As if the memorial to the Victims of Communism wasn’t bad enough. Communists in Ukraine and Russia have decided to enter the battle over memory. In response to the Victims of Communism groundbreaking last week, Leonid Grach from the Ukrainian Communist Party has proposed “establishing a museum commemorating victims of U.S. imperialism.” “American imperialism, from the extermination of native Americans to war crimes in Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq,” Grach added, “has caused substantially more deaths than the ‘orange forces,’ along with their masters over the ocean, blame Communism for.” Grach also asserted that the the Victims of Communism Memorial would certainly please the U.S.’s “vassal” Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, whose government has sought to have the 1932-33 Ukrainian Famine declared a genocide.
Grach’s hasn’t been the only response to the Victims of Communism Memorial. Russian Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov called President Bush “a symbol of state terror” and the memorial “attempt to distract the attention of world opinion from the bloody evils of American imperialism as a whole.” That wasn’t all. Zyuganov also claimed former President George H. W. Bush was responsible for the shock therapy economic policies of the 1990s, which according to Zyuganov, “10 million people, 9 million of them ethnic Russians.”
Nothing like burnt out Communists to push the limits of absurdity. I’m sure all the massacred Native Americans will rest well knowing that they have Grach and Zyuganov fighting to preserve their memory.
Thanks to Wally Shedd for alerting me of the article.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
As Duma and presidential elections approach in Russia, the Kremlin and its supporters like Nashi have amplified their charges that the United States is funding Russian opposition movements. In his 26 April “Annual Address to the Federal Assembly,” Putin added his own take about the increased influx of foreign money into Russia’s political system. “There has been an increasing influx of money from abroad being used to intervene directly in our internal affairs,” he stated. “Looking back at the more distant past, we recall the talk about the civilizing role of colonial powers during the colonial era. Today, ‘civilization’ has been replaced by democratization, but the aim is the same – to ensure unilateral gains and one’s own advantage, and to pursue one’s own interests.”
Given Putin’s own democratic record many have panned his analysis as just another means to justify his authoritarianism. The logic is simple: discredit the opposition by linking it to larger Western, particularly American, machinations at world domination. After all, Western NGO support of opposition movements in Ukraine and Georgia are often cited as crucial factors in those countries “colored revolutions.” The thing is whether one wants to believe him or not, Putin does have a point.
The truth is, as Putin states, American rhetoric about “spreading democracy” is a resounding echo of imperialist powers’ “civilizing mission in the 19th century. Just compare the following quotes;
In carrying out this work of civilization we are fulfilling what I believe to be our national mission, and we are finding scope for the exercise of those faculties and qualities which have made of us a great governing race.”—British Secretary of State for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain in a speech to the annual dinner of the Royal Colonial Institute, March 1897.
From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.—President George W. Bush, Inaugural Address, January, 2005.
Only the most na?ve would believe that the spread of “civilization” by the British was and “democracy” by the US is altruistic. Global hegemony is not waged by force alone. As the Cold War proved, ideology is also major weapon. In addition, as Putin well knows, since 1991, post-Soviet space has been one of the focuses for the US’ strategy of “spreading democracy” and “assisting” democratic movements. However, unlike during the Cold War, as Gerald Sussman has argued in the Monthly Review, the State Department relies less on the CIA and more on both public and private organizations. Allen Weinstein, one of the founders of the National Endowment for Democracy, noted: “A lot of what we [NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
Russians got a taste of American meddling in the 1996 Russian Presidential elections. Then a barely surviving Yeltsin defeated KPRF candidate Gennady Zyuganov through a combination of theft, voter manipulation, scare tactics, and funds from the International Monetary Fund and the American, German, and French governments. And while Putin’s political career has certainly benefited from Yeltsin’s victory, now that he’s vilified in the West, there is no doubt in Putin’s mind that foreign governments will attempt to exercise influence over who will be his successor.
