Stephanie Surface describes the propaganda war that has taken place over the Ukrainian Revolution
The Russian military finally invaded the Crimea this week, after undercover militia first stormed the local parliament, installing the Russian friendly Aksyonov, a shady character with connections to the Mafia, and then blocking roads and airports.
After that, both the right and left wings of the Western media seemed to be gripped and divided by a propaganda war. Claims of fascist thugs who undertook a coup against an elected government came not only from Moscow’s reliant media outlets, but also from some Western journalists, and were picked up by a big section of the social media.
This seems surprising, as the world observed the daily demonstrations in Kiev as a popular revolution against a regime – although democratically elected – which altered the system from within. President Janukovich had served before as Prime Minister under various Presidents, but also had a chequered background. He was convicted in 1967 of theft and thuggery, but later found a judge, who ‘misplaced’ documents related to his case. Subsequently, Janukovich as President made him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. When Janukovich and his oligarchical cronies asserted ever more power and stripped the country of billions, there were no constitutional objections from the Supreme Court.
Over several years this President became a thief on a grand scale. Many smaller businesses couldn’t stay afloat as the government seemed to demand ever more taxes. Workers in factories were stripped of their right to strike and were dismissed if they attempted to form labour organisations. Most of the businesses are now run by a handful of oligarchs, and billions disappeared from the state budget. Janukovich signed into effect laws, “passed” through parliament by a minority of MPs, (just on a show of hands…), severely restraining freedom of speech and assembly.
Also struggling to pay the country’s large debts, Janukovich first tried a trade agreement with the EU, but then turned to Putin, who immediately offered him a loan of $15 billion and a lower price for natural gas.
Consequently, a courageous investigative journalist, together with students, started using social media to rally others on the main square, Maidan, in Kiev. The crowds grew larger, including people from the right-wing Svoboda movement. But since December demonstrations also spread all over the country, as millions of people were taking part.
From this followed Janukovich’s decree to increase the clampdown. Journalists were beaten and tortured, activists were abducted, many disappeared and are still not found. But it seems all these measures couldn’t prevent the increase in resistance: Muslims from Southern Ukraine joined Kiev’s big Jewish community, telephone hotlines were established by gay activists, and the hospital guards, who tried to stop the police from abducting the wounded, were young feminists.
Russia’s foreign minister called the upheaval “a showing of the decadent West”. Also, the Russian press reported that the demonstrations were not only a fascist uprising against a legitimate regime, but also a gay conspiracy. Some of Janukovich’s loyal state media spread the word that the opposition was a large Jewish/Zionist plot. Organisations and individuals, who had foreign contacts, including Catholic and Jewish groups, were pronounced as foreign agents accepting EU and US bribery.
The demonstrations stayed peaceful until repeated assaults by the Berkut (special police) as protesters were killed in public view. On 18 February the Ukrainian Parliament was supposed to sign a compromise to end the confrontations, but the police, who had already give up relying on tear gas and stun grenades some time ago, used more and more live ammunition. Protesters started to defend themselves with cobblestones and Molotov cocktails.
On 20 February a delegation from the EU was supposed to arrive to negotiate a peaceful solution, but the regime orchestrated a bloodbath. Snipers took up positions on rooftops and balconies and even people who attended the wounded were shot at.
The massacre provoked an outcry, even from Janukovich’s own party, and he signed, reluctantly, an agreement with the European Foreign ministers on 21 February, promising to hold elections later in the year.
By that time, though, the far-right did indeed grow larger, as Jankovich had already imprisoned and clamped down on the more moderate opposition from the centre-right. But according to opinion polls, the far-right Svoboda movement has little support. But there is an even more far-right group who want a national revolution against all foreigners, and have little sympathy for a European future. For the time being, however, their leaders have been careful to stress their aim is political, and not ethnic or racial.
On the 22 February the Ukrainian Parliament impeached Janukovich by a vote of 328 out of 450: 36 came from Janukovich’s own party (Party of Regions), 36 from Svoboda, 99 Independents, 86 from Fatherland, 41 UDAR ( Democratic Alliance for Reform) and 30 Communists. Parliament decided to vote for a temporary government until a new election in May.
Nevertheless Russian news outlets claim that was a “nationalist coup” by “fascist thugs”, and a letter by the exiled Janukovich was introduced at a UN hearing by the Russian UN ambassador as a pretext for Russia’s intervention. Putin in a press conference now claims that Russian troops were on a “humanitarian” mission to protect ethnic Russians, although none were attacked and many were also participating in the Maidan demonstrations.
As a matter of fact busloads of Russians from Belgorod were sent across the border to the Ukrainian town of Charkiw to take part in violent battles. Also shown on Russian TV were scenes how ethnic Russians were leaving the Ukraine in drones, but those pictures turned out to be archive pictures of the border between Poland and Russia. Official records show that only five ethnic Russians have claimed asylum so far.
Sadly, so much of the Western media, including some Eurosceptics, have fallen for misinformation and propaganda, as the story of Ukrainians seeking closer ties with the rest of Europe didn’t fit smoothly into a desired black and white scenario.
To find a peaceful ending, all parties are going to have to first admit that the Maidan revolution wasn’t a fascist, nationalist or a foreign-financed coup d’état, but a genuine revolution by Ukrainians wanting to rid themselves of a corrupt dictator who was supported and maintained by Putin.
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