, there was zero reason to believe that he could repeat that in the Odesa oblast or anywhere in Ukraine for that matter. I, like many Ukrainians, also have a problem with the way the Poroshenko government would hand out Ukrainian passports like candy to any semi-celebrity, including Russian Duma deputies who actually voted for the Crimean annexation, while people who have risked their lives fighting for Ukraine find themselves without residency or deported, in some cases back to Russia to face prosecution.

As ridiculous as Saakashvili’s “revolution” is, I’m more dismayed by the reactions coming from defenders of the status quo, be they openly pro-Poroshenko or not. For one thing, Poroshenko brought this on himself by first bringing Saakashvili in and then by stripping him of his citizenship when he became inconvenient.  I wonder how many of the status quo defenders were excited by Poroshenko’s decision to invite Saakashvili in the first place. But never mind that for now. I think the best way to handle this succinctly is to give an approximation of the arguments I’ve been seeing from the status-quo defenders and providing an explanation as to why they are bullshit.

We’re at war! 

No. Sorry, status quo defenders, but you don’t get to use this argument. Remember, you chose Minsk II, not victory. Any time you see this argument, push the person to say what Ukraine should do to end the war. They have no answers whatsoever. UN Peacekeepers? Won’t happen and would probably lead to a solidification of the phony “republics” if it did somehow happen. The West wins the war for Ukraine? Not going to happen. Obama had the perfect chance to crush and humiliate Putin in 2014, but he ruled out any military action from the get-go. Wait until Russia collapses? Forget it. Ukraine would suffer some sort of socio-economic collapse first, and even if it somehow didn’t, a collapse of the Russian Federation would have grave consequences for Ukraine, especially one still run by corrupt oligarchs. This is all fantasy.

Ukraine can in fact win a war against Russia, but the Poroshenko government clearly has no interest in doing so, and I’ve yet to see any of these “We’re at war” people put forth any plan for victory.

And it’s also worth noting that Ukraine has no shot at victory or even a favorable peace if its war effort is undermined by oligarchs and corrupt officials who put their personal luxury above Ukraine. Corruption in Ukraine not only exists in the arms industry, but even within the military itself.

This is helping Russian propagandists!

I find this objection rather amusing for several reasons. First of all, we know that Russian propagandists are perfectly content to just make shit up about Ukraine. Such made up stories include putting Hitler on a Ukrainian banknote, claims that the US is using Ukraine as a biological weapons testing site, and about 47 different alternative MH17 conspiracy theories, to cite just a few.

Another reason why this argument is funny is that it seems to be coming from the same side that supports things like the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory’s mission to whitewash the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and transform the Ukrainian Insurgent Army into a diverse, inclusive multi-cultural outfit that killed 12,000 Wehrmacht soldiers and never, ever killed any helpless civilians (but if they did, those people had it coming). When you try to point out that promoting the cult of literal fascists (yes, they fucking were by definition, fascists) like Stepan Bandera or Roman Shukhevych can alienate many Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, Western Europeans, and Americans while at the same time providing excellent propaganda material for the Kremlin’s agitprop mills, these people tend to tell you that they don’t care what anybody says- “Ukraine has a right to its own heroes! And we decide who those heroes will be and what their stories are!”

So in short- fuck people who do that and use this argument about airing dirty laundry in front of the Russians. Either you care about optics and values all the time, or you’re full of shit. And I also have little sympathy for chest-thumping patriots who claim not to give a fuck about what the Western world thinks of Ukraine, but then have their hand out, whining about why the US hasn’t sent them Javelins yet. Hey, partisan, why don’t you just defeat the Russian Federation the way your heroic UPA defeated the Soviet Union? Oh…Wait…That didn’t work out too well, did it? Well there’s no better strategy than glorifying failure and doing the same fucking thing over and over again no matter how many times its been shown not to work, right?

Now to be fair, it is true that Russia’s propaganda machine benefits from Saakashvili’s antics. It helps support their narrative that Ukraine is a chaotic basketcase and protesting never solves anything. On the other hand, however, it also casts doubt on the claim that Ukraine is run by this iron-fisted neo-Nazi junta as well as the claim that it poses some kind of threat to Russia.

Saakashvili’s pseudo-revolution is not the solution to Ukraine’s problems, obviously, but it’s a really bad idea to tailor one’s actions based on what the Russians might say about it. You cannot control what they will put out, so if you let them determine the limits of your discourse you’ve effectively let them control you. People say that Putin misunderstood Ukraine in 2014 and that’s why he failed to achieve all his goals there, but while I think there is some truth to that, the game really hasn’t changed so much that Putin and his strategists couldn’t rely on the bulk of their techniques in order to keep Ukraine pinned down and unable to move forward with progressive change. From cultural policy to Eurovision, we’ve seen how easily Moscow can still press Kyiv’s buttons because the game hasn’t really changed.

Anti-Corruption Activists are Full of Shit!

I’ve seen many variants of this argument, including one recently from a certain diaspora cheerleader so dense I half expect her to one day explode and create another universe. But that individual is just an extreme case. I know far smarter people who also react to the phrase “anti-corruption activist” with this:


Believe me, I get it. I realize that these people aren’t all angels and they don’t have all the answers to Ukraine’s corruption problems. If anything they’re also victims of an extremely narrow range of political discourse in Ukraine, where it seems you’re always faced with false dilemmas and viper-toad choices. I’ll get into why “anti-corruption” doesn’t work as a political strategy later, but for now let’s just say that if one side is demonstratively corrupt, as Poroshenko and his people appear to be, it’s really hard to go all out against anti-corruption organizations. The government has, in fact, brought a lot of this on themselves.

But there have been changes since Maidan!

Okay. Great. But not all these changes have been great, nor do they all matter to most people. This is a little like Donald Trump talking about how great the stock market is doing. If we just take one issue, such as salaries, you can kind of see where the problem lies.

Things like low salaries and corruption directly undermine the war effort because they support key points of the Russian narrative:

-Protesting does nothing; it only makes things worse

-Ukraine has become worse off after Maidan

-There’s no difference between living in “democratic” Ukraine or under Russian occupation

-Russia may be corrupt and less democratic, but salaries and pensions are higher

Without getting into too much detail here, rest assured that the only way Ukraine can hope to achieve victory or even a favorable peace against Russia is by reaching the people behind enemy lines. Those people would be taking an extreme risk taking part in an insurgency against the Russian occupiers. Would they do that for the promise of an average salary of 190 euros and the opportunity to pay bribes to patriotic Ukrainian officials as opposed to Russian-speaking ones? I doubt it.

Put simply, Ukraine must provide these people with convincing proof that they would have a better future in Ukraine, and that vision must be so real to them that they would be willing to risk death and torture to attain it. Visa free travel they can’t afford or vague talk about “reforms” just won’t cut it. Unfortunately I’ve seen many examples of the current Ukrainian intelligentsia not caring about this issue in the slightest. It seems only in Ukraine can you find “nationalists” who would happily give away swathes of their territory simply so they can have a safe space to build their fantasy version of Ukraine (even if that Ukraine might need to resemble a Russia-like authoritarian kleptocracy). That these people aren’t immediately dismissed as traitors shows us how much reform Ukrainian politics really needs.


It’s a clusterfuck. That’s about all I can say. Poroshenko and the status-quo defenders won’t defeat Russia if left alone, nor will they do anything about major corruption. Anti-corruption activists aren’t going to defeat it either. The only thing that’s going to have an impact is when you get a militant, well-trained left movement in Ukraine which demonstrates the ability to fight the war against the occupier while at the same time organizing against the corrupt officials and oligarchs. What the centrists, nationalists, and anti-corruption crusaders all lack is a coherent, realistic understanding of why there is corruption in the country in the first place, i.e. capitalism. Just as the American ruling class, perpetually at odds with the vast majority of Americans, is using its influence in government to appropriate a larger share of public wealth, Ukrainian oligarchs and officials use a more direct, less legalized form of doing the same. And for that matter, Russia’s ruling class is doing it as well.

Ukraine’s understanding of class struggle has been stunted by several factors. I’d say the most prominent would be the relatively late formation of Ukrainian statehood and the fact that when the former briefly became a reality, Ukraine had no Ukrainian capitalist class (individual Ukrainian capitalists existed, but they were typically Russified and disconnected from the peasant majority). The other obvious factor is the disdain for socialism that comes not only from the Soviet experience, but the abhorrent behavior of the so-called “Communist Party of Ukraine” since independence in 1991. To this we can also add those well-meaning leftists who still can’t help but regurgitate the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals or talking points about “peace.”

