President Bush sent a gushing statement to Georgia on the fifth anniversary of the “Rose Revolution.” Bush said in White House press release,
One of the most inspiring chapters in the history of freedom was written by the Georgian people during the Rose Revolution. Thirsting for liberty and armed only with roses in hand, citizens throughout Georgia peacefully staked claim to their God-given right of liberty. These demonstrations proved once again, that when given a choice, people choose to live in freedom.
On this anniversary, Americans honor the brave Georgian citizens who defended freedom, and we renew our commitment to supporting Georgia’s democracy, independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. We also look forward to the day when the light of liberty shines on all people throughout the world.
Blech. Under normal circumstances, one could, in fact, one should ignore Bush’s blathering. His days are numbered, he’s the lamest of all lame ducks, and frankly even he’s looking like January 20 can’t come fast enough. But these aren’t normal circumstances. Especially since along with an anniversary greeting came $250 million, the first installment of the $1 billion the US promised to send Georgia as compensation for Saakashvilli’s little war.
The money is to prop up Georgia’s budget as follows:
The USD 250 million grant will fund Georgia’s budget expenditures to cover state pensions, state compensation and state academic stipends – USD 163.3 million; health care costs for people living below the poverty line – USD 26.1 million; allowances to individuals displaced by the conflict in Abkhazia USD 6.1 million; financial support to schools through a voucher system on a per-student basis USD 24.2 million; USD 30.3 million will be allocated for compensation and salaries for government employees of all ministries excluding the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, according to the U.S. embassy.
I love how the Bush Administration snuck school vouchers into the aid. They’ve been trying to shove this code phrase for privatizing public schools down Americans’ throats to no avail. One sure way to force a privatization experiment ship it to a foreign country all nice and wrapped up with aid money.
Now granted, in the big scheme of things, $250 million is chump change to the US coffers. It pisses away $1 billion in Iraq in three days. But considering the recent uproar over holding US automakers responsible for putting themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, shouldn’t there at least be some commotion over sending money to bail out a country that got itself in a mess? Guess not. Apparently claiming your “God-given right of liberty” comes with a few perks and a lot more dollars.
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Yesterday, I suggested that Ukrainian protesters are fetishizing Europe. My single point was that in doing this, Ukrainians’ favoring the association agreement with the EU might turn that relationship into a false promise. The response to the post was overwhelming. Many found it insightful. Others charged that dreaming of Europe was better than the status quo under Yanukovich. Perhaps. I don’t follow Ukrainian politics enough to say, and I certainly wonder how an association agreement with the EU will make the short term situation any better. That said, the protests have moved from a join EU revolt to a get rid of Yanukovich revolt. What will ultimately happen is in the stars. Yanukovich is digging in his heels. Today, the oppositionists in the Rada failed muster the 226 votes needed to dismiss the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.
As for the status of the association agreement, in a statement on Sunday, Yanukovich said, “I will do everything possible to advance the process of Ukraine’s rapprochement with the European Union, but without any serious losses for this country’s economy or deterioration of the citizens’ living standards. We must be only guided by national interests and be responsible for our own future. We should defend Ukraine on the political map of Europe and the world as a great and absolutely independent state.”
This will hardly placate people in the streets who are calling for his head.
It does, however, raise the question as to what Ukraine will get by signing the EU agreement. Does it threaten Ukraine as Yanukovich’s statement implies? Few have devoted much discussion to the actual content of the agreement. The main provisions are available here. What do they portend for Ukraine? Jozsef Borocz has outlined them in an insightful post on LeftEast, Terms of Ukraine’s EU-Dependency. In a nutshell, there seems to be little benefit for Ukraine in this agreement.
On the economic front, Borocz writes:
As the EU’s own publication suggests, the business linkages between the EU and Ukraine are quite skewed already. Ukraine exports EUR 14.6 billion worth of goods to the EU and imports EUR 23.8 billion, producing a 9.2 billion trade imbalance. In the area of investment, the imbalance is outright grotesque: EUR 2 billion from Ukraine, EUR 23.8 billion from the EU to Ukraine (resulting in a fairly breathtaking, EUR 21.9 billion, imbalance). Given those figures, even without the DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area), the economic linkage structure between the EU and Ukraine offers itself as a textbook study in external trade and investment dependence.