The question is how much and what kind of “assistance” the US government is giving. Moscow’s claims of foreign governments’ meddling have sparked some digging. Writing in a recent article in the Moscow Times, Nabi Abdullaev states that the Kremlin’s accusations are purely to whip up “hysteria.” An analysis of US funding conducted by the Moscow Times found that “for the past four years . . . Washington seems to have given up trying to effect democratization in any significant way, steadily cutting its spending to pennies of what would be needed to foster a change in government.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) spent $84.27 million in Russia in 2006 but only $60.97 million is allocated for this year (a breakdown of USAID’s 2007 budget for Russia can be found here). This is compared to the $94 million the agency spent in 2004. The decrease of funding for Russia has prompted the NGO Freedom House to recommend in their recent report “Supporting Freedom’s Advocates?” that the Bush Administration restore the $25 million it struck from the 2007 Budget for “civil society” and the $3 million for “human rights.” In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Amanda Abrams, Freedom House’s director of communications, said that “We’re seen an increase in democracy funding around the world, which is great, and we’re also seeing increases in certain regions, but the former Soviet Union isn’t one of the regions that’s really receiving an increase, I’d say, generally speaking.”
However, when the figures are looked at closely, there is an ample increase in the percentage within the budget for democratic assistance programs. And it’s no coincidence that this has occurred on the eve of the Russia’s two big elections. “Combined spending on democracy and governance has grown from 41 percent of the total budget in 2004 to 72 percent this year,” Abdullaev writes. It is also telling that in 2004 and 2005 no money was in the USAID Russia budget for “Strengthening Democracy,” while the 2006 and 2007 budgets saw $3.1 million and $2 million respectively to “Strengthen Democratic Political Parties.” According to USAID’s data sheet, strengthening democratic parties means:
USAID will enhance organizational capacity of democratically-oriented parties, encourage and intensify coalition building efforts for the 2007-2008 elections, and promote cooperation with NGOs. Community-based initiatives in selected regions will teach Russian youth to apply democratic principles and pursue civic initiatives. New partnerships will strengthen Russian policy institutes capacity to analyze campaign and policy issues. Principal partners: National Democratic Institute (NDI), International Republican Institute (IRI), Project Harmony, TBD.
How or who USAID defines as “democratically-oriented parties” isn’t stated. Yet, despite the explicit statement about helping intensifying coalition building efforts for the 2007-2008 elections, the Moscow Times maintains that USAID programs are hardly threatening. Most of them focus on “judge exchange programs, leadership lectures by local professors, finance classes for regional officials, and journalist training.”
Moreover, USAID repeatedly claims that their funding is “non-partisan” and doesn’t go to any political parties in particular, but to strengthening the “democratic process.” This has allowed some unlikely groups to benefit. Not only have activists from Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces attended USAID funded training seminars, lectures, and conferences, so have activists from United Russia, its youth organization Young Guard, and Nashi. All three groups have taken advantage of US funds despite their vehemence about US meddling. When asked about this, spokespeople from both Nashi and Young Guard stated that they were not in control of what their individual members did. And though Nadezhda Orlova, Young Guard’s coordinator for political training programs, thought “it reprehensible to participate in U.S.-financed training sessions after we have accused The Other Russia of taking money from Washington and turning into American puppets,” she herself admitted to accepting a US government grant to study public relations at the University of North Carolina.
Whether any of these US funded programs actually have any influence over politics is difficult to access. Yabloko youth leader Ilya Yashin told the Moscow Times that the seminars were “dull stuff” anyway, adding that “We know the situation on the ground better than any Western expert.”