But whatever the popularity or lack thereof when it comes to class struggle, it is very real, and it is shaping the events that we see in Ukraine, from the Russian invasion (an act of neo-colonialism) to Mr. Saakashvili’s aborted “revolution.” The invasion and occupation must necessarily take precedence over all, but the idea that Ukraine could ever hope to defeat such a powerful opponent while it is ruled by criminals or even just self-interested businessmen whose goals clash with that of the majority of Ukrainians is simply ludicrous.

To put it another way, Ukraine can’t win until there’s a force that points out what ought to be obvious by now- not all Ukrainians are on the same side.


Damn. There I am on this soap box again. Sorry about that.


What if…? No.

Strap yourself in for a long one today, folks. We’ve got a lot of unpacking to do. You’ve been warned.

If I haven’t pointed it out before, I’ll do it now. If you want to do good satire, your premise has to be rooted in some concrete truth. This is why, for example, South Park’s political satire often fails miserably for anyone older than 25; the writers rarely seem to have any understanding of the issues being discussed and so you’re left with this preachy “both sides have a point/are stupid” message.

American conservative political cartoons are another example of failure to root satire in truth. In such a cartoon we might find “jokes” about Obama reading from The Communist Manifesto to learn about “redistributing wealth” and plotting to disarm law-abiding citizens. Conservatives find this hilarious but of course Obama has never preached anything close to Marxism and he did virtually nothing to limit 2nd amendment rights in anyway. In fact, gun rights technically increased under Obama. Of course every time you hear a joke based on nonsensical, incorrect claims, it’s always you’re fault for correcting the person. “Come on! It’s just a joke! Lighten up!” No I get that it was a joke, it’s just not funny because it’s not rooted in any reality. This isn’t hard, people. Take an actual fact and then add a funny observation, challenge it, or take it to absurd conclusions for humorous effect.

Needless to say, the Kremlin media hasn’t seemed to figure this out either. Who could forget the time RT made a parody video mocking claims nobody ever made and justifying their multi-million dollar budget by “angering” a handful of politicians and think tank wonks? There’s no way you could forget that; it had a live bear in it for Christ’s sake. Well guess what, folks…it happened again. This time the attempt at satire comes from Russia Beyond the Headlines, a once-relatively-sane publication.

In short, the satire is basically a role reversal situation where the US is Russia, China is the US or possible the US and Europe since vatniks can’t get their head around the fact that European countries are in fact sovereign, and the two sides are in a spat over the fate of Canada, which is a stand-in for Ukraine. Russia doesn’t seem to exist in this hypothetical 2041, which stands out as the most realistic aspect of the story.

At first glance you might think this is whataboutism, but that isn’t quite it. “What if” is more appropriate. The “what if” argument is a bit different because it sort of admits wrongdoing but justifies it by acting like everyone else would to the same in that situation, which typically leads to a hilariously incorrect equivocation. If you’ve never heard this kind of argument before, it goes something like this:

“Yes, fine, Russia has intervened in Ukraine. But what would the US do if there were unrest in Mexico and US citizens were threatened?”

Right out of the gate the argument falls flat on it’s face because:

-There has been major unrest in Mexico for several years, far more violent than anything Ukraine experienced during Maidan prior to the Donbas war. The Mexican government’s war on the cartels had a direct impact on American society and American citizens have been killed in cartel-related violence. At no time did the US move to invade and annex Baha California so as to secure the rights of American college students on spring break.

-Russia claimed to be protecting Russian speakers. This is odd because a huge part of Ukraine, including Kyiv, speaks Russian. In any case, the majority of the people they came to protect were not Russian citizens.

-It assumes the US would somehow be angered by the overthrow of a corrupt Mexican government.

This “satire,” of course, is far more comprehensive. It tries to elicit empathy but in the process it inserts Kremlin talking points into the narrative and ends up being unintentionally hilarious due its implications and omissions about Russia, the West, and Maidan. I’m not going to cover the whole thing, but rather just the best bits, and what better place to start than with the intro?

“Why are Moscow’s arguments in favor of what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calls “polycentric architecture” for the world and its insistence that there will be no more “business as usual” with the West, especially with the United States, constantly either misheard or misinterpreted? Perhaps it is worth placing the U.S. – using a simulation model – into the shoes that Russia has been forced to wear lately.”

Oh boo-fucking-hoo. Poor old Russia, always being “misunderstood” and “misinterpreted.” Lavrov’s “polycentric architecture” sounds like a re-branding of the “multi-polar world” concept these people are constantly babbling about. I’ve covered this before but there are several problems with this concept. First, the world already is more or less “multi-polar.” Russian officials and theorists can’t understand this because in their fantasy world, any time nations side with the US or Europe instead of doing whatever Russia tells them, it’s because their puppets of Washington. Moreover, Russia basically only recognizes “great powers” as being truly sovereign. Lastly, the only other “pole” these folks care about is Russia, which they believe deserves automatic and eternal respect as a “great power,” complete with its own sphere of influence around its borders. The problem with this is that apart from nuclear weapons, Russia really isn’t a superpower. It could have been, but Putin and his buddies thought it would be a better idea to rob their country blind, fork all that money over to the West, and then use their vast media bullshit factory to give people the illusion of being a superpower when it all went south.

The line about the “…shoes Russia has been forced to wear” is also very telling. Nobody forced anything on Russia. Russian leaders could have realized a long time ago that in order to be powerful and successful they would have to tackle corruption, create strong institutions, and install a functioning democratic system where authorities could be held accountable in some way. Instead, the thieving midget and his buddies, awash in cash thanks to high oil prices, decided to do a little trade off- consumer goods in exchange for giving up democratic norms and freedoms. Of course this didn’t work out so Putin had to come back and play real dictator to make sure he and his friends would never be held accountable for their thievery. Not satisfied with repressing his own people, Putin insisted that the Ukrainian people also tolerate a kleptocrat in power, and when they didn’t, he invaded their country and started the largest war in Europe since the wars of Yugoslavian secession. Nobody forced Russia to wear any shoes. Putin put on combat boots. Cute little combat boots for his tiny feet.

Now let’s dig into this “simulation” in earnest:

“In the ungraceful year of 2041, a quarter of a century after the flamboyant incarnation of Senator Tuft, a convinced isolationist, was derailed and trumped on the final leg of the election trail, global politics have utterly spun out of control, turning the United States into an effectively besieged fortress.”

Okay do I even need to point out how this is obviously a backhanded endorsement of Trump? Yeah, just another example of “anti-fascist” Kremlin media cheering on a candidate beloved by neo-Nazis. “Tuft” loses the general election, Hillary is elected, and over the next 25 years global politics totally spin out of control. You know I figure a Hillary presidency will suck, but I’m not expecting global politics to “utterly spin out of control.”

Do you see what I mean when I say that the problems just compound and multiply from the very beginning? Why is the US a “besieged fortress.” How did that happen? Is this implying that Russia is a besieged fortress? Who was besieging Russia, a country whose people routinely took vacations abroad, and whose elite owned major property in Western nations, not to mention the fact that Russia invests in US debt? And don’t give me this “NATO” bullshit either. NATO had touched the borders of Russia since 2004. And do read a little bit about NATO deployments in Europe prior to late 2014-2015; the idea that this somehow threatened Russia is simply ludicrous.

Now let the real bullshit begin!

“It all started with popular unrest evolved into revolt in neighboring Canada, where ultra-nationalist paramilitary units were instrumental in bringing down a legitimate prime minister and paved the way for what the U.S. saw as a coup d’état.”

Okay where do I even begin to tackle this? First of all, why is there popular unrest in Canada? Canada is a leading country with some of the highest living standards in the world. I know it’s supposed to be 25 years later, but please give us a hint at what the hell happened to turn Canada into the equivalent of post-Soviet Ukraine, a country with horrible standards of living and plagued by endemic corruption bleeding the nation dry.

Now about those nationalist paramilitary units who were “instrumental” in bringing down a legitimate prime minster. If you actually bother to count how many fighting people Svoboda and Praviy Sektor had in the Maidan self-defense companies, you’ll see why this is problematic. It would also require a major political shift in Canada, which tends to be far more progressive than the US in the eyes of most people. Again, what the hell happened. And I should point out that they omitted something about the “legitimate prime minister.” To be an accurate comparison, we must assume that this prime minister had been robbing his country blind, abusing his power, and that his police acted with undue brutality against peaceful demonstrators (which is what led to subsequent demonstrations being less peaceful).

Lastly on this passage, it doesn’t matter what the US thinks about this move. If the US has somehow been reduced to a kleptocratic basketcase which sees itself as a besieged fortress, it still doesn’t have the right to invade Canada and annex part of it.

Well-organized and financed political activists occupied the main square in Ottawa and demanded a drastic change of foreign policy alignment with an immediate signing of the association status agreement with the China-led Asian Union.