The draft agreement is absolutely adamant that the key purpose of this exercise is removal of all remaining tariffs and other trade barriers for EU capital:
“The DCFTA, linked to the broader process of legislative approximation will contribute to further economic integration with the European Union’s Internal Market. This includes the elimination of almost all tariffs and barriers in the area of trade in goods, the provision of services, and the flow of investments (especially in the energy sector). Once Ukraine has taken over the relevant EU acquis, the EU will grant market access for example in areas such as public procurement or industrial goods” (p.3.)
The expected benefit of the removal of “almost all tariffs and barriers” is that “The DCFTA once in force will provide tariff cuts which will allow the economic operators of both sides to save around 750 millions euros per year in average (most of the customs duties being lifted)” (p.4.)
Given the disparities between the two would-be contracting entities (1.5 to 1 in trade, 11 to 1 in investment and 40 to 1 in economic power), it is not difficult to imagine what percentage of that EUR 750M, resulting from the lifting of trade barriers, would go to the EU and what part will go to Ukraine.
But that is, really, small change compared to the liberalization of investment. In addition to liberalizing trade, the DCFTA also envisages a significantly more open investment “climate.” This is so much so that the agreement not only emphasizes investment, but even specifies what it has in mind: “investments (especially in the energy sector)” (p.3.) Just in case this was not clear enough, the document repeats, “New trade and investment opportunities will be created and competition will be stimulated” (p. 4.). But it’s not over: “Through the Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF), to which Ukraine is eligible IFI investments could be leveraged. The NIF aims at mobilising additional funding to cover the investment needs of Ukraine for infrastructures in sectors such as transport, energy, the environment and social issues (e.g. construction of schools or hospitals).” This is all very nice, except there is absolutely no mention of the terms under which all this investment in human infrastructure would take place, who would do them, from what funds, etc. None of that.
And on the requirement that Ukraine begin to adopt EU institutional and regulatory standards, a much idealized prospect for many Ukrainians opposed to Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the agreement:
The draft agreement also envisages that Ukraine will gradually “approximate” the acquis communautaire, i.e., the EU’s body of laws and regulations. This is an apparently completely neutral and technical provision. However, beyond the technical and the apparent neutrality, there are two key points to be remembered here.
First, clearly, the diplomatic frame of the draft agreement (two contracting parties come to an agreement) is highly deceptive: What is actually going on is the full adoption of a set of external legal materials by a smaller, economically weaker, actor, under political pressure by a bigger, economically stronger and politically superordinate party. I have analyzed the structure of such a grossly asymmetrical relationship in my paper, “The Fox and the Raven. . .”, available here or here with respect to Hungary’s EU-accession negotiations 15 years ago. . .
Second, keep in mind: In a fairly fundamental way, the main (some would probably say, the only) purpose of the EU’s community laws and regulations is removal of all the institutional mechanisms that the EU’s member states had developed over the centuries for the protection of their internal economies from exogenous crises, unfair competition and unforeseen fluctuations of all kinds. So, when we see a reference to adoption (or, as in the case of Ukraine, “approximation”) of the acquis communautaire, we need to remember that the acquis is, by definition, a neoliberal tool, designed to increase the global sway of transnational capital based in western Europe. That’s what it is, no less, no more.
Finally, there is the question of what EU-parlance calls (from a sociological perspective, quite imprecisely,) ‘mobility’ (i.e., the freedom of movement for not just goods, services and investment, but also of people, including the right to settle, to work, to study and to participate in democratic political life without exclusion or diminution). This is important for three reasons. First, it goes to showing the depth of the EU’s commitment to embracing Ukraine as a society, not just an economic area; second, it is a deeply emotional expectation, very much on the minds of all people, especially east Europeans outside the EU, and, third, it is at this point that the EU-Ukraine rapprochement runs into the hard realities of west European quasi-racism vis-a-vis east Europeans, something I have called, in a paper entitled “Goodness Is Elsewhere. . .”, the rule of European difference (available here or here, see esp. pp. 125-134).
