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Tuesday, 6 October 2015

A short history of anarchism in Ukraine

Set design by A. Tarasov for Eduard Bagritsky's play, Duma pro Opanasa, 1966. (c) A. Chernyak / VisualRIAN.

Reblogged with permission from Open Democracy Russia.

Anarchism may be a popular political brand in Ukraine today, but it’s not anarchism as we know it.


By Denys Gorbach

For westerners on the left, including anarchists, the Maidan protests of 2013-2014 turned Ukraine from an unknown quantity into the home of a mass grassroots movement—and one they had to understand. For many on the left, this meant a trip to our country: 2014 was Kyiv’s year of ‘revolutionary tourism’.

But the ‘tourists’ involved in anarchist movements at home were dazed and confused on the streets of Kyiv: why was their red and black flag flying alongside the swastika and Celtic cross? Why was there a portrait of Nestor Makhno, the anarchist revolutionary leader of a century ago, on a tent belonging to a nationalist group? And why were locals who called themselves anarchists one moment calling for the creation of a mono-ethnic state the next? Anarchism occupies a very specific place in the worldview of your average Ukrainian, and their perception of it differs from sympathetic westerners.

Soviet propaganda

The origins of this difference go back, as it often does, to the Soviet Union. Like other left wing opposition tendencies, anarchism as a political movement was annihilated by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s.

By the time Nikita Khrushchev came to power in the late 1950s, when the oldest Ukrainians still alive today developed their world views, anarchist organisations and groups were a thing of the distant past. So what they knew about anarchists was learned either from school history lessons, which described them as either naive bourgeois muddlers or evil traitors to the workers’ revolutionary movement, or from Soviet film.

Vitaly Matveev as Nestor Makhno in Khmuroe utro (1959), from
Indeed, it was Soviet cinema and literature that created the images of anarchism and anarchists which still underpin public perceptions in Ukraine today. Or more precisely, the two images. The first was of wild, lawless semi bandits of the type recruited by Nestor Makhno in 1917 for his revolutionary army — mostly uneducated peasants who had never left their villages before (plus the odd sailor hooked on cocaine).

These people, according to the myth, may have thought of themselves as defenders of the workers’ interests, but in fact were ordinary criminal elements, strangers to constructive labour and therefore against the Bolsheviks.

The social structure of the anarchist forces was always shown as strictly authoritarian: the loyal but simple-minded fighters would be in thrall to a cynical and calculating leader (‘Father’ Makhno or a nameless Cossack chieftain) who lived a life of luxury, often in the company of bourgeois women. And there would be merciless executioners to deal with anyone who tried to rebel. Makhnovists were sometimes portrayed as Ukrainian separatists (given that, in 1917, Ukraine was still part of the Russian Empire) and almost always as anti-Semites.

The second popular image of the anarchist was of a naive intellectual dreamer unable to cope with reality, living in a world of his own and taking his precepts from books. And while the first anarchist caricature in his striped sailor’s tunic or peasant cap represented a threat, the second, in his straw hat and spectacles, was a harmless figure of fun, though he was still a ‘positive character’ of sorts.

After 1991

In post-Soviet Ukraine, many ideological concepts were turned upside down, without any further attempt at re-evaluation.

For instance, one thinks of the popular joke about how, after Ukraine became independent in 1991, the Faculty of Scientific Communism (the most dogmatic of institutions) at Kyiv University was quickly renamed the Faculty of Scientific Nationalism.

Something similar happened to anarchism, a new social phenomenon that had to be absorbed into people’s existing perceptions of the world, and ideally in step with the nationalist aspirations of the intelligentsia working on the cultural policies of the young Ukrainian state.

Nestor Makhno. WikiMediaCommons / Koroesu. Public Domain.
The logic was simple: Ukraine’s most famous anarchist, Nestor Makhno, was best known for fighting the Bolsheviks. As the peasant leader of a peasant army, Makho also fought against the White Guards, or Tsarist forces.

As all this took place during the Civil War (a conflict which, in the new post-independence historiography, was seen as a war of liberation in Ukraine), the situation was clear: Makhno’s army represented one of the forces fighting for Ukrainian independence.

‘Popular history’ fixed the idea in people’s heads that Makhno fought for an independent Ukraine alongside the nationalist forces of Simon Petliura’s Ukrainian People's Republic. In fact, Makhno fought against them, and nationalist writers instead spread legends about Makhno’s wife personally sewing him a yellow-and-blue national flag.

But how can people not see the obvious contradiction here: what kind of anarchist fights to set up a state?

The issue here is that Ukraine’s patriotic mythology is based on a romanticised image of the Zaporozhian Sich, a semi-autonomous Cossack territory in central Ukraine in the 15th-18th centuries.

