Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The EU, Central European Slavs, Russia and the upheaval in Ukraine

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy "I salute the will of the Ukrainian people to live in a free, independent and united country with strong ties to the EU. We stand ready to sign the Association Agreement and support Ukraine in these difficult times," Rompuy said in a statement issued in Brussels on Monday after the EU-Brazil summit, during which the sides discussed the situation in Ukraine.

"Strictly speaking, there is no one to talk to there. The government doesn't exist. There are big doubts about the legitimacy of a whole series of organs of power that are now functioning there." He and other Russian officials go on to say that the place is now run by armed rebels who have overthrown a legitimate government and that the west should not interfere in the internal matters of a sovereign nation. Russia of course can do what ever it feels like as it considers Ukraine a province and integral part of greater Russia despite the small matter of it being in fact a sovereign independent nation. The fact Putin's pet seat warmer Medvedev or Foreign Minister Lavrov were allowed to say these things as opposed to the assorted wingnuts on the edges of  Russian broadcasting who are normally afforded the role of saying things the Government wishes known but cannot say, is a sign that they mean it.

Which brings me to the bit nobody outside of Central Europe seems to be aware of.

There should be a third quote, it can have come from any of the Central and Eastern European
Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski
politicians or citizens who live in the shadow of Russia . It would go something like this. "Russia will not easily let Ukraine go. They will do what ever they feel they can get away with to keep the people living in the current boundaries of the Ukrainian Republic from having free will or joining the European camp." Furthermore, the person would go on to say that Russia would not be shy about insuring this by invading countries other than Ukraine or again punishing the former satellites who have left the sphere of influence, with a cut off of gas. This mindset is not without merit as Russia has in fact invaded it's neighbours repeatedly, going as far back as Ivan the Terrible and most recently Georgia, Osetia and Abkhazia among too many other nations they have overtly attacked and others they have destabilised in a ham fisted less than subtle apparently unofficial manner. ( As I edit this, Russia has already launched a media barrage asking "On what side were you in WW 2?) As I said, subtle as a sledge hammer and probably the most innocuous thing they will do.

Central Europe
Before I go on, a little history lesson. What is Central Europe? It is what used to be part of the Great Powers.  A collection of nations that were in the you guessed it one....Central Europe. Among these nations were Hungary, the various incarnations of the Czech republics, Poland, Germany, Austria and Yugoslavia.  When the Russians finally took what they wanted in 1945, it fell into the sphere along with the aptly named Eastern European nations that were in point of fact incredibly eastern. The new politi of Europe still uses the terms of the Cold War despite the unfreezing of European history, the restart of the flowering of the legitimate evolution of the Europe that from the  Polish frontier to  London itself, represented the great civilized block that had connections to the rest of the world  by rail to Turkey and by sea to Africa.  Russia has always been on the outside looking in and like it or not that has not changed.  They are the last part of the European puzzle that needs to be integrated into the phsyche and very real thing that is Greater Europe. Those of us who consider the countries in the Centre home, by birth or by affiliation, will always be Central Europeans. The sooner you in the West recognize this and apply this to your thinking, the sooner we will cease to be such a mystery to you.

As for the Ukrainians, and for that matter the Bulgars and the Romanians and assorted Baltic states
President Woodrow Wilson
including Finland.  They are and want to be European, have always, according to even the 1918 Wilson 14 points, had a right to self determination and freedom of political and economic association. The only people who collectively and apart seem to think otherwise, are the Russians. It will take a long time for them to let go of their children, their precious babies. But when it comes to Ukraine, it is all the more difficult. Ukraine belongs to the Tsars, to Mother Russia, Ukraine is the body as much as Moscow is the brain and the soul of Russia. At least that is what Russians will tell you.  I myself coming from the toes or the kidney of Russia will tell you that Poland is and always has been an independent sovereign state that stood for and defended at various times a multi cultural collection of peoples that have been citizens of what we could call the anybody but Russia federation. Today while not nearly as large, we are still not happy being offered back to the tender mercies of Mother Russia as the kidney or the intestine  any more than the Ukrainians want to be the body of Russia.

In the most significant recent past ..... 1918 to the present, Ukraine has seen a few changes, most not of their own will or making and most designed to absorb more territory into the Russian Empire. Between the anti Ukrainian famine of the 1930's that was at least as bad  as the German Holocaust and the annexation into the Ukrainian Oblast of bit's of  Romania, Poland and the addition of the till then nominally autonomous,  Krim, Russia has by design built in a fracture factor that will produce even in an independent Ukraine, the sort of tensions that will destabilise any regime that takes hold even for a short time. Even today the vast majority of Russian speakers in the East of Ukraine and Krim as well as the bit near it, get their news direct from Moscow in Russian with all the spin and the consequences therein.

Little wonder that Russia feels it has not only a vested interest, but a right to interfere. The best thing that can now happen is in fact the fracturing of the current Ukraine. Perhaps not at first into smaller separate nations  but genuinely autonomous provinces with special powers regarding culture. This would at least preserve the economic and political union that is the current Ukraine. However if we are realistic, this cannot last long. In the Krim the long established Russian colonists  sent there to thin out the native Tartars will want out or rather in with Russia. In the East much the same will occur. As long as there is a voting block so entrenched and incapable of escaping tribalist voting instincts that work against the stability of the historic cultural core that is Ukraine, we will continue to see this sort of see saw game of  block v block  much like Thailand is currently suffering. It will require either the creation of a politi that is ideological in base and spans the complete spectrum  from left to right or the creation of constitutional guarantees that will build in a valve that bleeds the  pressure of the tribalism before it explodes yet again. I'm no constitutional expert on the complexity of  the constituents parts of the current Ukraine, but I can tell you it will be a hard sell to the country and the Russians who think none of  the current Ukrainians have a right to have a say in their future.