If this article were a machine gun and delusional claims were bullets, this piece would be an MG-42. Rapid fire idiocy here. Where to even begin?

Perhaps let’s start with the “well-organized” part. They were largely students, “organized” by social media. Lots of protests have used methods like this for years now. Was Occupy in the US “well-organized and financed?”

One of the funnies things I find about people who buy into the coup narrative is that they can rarely explain how the protests actually began, or as you can see here, why people were protesting in the first place. You can read about the beginning of the protests here, straight from the man who was largely responsible for it in spite of his modesty. Note his skepticism and disdain for the country’s entire political establishment, not just with the Party of Regions or Yanukovych. This sentiment is fairly common in Ukraine.

Then there’s the nonsense about demanding a “drastic change of foreign policy alignment with an immediate signing” of what is obviously a stand-in for the European Union Association Agreement. This is another thing Putin fanboys can rarely explain properly. As in this case, it is presented as if the “well-financed” protesters just started demanding this.

In reality, European integration was Yanukovych’s own project, and he was very supportive of it. Shortly before the protests Yanukovych himself said: “An alternative for reforms in Ukraine and an alternative for European integration do not exist.” He then went on to say that Ukraine would not be changing it’s course on the path to European integration, stalling on signing the agreement, but not writing it off completely. In fact, even after protests had begun Yanukovych’s government claimed it was still in the process of negotiating the EU deal.

Now at this moment it’s a pretty good idea to check out what was happening on the Russian front in the lead up to that fateful meeting when Yanukovych suspending the signing of the EU agreement. See the common assumption, one which even some Western media outlets often disseminated, was that this was a struggle over whether Ukraine would “join Europe” or go with Russia, and Yanukovych was supposed to be “pro-Russian.” Not only was Yanukovych not necessarily “pro-Russian,” but the Kremlin wasn’t exactly pro-Yanukovych either. In the run up to signing of the EU agreement, Russia had begun to put pressure on Ukraine via trade restrictions. Russia even threatened all sorts of dire consequences, including potentially violent “separatism” and a possible redrawing of borders if Ukraine, under Yanukovych mind you, signed the deal. Nice little country you’ve got there. Be a shame if something were to…happen to it.  But yeah, basically Russia had absolutely no intentions of invading or partitioning Ukraine and their reaction was solely a response to the “coup” in Kyiv. Sure.

Washington accused Beijing of interfering in the internal affairs of its northern neighbor, claiming that the 35 billion renminbi (around $5 billion) reportedly disbursed “to support democracy” in Canada had been channeled to pro-East campaigners bent on rupturing all ties and contacts with the U.S. and keen on joining the China-led economic and military alliances.

Yet another humanitarian convoy of bullshit has arrived! Here we have the idiotic myth that the US paid for the “overthrow” of Yanukovych. First of all, the $5 billion spent in Ukraine goes back to 1991, when the country became independent. A large portion of that was spent on disarmament and the disposal of nuclear weapons, which Ukraine had at the time and which is quite expensive I’d imagine. Here’s an infographic that breaks down the spending. Note that Russia received far more money and yet hasn’t suffered a “color revolution.”


Now obviously something like “democracy” pretty vague, but I urge people to actually look up where this money goes and find out what it actually funds. Here, for example, you can see a list of various NGOs funded by USAID in Ukraine. Note the curious absence of “paramilitary training camps” or “guerrilla warfare training courses.”

Basically, if you’re claiming that the US paid for a coup in Ukraine, the burden of proof is on you to explain how. Which organizations masterminded this coup? Show that US aid went to training paramilitaries and football hooligans prior to 2013, seeing as how the Russian narrative says they played an “instrumental role” in the whole thing. Don’t just say “State Department” or “Soros.” Show your work. The US has been involved in many coups for decades. None of them looked much like this at all. Why it’s almost as if…Ukrainians actually have human agency and form their own political views. As if they didn’t want to just keep living under a government that was steering their country off a cliff.

In the last part of that passage it talks about supporting people who were “keen on joining the China-led economic and military alliance.” Again we see the typical Kremlin delusion. The EU agreement, which Yanukovych totally supported, was a trade agreement. It wasn’t about joining the EU and it certainly wasn’t about joining NATO, something that had been considered totally off the table and which a solid majority of Ukrainians opposed until several months after somebody invaded and began partitioning their country.

Of course there’s another problem with this analogy. The US stand-in here is China, whose meteoric rise over 25 years is as odd as America’s simultaneous decline, particularly in light of the former’s current economic woes plus the impending demographic problems they face. The “well-financed” protesters want to join China’s bloc, but as we all know, Euromaidan was about a EU trade agreement. Is this just a mistake or is it just the vatnik delusion that the EU is just a puppet of the United States, the only other sovereign country in the world? Who knows?

I could go on and on about this intro but here’s the bottom line. We’re meant to buy into the Kremlin’s US-funded “coup” narrative. At the same time, and perhaps most importantly at all, we’re given no reason why anyone in poor U-Canada sees China as a better bet than the United States.

In the delusional minds of Putin, Lavrov, and a whole host of pro-Kremlin “political technologists” and “geopolitical analysts,” the only reason why countries side with America is because their people are weak-willed and bought off. The only way to avoid such a label is by doing whatever Moscow asks of you. This is called “standing up to the West” or some such nonsense. The fact that countries aren’t exactly hammering on Russia’s door to join their half-assed military alliance or cheap EU knockoff is only proof that the US cheated somehow.

Meanwhile, here in the real world, there is a very good reason why countries prefer to cooperate with the US. The Kremlin hacks themselves claim that after the collapse of the Soviet Union the world became unipolar. They imply that is the case today. So then who is that “pole,” the one at the top of the pyramid? Oh right- the United States. The US means investment, consumer goods, access to some of the best higher education and cutting edge technology and science. This isn’t patriotism- it’s just a plain fact.

This is where were come back to that old analogy about the nice guy and the pretty girl. Nice guy’s totally in love with her, in fact he’s in love with any attractive female who makes eye contact. But he never manages to land a girlfriend because according to him, they’ve all been “brainwashed” by the media and feminism so that they don’t “appreciate” his unique qualities. Instead they chase after “bad boys” and “brainless jocks or pretty boys.” In reality, women don’t choose Mr. Nice Guy because one, he’s not really all that nice, and two, because he just doesn’t have anything to offer. The good looking guy is not only good looking, he’s got a good job. Maybe he is actually smart and wittier than the nice guy. But Mr. Nice Guy doesn’t want to hear that because he doesn’t want to modify his behavior.

So it is with Putinist Russia. It sits around all day playing video games (siphoning money and spending what’s left on stupid shit), whining about its unjust plight (information war), and yet it can’t understand why the girls (other countries) aren’t attracted to this. They don’t have agency. In order to prove they are actually intelligent and not ditzes or “sluts,” they must spurn those better off, superior men for Mr. Nice Guy, or in this case, they must give Russia whatever it wants otherwise they’re filthy whores bending over for the United States. And after repeating this meme dozens of times in public settings, somehow opinions about Russia in Europe actually haven’t improved. Unbelievable!

So I’m going to skip over some bullshit for a bit, but I couldn’t help noticing this line:

“In Ottawa, some hotheads bent on revenge have demanded retribution, referring to the war hawks around U.S. President James Madison, who initiated an assault against Canada back in the 19th century.”

This makes little sense but I’m highlighting it only for the sake of showing you the kind of projection pro-Kremlin folks engage in all the time. Only vatniks hold onto grudges that long. It’s like that time Kiselyov claimed that Swedes were upset at Russia because they lost their empire to the Russians after the battle of Poltava in 1709. No, dear viewers! Russia isn’t the only country that makes up a long list of slights and spats with other nations going back for centuries! Every country is just as butthurt about things like that. You’re totally normal!

“For the moment, Chinese top officials have turned down the idea of fueling a Cold War between Canada and the United States by supplying state-of-the art armaments and have limited military assistance to sending instructors to train the Canadian army.”

I had to read over this several times because there’s something odd here. Check the original text yourself, but I haven’t left out the key element. Did you catch it? Yeah, Chi-merica is sending “state-of-the-art armaments” and advisers to train the Ucanadian army. Uh…Why? What happened?

Essentially the author, who is implying that this is the Russian POV on this topic, has suggested that the US started supplying Ukraine with military aid and instructors before the annexation and war in the Donbas. Nice try. Also the US hasn’t really supplied much in the way of “armaments.” Again, you’ll have to try harder than that to slip something by me.

“In this way the Chinese leaders have responded to pleas by the pro-East government in Ottawa to enhance their defense capabilities in view of what they claim is clandestine military support being rendered by the United States to Anglophone rebels in Quebec.