Writers and artists of the Romantic school were equally enthusiastic about the Cossacks, and Soviet historiography supported this tradition of viewing the Zaporizhian Sich as a progressive entity. The result was a powerful romantic national ancestor myth: Cossacks living in the wild steppe, valuing their freedom and independence higher than anything, refusing to recognise any monarch and taking up arms against every neighbouring state in the name of the Ukrainian nation.

Ukraine, unlike most of its neighbours, has no history as a state to pin its national myth to: Kievan Rus was destroyed by the Mongol Horde in the 13th century, after which the territory of today’s Ukraine was governed by Lithuania, Poland, the Crimean Khanate and Russia.

Thus the Cossack military-democratic republic was adopted as a model and ‘precedent’ by Ukrainian historians in the 19th century. Most of these historians, as socialists, were favourably disposed to the archaic democratic system in the Sich, in contrast to the authoritarian rule of the Tsars. Over the border, in Russia, the Cossack myth paints this group as the one most loyal to the Tsar and the Ancien Régime.

The Makhno myth

Monday, 5 October 2015

BBC's John Simpson incites Brits to break the law over Crimea

A protest in the first month after Russia’s invasion which would now get participants arrested

Reblogged with permission. There has been some speculation that the reason Simpson made the trip and wrote the piece was to secure support for an exclusive interview with Putin. A number of people have made complaints to the BBC.

That such a senior BBC man would go to Crimea and write what he did immediately became a news item on Russian state media war propaganda.

Here is warning about consequences of visiting Crimea.


By Halya Coynash

BBC journalist John Simpson has ‘uncovered Crimea’s charms’ and a quite staggering degree of contempt for international law and human rights. In a travel piece for the Telegraph, he encourages people to do as he did: break the law, effectively whitewash Russia’s invasion and forced annexation of Crimea and wax lyrical about the charms of Crimea, while ignoring extremely serious human rights concerns under Russian occupation.

Simpson alleges that “there are moments in international affairs when the clouds part, and the sun illumines an area which has been murky for years. They have recently parted over the magical peninsula of Crimea; and my advice is, take advantage of it.”

Wonderfully lyrical and frighteningly nihilistic. The clouds in this case “did not part” but were wrenched apart, and a cursory glance at the globe would cast a better light on the number of countries and borders which can with equal justification, or none, be dismissed as ‘murky’.

Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn’t have phrased the attempt in the following paragraph to justify Russia’s annexation better, although the two men’s arguments are identical. Crimea was allegedly always “Russian”, and therefore it was “that engaging old crook Nikita Khrushchev” who first did the fiddle. So what then, if Russia “by foul means, grabbed it back”?

Simpson might like to consider that Andrei Zubov, the history professor from Russia’s prestigious MGIMO Institute who was dismissed for criticizing Russia’s land grab, has said that he would have failed any student who argued that Crimea had always been Russian. Should the BBC journalist feel the need to delve into the history of the area. Observance of the law, however, is not optional.

Simpson could argue that he does not incite people to break the law. He simply avoids telling his readers that this is precisely what they will be doing if they take his advice and visit Crimea via Russia.

This is not through lack of knowledge, and the Telegraph even provides a link to the Foreign Office information about Crimea. This states unambiguously that:
“From 4 June 2015, to enter or exit Crimea, foreign nationals will need to provide their passport and a special permit issued by the State Migration Service of Ukraine.”
Simpson was thus in breach of Ukrainian law and is advising Telegraph readers that they should behave similarly.

It is worth noting that a Russian NGO and its head are now facing harassment and threats of criminal prosecution for warning people of the legal implications of visiting Crimea. In June the consumer rights society ‘Public Control’ published information which accurately described Crimea as ‘occupied territory’ and warned of the legal ramifications of any trips undertaken without Ukrainian permission. Within hours, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office was threatening prosecution and the website had been blocked. A summary in English of this advice can be found here. Unlike the BBC’s foreign correspondent, we would recommend that readers heed it. There is nothing murky about international law and Ukraine has every right to impose restrictions on territory which has been illegally occupied.

Simpson’s account of Crimea’s beauty and his obvious interest in literature might have inclined him to consider some of those who have suffered most profoundly through Russia’s occupation. These include Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov whom a Russian court has sentenced to 20 years imprisonment after a totally ‘Stalinist trial’ of him and another opponent of Russia’s annexation, Oleksandr Kolchenko.

One blogger, Yury Ilchenko is currently in detention over an article criticizing annexation, and a EuroMaidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko has been imprisoned for 4 years on totally surreal charges. All independent Crimean journalists have effectively been driven out of Crimea and virtually all Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian media have been stifled, Just in the last few days the first two Internet publications daring to present alternative points of view and information about human rights abuse have been blocked. The list is certain to be extended.

