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Ukraine and Occupy Wall Street

The international conflict over events in Ukraine have been heating up of late, yet the rationale for this is illogical. Suppose we treat the context of the Ukrainian events in that of the USA, this will demonstrate the problem. Imagine that a group of fabulously wealthy oligarchs (say the Koch brothers) used their wealth to undermine constitutional guarantees (Citizens' United and campaign contribution limits) and used their money to capture the electoral process and elect legislatures to rewrite voting districts so that their party could never be voted out of power. They then use their position to change the tax laws, banking and enforcement to benefit themselves. Suppose a liberal group, say Occupy Wall Street is enraged by this and holds demonstrations and attacks the capital and White House in the course of which federal police kill many of them. They are able to seize the government and put Pelosi in charge of the House and begin to reverse the oligarch's laws. Then the governor of Texas and the state legislature decide to secede and are protected by the Mexican military. Can you imagine the international response? Would it be like that regarding the Ukraine? The situations would be exactly the same.

Professor Timothy Garton Ash in an article in the Financial Times on March 9th, 2014, ("States are born by accident but sustained by ardour") places the current crisis in Ukraine in elegant historical context with his discussion of European "self-decolonialization." I would only change the term he uses to "de-nationalization," as the entities we are talking about have both cultural foundations (Basque, Catalans, Cossacks, Scots, etc.) and prior histories as minorities pressed into the new national state building process after the Wars of the Reformation and later, the Congress of Vienna. Europe changed dramatically in the creation of France, Spain, England and in the 19th century, Germany and Italy.

I also agree with Professor Ash in the value of how change takes place. The protests that led to the seizure of government in Kiev were marked with violence. There was an elected government and it seems a gross contradiction for the west to support this new group in control in Kiev if we respect democracy. It has been the history of the USA to deem as legitimate only those elected governments that agree with its economic and political policies over the past 200 years as John Gerassi documented in his book, The Great Fear in Latin America (1963). The west condemned Turkish PM Erdogan for suppressing protests last year, while the suppression of protests by the Saudis and Occupy Wall Street elseshere has been overlooked.

What is most disturbing is the report in the Financial Times on March 7th by Jan Clenski ("Oligarch tightens Kiev grip on restive Donetsk") which tells of the violent suppression of pro-Russian demonstrators in Donetsk two weeks ago. It seems the west has no ethical problems with the suppression of free speech in the Russian speaking east. Contradictions have loomed since the Arab Spring and we now turn away from the violence and chaos in Egypt to cheer on disorder and lawlessness elsewhere hardly concerned with the consequences. As Gretchen Knudson Gee wrote of her research in Ukraine in the 1990s, divisions in the Ukraine are many, the most significant between followers of the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches. She suggested in 1995 ("Geography, nationality and religion in Ukraine: a research note," Journal for the Study of Religion, v. 34, n. 3, pp 383-390) that reconciliation seemed unlikely. The pressures of the west and Russia over the Ukraine have only intensified these divisions and the results appear to bring us to just the road to chaos and disaster that took place in the former Yugoslavia.

The recent events in the Ukraine are liable to be looked upon by the world as an example for those who have lost elections (e.g., Venezuelan conservatives this month) to follow the opponents of Yanukovych and regain what they lost at the ballot box by violence and constant demonstrations. On the other hand, minorities can look to the Crimea and appeal to outside powers to help force a change in borders to support their nationalist aspirations. The west is playing a dangerous game that will break upon the world transformations at the cost of democratic processes. From Ireland to Africa minorities have claimed the right of rebellion when they refused to accept civil accords. The west cynically choses to validate some and repress others, as in Somaliland and Mali.

Mr. Martin Wolf (FT "Prise Ukraine from Putin's claws," March 19th 2014) urges a response by the west to reverse Putin's support for pro-Russian Crimean independence and bases this on a confused analogy to Hitler's invasion of the Sudetenland. In the Ukrainian crisis all sides are claiming the other is fascist and only the facts are ignored. He should recall that every colonial justification for invasion by the west was defined as an act of alliance or support for some idealized entity, from Cortez's claimed support by the Aztec's enemies to the history of the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, especially in the Balkans and particularly regarding the Greeks. Current intervention in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia can have no positive outcome for the democratic tradition.

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Niccolo Caldararo

Niccolo Caldararo teaches anthropology at San Francisco State University. He has been involved in local issues since he marched with SNCC in the 1960s.  He has been a town councilman in Fairfax California and has supported environmental issues and equal opportunity initiatives for over 40 years.  He has published widely in ecology and anthropology and done fieldwork in the USA and abroad.

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