Ooooh! So that’s what happened! Well then why didn’t we hear about that first, and then the Chinese arms and advisers afterward? Oh wait, I got it! Maybe this is supposed to be non-linear, like one of Oliver Stone’s films!

The English-speaking insurgents in this French-dominated province revolted and took up arms after the government of Quebec reacted to the ouster of the prime minister in Ottawa and the formation of a newly nationalist parliament by voting to prohibit the use of the English language in the province, thus trampling on the inherent rights of ethnic minorities and turning English-speaking residents of Quebec into de facto second-rate citizens.”

The Rada after Yanukovych was not “nationalist” and they did not vote to prohibit the use of Russian in the Crimea or anywhere else in Ukraine. They were voting on the repeal of a law that protected Russian as an official language in certain regions, and then that repeal was itself quickly repealed.

And Quebec? If anything France should be invading Montreal and holding a referendum to make it part of their country. This writer knows less about Canadian politics than I do, and I’m terrible at Canadian politics. Take a look at English speakers versus French speakers in all of Canada some time. This is as stupid as claiming that leaders in a country whose capital is a Russian speaking city would want to ban the Russian language.

“China has confirmed its full commitment to act as a security provider for all the democratic nations in the region, including Canada, which many U.S. politicians have viewed throughout history and still view as “America’s backyard” and part of its sphere of strategic interests.”

Okay this is pretty confusing. Does this mean the US is now not a democracy, and China is? And what does it matter what this non-democratic, obviously economically fucked up America thinks is its “backyard?” What did America do to attract the goodwill of those nations in its backyard? Are they saying that real-life America was right to intervene in the political affairs of many Latin American nations, often supporting actual coups and repressive regimes, all because these nations were at one time considered to be in America’s backyard?

Boy this hypothetical America is a total asshole! It’s much worse than actual America!

“Moreover, it was announced at the recent meeting of ministers of defense in the capital of Guatemala that Beijing would deploy in Central America 250 MBT-3000 main battle tanks, PLL05 self-propelled mortar-howitzer systems and other military equipment.

Apart from the military hardware depots, China is to triple its rapid reaction forces in the region and create six coordinating headquarters in Central America, notably in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, and Cuba by the end of the year.”

Keep in mind this analogy is about the US moving heavy armor and artillery back in to Europe- all moves which occurred after Russia started a war in a neighboring country and started running all kinds of snap drills with numerous airspace violations that continue to this day. But yeah, poor Russia is a “besieged fortress.”

At this point I have to ask what exactly Putin and his fanboys expected. From 2012, really 2007, they have been moving towards an open policy of “fuck the West,” and yet they don’t seem to understand why the Western response hasn’t been terribly welcoming. Again it’s that attitude, i.e. “Hey you degenerate, soulless, limp-wristed Sodomites! We can nuke your countries into oblivion! Look at all our jets and rockets! Tanks don’t need visas! See you in Berlin, faggots!  Oh by the way, if it’s not too much trouble would you keep investing money in our country, selling us your products, buying our products, and allowing our corrupt officials to launder their money in your banks and real estate markets? What? NO?! HOW DARE YOU!

“There has been an ongoing outcry among conservative politicians in Canada and Central America on their own failure to put up a viable resistance and block the outreach of U.S.-disseminated false interpretations of global news. This untruth is produced by the U.S. official media, in particular, the TV channel America Today, broadcasting in Chinese, English and Spanish under a slogan of “Query More.””

Huh. That’s odd. Futuristic Shit America lost all its major privately-owned media corporations and replaced Voice of America with a state-owned version of Fox News. By they way, do look at the hilarious illustration if you haven’t already. This is actually spot on, especially as it has a quote by a US State Department official on the bottom. This being America Today, you know he won’t be challenged or questioned in any way. I really wish they would’ve expanded on that. I’d like to see America Today finding some obscure fringe blogger in China and interviewing him on the air as a “political analyst” or “geopolitical expert.” Hell, maybe they can find a totally anonymous guy who claims expertise as an ex-Chinese intelligence operative, yet who writes about issues as though he has virtually no background knowledge whatsoever.

“Recently, the United States rejected calls to abandon its present foreign policy and, once this precondition is met, to re-join the major world powers. The U.S. administration believes that the East is guilty of using every trick in the book, from bullying to recruiting agents of influence, to ensure its dominant position in global affairs.”

Gee, the United States comes off as sounding really delusional and paranoid here. Maybe the US leaders should focus on building up their own country’s infrastructure and economy instead of stealing billions of dollars to buy luxury homes in Shanghai.

“In fact, he was echoing the statement of the head of U.S. foreign policy that the war of sanctions that has seen finances being used as a political weapon, the creeping deployment of additional Chinese units and military equipment close to U.S. borders, as well as the overall disregard of legitimate U.S. security concerns constitute a structural crisis in international relations.”

Remember folks, the only creeping going on in Europe before Russia’s actions in 2014 was the US creeping out of the continent. Well that and there was Graham Phillips.

“The government of the United States stands firm in its belief that imposition on any nation of so-called “Eastern values” by use of force or hybrid warfare is a blatant breach of the letter and spirit of international law.”

Ah yes, but if the US wants to impose “Western values” on other countries, it should be allowed to do so as long as they are in a region that they consider to be their “backyard.” That’s basically what Russia’s been saying. And again, if we look at what actually happened in Ukraine with Maidan, we see how idiotic it is to say that the US was “imposing Western values” on Ukraine. And international law? Please. Bring up international law in connection with the annexation of the Crimea and any Putin asskisser will immediately tell you that self-determination is more important. Except when it isn’t, like in Russia where public statements advocating more autonomy or self-determination for ethnic minorities is literally a violation of the law since, ironically enough, 2014.

So at long last we reach the end. What do we have to show for it? Well I think one of the funniest things about this is how unintentionally revealing it is. Even if we accepted some of the deliberate propaganda claims about funding a revolution, right-wing nationalists, etc., you can’t help but think that Future America is really acting like a total asshole, and its leaders come off as paranoid. And again, we’re never given any reason why China is more influential or why countries seem to be abandoning America.

In the delusional mind of Moscow’s “political technologists” and “geopolitical experts,” there’s no real qualitative difference between Russia and America. Okay maybe Russia’s economy isn’t quite as good but that’s only because America cheated and there are traitorous fifth and sixth columnists are somehow wrecking the economy. The president doesn’t know anything about this, but he’s a great leader and the only leader for Russia, and we must all support him to help stand up to the West and punish those dastardly nameless bureaucrats!

The difference, if there is any, certainly cannot be attributed to high-level corruption so acute that it deprives the country of anywhere from a quarter to over a third of its annual GDP. That’s all just a Western information attack! Or maybe it’s true but it’s true of all countries! That happens in the US too! The US also treats its citizens like children. I’m sure that you can get fined in the US if you write the words “Islamic State” or “Al Qaeda” without a disclaimer stating that these are illegal organizations in US territory!

In reality, the narrative this story tries to tell via analogy is in fact false, and therefore America comes off as even more of an asshole, and insane to boot. It deserves the treatment it gets because instead of trying to improve and make friends, its leadership instead elected to rob their fellow countrymen and crack down on their rights to prevent them from doing anything about it. Future China apparently busted a grape and now nations are rushing to take advantage of the benefits to be derived from good relations with the Chinese.

Like I said at the beginning- if you want to make good satire, root it in truth. Or at least don’t root it in utter delusions.

*Incidentally there was an even more thorough dismantling of this kind of “what if” argument, written by the Twitter personality Darth Putin on his old blog. Luckily the true voice of Russia’s president has restored the blog, but as of this writing it hasn’t been posted yet. I will update this post when it is.

A Tale of Two Cities

Last night I was having a discussion about a topic that causes me significant irritation. I’ve written in the past about the very widespread belief in a sort of national determinism in Russia, whereby people are expected to be representatives of their nation and therefore government, and whatever opinions they might have supposedly derive from that nationality as well. To be fair I’ve also encountered the same from some Ukrainians (Some!), who upon reading my comments suspect me of being Polish. Take a guess why this happens (Click for hint!).

This other thing that grates on my eyes and ears is a similar behavior, where someone assumes that your opinions or views can be determined by the country that you live in. As you might have guessed, I’ve had numerous accusations about being pro-Moscow because I live in, you guessed it, Moscow. Usually this happens on Twitter, where people can quickly pull up my info that shows my location, but rarely take the time to read dozens of tweets that they’d most likely agree with. I suspect that fewer still actually follow the link to this blog and read any of it.