The Crimean Tatars – the indigenous people of Crimea – are facing constant harassment and persecution, with most leaders in exile and one – Akhtem Chiygoz – imprisoned on legally nonsensical charges.

Simpson has not followed the example presented by other visitors to Crimea, such as from the far-right Bulgarian Ataka Party, who made a point of ‘recognizing’ Crimea as Russian. Members of the far-right Hungarian Jobbik party are also due shortly and can be expected to be just as approving. Russia is currently going all out to convince its own population and the international community that all is well, and Crimea ‘Russian’. A group of Polish students were almost certainly conned into visiting Crimea, rather than St. Petersburg last week precisely in order to provide good camera stunts. It is galling that a BBC correspondent should now be so obligingly helping Russia’s propaganda efforts.

See also:

Russian left: Why is Russia backing Assad?

Kafranbel, Syria demonstration against Assad + the Russian occupation, v/

Reblogged with permission from LeftEast, English translation by Nick Evans at RS21.Org.Uk.


By the editors of the Russian socialist website OpenLeft.Ru

A whole range of evidence [also here] indicates that Russia is activating its military aid for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad up to the point of direct involvement of Russian troops in the Syrian conflict. Why now in particular, and what lies behind this?

Taken individually, neither military and political ties, nor economic ties between Russia and the Syrian regime are sufficient to explain the stubborn support for Assad from the Russian Federation, which had become the source of a serious conflict with the West even before the events in Ukraine. Of course, Assad’s regime is now the only reliable ally of Russia in the region, the loss of which would make it unable to continue playing an important role in the Middle East.

Supposedly, another factor was the [former] control of Syria over the transit of Iraqi and Arabian oil – of fundamental importance for Russia as one of the world’s largest oil exporters. In turn, the desire to seize this control played a major role in defining the anti-Assad position of Turkey, Israel and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf. However, it is telling that Saudi Arabia received a decisive rejection when it completely openly suggested to Russia that it cut off its support for Assad in return for a lowering of the tempo of its oil production – which could have then put the break on tumbling global oil prices.

Concern about the rise of radical Islamism in the region, and beyond to the North Caucasus, is also not a sufficient explanation. Many analysts see Russia’s support of the Syrian regime as having a significance that goes well beyond the Syrian conflict itself: by opposing the attempts to depose Assad, the Kremlin is opposing the very possibility of a “regime change” sanctioned by international institutions, as it considers that the next target of such a “regime change” could be itself.

The Russian government’s position on Syria, radically different from that of western governments, has on occasion brought benefits for its reputation abroad: such as when Putin’s column was published in the New York Times, making a plea against military intervention in Syria, and criticising notions of American exceptionalism. However, on the whole, Russia has been more on the defensive.

Meanwhile, the situation in the Middle East changed, and the rise of ISIS enabled things that had formerly seemed impossible, such as the partial normalisation of US relations with Iran. So the Assad regime also stopped being less unacceptable to the US. In this context, Putin appears to have decided to go on the offensive – perhaps not in the literal sense of sending troops into Syria, but at the very least in the sense of backstairs talks with Washington, using the new Russian airbase in Syria’s Latakia as an excuse.

According to Bloomberg, this new tactic may well bear fruit – at least some of those working at the White House believe the priority should be widening the alliance against ISIS; they accept the activation of Russian help for Assad as an already established fact and are even prepared to work with Russia in an aerial campaign against the Islamic State. By the looks of it, this is exactly what Putin and [foreign minister] Lavrov are hoping for.

On the whole the Kremlin’s tactical course can be seen as a continuation of its struggle for a “fairer multipolar world”, in which international relations are not regulated by normative principles of liberalism and Human Rights, but through the mutual recognition of interests and cooperation on concrete questions. It is precisely on these conditions that, through a pragmatic coalition in Syria, Russia is attempting to reintegrate itself into the world order, simultaneously changing the rules of the game.

So the real consequences of Russian foreign policy, despite Russia’s constant criticisms of the “hypocrisy of humanitarian interventions”, are no better than the same humanitarian interventions. The victims of the Syrian regime are far greater than those of ISIS. Support for Assad is support for a dictator who has turned the military apparatus of his country into an effective machine for the obliteration of its own population. However much Lavrov and [Putin’s press secretary] Peskov make passive-aggressive criticisms of “western hypocrisy”, Russia is at least as responsible for what is happening in Syria as western states.

