Monday, March 10, 2014

1132 Years A Slav

I've avoided writing about Ukraine thus far, but too many people have chimed in with wild theories - and too many of those with no facts to back their points of view up - that I had to at least mention it...

The city of Kiev was officially founded in 482. That's not a typo. Founded mostly by Slavs, the settlement was also inhabited by Finnics (ancestors to modern-day Finns, among others), and Khazars (think Turks, Kazakhs, Tatars and Bulgars) very early on.

The first agglomeration to consider Kiev as its capital was Kievan Rus', circa 882-1283 (that's where I start considering it the capital of a 'country', hence the title of this post). Mostly Slavic, modern-day Belarus, Ukraine and Russia all claim to descend from that federation.

With wars and power struggles a constant in Europe, Kievan Rus' made way for the kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia (a.k.a. Kingdom Of Rus). Like J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, the Kingdom wasn't a united country per se, more like autonomous provinces each with their own capitals within a loose border; Kiev was not a capital, but three other now-Ukrainian cities were: Volodymyr-Volynsky, Halych, and Lviv.

By 1283, the Grand Duchy of Moscow had come into effect, and though its leaders and official name came to change many times (Tsardom of Russia in 1547, Russian Empire in 1721, the USSR in 1922 after a few turbulent years of the 1917 Revolution, The Russian Federation of Independent States in 1991 and the current-day incarnation since 1993), was essentially the beginning of what is now Russia. Russians share the British taste for imperialism, as well as the ''father knows best'' mentality of many Eastern cultures. They like owning a large plot of land (currently occupying an eighth of the world's land mass though they are barely 2% of its population at 145 million people), and they really dislike opposition.

And so, Ukraine has shared countries, ownership or administrations (or been under the influence of) with Russia for over 1000 years. They only declared their actual independence in 1918, and though they tried to refrain Russians from formally entering and claiming ownership from then on by themselves being a socialist state (kind of like Canada signing on NAFTA with the U.S. in 1992), Russians took advantage of the turmoil caused by World War II (and a deal with Germany) to invade Ukraine in 1939, made easier by World War I-era territorial delimitations where the Ukraine was basically split in three.

There was another, short-lived declaration of independence in 1941 when the Soviet troops went back home, but the Nazis made sure to render that useless by jailing, torturing and killing the government in place, and when Germany fell to the Russians, the movement became nothing but a footnote in History.

When the USSR collapsed and became the Russian Federation, most Eastern European subject-states decided to assert their independence, and a lot were allowed to do so. Some chose to remain part of the Russian whole, others were forced to (see: Chechnya). Ukraine chose to proclaim its independence, if only for political reasons: the Russian version of communism/socialism/sovietism  was collapsing, and it was going to change political systems; Ukraine wanted to remain communist, so in an effort for self-preservation, decided to opt for a referendum asking its population if they wanted out of the union. 82% of the population voted, and 90% voted in favour of seceding.

Ironically, Canada was the first country to recognize Ukraine as an independent state, the minute the votes were in. Russian President Boris Yeltsin did the same in the evening, proving there were no hard feelings.

Fast-forward to 2014.

Ukraine was offered to enter the European Union - or at least enter into economic accords with them first, with a promise of future consideration - though many of its constituents (Spain, The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium especially) took issue with that, mostly for political reasons (how it treats its political prisoners chief among them). As a means of negotiation, some of the terms of the deal weren't as advantageous as those of other countries, with the underlying message being ''if you play nice, we'll be nicer with you later''.

President Viktor Yanukovych, rightly, refused to sign the deal because it wasn't advantageous for his country. He then signed a trades agreement with Russia, mostly for natural gas purchases, which could have worked in addition to a deal with the EU. Protests started as people demanded closer ties to the rest of Europe and European integration, and like scared leaders do (and like we saw here in Québec in 2012), the government passed anti-protest laws, which just fueled the violence.