Speaking briefly for myself, yes, I’ve been living in Moscow and the Moscow oblast since 2006. However, there were several occasions when I had considered jobs in Ukraine, and once in Belarus. When I say “considered” I don’t mean simply “thought about.” I’d had interviews and invitations in several of these cases. I have been formulating plans to leave Russia since late 2013, around the time this blog was started, in fact. In the end of 2014 I nearly made it out, and I pursued that same option through about half of 2015. I’m still technically pursuing the option now, but it’s unfortunately a job with very few openings. I have also tried applying for jobs in Ukraine since last November. So while I can say that I definitely don’t hate Russia or Moscow, which has definitely improved in some key areas in recent years, I’m not exactly here by deliberate choice alone. Far more important is that this is by no means an endorsement of the Kremlin’s political line. Besides, when I moved here in 2006, it was a very different country.

Now that I’ve given my own abridged explanation, I’m going to deal with the article that prompted me to write this post. As if by coincidence, I saw it maybe a few hours after that Twitter exchange on the same topic.

The article is by Paul Niland with Kyiv Post, and let me first state that it’s not nearly as bad as the kind of people on Twitter who accuse you of being pro-Moscow simply for living there. In fact he’s not really saying that at all. His thesis, that living in Moscow can lead to bias in favor of pro-Kremlin narratives is a good one. My only problem is it’s a bit oversimplified, one-sided, and doesn’t account for some important exceptions.

Before I tackle some of his specific arguments I should recap part of last night’s Twitter conversation, where I was explaining why so many of these correspondents from major publications are based in Moscow. I know from personal experience that these media companies don’t seem to want their people in Kyiv. The truth is that without the war, having your Eastern Europe correspondent in Kyiv would be like having them in Bucharest or Bratislava. Many Westerners know very little about Ukraine and frankly don’t care. What is more, if your correspondent is in Moscow and something happens in Kyiv or say, Riga, they can hop on a plane and get there with no need for a visa in most cases. The opposite is not true. Like it or not, Russia is a major player in world affairs and while most Westerners, particularly Americans, care about Russia far less than Russians would like, news from Moscow is far more likely to attract their attention than news from Ukraine or any other former Soviet Republic or ex-East Bloc country. Believe me, I have tried to use a correspondent position as a ticket out of Russia, with Kyiv being the destination. I’d spend weeks at a time in Avdiivka or some other front-line location if need be. The problem is they just aren’t buying.

So now that I’ve explained what I think is the most likely reason why there are so many correspondents in Moscow, let me get into the meet of Niland’s article and rebut some of his arguments.

“It’s unfortunate that much of the international writing about Ukraine is done by people based in Moscow. I have noted elsewhere that this peculiarity can lead to Ukraine not being given fair representation because whether they like it or not the international correspondents resident there are all exposed to the constant drip, drip, drip of disinformation stories hitting them from various sides.”

This is certainly a valid concern, but there are a couple comments I could make on this. First, my experience is that the further one is from Russia and Ukraine, the more susceptible they are to Russian propaganda. If you exclude those who have sweet careers with the Russian state media or similar organs, the most rabid anti-Ukrainian, Sputnik-meme spitting Kremlin dupes are typically Americans and Brits.

A lot of correspondents who live in Russia are far more informed about what goes on here, ergo they’re much less susceptible to bullshit from the state media and pretty much anything the Kremlin says. This is why it’s no surprise to see that some of the rabid pro-Kremlin cheerleaders who do work for the Russian media usually either had no background in journalism, or knew nothing about Russia before they came here for a few years and started living the lovely expat life.

“Whether it is at the Dacha BBQ with uncle Vanya, or whether it is listening to opinions from local friends and colleagues which are more formed by the full on information assault, Ukrainian affairs can get painted in all sorts of weird ways.”

Alright a few problems with this. The first is that when we talk about Russian narratives on Ukraine, the kind of pro-Kremlin attitudes and memes you’d hear from those friends and colleagues today are relatively new. In late 2013-2014 I noticed this bizarre “reversal,” where people who would laugh at “patriotic” propaganda and Putin’s image suddenly started spouting pro-regime talking points. It was really bizarre how they’d do it to; when they espoused anti-government views, their points and opinions were varied and diverse. Then they’d just start regurgitating the same talking points word for word until it seemed like you could predict what they would say at any given time.

Next, just as I mentioned that the people most susceptible to Russian propaganda often live far from Russia and have little to no experience in the country. Well sometimes you can have a similar but opposite situation. In my case, I admittedly had a very anti-Maidan attitude, due in large part to poor coverage from the Western media (who made it all about “joining Europe”), but mainly because I had been deceived by a Ukrainian “leftist” group which I first encountered in 2012. Given my experience with “left” groups in Russia, I was naturally suspicious about Russian chauvinism and I was reassured by members again and again that this group was anti-Putin. I was initially concerned about the success of the Svoboda party when I heard about them in 2013, prior to Maidan, so when they made their presence very noticeable during the movement I was justifiably concerned. And not to digress too much on this point, but part of me fears that had I actually moved to Ukraine back in 2007, I might have been duped completely into taking the wrong side. As it turns out, living in Russia the whole time helped me build up an immunity to bullshit, so that it took Ukrainians to put one past me.

Lastly on this point, I think the author seems to be unaware that the same process he describes here, that is personal contacts with friends, family, and colleagues influencing a journalist’s views, can happen just as easily to a foreigner in Ukraine as in Moscow. In fact, many of the assumptions he makes here, including that very statement about “Uncle Vanya,” friends, and colleagues, demonstrate this quite well. There’s already an assumption that someone in Moscow must be surrounded by vatniks regurgitating Kremlin talking points. I’ll be the first to admit that you will here at least some of those talking points from people who really ought to know better, usually getting them second or third hand from people they know, but this doesn’t mean that those of us who do know better just sit there and absorb this without saying anything.

The truth is that foreigners in Ukraine can be just as susceptible to false narratives and talking points for the exact same reasons, colleagues, friends, family members, and so on. Idealistic American goes to Kyiv because he was “inspired” by Maidan. He meets some nationalists, who explain that they’re just “patriots” and not racist or anything like that. They explain to him that Stepan Bandera, a name our American expat friend first heard in 2014 or 2015, was really just a liberal democratic patriot who only wanted to free Ukraine. Anything bad you hear about him is nothing but Soviet propaganda. Oh…Polish propaganda too. Poles and Russians have been engaged in a decades long conspiracy to frame this innocent nationalist leader.

What do you think happens when our hypothetical Kyiv expat sees me write something negative about Bandera from my Moscow-based account? “Hey maybe you should stop reading Russian propaganda! Or are you a paid Kremlin troll!” Little does he know that I started reading on the topic of Bandera and Ukrainian (and many other including Russian) collaborators since 2002, starting with sources that were unapologetically pro-Bandera/nationalist.

I don’t bring up that last bit just flaunt my Bandera cred, but to demonstrate an important point. When it comes to being susceptible to certain narratives, one really important factor is how much a person knows about a country prior to moving there. A lot of times you get these people that come to Russia or Ukraine with no prior interest or study, and then they’re an empty vessel ready to be filled with bullshit. In Russia they have an advantage in the form of a more unified, focused propaganda machine. In Ukraine the nationalist con-men and their apologists take advantage of the extreme obscurity of certain topics.

There are a few more points where Niland shows a close affinity for his surroundings which seem to have induced a bit of bias, but I’ll save that for later. For now let’s move on to his case study, an article by Shaun Walker of The Guardian.

“I most admire is Shaun Walker of The Guardian.

I often find myself agreeing with his analysis, I find his observations to be generally accurate and often the way that he puts them across can be quite funny, I disagree with him from time to time but have found him open to being reasonably challenged. In my last exchange with him he tweeted photos of Azov Regiment fighters inside Boryspil Airport, apparently placed there by non-other than Interior Minister Arsen Avakov himself, to arrest non-other than super-oligarch Dmytro Firtash.

My simple response to that tweet was; “Bullshit!”

At the end of that exchange, I offered to buy Shaun a beer next time he’s in Kyiv, because as it turned out he was largely correct.You see, from my perspective, there were a few things wrong with the proposed scenario. Number one was just the mention of the name Azov.”

Niland goes on to explain the reason he went off at the name Azov is that it has been a got-to bad guy for Russian propaganda stories. I sympathize with this feeling because we all seem to get “triggered” by the mention of certain phrases, names, or words, but come on- Shaun Walker? The Guardian? You’re not reading Sputnik here, and we’re not talking about someone who would read something from Sputnik or RT and seriously submit it for publishing. Besides, Azov and similar groups are a problem and if Western journalists ignore or downplay this they’re only going to leave an orchard of low-hanging fruit for the Russian propaganda machine.

Later on Niland posts some very legitimate complaints, which is why I recommend reading them, particularly those regarding the characterization of people’s motivations for coming out to the Maidan and the politics surrounding it. For example, I like that he helps debunk the notion that Yanukovych was not only rejecting the “European path” but also choosing a “Russian” one, that is toward the Custom’s Union and perhaps the Eurasian Economic Union. But again, to be fair to Walker there are some die-hard Maidan supporters not based in Moscow who have helped popularize that impression.