And the Kremlin’s demonstrative refusal to take any part in solving the refugee crisis is truly hypocritical. By suggesting that the countries of the EU deal with the consequences of a crisis which it has done so much to create in Syria, Putin’s Russia feels it has the “last laugh”. The drama of 100,000s of people losing their homes is presented in Peskov’s announcements as an elegant lesson, subordinated to the Kremlin’s foreign policy towards its “western partners”.

See also:

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Anti-Semitism is no vote-winner even for Ukraine’s far-right

Andriy Biletsky, MP and commander of the Azov volunteer battalion

Reblogged with permission.


By Halya Coynash

Even the most notorious neo-Nazi in Ukraine’s parliament recently denied having previously made white supremacist and anti-Semitic utterances – among the reasons why Viacheslav Likhachev, head of the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group and leading researcher in the field, expresses ‘cautious optimism’ about the situation with anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine.

It is not easy to write about anti-Semitism in Ukraine at present. The very subject is likely to be met with antagonism, even suspicion that the person speaking is in the pay of the Kremlin. The latter has certainly expended huge amounts of effort and money trying to push the line that first Euromaidan and the government that followed were made up of rabid anti-Semitic hordes. The allegations have been rightly knocked down by authoritative experts and Jewish leaders.

Viacheslav Likhachev
In an important interview for the newspaper Hadashot, Likhachev says that one can understand the tendency to assume that anti-Semitism or any negative phenomena are provocation from the Kremlin, or to minimize their importance at a time when the country is at war, with thousands killed or forced from their homes.

He warns, however, that such an attitude from the authorities must be considered “unacceptable negligence”. The state has certain obligations, and these cannot be categorized as more or less important. Indeed, hate crimes are rightly considered to pose a danger to society and must be properly investigated with the culprits arrested and punished.

Here, unfortunately, Ukraine’s authorities have never dazzled, and there is no sign of improvement. Nor is Likhachev alone in expressing criticism and frustration.

As reported, there have been six cases of anti-Semitic vandalism this year to the Menorah at Babi Yar in Kyiv where in 1941 the Nazis murdered over 33 thousand Ukrainian Jews. The latest attack during the night of Sept 13, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was particularly serious and elicited a public call to action from a number of Ukraine’s Jewish leaders. They expressed frustration that the authorities and law enforcement bodies have still taken no effective measures to stop attacks on a monument of importance to each Kyiv resident which honours the victims of one of the worst massacres of the Second World War. They point out that the police have several times initiated criminal investigations only to then terminate them for supposed lack of elements of a crime.

Vandalism at Babi Yar memorial
Such inaction, they say, is especially disgraceful given the obvious propaganda uses likely to be made of any anti-Semitic attack on the Babi Yar Memorial.
“Ukraine’s Jewish community demands an immediate, thorough and comprehensive investigation of these crimes and asks the Prosecutor General’s Office to take the course of this investigation under its control.

It also seems sensible to install video surveillance or police patrols in the area around the Menorah to prevent a repetition of such vandalism, whoever the culprits are – provocateurs, hooligans or convinced anti-Semites.”

Likhachev points out that neither this year, nor in 2014, was even one of the vandals who desecrated graves, memorials to the Victims of the Holocaust or other monuments found and punished.

The police may be stretched, the country at war, but installing CCTV cameras is surely not impossible.

Likhachev also stresses that given the information front which is part of the hybrid war being waged against Ukraine, the fact that anti-Semites are enjoying effective impunity is of “serious public importance”.

He is polite but unimpressed by the reports this last January that Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry was about to create the post of Special Representative on Countering Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia. Nothing appears to have come of that plan, but such posts have been established earlier.

“One solved anti-Semitic crime would be far more effective at demonstrating the state’s attention to the problem than the establishments of Special Representative posts even in five different departments”, Likhachev suggests.

On the other hand, he notes, in a more recent blog, that Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko made a point, unlike his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, of meeting with American Jewish organizations while in New York this week. Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk has also written to the head of the World Jewish Congress assuring him that the recent cases of anti-Semitic vandalism at Babi Yar will be properly investigated. All this, Likhachev notes, is part of a consistent dialogue which Ukraine’s leaders have developed.

General trends in post-Maidan Ukraine

The interviewer, Mikhail Gold notes that there have been statements from certain members of far-right parties, including Right Sector hearkening back to what he calls “the traditional quasi-anti-Semitic rhetoric that they rejected after Maidan”.

Likhachev says that these are for the moment individual incidents which cannot be said to form a climate in society. He points out that public opinion surveys suggest an improvement in the view by other Ukrainians of Jews since Maidan.

It is probably logical that anti-Semitism should be appearing among those right-wing radical nationalists who claim to represent the true interests of the Ukrainian people. As such radical nationals move further into opposition and away from the government, accusing the country’s leaders of Jewish origins is an easy way to play on people’s stereotypes about ‘oligarchs’.