Still, even if NGOs flooded Russian opposition parties with cash, few think that it would make any real difference. As Gleb Pavlovsky, former editor of the Russian edition of the Journal of Democracy in the 1990s, (JoD Russia was published by the US Congress and funded by the National Endowment of Democracy), told the Times, “U.S. money in Russia is not enough to unhorse Putin” anyway. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told the Financial Times the same last month. “The economic and political situation in Russia today is very stable. There could be attempts, but this will be money thrown into the wind. It will be spent in vain. There will be no dividends” he said. The one thing that made “democratic assistance” a success in Ukraine and Georgia was that social discontent with the ruling governments was already present. With a 70% approval rating, such mass discontent doesn’t exist in Russia, regardless of what Other Russia signifies (I should note that the April issue of the Journal of Democracy has an article by none other than Garry Kasparov titled, “Battling KGB Inc.” as well as other articles critical of Russian democracy.) The only thing is, if all this is true and figures like Ivanov are exuding such confidence, then why the crackdown on such a weak and insignificant opposition?
The issue might just be less about opposition parties and more about sovereignty. Also in his interview with FT, Ivanov stated that “when the [US] state department publicly says, “We will disburse money to NGOs,” this is practically interference in our internal affairs.” And while western governments lambaste Russia for restricting NGOs, it is not like any Russian money would be tolerated in their countries. As Ivanov told FT in response to whether Russia could fund NGOs in the United States,
No it can’t, because of the laws of the US. We haven’t been able to open a radio station there for the last ten years. They won’t let us. Mayak, I think, wanted to. But their laws won’t allow us, or any broadcasts by foreign media. And I know the laws of France on NGOs, there is such a big tax – almost 80 percent of funds transferred for fighting diseases, for humanitarian purposes. And there’s a check every month on whether it is being used properly. If just one centime did not go towards buying medicine then it is immediately closed. We have normal laws. They are democratic laws. But when [foreigners] begin to finance the political process – imagine if foreign capital financed any US political party, or in Britain, how this would be seen. You would say you don’t like this. And we don’t like it either.
Ivanov words essentially echo most Russians’ complaint about the US and Europe rhetoric about Russian “democracy”: hypocrisy. For centuries, the West has claimed it was spreading “civilization” to the dark masses. The result was to the detriment of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The current prevalence in the West to speak about democracy and freedom, to borrow a phrase from Homi Bhabha, “in a tongue that is forked, not false” is what makes its efforts so disingenuous, not their supposed results.Post Views: 50
By Sean — 13 years ago
Democracy or something like it rules in the Ukraine. The tenacious efforts of hundreds of thousands Viktor Yushchenko supporters have paid off in another runoff presidential election scheduled for December 26. In an unprecedented ruling the Ukrainian Supreme Court nullified the election that named Viktor Yanukovich the winner by a mere 3 percentage points and by about 800,000 votes. The standoff sparked an international tug of war between Washington and Moscow over the legitimacy of the elections. Putin, who favored Yanukovich, quickly sent his congratulations, while outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly declared the results “unacceptable.” President Bush gave a more moderated statement that his administration was watching the process closely. In all, for about two weeks Ukraine, a state of about 80 million, about the size of Texas, and has only been independent from the Russian yoke for 13 years, was on the world stage.
Already Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” is getting top billing as one of the most significant developments in the former Soviet Union over the last decade. And in retrospect, there is no doubt Russian specialists in the United States will place it within the pantheon of other “colored,” that is peaceful, “democratic”, pro-free market, and most importantly, pro-Western, revolutions of Eastern and Central Europe. The way many Western commentators are narrating the events of the Ukraine, you would think the Cold War was won all over again. Take for example, the weekend edition of the Moscow Times (an free English language newspaper here in Moscow), where a columnist from Agence France Presse likened Putin’s opposition as stamping “the big paw of Russia’s authority and influence in the former Soviet Republic.” The NY Times, for example, wrote that a resolution to Ukraine’s crisis was “especially incumbent on President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who, apparently forgetting that he’s no longer in the K.G.B., has been trying to ram last month’s fraudulent election results down the country’s throat.” I wish they would write something this forceful about Bush. Other headlines called Putin’s support for the pro-Russian Yanukovich his “biggest blunder” and his “Ukrainian dilemma.” Longtime Washington Post correspondent Michael McFaul wrote a long piece in the Weekly Standard, the neo-con equivalent of Bolshevik Party’s Pravda, declaring that Putin gambled and lost big and that his position on Ukraine should give Bush second thoughts on his relationship with Pootty-poot. It is hard not to read too much bravado in such swill. All I can say is, hey Condi, if you’re listening, Michael McFaul is looking for a job in the State Department. Such analyses could also be nostalgia on the part of the McFauls of the world for an enemy that you could locate on a map instead of the amorphous international terrorist network.