To put it bluntly, the draft agreement is extremely vague about movement of Ukrainians in Schengen-land. Savor this language: “The importance of the introduction of a visa free travel regime for the citizens of Ukraine in due course, provided that the conditions for well-managed and secure mobility are in place is recognised in the Agreement.” (pp. 1-2.) And, again: “The EU and Ukraine commit through the Association Agreement to increase their dialogue and cooperation on migration, asylum and border management. The importance of the introduction of a visa free travel regime for the citizens of Ukraine in due course, provided that the conditions for well-managed and secure mobility are in place is recognised in the Agreement” (p. 3.)
In other words, there is absolutely no commitment on part of the European Union, or its Schengen common migration management system. Even the visa requirement, currently in place, will not be lifted for a while. When exactly? Well, “in due course.” This is the absolutely vaguest diplomatic language. It binds the EU to nothing, not even to easing the visa requirement, let alone abolishing it (which would allow citizens of Ukraine to travel to Europe as they please) let alone the right to stay, study, or work there. Absolutely none of that is mentioned here.
People familiar with the EU-”enlargement” process will, no doubt, point out that that–i.e., free movement of persons, the right to settle, work, etc.–will come later, with (actually, usually seven or so years after) full membership. So, that brings us to the question, what about it? What does the agreement say about full membership?
Here it is: 0.
The word “membership” appears in the document once, referring to WTO membership. This should be absolutely clear: Ukraine will not be a member of the European Union; not in the foreseeable future.
Again, I understand the idea of being in Europe. As many argue, it certainly beats being in Russia’s orbit. So maybe the lack of immediate benefits is worth the long-term risk. If the majority of Ukrainians cherish the symbolic importance of the EU, then godspeed. But I think there is a false choice here as much as there is a force choice. Ukraine’s desire to be in the EU should be separated from the problems with Yanukovich. But because of its dire economic situation, Ukraine is being forced to make a decision—cast its future with the EU or with Russia. But people must understand that the EU path—and frankly the association agreement doesn’t appear to be a path to membership. It is an attempt at neoliberalizing Ukraine—isn’t going to necessarily bring the promised land. As Borocz concludes what Ukrainians are really demanding is “significantly increased exposure of their economy to capital from a forty times bigger and much richer economic area; demolition of the tariff barriers that might prevent the full siphoning-off of their resources, and absolutely no promise of equality, citizenship, democracy, or even an increased freedom of movement.”
My new article for Warscapes, “The Gendarme of Eurasia.” Here’s the opening excerpt:
In 1830, in response to the crowning of Louis-Philippe as king of France after revolution deposed Charles X, Russia’s Nicholas I wrote, “However, our allies, without agreeing beforehand with us on a step so important, so decisive, hastened…to crown insurrection and usurpation—a fatal, incomprehensible step to which must be attributed the series of misfortunes which has not since ceased plaguing Europe.” These words could have easily been spoken by Vladimir Putin about Kyiv. Shave off the literary flourish and exchange “allies” for “partners” and “Europe” for “Eurasia,” Nicholas I’s trepidation about revolution in nineteenth century Europe speaks to Putin’s alarm about the destabilizing nature of revolution in the twenty-first century. Putin’s pushback against his Western “partners’” fancy for revolution was on full display in his speech (here in English) before members of the Russian government. The speech wove together romantic, even volkish, Russian nationalism, anti-Westernism and Russian exceptionalism, and anti-revolution. A Gendarme of Eurasia has risen! But do the verbal epaulets of a gendarme make a different Putin? A Putin 3.0? I say rather than a new Putin, we’re seeing a crystallization of positions that have been apparent since he returned to the presidency in 2012.
I don’t follow Ukrainian internal politics too closely, but I thought I would offer some thoughts on what is clearly a “revolutionary situation.” The basic narrative of the current crisis pits Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, who abruptly reneged on signing an association agreement with the European Union, against mostly young and middle class Ukrainians who view the agreement as a step toward bringing the country in line with “Europe.” Analysts have given many reasons why Yanukovich backed out: Russian pressure, the EU’s call for the release of Yulia Tymoshenko, the EU’s flat rejection of Yanukovich’s demand for 160 billion euros to institute Union standards, and Yanukovich’s refusal to meet IMF/EU requirements for further economic liberalization. All of these are important realist factors. But what stands out to me is the imaginary Europe that has captured Ukrainians’ minds.