More reassuringly, he points out that you have to try really hard to find such anti-Semitic utterances, even those that are fairly veiled. In fact, he says, anti-Semitism does not hold an important place in the ideology of the Ukrainian far-right.
“There is a real war, a real enemy, and there is constructive cooperation with real Jews. And the current government, for all its ‘oligarch interests’, ‘Minsk betrayal’, etc., was elected in an unquestionably democratic fashion and has a patriotic platform.”

Paradoxically, he says, although there are several radical nationalists, xenophobes, and even neo-Nazis in the Verkhovna Rada, “there is virtually no xenophobia or neo-Nazism as a uniting ideology.” The most you’ll find is homophobia and even that is confined to indecent jokes about opponents, etc. A telling detail, for example, was the fact that Andriy Biletsky, a man with a highly dubious neo-Nazi and white supremacist background, recently claimed that he had never made a foul call for a crusade by the white race against Semitic subhumans.

Likhachev compares this with the situation two years ago when VO Svoboda had a fair number of MPs in parliament, roughly half of whom had gained notoriety for anti-Semitic utterances, The latest opinion polls (as of the end of August) suggest that VO Svoboda has a long way to climb to cross the parliamentary threshold and that its popularity since autumn last year has been steadily falling.

This, however, contrasts with the rising popularity of Right Sector which gained a pitiful percentage of the votes in the 2014 parliamentary elections. If the elections were held now, they would have a chance of getting into parliament.

There is evident disgruntlement with the present government, especially given the war and ensuing economic problems. The most important factor, he points out, in people’s perception of Right Sector is the role it is playing in the military conflict in Donbas, in countering Russia’s aggression. He doubts that even 5% of those who would be prepared to vote for Right Sector have any idea about the party’s economic or internal policies.

Indeed, the homophobic excesses demonstrated by Right Sector activists before and during the Equality March this May, he believes, turned many people away from the party. It was also ominously reminiscent of the homophobia so rampant in Russia.

It is, in fact, the pro-Russian militants in Donbas who openly express anti-Semitism and even use it for their internal power struggles, and most memorably in their attacks on Ukraine’s leaders (whom they once referred to as “pathetic Jews”)

Qualified optimism

There are grounds, he says, for “cautious optimism”, though there can be no guarantees that the improvements are in any way irreversible. Ukraine has on the whole chosen European standards and values, and those who don’t share such values, including radical nationalists, are in a minority. What is worse, he points out, that minority would demonstrate that it shares the far-right conservative views of the supporters of “the Russian world” fighting in Donbas.

See also:

Friday, 2 October 2015

World’s main security issue today is Russian poisoned public opinion

Picture from a July Racist @Redbull Obama event in Russia
Crosspost from Little Green Footballs.

I have posted before about how Americans seem to be unaware just how much Russians are being told to hate them.

In this article Andreas Umland, a Kyiv based analyst and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, explains further how what we see in the West of Russian propaganda is just the tip of a very dangerous, nuclear armed iceberg.
Russia’s more and more neurotic collective mind represents a critical challenge to the integrity of the European and even world security system. Russian electronic mass media has turned from a platform of relative pluralism of interpretation and opinion, in the 1990s, into a dangerous propaganda and manipulation instrument. Over the last 15 years, Russia’s major TV channels, radio stations and newspaper have been resolutely re-designed to prolong as long as possible the rule of the kleptocratic clique around Vladimir Putin. Kremlin-controlled mass media achieves this aim through purposeful inception and radicalization of a fortress mentality among the Russian population. The Russian people are told, on a daily basis, that Russia is under a deadly attack from the US and its underlings across the world, ranging from far-away Australia and Canada to neighboring Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine. The propaganda machine’s constant repetition that NATO, the EU and their allies are after Russia’s lands and resources has made, for many Russians, the idea that they have to stick together for securing the physical survival of their nation a common place beyond dispute.

So far, the West has largely failed to address the core issue in its confrontation with Moscow - the deeply poisoned Russian public opinion. It does not systematically counter-act the constant spread of Manichean, conspirological and rabidly anti-Western misrepresentations of international affairs, by the skillful manipulators of Kremlin-controlled mass media. For instance, the English-language RT (Russia Today) state TV channel has, since 2005, been allowed to become a noteworthy factor in the formation of North American as well as West European public opinion, on the Wests contemporary domestic and foreign affairs. RT’s largely unchallenged pseudo-pacifist stance has only started to loose cloud, even among political radicals, with the start of the all-to-obvious Russian “hybrid war” against Ukraine. Especially, the downing of Malyasian flight MH17, by a Russian rocket on 17 July 2014, has dealt a blow to RT’s and various other Russian outlet’s international propaganda campaign strategies designed to muddle the waters of Western public opinion on the escalation in the Donets Basin. The Kremlin’s project to subvert the integrity of the West from within has largely failed.

