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Fri. March 01, 2024
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Choice Pickings: What the Elections in the Ukraine Mean for Europe
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Because the Ukraine was hardly known for its democratic tradition, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma didn’t face much scrutiny from the Ukrainian people or the (western) media for his authoritarian (not to mention corrupt) regime. But the planned take-over of the office by the successor-designate Viktor Yanukovich became such a farce that neither Ukrainians nor the onlookers the world over could keep quiet. Viktor Yanukovich, the Russian-speaking candidate with a criminal conviction, unsubtle campaigning methods, great connections to certain oligarches in the Ukraine and Russia and very fine connection to Moscow turned the Ukrainian state into his personal propaganda machine. The campaigns attacks on the rival Viktor Yuschenko were so crude (campaign adds on state television showed Yuschenko holding a child - only to cut away to footage of Hitler doing the same), so obviously influenced by Russia (Putin appeared several times with Yanukovich while Russian officials on TV encouraged Ukrainians to vote for the "right" candidate), that their unfair campaign, saturated in Soviet-style clumsiness, backfired and had to give way to plain election-fraud. The Orange Revolution, an instant classic, much like the Revolution of Roses in Georgia, has been covered breathlessly and written about a-plenty. What was staggering, however, was the cool response it got in some European quarters. Timothy Garton Ash, listed a few such reactions in his article “Bitter Lemons - Six Questions to the critics of Ukraine’s orange revolution” (Guardian, December 2nd 2004): ...Simon Jenkins in the Times describ[es] the crowds in Kiev as a “mob”. (Dictionary definition: “a riotous or disorderly crowd of people; rabble”.) [...] Jonathan Steele in these pages, respond[s] to my enthusiastic column about the Kiev events with such arguments as this: “Nor is there much evidence to imagine that, were he [the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko] the incumbent president facing a severe challenge, he would not have tried to falsify the poll.” Unpick that contorted hypothetical if you can. In between, we have two representatives of a pressure group with a highly dubious track record, Mark Almond and John Laughland, informing us that somewhere behind or among the demonstrators were, respectively, agents of George Soros and Ukrainian, anti-semitic neo-Nazis. In the Berlin Tagesspiegel, I read a comparison of the opposition's tactics with those of Lenin in 1918; in Italy's La Repubblica, a commentary suggesting that Warsaw and Vilnius are trying to foist on the European Union a policy of destabilizing the region. And so it goes on. So it goes on, indeed. In his explanation of this oddly hostile reaction, Ash strikes upon the most obvious point: The United States is for the protestors and Yuschenko, hence we (dutifully Bush-hating Europeans) must find something highly suspicious about it – and indeed be against it. It goes some way in describing the loss of American stature and reputation that, when forced to choose between the longest existing modern democracy, stalwart of liberty during the cold war, liberator and protector of Europe (very much flawed but tendentiously benevolent even in its blunders) with a divisive Bush Jr. at the top and, on the other side of the aisle, the successor to the Soviet Union, a pseudo-fascist kleptocracy with its far-from-benevolent ex-KGB faux-dictator Putin at the helm, the European intellectual left comes down quick on the side of the latter. Surely, some blame goes to the Bush administration for a style of foreign policy that has turned all but the most hardened and unquestioning allies off. But for European thinkers, journalists and politicians to be unable to see the forest for all the trees is unforgivable. An estimated total of somewhere between $600 million and $1 billion (rivaling the US election’s final tap) was spent on the election and much, if not most of it, came from Russia going towards Mr. Yanukovich. One of the foremost leaders of anti-democratic forces in Russia, Vladimir Putin, tried to influence the election in pathetically obvious fashion. Blatant and incendiary lies were spread about Mr. Yuschenko, including comparisons of him to Hitler on state-run TV and channels owned by Mr. Yanukovich's cronies. Oh, and there was an attempt to poison the opponent – most likely carried out by the secret service. In light of that, it borders the clinically insane to claim that the Orange Revolutionaries were US induced CIA sponsored stooges who wanted to wrest rightful victory from the eastern candidate, only because he was not NATO-oriented enough. Between a popularly elected President George W. Bush, head of a reasonably democratic country, meddling in far-away criminal dictatorships to little avail and the highly-undemocratic "President" Vladimir Putin meddling in an aspiring democratic country close-by, every European with a basic knowledge of history should know who to chose.

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