Ukraine, Thailand, Italy: hope and contradiction

This week saw an amazing turn of events in the current reprise of the inter-factional protests that shook Thailand three years ago: riot police in Bangkok yielded to the protesters they were ordered to disperse, in apparent defiance of their commanders. The police removed barricades and their helmets as a sign of solidarity. Disobedience of orders for repression is an incredibly hopeful sign; if this sets an example for similar situations around the world, the horizons of possibility for nonviolent revolution are broadened almost dizzyingly. What complicates it is that while in 2010 it was the populist Red Shirts that were protesting the government and the patrician Yellow Shirts that were rallying around it, today the situation is reversed. The Yellow Shirts are seeking the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister (and perceived puppet) of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup, and whose restoration to power the Red Shirts had been demanding last time around. (VOA, Dec. 13; Political Blind Spot, Dec. 6)

A similar hopeful scene was also reported this week from Italy, where thousands of workers, farmers, pensioners and unemployed have taken to the streets in a protest campaign against the government and the European Union. The Movimento dei Forconi or "Pitchfork Movement" has blocked roads and rail lines, repeatedly paralyzing much of the country, as protests have swept from Sicily where they began up the peninsula to Italy's north.  At a Dec. 9 protest in Turin, police disobeyed orders for repression, and (just as in Bangkok) took off their helmets in a show of solidarity. (EuroNews, Dec. 9)

Here too there are contradictions, however. The Pitchfork Movement is more populist than "left" exactly, and some of its leaders have bandied about some pretty ugly rhetoric—most notably Andrea Zunino, who said Italy is "enslaved by wealthy Jewish bankers." Interestingly, a prominent voice that has come forward to repudiate this ugliness is Foad Aodi, a Muslim of Palestinian background who leads the organization Arab Communities in Italy (COMAI). "We must reject raving, dangerous and instrumental words used against religions and the Jewish faith," Aodi said, astutely adding a warning about the co-optation of populist currents by reactionary and opportunist forces. He said the Italian protests have "many things in common with the so-called Arab Springs, which begin at a lower level and in a democratic manner but then are taken over and used for their own purposes by politicians, religious figures and infiltrators." (ANSA, Dec. 13)

Finally, Ukraine is also witnessing a re-eruption of its ongoing political crisis, and on Dec. 11 police in Kiev retreated after attempting to dislodge protesters who are occupying Independence Square (in spite of bitter cold)—although it seems the retreat may have in this case been ordered, as a move by the government to de-escalate the crisis. What's odd is that while protesters in Italy (and Greece and Spain) oppose European Union policies, the Ukrainian protesters are demanding greater integration with the EU. Victor Yanukovych, whose apparent attempt to steal the elections through fraud in 2005 was aborted by a protest mobilization, is now the incumbent, having recouped his losses in the 2010 election. The current protest wave was sparked by his scuttling of an agreement to establish closer economic and political ties with the EU. (BBC News, Dec. 11)

In response to police repression in Ukraine, the Anonymous hacker network issued a statement threatening to attack government websites. Read their statement: "Recently, we have seen the police use barbaric tactics on peaceful protesters. Anonymous, is not delighted. [Sic] The people of Ukraine are on the brink of a revolution." But one account of the threat noted divisions within Anonymous over the question, stating that some hacktivists "want Ukraine to be independent of the EU, NATO and other countries." (Softpedia, Dec. 2)

Of course, some would argue that Yanukovych is merely titling to Russia rather than seeking "independence" for Ukraine. This brings home again the global divide-and-conquer scam which is the essence of the state system—as well as the dangers of the kind of fuzzy populism that was a weakness of the global Occupy movement.

  1. Anti-Semitism in Ukrainian protest movement
    No surprise there. JTA reported Dec. 8: “A number of young Jews are involved in the protests, which have drawn together a diverse coalition of liberal youth and opposition party leaders, including members of the ultranationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, whose leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, has freely trafficked anti-Semitic stereotypes.”

    The biggest surprise would be if both protesters and government were not exploiting anti-Semitism in Ukraine. But is seems likely more Jews are on board with the protesters.

  2. Western left betrays Ukrainians… of course

    Here go again. The crypto-Nazi Israel Shamir has a new piece on the boringly predictable dictator-shilling website with the perversely paradoxical name of Popular Resistance, "What Really Happened in the Ukrainian Crisis?," of course portraying the protesters as "part of US Empire strategy," and implicitly cheering their repression as "a defeat for US Empire and hegemony." We imagine Shamir must be cheered at today's news of four protesters killed in Kiev, although the regime is of course claiming it was the work of "provocateurs." (AFP, CNN)

    Meanwhile, the right-wing establishmentarian National Interest disses the White House statement dissing the new Ukraine anti-protest law that set off the latest escalation… So heartwaring to see freedom-haters East and West making common cause. Which is worse? The hypocrisy of Obama defending the Ukraine protesters while the FBI is sicced on Occupy at home? Or stateside "leftists" who are eager to demonize the Ukrainian protesters as pawns of the West? At least the National Interest gets points for honesty.

    Note that the anti-protest law includes a ban on unauthorized tents in public areas, and criminal responsibility for "slandering" government officials. (BBC News, Jan. 17) Whatever differences we have with the Ukrainian protesters, the failure to oppose this shit is a betrayal of solidarity.

  3. Ukrainian anarchists speak

    Ukraine's anarcho-syndicalist Autonomous Workers' Union has a Jan. 23 statement in English on the current protests. It notes that the regime and security forces are spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories "which claim that the opposition leaders are Jews and want to vitiate the people by legalizing same-sex marriages. This hardly differs from the rhetoric of Ukrainian right radicals." It acknowledges that these right-wing radicals are an element in the protest movement, but denies that they constitute a majority. It states: "Anarchists ought to participate in demonstrations and pickets which are dedicated to defense of the rights and freedoms usurped by the laws of January 16th…"

    In a victory for the movement, the anti-protest law was overturned by Ukraine's parliament Jan. 28, and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned—although President Viktor Yanukovich remains in power. (Reuters)

  4. Corrective perspective on Ukraine protests

    A petition (perhaps not the most appropriate form) on addressed to journalists and commentators in the US and around the world states: "KYIV’S EUROMAIDAN IS A LIBERATIONIST AND NOT EXTREMIST MASS ACTION OF CIVIC DISOBEDIENCE." It acknowledges the existence of ugly right-wing elements in the Ukrainian protest movement, but insists that Western commentators are overstating their role. "The demonstrators include liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, nationalists and cosmopolitans, Christians, non-Christians and atheists." The statement is written by Kiev historian Andreas Umland, and signed by numerous Ukrainian scholars. The English is authentically stilted, but this is a corrective perspective to the toxic bunk that much of the "left" in the US is spreading about Ukraine…