Yet, a far more consequential and complicated challenge remains unmet - the ever stronger anti-Western infection of public opinion, inside Russia, by state-directed domestic television.
More: Neither ISIS, Nor Climate Change: The World’s Main Security Issue Today Is the Russian People’s Poisoned Public Opinion

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A Russian left take on the Russian economic crisis

Reblogged with permission from LeftEast.


By the Coordinating Council of the Russian Socialist Movement

Today’s economic crisis has affected all spheres of life in Russian society. The processes we witness in economics, politics, and ideology look like constant escalation of unreason. The unending sequence of media scandals obscures the reality of mass poverty, growing unemployment and the unannounced but already palpable austerity policies of the state.

We see the sunset of the social populism of the Putin era, marked by the quiet forgetting of his “May orders,” a long list of economic promises to the population he made as part of his 2012 Presidential campaign. The more difficult life becomes, the more frequently we hear on the media calls for national unity.

The causes of the current crisis lie not only in Kremlin’s military adventures or in the sanctions from the West. Its fundamental origins lie in the exhaustion of the post-Soviet capitalist model based on extraction of natural resources and obedient labor.

The Russian elites are currently considering two ways out of the crisis. The first is the so-called path of “structural reforms,” that is, mass privatization, including of state corporations, pension reforms, commercialization of medicine, education, and so on, for the sake of attracting investment. As part of this package, relations with the West have to be normalized to end the economic sanctions over Russia, and maybe, a measure of political liberalization has to be introduced. The second scenario involves printing of money, further collapse of the ruble, a program of internal investment and massive cheapening of the labor force, superbly suited to Russian businesses who export goods to foreign markets for hard currency.

As part of this program, we could have an ideology of “Russia’s special way” and so on. As always in such circumstances, the government chooses a third option — remaining in place while selectively borrowing of elements from the above two. But all the different factions of the elite behind the different scenarios agree on the following: the price of the crisis must be borne by the population.

Silently observing the collapse of the national currency, refusing to index salaries and pensions, the Russian government conducts a policy of expropriation of the majority of the population. At the same time, government officials cynically boast of the gains in productivity purportedly achieved through wage decreases and the untimeliness of tax increases for the rich. Denying the growth in the number of jobless, the government refuses to take measures to create new workplaces, adopting the neoliberal position that unemployment is “natural.”

The policies of import substitution have increased food prices and led to the enrichment of local oligarchs. Neither protectionist measures nor the so-called free trade have much to do with the interests of most people. Our demands are the demands of those denied a voice in the existing system — waged laborers, debtors, and retirees:
  • Obligatory indexation of salaries, both in state and the private spheres, and pensions.
  • Defense of worker rights, including the rights for just compensation in case of dismissal, the right to form a union, to strike, etc.
  • Abandonment of all plans to reduce the financing of the social sphere: education, healthcare, and culture. End to the pre-emptory financing of the military and the police.
  • Effective defense of debtor rights. Regulating the bloated market of consumer credit banks developed in recent years.
  • Restoring a progressive tax scale.
  • Transparency in the financing of state corporations and genuine court cases against corrupt high-ranking officials.
  • Introduction of a price ceiling for vital goods of and freezing the rents of state housing.
  • Refusal to increase pension age.

Russia needs a political and social transformation, which cannot be achieved by the current elite. This is a task beyond the capacity of the liberal opposition, whose leadership’s understanding of the economy is hardly any different from that of the government’s economic bloc. We see the way out of the crisis in the formation of a wide protest movement whose agenda will not be limited to the democratization of the whole political system but will include the defense of the people’s social and worker rights.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Ukraine: workers organise at the grass roots

Workers’ meeting at Svetlodarsk hospital

Reposted with permission from People and Nature, translations by Gabriel Levy. This report confirms what I reported at the weekend, that the potential for 'counter revolution' inside the Donetsk and Luhansk 'republics' is the reason why international aid agencies have been expelled - a situation which started from their treatment of trade unions.

Pavel Lisyansy, founder of the Eastern Human Rights Group and lawyer for workers in eastern Ukraine, gives his view in this guest post of efforts to strengthen the labour movement at a time of military conflict and attacks on workers’ rights.


In 2015 breaches of Ukrainians’ social, economic and labour rights are becoming sharper and sharper. Politicians from oligarchic clans have started shouting about a social and economic revolution. And really, we have had two political revolutions – the “Orange revolution” [of 2004] and the “revolution of dignity” [of 2014] – but there has been no social and economic revolution.