What better example than this famous article from Timothy Snyder, certainly not and as far as I know never Moscow-based, describing the story of Maidan. Not only is there a clear implication that this was a choice between going with the EU or Russia, in this article that is supposed to cut through the “haze of propaganda,” the chronology of events is idiotically butchered and tons of red herrings are inserted in a condescending, horribly unsubtle way. If you want to understand Maidan better, this is not the article for you. Oh and by the way…It was published in the Kyiv Post as well. This goes the same for the idea of US sponsorship of the revolution. Of course it wasn’t spurred by American puppet masters, but with folks like John McCain shaking hands with Maidan leaders including Tyahnybok, would it be entirely unreasonable for an observer to surmise that the US was strongly backing one side? Nuland and McCain very stupidly created an image which was a boon to pro-Russian propagandists.

Getting back to the subject of biases one acquires living in a certain place, I took some issue with this line, which is rephrased in other ways throughout the article:

“The Ukrainian people have proven several times that they will dictate their own destiny. Their future is not decided for them, but by them.”

Again I sympathize with the author here, because if he’s like me he’s probably sick of Ukrainians, or more specifically those who were involved in Maidan, being stripped of their agency, particularly by people who espouse pro-Russia viewpoints. Chomsky, Ames, Cohen, and a whole host of others, often with radically different views, all treat Ukrainians as pawns who could either side with Russia or be dupes of the US. In reality many people had their own personal motives for going out to Maidan, some noble, some terrible, some possibly mundane. What matters is that they made personal choices and they can take responsibility for them, whether the results were good or bad.

Now that being the case, this sentence is extremely romantic and a bit patronizing. Maybe if it were coming from an actual Ukrainian it wouldn’t come off that way. But I have a problem with Westerners, especially those with no hereditary connections to a country, speaking on behalf of the entire people. I mean suppose I move to say, Namibia, I fall in love with the place, I have lots of friends there, and then I presume to write about what the Namibian people does and who decides their future. I think in that case the problem ought to be clear. It may be in Ukraine and the skin color is the same, but this really, truly smacks of the so-called “Mighty Whitey” trope we see in movies from The Last Samurai to Avatar. I seriously hope I’m not being unfair to Mr. Niland here, but let me just say that these kind of statements sound a lot better when you’ve got a nice noticeable Slavic surname (if not Ukrainian or Russian) to go with it. That, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Shaun Walker making statements on behalf of “the Russian people.”

The other problem with this claim is that it ignores the fact that “the Ukrainian people” is rather abstract, considering the fact that, whether we agree with them or not, there were plenty of Ukrainians who either opposed Maidan in some way or at least expressed disdain for it. Now if you’re about to say that they’re all traitors and they don’t count, well then you’re going against the opinion of the first post-Maidan government, which went to great lengths to make it possible for citizens in Russian-occupied territories to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014. Clearly they thought that large segment of Ukrainian society deserved a voice, however much they disagreed with them.

Lastly, the Zradamania that has taken place since the election of Poroshenko, which one day led to a bomb being thrown at the Rada and the death of several national guardsmen, tells us that even on one side we have deep political visions and different ideas as to what Ukraine should become, enough to justify toning down the romantic talk about the will of the “Ukrainian people.”

The idea here isn’t to beat up on Niland, but simply to show that one shouldn’t be so quick to assume that the city where one lives is going to automatically influence their work to such an extent. And to the extent which it can, it can go both ways, whether you’re in Moscow or Kyiv. It’s good to call out these narratives that strip Ukrainians of their agency or which explicitly or implicitly support Kremlin talking points, but looking at all the information out there and where it comes from, it’s simply not evident that living in Moscow or Russia is necessary to come under the influence of said talking points.

In the polarized discourse surrounding Russia and Ukraine, we will probably never eliminate these snap judgments whereby we suspect people of being propagandists or dupes of propagandists based on illogical reasons. But we need to work harder to avoid escalating this kind of behavior; in fact we should work to minimize it. One way to do that is to stop judging people’s positions or opinions based on their nationality, and especially the city they live in.





A manual for cheerleaders

In 2015 a fellow journalist moved to Kyiv from Moscow and posted about encountering all sorts of Westerners in a hostel, all of them excited to be doing something “for the cause.” She didn’t spell it out but the message was clear. I could see myself there, surrounded by Canadians, Americans, and Brits, listening to them yammer on about Maidan, “the cause,” Putin, and various other subjects they’d never spoken about prior to 2014, perhaps punctuated by bro-stories about “hot chicks.” Yeah, I know these types, and my expectations are low.

Last autumn I published a piece about cheerleaders. Looking back I think I might have left out a key feature that makes the worst sort of cheerleader out there. This is the cheerleader that really has no background or interest in a particular cause until they see something on TV or perhaps a movie, and then that thing “inspires” them to take up the torch and “fight” for something they don’t really understand. Generally these cheerleaders get a ridiculously oversimplified version of the story, pick a side, and then dive right in. Their boundless passion and black-and-white thinking causes them to attract the attention of the most radical, absolutist elements on the side they’re supporting. As they fall in with these people, a feedback loop is created whereby they believe their passion and dedication is both representative and appreciated. Simultaneously, their radical friends find a pliant foreigner on which they can imprint their own ideology, even if it isn’t very representative or accurate. At this point our newly minted cheerleader is more than happy to lecture people who have years of background in the subject and who are far more qualified to make opinions, usually beginning with the line: “Well I have Ukrainian/Russian friends, and they agree with me!”

The problem with these insufferable dipshits is that to them everything is simple. “I must save poor Ukraine from Putin’s Soviet Russia!” Never mind the fact that they never knew anything about Ukraine or Russia before that. “I must support the Donbass revolutionaries against the fascist junta!” Ah yes, if only you knew something about Russian and Ukrainian “Communists” before you decided to play Che Guevara in Donetsk. Sometimes you try to reach these people, but they’ve already got their “handlers” filling their heads with their own ideological bullshit.

In truth, what is happening in Ukraine, and indeed Russia too, is very complicated. The American or Canadian English teacher can spend a few months in Kyiv, write an article, and suddenly become a “fighter” for the cause of Ukraine versus Russia. For many Ukrainians that isn’t the case. Many of them have relatives and friends in Russia or behind occupied lines in the Crimea or Donbas. For me the epitome of how complex this conflict is was Pavel Petrov, the volunteer sniper I met on the train back to Kyiv . Born in Russia, ethnically Russian, a veteran of the Soviet army with relatives still living in Russia. And at 44 years he volunteered to fight not, as he repeated to me twice, against Russia, but “for Ukraine.” He was doing the fighting to keep his 18-year-old son safe from war. This is the sort of story that gets left out of the media coverage. It’s the kind of story that the American fresh out of college or the Brit on a gap year never learns.

Whence do these cheerleaders come? What foul mutant stork drops them on the doorstep? Well folks, I’ve finally got a perfect example. Look no further than Oscar-nominated documentary Winter on Fire. I’ve already voiced some apprehension at this film once, in the second section of this column. It seems some of my concerns were justified after I saw a couple reviews of the film.

Let me start with this review on RFE/RLOMG!CIA!!! Here’s where it set off my rage meter:

“One thing that proved crucial to the process was Afineevsky’s decision to focus solely on the people on Kyiv’s Independence Square and to tell their stories without overburdening audiences with too much background or context. The director did not want to take the audience “out of the Maidan” and he therefore eschewed any detailed explanations of the corruption and political tensions that brought people out onto the streets in the first place.”

Yeah that sounds like a winning strategy. You audience knows nothing about this country or its background, and your solution is to ignore all that in favor of focusing on a riot with flashing lights and loud noises. That certainly helps build understanding. Context? Who needs that? I bet only paid-Russian trolls would demand context!

It only gets worse:

Oscar nomination notwithstanding, some critics have also taken issue with the film’s “one-sided” narrative, which omits alternative viewpoints such as those of Ukrainians in the east who are now pushing to secede from the country and move closer to Russia.

Afineevsky gives such reproaches short shrift, however, saying that he is, first and foremost, a filmmaker not a journalist.

If he’s not a journalist, why is he making documentary films like this? The truth is that documentaries are often a poor replacement for investigative journalism, but that doesn’t mean that a documentary maker shouldn’t strive to educate his or her audience. This doesn’t help Ukraine. If he had got opposing opinions, at least from Ukrainians, audiences could have seen exactly how popular or unpopular Maidan was in the east. They might have learned how most people in eastern Ukraine don’t in fact see themselves as Russian and didn’t want to be a part of Russia. One-sidedness and oversimplification makes this film easy pickings for pro-Kremlin pundits, and they just love low-hanging fruit as it’s the only thing they can manage to take on without making fools of themselves.