While the protests have been framed as whether Ukraine will go with Europe or go with Russia, it seems that economic concerns are the main drivers behind Yanukovych’s hesitance. Ukraine is in bad economic shape, and as Mark Adomanis noted in a sober column, “The association agreement will do precisely nothing to address Ukraine’s severe (and worsening) short-term economic difficulties.” The agreement is about the long term, and Ukraine has some very serious short term problems.
All of this matters little on the streets of Kiev and other cities. And if the economic side of the EU agreement initially meant something in the streets, that time has passed. The protests have clearly intertwined a future European Ukraine to getting rid of Yanukovich. Since the Orange Revolution in 2004, Yanukovich has represented “Russia” in the minds of many western-leaning Ukrainians, and if the strong presence of Ukrainian nationalists in the streets in any indication, a “European” Ukraine means just as much not “Russia” more than it means with “Europe.”
And that’s the thing. A strong fetishization of Europe drives the protests. Whatever the particular complaints people may have with Yanukovich, their solution, it seems, lies in Europe. You get this from Oleh Kotsyuba’s value-laden column in the NYT:
“The protesters have at times called for resignations, impeachments and new elections. But what’s most striking is their association of Europe with a set of values that results in absence of corruption, a strong social safety net, an inclusive health-care system, fair wages, a stable currency and a responsible government that delivers reliable services and treats citizens with respect. For them, these were even more valuable than the tangible benefits of joining the E.U., like the right to work in other European countries and the prospect of big European investments in Ukraine.”
I got a whiff of similar paeans to Europe when I was in Kiev this past summer. The Ukrainian academics I met pointed to the EU association agreement as a pivotal moment that would really test where Yanukovych really stood: with Brussels or with Moscow. All of their present frustrations and future prospects lied in that 1,400 page document regardless of its contents. Ukraine’s future was in and only in “Europe.”
I found this sentiment encapsulated in one activist’s comment: “We’re not barbarians, we’re Europeans,” as he said as he joined a crowd storming government buildings. The meaning here is an old trope of the West/East divide. To be European is to join civilization, while remaining in the east, and here I’m sure Russia figures prominently in the mind of this activist, is to be barbaric. The question is whether this Europe still exists, if it ever existed at all.
It’s rather ironic that Ukrainians are ascribing the EU with such civilizing powers at the very moment many Europeans “have fallen out of love with Europe.” For many Europeans, “really existing Europe” is only economic crisis, despair, foreboding, and paralysis. Many Europeans, particularly citizens of Spain, Italy, and Greece, have given up on the European Union as an institution and an idea. Instead they are turning inward to their own countries, and even further atomizing themselves by focusing on their personal lives. The Union hardly resembles the future, and the values it represents aren’t necessarily ones of civilization or social welfare, but austerity and cut-throat-capitalism. As Moises Naim recently wrote in the Atlantic:
“The “the rest of the world” increasingly seems to be a mere blip on the radar of many Spaniards and Italians. And, sadly, “the rest” now even includes Europe. Growing indifference to a European project that promised much and has fallen short of high initial expectations has been noticeable for some time now. And the region’s economic crisis, with its uncertain future and legacy of massive unemployment, has deepened disappointment and disinterest in the European Union. Granted, there is support for some of the more tangible features of the EU, like free trade and more open borders that facilitate the movement of people. But there is little backing for a more united Europe, and I could not find anyone during my trip who felt that deeper integration could spur the economic growth that crisis-stricken countries desperately need. On this subject, the opinions of Italians and Spaniards are consistent with those of their fellow Europeans. According to the Eurobarometer, a survey of 27 EU member countries, half of all citizens are pessimistic about the future of the European Union as an institution, and 69 percent express no confidence in it at all. Two-thirds feel as if their voice is meaningless in the decisions taken by the EU.”
Europe is at a nadir. Yet Ukrainians are nevertheless clamoring to join it. Granted, I understand why so many Ukrainians place their hopes on “Europe” as a symbol for the future. In the cosmology of the West/East divide, Europe has wondrous powers over the imagination. My only fear is that by imbuing it with such symbolic meaning, Ukrainians will turn Europe into a false promise.
Image: NY Times.