In Ukraine there is a huge potential for protest, due to the widespread breaches of labour rights. There is a great need for new trade union and working-class organisations. Since Soviet times the trade union movement has not modernised itself. Trade unions have remained as they were: “distributors of holiday vouchers” and “lobbyists for the employers” in workplace collectives.

[Translator’s note. During the Soviet period, up to 1991, workplace trade union organisations functioned as a branch of management, ensuring collaboration with labour discipline. Workers appreciated them only for distributing vouchers for holiday trips and canteen meals, and other minor benefits.]

So far, the grass-roots trade union organisations are not numerous, and can not offer the sort of resistance to the oligarchs that is needed.

And there is an attack on workers’ rights along all fronts: the adoption of a new labour code, an increase in communal tariffs [for rent, electricity, gas, water, housing repairs, etc], and a mass of illegal sackings and lay-offs. To resist this offensive needs a new algorithm of trade union and workers’ struggle.

The most difficult situation with regard to working people’s rights is in the east of the country where the military conflict is going on. There, working-class resistance is completely absent. If employers don’t pay wages, they say: “there’s a war on. What the hell do you want?” But it’s exactly in eastern Ukraine that new trade union organisations are being formed, among workers who have lost all hope of anyone helping them, who are compelled towards self-organisation in order to defend their rights. (In Svetlodarsk, for example.)

If those who are ready to defend workers’ rights work systematically, there is a very good chance that the east of the country could become one of the bases of a new workers’ and trade union movement.

Meanwhile, the trade union leaders are an object of great interest for premier-league politicians. But this is not driven by any intention of defending working people’s rights, but as an instrument of getting power.

The workers’ and trade union movement itself is going through the first stage of a new, young formation. In Ukraine there is a process by which young politicians are appearing and old ones are leaving the scene, and there’s a corresponding process in the unions. But the trade unions’ “old guard” doesn’t want to leave its “place in the sun”, and so it is offering all kinds of resistance to initiatives from young activists. A gigantic amount of energy is used up fighting these internal battles, and the defence of labour rights gets forgotten.

The younger generation’s lack of trade union experience is a problem. In the grass-roots organisations, 80% of the young activists don’t have experience of the ins and outs of working class and trade union struggle. And that’s in the first place on account of the failures of the older trade union leaders, who are afraid of competition and – motivated by jealousy, greed and cowardice – “get rid of” their younger competitors. All this serves to knock the workers’ movement in Ukraine off course.

This is the time to hammer out new methods of struggle for working people’s rights. Time doesn’t stand still. New information and other technologies develop. It’s time to use the potential of young activists to counter the oligarchic clans.  

Workers’ meeting at Amstor supermarket, Severodonetsk, 27 September

Pavel Lisyansky regularly posts information about the workers’ movement in eastern Ukraine on his Facebook page (Russian only). Here Gabriel has translated a couple of interesting recent posts.

Pay scandal in Severodonetsk supermarket

27 September 2015. Today there was a meeting of the workplace collective at the Amstor supermarket in Severodonetsk. The situation there is appalling. The company owes workers pay for previous months; it refuses to release workers who want to leave; and it has failed to pay holiday pay. People continue to go to work and to demand that their elementary rights. In the building where they work light, water and the internet have been cut off. But they continue to go there, so that they can not be dismissed for failing to turn up.

Today [some other activists and myself] helped the workers to organise themselves. The workplace collective has formed a rank-and-file trade union organisation. From next week we will begin systematic work on the defence of labour rights. The newly-formed trade union has already sent an appeal to Artur Palatny, head of the parliamentary committee on families, youth and sport.

People are protesting in the centre of Severodonetsk (which is currently the administrative centre of Lugansk region [i.e. on the Ukrainian side of the front line – trans.]), where a range of international and civic organisations are based and where senior politicians turn up every week. But no-one reacts to the outrageous situation facing workers.

New rules for organisations in the Lugansk “republic”

25 September 2015. A source in the state security ministry of the LPR [Lugansk People’s Republic] has told me that the problems facing international organisations in the territories not under Ukrainian control is a new planned strategy, directed at external dangers and internal threats.

All this started with the trade union movement. More than a year ago, the “republics” thought up a procedure of re-registration, and then set about forming one united union [i.e. excluding those who didn’t register – trans].

Then they moved on to persecuting international organisations such as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, the United Nations, the Salvation Committee [set up in Moscow in July by representatives of the Party of Regions], etc.

The source in the state security ministry said that a decision has been taken to constrain the activity of such international organisations in view of the danger they are said to present of counter revolution inside the “republics”.