Whether the triumph of Yushchenko will actually mean a blow to Putin’s political capital is mere speculation. The reality is that whoever leads Ukraine cannot exactly ignore its Slavic big brother to the east. If anything, the situation in the Ukraine should make Putin more apprehensive and hard-line in reinforcing Russia’s sphere of influence. It should make him question his relationship with Bush. After all, it’s not Putin who is placing Russian military bases in and wooing America’s neighbors into a military alliance. Nor was it Putin who suggested the Bush Administration negotiate with Al-Qaeda after September 11, though the Bush Administration made such suggestions after Beslan. I can only imagine how the Bush Administration would act if such a situation happened in Mexico, and say the Chinese government made similar statements that Colin Powell made. What’s clear, is that many politicians, diplomats, pundits and experts still see the world as a bi-polar struggle between East and West. Despite the Bush Administration’s attempts to recast this global binary in religious-ethnic terms under the euphemistic “War on Terrorism,” Russia still remains that ambiguous midpoint that cannot be fully trusted. Russia continues to be almost Western, but not quite.
This is no defense on my part of Putin’s actions or policies. It is just to suggest how the narrative of the “Orange Revolution” is being written in the West. Nor is it to suggest that the situation in the Ukraine was not a triumph for Ukrainian democracy. It was, but not because Yushchenko will be any better than Yanukovich, but because the Ukrainian people stood up and stood firm against clear election violations. And election fraud there was. The Moscow Times reported on December 1 that the Ukrainian Central Elections Commission reported that there was a 9.1% voter surge in regions that supported Yanukovich. In Donetsk, one of the regions that threatened to succeed, voter turnout was up 18.6% to remarkable 96.7%! To think 96.2% of them voted for Yanukovich (Did they think that the 0.5% was going to be convincing?). An estimated total of 1.7 million votes were added by Yanukovich’s people. And Kathleen Harris and Jeb Bush thought they were good at rigging elections.
No, this was certainly a great victory for the Ukrainian people, though to call it a “revolution” is to engage in all sorts of Western hyperbole and self righteousness. As most level headed experts have noted, the difference between Yushchenko and Yanukovich is about as big as between Bush and Kerry. There is no indication that there will be any sweeping changes to the Ukrainian system. Nor is there any real indication that Yushchenko will risk poor relations for Russia in exchange for EU or NATO membership. Given the corrupt bastard that Yushchenko apparently is, there is no indication that anything will change. That is unless, of course, the protests in Kiev have really reinvigorated, if not revolutionized democracy from below. The people now have a sense of their power. As Misha Kolodiy, a brightly, orange haired Ukrainian 20-year-old, put it to the Associated Press, “It’s very cool to be Ukrainian now.” Yep, cooler than Jesus. Its seems there is a possibility that the forces Yushchenko unleashed to catapult him into power might force him make some compromise to the masses, who, it seems supported him because he isn’t Yanukovich.
The power of the Ukrainian protests seems to have been forgotten in the effort to narrate the “Orange Revolution” as yet another triumph for the Western values, as grave mistake on Putin’s part, and as the Cold War reborn. This is even true, and somewhat surprising, among the American Left. One would think that the successful protests in the Ukraine would be a shining example of the global power of slogans like “Power to the People!” and “Who’s streets! Our streets!” And perhaps there was some of this, but it was overshadowed by a mourning of the death of democracy in America. This is seen in the fact that most left commentators framed the Ukraine as the United States’ democratic Other onto which they could project all their hopes and dreams for a popular movement to raise similar questions about our recent Presidential election. The similarities of which, I noted a few blogs ago. Unfortunately, when the American Left held up the Ukrainian mirror and struggled to see their reflection cast in a Ukrainian key, all they got back was an atrophied visage, withering further despite recent calls against despair and for organizing and struggle. Perhaps the real blow came to the American left, when they realized that last week marked five years since the glorious Battle in Seattle, where anti-globalization activists facilitated the collapse of World Trade Organization talks. Yet this deeper irony, that five years after Seattle the American Left seems weaker than ever before, seems to have escaped many.