The Rada or Parliament is now operating under the 2004 constitution that declares that cabinets must
Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov
be made of and be supported by deputies of the body. Furthermore the post of President is not the sort of all powerful American model but closer to that of Ireland. As it stands, that is a good thing. For as long as the Rada is elected in free an fair elections and the seat spread regarding regions is fair, we can hope for a responsible Government that will not fall into bad habits. The real danger occurs as I said earlier, is when the regional blocks come back like a bad cabbage roll and start the trouble boiling over again.

Poland and other other nations that have adopted democratic and western models want this revolution to succeed, they want it so badly they will do what they have to to keep Ukraine such as it is in the sphere of  Europe. Central Europe, the historical Central Europe, wants to recreate the buffer zone of  safe, non belligerent nations to their East that used to exist. We will never be rid of the threat of Russian expansionism I suspect, but to ratchet down by several degrees to a point of mild constant irritation is something we can all live with.  Russia's direct neighbours, Poland included , (cos who's kidding who, until Belarus rids itself of the last Stalinist dictator in Europe, it is the de facto Russian border with the rest of Europe) will always feel nervous when it comes to Russia. Unlike Germany, Austria , France ,Turkey or Rome, the Imperial appetite in Moscow hasn't at all gotten smaller or measurably subtler in any way.

On the one hand the Russian finance minister tells the IMF and the EU to take up the challenge and
Lavrov the foreign minister says they should not interfere  just as Russia will not interfere. Allow me a moment to laugh  nervously and make incredibly rude gestures at the thought of a lie detector at that very moment trying not to dissolve from the deep suspension of disbelief required to stay intact. .  The interim Ukrainian government, including protesters, elements of the left , the right and even sadly some anti Semitic, Anti Polish ultra nationalists, have their ofjary....martyrs. They are doing what they can to cobble together a stable civil society that can withstand the pressures of the massive Russian self defence knee jerk reaction that is even now moving to crush them.

Why is it important that we help the Maidan and Rada survive? It's simple, this is the way it should have been in Syria, but people held back, people allowed a dictator and his outside support enough air to breathe and stay standing. Fewer than 300 died that we know of, a few thousand are injured some, terribly, but nothing like the numbers in Syria  precisely because the neighbours gave a damn. Poland Germany and France headed the EU response and made sure Russia and Yanukovich blinked first ( see link below). Massive bloodshed and destruction of infrastructure has been avoided by direct and early interference by outside powers in what is technically an internal conflict. Because of this, the previously mentioned fascist, anti Jewish, anti Polish, anti Russian militias will have no air, no place to expand or to grip onto. Already the acceptable face of Ukraine is making sure these elements have to give back to proper civilian government controlled forces and offices, the power to keep the peace, prosecute, and carry out the orders of the new legitimate government. It will take time, but unlike Syria, there is no massive schism that has led to more bloodshed, there are no outside agencies infiltrating the struggle.

The larger point of course is that for all the right reasons and for some of the wrong ones, finally, Europe and more to the point the European Union stepped in and said to a people who crave to take their rightful place in the greater European family .... Yes , we'll have you. There are stories in the news today that Iceland has angered it's own people by withdrawing from it's electorate the right to vote on joining or not the EU. While currently the polls are not so strong in favour of the EU in Iceland, it is clear that in the long run, the EU is the structure that is keeping Europe from stumbling into WW 1(redux), furthermore, the greater the success of EU diplomats in such conflicts as the current Ukraine crisis, the better the EU looks to most people, especially those wondering how long before Russia once again casts a hungry eye westwards. In addition the EU with a dynamic Ukraine included, has to find a way to heat and power the great beast that is European industry and general infrastructures. Only a strong EU will achieve this. Being a part of the solution affords us ( those in the UK included)  and others, a voice in how this will be resolved.

Lastly I ask you to listen to the voices of the people on Maidan online, these are not the voices of
Vitali Klitschko speaking to the Maidan live as I wrote this
extremists, or of armed revolutionaries bent on destroying all around them. They are the people who live there, who are asking us to allow them the same thing we take so much for granted, that some of my own educated acquaintances speak with derision of democracy, not knowing just how much they would miss even the unethical, cold hearted tories and their banker friends if they had to swap out living in Putin or Yanukovich land. We have an election in 2015, and it can't come soon enough,  we will vote the bums out, these people have not had that kind of luxury. Nobody is telling us we belong to America, Russia , England ,France or China, and yet in 2014 we allow precisely this sort of dialogue to inform our decisions about faceless, powerless people who think what we have is something worth cherishing.

View the interactive map

Breaking news from the various Polish and Ukrainian feeds we've been following: The general feeling among those interviewed was that there was a pressing need to sort which army units were loyal to the revolution; ordinary people need to be trained and armed for the defence against the Russian tanks that are inevitably headed towards Kiyov. If you paid attention when I explained how Slavs think and particularly Slavs under threat of loss of life limb and liberty, you'll see how perfectly sensible this thinking is. And be assured they will be ready. I hope it doesn't come to that, but if it's right, we'll know soon enough, and that my friends is how we think.

Edit 18:00 26/02  Russia calls war games claims it's nothing to do with unrest in Ukraine

Support the EuroMaidan online 

Why Yanukovic fled

How Poland came of age in the Crisis

The job that has been left to the West in rescuing the Ukrainian economy

The sort of act I expect from a less uptight Ukraine at Eurovision

Next.... How Poland has reacted to the crisis from the ordinary person right through to the media and Government.

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