Suppose for a moment that some RT hack made their own documentary about “Russian spring.” Naturally it would be pretty one-sided. Would this be nominated for an Oscar? Why not? Of course it wouldn’t be objective, but perhaps the author says that they are a filmmaker and not a journalist? If the technique of being one-sided is okay by Academy standards, then it ought to work both ways.

Once again we have a scenario whereby ignoring other viewpoints actually aids the Russian narrative, because not only can they claim bias, but they get to fill in the blanks on topics Western media outlets often ignored. An example of this I mentioned in a previous post was the matter of American funding for NGOs involved in Maidan. Because this was rarely broken down in detail in the West, the topic was essentially ceded to Russia’s propaganda machine, which filled the vacuum with their own conspiratorial narrative. Oversimplification doesn’t help the cause. I would have been far more receptive to Maidan myself had it not been for the oversimplified narrative commonly used by Western media outlets at the time.

Of course the director doesn’t seem to think oversimplification is a problem:

“He also dismisses claims that he oversimplified the narrative and glossed over some of the Maidan’s more unsavory elements, such as the involvement of the nationalist Right Sector movement, which has been accused of fascist leanings. (Afineevsky points out that insignia of the far-right group can be clearly seen on one of the interviewee’s clothes.)”

Minor correction here. Right Sector is a fascist movement by definition, hands down. It seems the director made no attempt to hide the nationalist involvement in Maidan, but if he had spent some time on that topic it would have actually been of great service to the movement. A more detailed analysis of nationalists at Maidan would have shown their true numbers and influence. We could have heard their views and then heard other Maidan participants’ opinions about them. This would have struck a blow against the Russian narrative, which from the beginning insisted that nationalists were a major, controlling part of the protests.

His defense:

“You know what? Right Sector, they actually fought for everything like everybody else. They were a part of these people,” he says. “At the end of the day, it was people who came out, who stood for what they believed in, and who achieved [something].”

Yeah, great defense there. I agree that entire protest movements shouldn’t be judged by the actions of a minority. Occupy had its share of libertarian Ron Paul cultists, LaRouchites, and even some neo-Nazis. I say this, and yet I just can’t help but remember how our American media, when faced with a domestic protest like Ferguson, just loves to focus all attention on a minority that breaks some windows or loots a store. Thereafter all the protesters and their defenders are compelled to give an account for people they had no control over and who really had nothing to do with their movement. I’d love to see more American news anchors point out that anarchists who smash Starbucks windows or opportunists who use social justice protests as cover to commit crimes were, at the end of the day “part of these people” who achieved something.

In another piece, the director referred to his film as a “manual for revolution.” To me it sounds like a manual for cheerleaders. I can almost picture that 23-year-old upper middle class American straight out of college and living on his parents dime in Kyiv. I see him at Shooters telling some local girls about how he was living it up in Amsterdam, but then he saw this film and realized that he just had to come to Kyiv and help the oppressed Ukrainian people. Or I see the young British man who’s “really into history” and oh so eager to inform me that all those bad things one hears about Bandera are really just Soviet propaganda. Such is what he learned when he started “researching” the matter here in Ukraine, in the middle of 2014.

This kind of shallow coverage doesn’t aid Ukraine or Maidan. It doesn’t promote understanding and I don’t feel it gives any agency to Ukrainians. Once again we have an Eastern European people being fetishized. We’re always gangsters, bandits, desperate women, “sex workers,” or in this case, idealistic revolutionaries who just want to be part of that wonderful, superior West.

The truth is that you can provide context and complexity without necessarily being verbose. I still think one of the best explanations of Maidan was the one provided in just a few words by Stopfake founder and director of Kyiv Mohyla Academy journalism school Yevhen Fedchenko when Robert Evans and I interviewed him last year. Paraphrasing here, he basically said that Maidan was about Ukrainians of many different agendas, ideologies, and walks of life coming together to change the way they were living. That might sound vague but in fact that is so much more accurate.

What is more, it gives people who truly are interested in Ukraine and who truly want to learn about this movement a more realistic foundation to start from. No doubt plenty of people who had rose-colored glasses during Maidan and who lacked any experience in the former Soviet Union were dismayed to find out that no, all is not well after Maidan, and no it’s not all because of the war. In fact, the problems left over after Maidan are one of the factors that has weakened Ukraine in fighting that war. I wonder how people plied with oversimplified narratives would deal with unpleasant information like that in this article about Saakashvili’s Quixotic anti-corruption crusade, or the bad news from this poll. People with realistic expectations and knowledge of the region soldier on. Newly arrived cheerleaders get disillusioned and move on.

The travails of Ukraine and Eastern Europe ought not to be a spectator sport or riot porn. What we need is more understanding and education as opposed to fetishization and vehicles through which Westerners with identity crises can live vicariously. And whether or not this film wins its Oscar, future documentary makers should remember that if they ignore large parts of the story, the Kremlin media will happily fill in those gaps with their own narrative.



The Science of Bullshit

So I had a decision to make- I could collect another half dozen recent stories in Russia that demonstrate the maddening hypocrisy of this corrupt government, or I could not waste my time since there will probably be another half dozen such stories by the end of the week. What can I say? Some days I’m just not in the mood.

In compensation I’d like to look at the broader topic of critical thinking, starting with a story that has been making the rounds lately. Apparently an academic study found that people with lower cognitive abilities (i.e. intelligence) were more susceptible for falling for pseudo-profound, intellectual-sounding bullshit. Yes, they used the word bullshit in the study, 200 times in fact.

What do they mean by “pseudo-profound” and “intellectual sounding?” Well basically it seems they’re talking about the sort of thing people tend to share on their Facebook walls. For example you’ll see a photograph of someone doing yoga on a pristine beach and superimposed on this you see text reading: “Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.”

That particular example comes out of the study. Judging from other such statements quoted by the media, it would seem that the study focused on “hippy”-like statements, the kind of thing you’d expect from Deepak Chopra. I can do one now: “The only tragedy greater than a full life not lived is the unrealized dream of an empty life lived alone.” Or how about: “Spirituality isn’t found inside of an ancient tome written in archaic language, but in the subtle interplay of the elements that make up our daily surroundings.” It’s pretty easy.

But this got me thinking, and the implications are quite scary. For one thing, Silicon Valley and the tech industry is similarly laden with statements that are little more than buzzwords arranged in different ways. “Innovation makes it possible to leverage the platform’s scalability exponentially, making it ultimately more disruptive.” I know from experience with such bullshit that this kind of empty nonsense is being used to woo people out of millions and in some cases, billions of dollars. Sure, these people are in most cases investing in highly profitable corporations which may indeed possess the key to disrupting entire markets and industries. On the other hand, we could be in for another dot com bubble brought on by idiots with money throwing cash at things they don’t understand because it was “innovative.”

There’s another aspect of this phenomenon that is far more interesting to me, and this is how this pseudo-intellectual bullshit is used in politics. I regret that I cannot dig up the exact post, but Ed at Gin & Tacos once referred to certain conservative rhetoric as (I’m paraphrasing here): shit that sounds intelligent to smart people. This is an interesting concept and I think it is very much related to this susceptibility for “pseudo-profound” statements. If someone can read a collection of random words about life, happiness, balance, and spirituality and come away with a feeling that this was profound and enlightening, it’s not too far fetched to suggest that posts containing random historical facts or complex political terminology could leave some with the impression that they are astute and politically savvy. Actually I think this kind of tactic is more dangerous in the world of politics.

I think this explains how, for example, people can fall so easily for endless regurgitation of Russian geopolitical theories. People who rarely really think about economic policy and who don’t have much experience in the world can easily be wowed by “sober” analysis about the BRICS alternative, trading in local currencies, the BRICS development bank, etc. Of course there are usually prerequisites that cause them to tumble down the rabbit hole. For example, they’re upset at their government and want to believe there’s some kind of powerful alternative bloc out there keeping their own leaders in line. But if that person is not sufficiently informed, they can easily fall for this sort of rhetoric.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not only aiming at the pro-Kremlin people here. Plenty of foreign Ukraine supporters jumped on the bandwagon of Maidan and Ukraine’s war effort without really fully understanding Ukraine’s history or its relationship with Russia. “European Ukraine” and “democracy” can be just as persuasive to the same sort of people as “NATO encirclement.”

The problem with all this is that in the case of politics, it’s not often a matter of cognitive ability. Sure, maybe it is with certain ideologies that require a major lapse in critical thinking, but it’s actually quite easy to fall for pseudo-intellectual bullshit in politics because oftentimes we have a severe lack of information.