Instead, the Ukrainian elections and protests were harnessed as yet another opportunity to damn Bush. While I don’t disagree with this in principle—such incidents of Bush’s hypocrisy are just too good to pass up—the effort to cast US involvement in Ukraine as some sort of omnipotent force misses the fact that hundreds of thousands of people were on the streets longer and in worse conditions than any American Leftist, perhaps even including your humble writer, would ever spend. Many Leftists jumped on the article in the London Guardian that noted the presence of groups such as the Soros Foundation (hey didn’t he also bankroll MoveOn.org?), the National Endowment for Democracy, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Freedom House in Yushchenko’s camp after he got the United States’ public support. The masses in the streets were frequently portrayed as completely manipulated by the mystical powers of advertising, campaign spin, focus groups, and other nefarious American electoral mainstays. Ironically, the Left analysis sounded a lot like Putin’s camp, except they never made the connection between Yushchenko’s wife and her service in the Reagan Administration. Hell, even my khoziaka, Natasha, came home from work one evening and accused the US of being a hibernating snake. When you get it close to your warm body, it suddenly awakens and bites you.
Yet again the Left analysis was narrated in terms of two dueling states, the US and Russia, for little young Ukraine’s affection. US neo-imperialism with all its arms sales, IMF loans, WTO membership, and World Bank projects, seeped into the scene only to manipulate the poor Ukrainians who are too inexperienced to understand democracy. For example, Gary Leupp’s article, “Poll Results Aren’t the Real Issue: Ukraine and Inter-Imperialist Rivalry” on Counterpunch.org portrayed the Ukrainian crisis as imperialist rivalry and that the Ukraine was part of the US larger campaign to get control of Central Asian oil. A Yushchenko victory would open the possibility of Ukraine opening oil deals with its Caucausian neighbors to bypass Russia. Leupp then went on to place Ukrainian “democracy” in a Cold War context with a reference to Henry Kissenger’s statement about “irresponsible democracy” in Chile after that nation elected the soft Marxist Salvador Allende in 1973. Now I don’t disagree with the gist of Leupp’s article. However, there is no need to overdetermine US power. Plus all of this is predicated upon Yushchenko doing the bidding of his western masters at the risk of pissing off Putin. Overall, the narcissism of the American Left analysis where all roads go through Washington is almost too much to bare. It seems that according to the Leftist view, Ukrainians are almost democratic, but not quite.
I would suggest that even if Yushchenko was bankrolled by the West, his victory is a good thing. Not because he will be in power, but because of the means he came to power. The fact that hundreds of thousands of people were on the streets for days to challenge the electoral system, and not leaving until something was done, is a positive development. We don’t know how much this really galvanized the political grassroots of Ukrainian society, partially because no one has bothered to report on it. Moreover it is one of the few times mass protest actually worked. If American Leftists want to learn something, perhaps they should take a gander at how their Ukrainian comrades did it. What was it about this election that made some many people get personally involved? How were these protests organized and sustained? How much pressure did they put on the Ukrainian government? What was the binding ideology? Was it Yushchenko or something else? How did it sustain its peacefulness? What happened to the police?
Perhaps more important is not what Western organizations came to Yushchenko’s aid, but how and why? Would this have occurred if they didn’t? What exactly was their role? Is this really an inter-imperialist rivalry or the Cold War revisited as the pundits would have us believe or is this how democratic “revolutions” now occur? What exactly is the local context of the Ukraine and how it tied to the global?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I certainly will be looking for them in the coming weeks and months.Post Views: 56