Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Ongoing Disorientation Brought on by the Anxiety about What Will Come Next

This blog has fallen victim to the current state of uncertainty brought on by Russian meddling in eastern Ukraine and the ongoing question of whether Putin will intervene directly.  On the face of it, that ought not to be a big issue for a blogger writing some 7000 miles from the scene, especially one who tries not to traffic too much in speculation.  Yet, it is hard not to get away from how a sudden term of events gets in the way of the long-term.  A week ago, after giving considerable thought I was on the verge of writing a piece on the way so much of Ukraine's future depended not on Ukraine but on Putin with a comparison of Putin's current mode of governing with that of Slobodan Milosevic.  Then I came home Sunday afternoon to the alarming news about the seizures of buildings in Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk.  Suddenly that was more important and I was following every moment and the scarce time I had to bang out the  planned Putin piece disappeared into thin air.  

I write this not just to justify the long gap between now and my last post, but to illustrate the broader impact of Putin’s current efforts to destabilize Ukraine.  For if a small time blogger far removed from the events is thrown of stride, it is not difficult to imagine how people and institutions in Ukraine are unsettled.  In the aftermath of the Russian seizure of Crimea I have heard reports of shortages of basic items like sugar and flour, as people stock up in case of a disruption of supply networks should full-fledged war break out.  The need to deal with the anti-government protests naturally also distracts the government as it attempts to implement changes that will reduce corruption and promote responsible economic development.  

More broadly, as instability lingers the perception that Ukraine cannot manage its affairs grows leading people in the west to thinking that supporting Ukraine may not be worth the effort.  Indeed, Ruslana Lyzychko, the pop singer and effective moral leader of the Euromaidan, expressed that concern following her trip to the US this week, and not without cause.  On Tuesday Rachel Maddow used the brawl between Svoboda and the Communists in parliament as a punchline to a brief exposition of disfunctional government in a way as to suggest that maybe between that brawl and events in the East Ukraine cannot really manage its own affairs.  She did not explain the context; however, like the fact that the Communists had a long codependent relationship with the corrupt Party of Regions party and will be luck to be represented after a new parliament is elected, and that that same fate may also await Svoboda. 

In the great scheme of things losing Maddow for a day is not a huge thing.  She may be MSNBC’s most popular presenter, but she is on cable, and so her audience is small.  Still, she is an important voice on the American left, which as noted previously has to sadly been a weak link in the chain regarding support for Ukraine, largely because of a combination of Russia’s effective use of buzz words like fascism and right-wing extremism combined with a general and understandable desire not to get too involved in someone else’s business, as well as the prominence of well-known left-leaning commentators like Stephen Cohen who talk authoritatively about Ukraine, whether or not they really are. That means that were she to take the lead in promoting informed discussion about Ukraine she could provide a valuable service, and I am not talking just about propaganda here in the pejorative sense, I mean providing useful information that could help her audience honestly assess the current situation.

A week or two ago, Maddow seemed on the verge of doing just that.  In one of her thoughtful meanderings that are part of her program she specifically referenced Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands as valuable for understanding the background. Yet, from my monitoring (and I must admit I cannot watch her everyday due to scheduling conflicts) she has not built on that by Snyder or other informed observers, leaving that to other less popular presenters like Lawrence McDonnell, although to my knowledge Snyder has yet to be brought on as a guest).  PBS has been better, and that same evening provided a much more thoughtful analysis, but I fear as we look at this as an issue defined by identifying with Russia v. identifying with Ukraine we lose sight of the deeper sources of instability, which is the threat the new government poses to the networks that have long profited from the corrupt environment that successive Ukrainian governments have allowed to flourish in the East.  As such a whole way of life is under threat, and while we who have been sympathetic to the Euromaidan see the new era as ushering in new long-term stability, the fact remains that those very advantages mean profound changes for how the economy in Eastern Ukraine works. 

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