To give one example, I didn’t really pay much attention to the Syrian civil war until about 2013. By that time, the dichotomy of Assad vs. jihadists, at that time Al Nusra and not ISIS, was dominant. And no, it wasn’t just coming from the Russian press or alternative media. For example, when debating airstrikes against the regime in the wake of an apparent chemical weapons attack in August of 2013, one Pentagon official reported to Congress that such airstrikes would most likely benefit Al Qaeda. This plus a lack of information and the flaws of memory could lead anyone to buy the “Assad is the lesser of two evils” narrative, even without regularly consuming pro-Assad media.

Maidan was another example. In the beginning I hardly had any reason to care. Then the media, including the Western media, began portraying the protests as being all about Ukraine joining Europe. Russian media went right along with that. At the same time, I started seeing these UPA, OUN, and Svoboda flags and symbols popping up in the protests, and my initial reaction was negative specifically for that reason. Like most Ukrainians, I had always been opposed to the idea of Ukraine joining Russia’s Customs Union or the Eurasian pseudo-union. European integration was, for me, a non-issue. But rehabilitation of fascists and Nazi collaborators, in any country, is something I simply cannot abide. As I said back then, I had no fear at all that Ukraine would actually be taken over by fascists. What I was afraid of was nationalists getting into key positions where they could impose their revisionist historical narrative on the country with the help of the state, something they basically ended up doing.

There were some points about Maidan I always conceded. I naturally have more respect for people who resist poor treatment even if I despise their politics. But the real reason why I eventually took a pro-Maidan position, long after the fact, was that I actually started talking to people who were involved in the movement, and I also learned how both the Western and Russian media essentially collaborated to paint a picture of Maidan that was false from the start, even without Russia’s tall tales of a Nazi putsch.

What could have prevented my mistake? Well if I’d been paying close attention from the very beginning in November 2013, this might not have happened. But there lies another problem- in the beginning there was little reason for anyone outside of Ukraine to suddenly take notice and start paying attention. Speaking personally, there was even less reason for me to start closely following the details of the peaceful uprising in Syria before the civil war started. You can try following Twitter but the problem is that you’re not likely to know which stories are going to be mundane and quickly disappear from view and which are going to snowball into something much bigger and historically significant.

There’s another element to all this, which is that a person who is actively trying to sell you a certain narrative can take advantage of this in order to deceive you. All they have to do is spit out a series of “facts,” some real, some distorted, some entirely made up, assertively and confidently. That and some ideological hook designed to get you on the same “side” can be more than enough to get an otherwise reasonable, intelligent person to fall for political bullshit.

Want to see this in action? Try my little quiz. The following statements are bullshit, but you should think about what you would say in response, off the top of your head, without access to Google and the internet.

Situation #1: You’re discussing WWII history with a fellow at a gun show (bear with me). The topic of the Holocaust comes up, and he starts talking about how it was “grossly exaggerated.” He asks how it can be that 6 million Jews were gassed to death, yet not a single autopsy ever showed that a concentration camp victim died of poison gas. He points out that Zyklon B was a commercial delousing agent, and that there were delousing chambers at all concentration camps, including those which were never “death camps.” He says that it would be impossible to kill people with carbon monoxide using diesel engines, as diesel engines don’t generate enough CO. Lastly he tells you how the whole thing was Communist propaganda, and points out how the plaque at Auschwitz used to say four million Jews died there, only to later be revised to 1.2 million after the fall of the Polish Communist government.

Situation #2: You’re at the same gun show (you need to stop engaging gun show patrons in political discussions), and you meet a guy who says the US government had foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attacks. One of his strongest pieces of evidence is that the carriers which were based at Pearl Harbor were curiously missing on the day of the attack. According to him, this means that Roosevelt knew the attacks were coming and so he or the conspirators made sure that the war-winning carriers wouldn’t be in port when the attack came.

Situation #3: You’re online and a pro-Kremlin poster talks about how George Bush promised Gorbachev that NATO “wouldn’t expand one inch” if the Warsaw Pact broke up. Instead, NATO expanded, thus posing a threat to Russia, which is only responding to NATO’s encirclement.

Situation #4: You didn’t learn your lesson about talking to people at gunshows and this guy starts telling you that 9/11 was an inside job. He tells you that WTC property owner Larry Silverstein said in an interview with PBS that he made the decision to “pull” building 7, and “pull” is a demolitions industry term for taking down a building via controlled demolition.

Situation #5: A radical Ukrainian nationalist denies OUN involvement in Holocaust related crimes, claims that the OUN fought against the Nazis as well as the Soviets, and points out that Bandera was arrested by the Nazis and locked in a concentration camp in 1941.

What would you say if you were confronted with these claims, some of which are factual or at least half-factual, if you didn’t have the background knowledge on the specific topics, you didn’t have internet access at the moment, and the person is delivering them in a confident, assertive way, as though they know what they’re talking about? What if they try to pull credentials out on you? A history major, a former expat in Russia, a diesel engineer- would you be prepared to dispute them, especially in public? By all means try, put your answers in the comments here if you wish. 

I think what this little lesson demonstrates is how easy it is to sell bullshit when it comes to politics and history. Spiritual buzzwords and feelgood phrases might be more effective on people who are literally dumber, but technical jargon, info-dumps, and random historical facts can be used to dupe otherwise intelligent people into believing very stupid things.

The good news is that we have a toolkit against this, and it’s called critical thinking. What is more, once we have enough info, we can make a choice whether to be stupid or not. Many people who have stupid ideas about the world don’t fall for those ideas because they are stupid. They become stupid because they believe those ideas, and doing so requires you to be stupid by ignoring mountains of contradictory evidence. When it comes to important political and historical events, I think if you’re unable to catch them and follow them critically from day one, the best course of action when confronted with any ideological narrative is to go back to the beginning of the event and try to get all the basic facts from as many points of view as possible. In other words, before adopting someone’s “alternative theory,” you need to be sure you know the “official story.”






Maidans everywhere!

So just as I and many others predicted, Russian officials and media sources have already started comparing Electro Yerevan to Euromaidan, and alleging that it’s orchestrated by the United States. It can’t possibly be the 16% increase in electricity prices, as the protesters claim. Surely they are on drugs; drugs that make you protest.

Would that it were only the paranoid Russian officials making this claim, however. Sadly, anti-Kremlin types have also been feeding the fantasy by comparing the protests to Maidan in spite of the fact that these protests have very little in common. For one thing, the cause is really clear and concrete- electric bill hikes. What is more, some sources have told me that in Armenia most people actually believe the Russian version of events when it comes to Maidan. Obviously people might use these protests as a forum for many other grievances, a common practice in many protest movements the world over, but I highly doubt any significant number of people decided to overthrow their government over something as simple as electricity prices.

I guess it’s inevitable that such obsession with “Maidans” is going to cause the Kremlin and its media minions to see every organized protest as a Maidan, including protests aimed at governments Russia sees as hostile. What I find funny, however, is that they never seem to wake up and learn why you don’t see these government-toppling protests in the US, UK, or even basketcase EU countries like Greece. It’s almost as if they have some kind of…immune system against things getting out of hand.

This isn’t too hard to figure out. Take the US for example. You have the Tea Party and Occupy. What happened with both of those movements is that they each had a connection to mainstream politics, though this was certainly more the case for the former. Even with Occupy, however, the Democratic party tried to siphon off votes. Virtually every election you see this debate between radical leftists, the debate as to whether voting makes a difference. A large chunk of people will always find some key issue that makes it worth voting- it could be fear of the opponent’s Supreme Court nominees, food stamps, or reproductive rights. Regardless of how one feels about these arguments, this kind of thing happens, and it works.

Put simply, liberal democracy has a release valve for venting pressure. Also the relative lack of censorship is a second release valve, one which is probably much more important. Sure, life can really suck for a lot of people in the States; it did for me. The nice thing, however, is there are just endless ways for you to vent this rage with impunity so long as you don’t commit any illegal acts like threatening bodily harm to public officials. In fact, the Russian government ought to be aware of this given their associations with groups like the Texas secessionists. Somehow the fact that this group is actually allowed to freely disseminate its message is totally lost on the “geopolitical experts” who think they’ve found a useful 5th column in the States, and it is precisely that freedom that keeps groups like that from getting any serious influence.

Russian society doesn’t have that release valve, which is part of the reason why its elite are constantly quaking at any protest movement that successfully removes a government. Hopefully Armenia isn’t like that. It would be better if Electro Yerevan doesn’t turn into a Maidan. So long as the government is cool-headed and makes an effort to respond to protesters’ just demands, and so long as they don’t take boneheaded advice from their Eurasian Union partner, this protest movement could be over in days. That being said, those of us not on the Kremlin side don’t do anyone any favors by comparing this to Maidan.