Also, like here in Québec, the protests soon included anger towards the perception (and fact) of widespread corruption. Ironically, though, in Ukraine, a lot of that can be traced back to Yanukovych's opponent in the last election, the country's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is among the imprisoned that the EU is demanding better treatment for; Tymoshenko owns a bunch of gas companies, which made her one of the richest people in her country (Forbes ranked her as the third most powerful woman in the world). And though her arrest and eventual mistreatment when she was found guilty were undoubtedly politically-motivated by a direct adversary, the fact remains that she was convicted of embezzlement and abuse of power, two facts that point to the sense that she at least participated in the corruption of the State.

And as the protests gained traction and Yanukovych resigned and political pressure mounted, she was released from prison - but she wasn't acquitted or even pardoned: the actions she was found guilty of were instead decriminalized. That's a big fucking difference, folks.

That is to say that all is neither all black nor white.

Except that Russia didn't have to send troops in Crimea, though it claimed it hadn't at first but eventually will/did. (of note, under international treaties, if an elected official asks another country for military help, that country is allowed to step in and intervene on a local level, which is what Russia claims Yanukovych has asked.) And while I'm not one to blindly trust Vladimir Putin, I will contend a point Jon Stewart hammers on daily since first reporting on the story a month after it had started, to wit: Putin claims the groups in place are local militias (or ''self-defense forces''), ''but they speak Russian, support Russia and have Russian weapons - so they have to be Russian''.
Dear Jon,
pretty much everyone in the area speak Russian, and they have for over 1000 years. Also, most Finns speak Swedish, a shitload of European countries have German as a first or second language, and most Quebecers understand English; surrounded by imperialists and conquerors, borders change, wars are started, people are annexed and/or assimilated. Until they no longer are... until they are again. Anglo-Saxons and Russians are expansionists and imperialists; one day they wake up and feel the need to own other people and/or their land and/or their toys and/or their food; it's what they do, whether it's to feel like Kings or to spread their ''superior'' culture (or race). Or to sell their sub-par fast-food culture. Or to ''spread democracy'' (still laughing at that one more than a decade later, by the way).
As for the Russian weapons, weren't those all for sale at discount stores in 1991? Doesn't the Russian mob own more nukes than the Russian Army? Why wouldn't a bunch of people buy some AK-47s and military garb, don't you guys have a right to purchase M-16s even with a criminal record and mental health issues, and can't you buy military clothes at both Army Surplus stores and The Salvation Army? And if you can, why shouldn't they?
'Cause to me, equating people who kind of wear military uniforms with no specific designation with the official military kind of makes it seem like your Bible-belt gun nuts and anti-Obama armed militias would then be a representation of your Army, and I guess that would make the Tea Party an actual political party, not just a fringe unrepresentative proportion of your political debate.
As I said, neither black nor white.

The whole world is going to shits, because the worst people have been in power for so long that they have instituted corruption as a rule rather than an exception. And those who lose their elections (or get ousted by the population) are only replaced by equally-minded career white-collar criminals, so the wheel keeps turning and, in doing so, always finds newer and better ways to keep its rhythm going.

Money needs out of politics. It needs out completely in everything, but especially in politics. And leaders need to feel they are liable for their crimes; I've long proposed their sentences be double those of civilians' when found guilty of crimes, but that's just the tip of the iceberg, because those fuckers are usually so well connected that they rarely even get prosecuted. They only lose their friends in high places when the shit has completely hit the fan and there is no longer a way for them to hide and melt back into the general population with their golden toilets and billions of dollars. They are but a small minority.

But, uh, yeah, Ukraine. How that turned into a battle of wits between Putin and Barack Obama is beyond me (and further proof that Americans don't view their own imperialism as such), I will never truly get it, but here's a novel idea: why don't we let the people of Ukraine decide for themselves? It worked in Iceland (where was Fox then, by the way?) recently, though there is something to be said both for and against how they made it impossible for foreigners to withdraw money out of the country (for: promotes re-investing within the country, which even foreigners can take advantage of, i.e. you cant leave with your millions but you can buy millions' worth of stuff; against: detracts foreign investors from coming in to invest for profits that would leave the country - theoretically, though, what it is meant to do is keep the economy rolling and increasing).

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