Mineworkers’ day

29 August 2015. Tomorrow is the Mineworkers’ day! [A traditional industrial holiday that started in Soviet times – trans.] For my family, it’s an important day. My great-grandfather, grandfather, father and me were all mining engineers and consciously put our efforts into the mining industry.

I have seen the pits from every angle – as a worker (from the age of 15 I worked every summer as an ordinary miner), as a manager (in which capacity I worked, starting from shift leader to acting mine manager at the time of the military conflict in the summer of 2014 near Debaltsevo), and also as a trade union activist (I was the first in Donbass to set up an independent union organisation of students at the mining university, and when I went to work I joined the Independent Mineworkers Union of Ukraine).

In the coal industry there are many honourable and decent lads, including managers with whom I have been lucky to work. And there are many honourable trade union leaders – not those who sit in Kiev, but those who are to be found at the workplaces – who with their ideologies have earned industrial honours (Miners’ Pride awards, etc) and given their life to the pits.

But unfortunately there are also those who have earned themselves billions of dollars with these ideologies, and also those who have profited from the business of defending miners’ social and economic rights, and who have really played the role of protector for bosses of the highest rank. The bosses name their price, give the order “forward march” … and off goes the “defender of the workers” to the mass media, to defend the interests of a particular boss or particular financial-industrial group.

Real trade union leaders don’t live in Kiev and don’t drive around in fancy jeeps. They take the collectives to work, to produce coal, at this difficult time. And their reward is their wages and industrial awards, and not handouts and payments from oligarchs! Having seen since I was young the labour of real miners, and made my choice, I am following in my dad’s footsteps!

Congratulations to all the mineworkers in Ukraine, from Lugansk [in the east] to Lviv [in the west] on our day!

Afterword by Gabriel Levy

A year ago, I argued that war and military conflict in eastern Ukraine are “a means of social control” that have “disastrous impacts on social and labour movements”, producing “a new type of hierarchy – of the armed against the unarmed” that reinforces other social hierarchies. Pavel Lisyansky’s article suggests to me that all that still holds true – but also that there is another side of the story: the activity by him and many others directed at resuscitating and rebuilding the workers’ movement at grass roots level. Such efforts deserve support from social and labour movements all over Europe.

About the photos

The top photo shows the founding meeting of a new trade union organisation at the Svetlodarsk city hospital. Every single employee at the hospital has joined the new organisation. Pavel Lisyansky is on the left, sitting at the desk. The second photo is of a meeting at the Amstor supermarket in Severodonetsk, described in Pavel’s Facebook post of 27 September.

Also on People & Nature:

See also

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Russian hypocrisy on refugees explained

Reposted from Window On Eurasia with permission.


By Paul Goble

Russia’s Federal Migration Service says that there are now 12,000 refugees from Syria in the Russian Federation, of whom 2,000 have received residence permits. There are far more people in Syria who would like to come, including most prominently, the 100,000 Circassians, whose ancestors Russian officials expelled 150 years ago.

Circassian activists in the North Caucasus and their supporters both elsewhere in Russia and internationally are calling on Moscow to take more of them in, but so far, the Russian authorities have been blocked that flow fearful that it could change the ethnic balance in the North Caucasus and threaten Russian control there.

But as the war in Syria intensifies, Russian involvement there deepens, and the refugee crisis in Europe expands, the international community and the European Union in the first instance should demand that Moscow open the gates for more of those fleeing violence in Syria, including the Circassians.

A minuscule number of Syrians have fled to Europe via Russia, Moscow and Scandinavian media have reported over the last three weeks. (See and But most of the 12,000 who have come have done so only with Russian government blessing.

Most Russian discussions on the refugee issue have focused less on the needs of the refugees than on Moscow’s insistence that Europe has only itself to blame for the crisis because it is following the US lead in Syria and not supporting the Asad government. Indeed, Moscow insists, the refugees are fleeing ISIS, not Asad (

Yury Moskovsky, an advisor to Russia’s Federal Migration Service, says that “Russia is prepared to accept flows of Syrian migrants, but they are not coming to us. According to him, the reasons are geographic: the Black Sea is rough, and going through the Caucasus is not easy (

There are some 7,000 Syrian citizens in Russia now, he continues, who might be a magnet; but he adds that he does not think that many will come to Russia. Instead, they will continue to head to the European Union countries, even though Russia could take more in and even though Europe would like to block any further flows in its direction.

But there is at least one group of people in Syria who would be prime candidates to come to Russia as refugees, if Moscow would permit it. Fred Weir of the Christian Science Monitor provides the latest discussion as to why the Russian authorities are unlikely to allow the Circassians to come (

He quotes Maksim Shevchenko, a journalist and member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, who says that “so far Russia makes it very hard for Muslim refugees to come.” The problem is not geography, as Moskovsky says, but rather “a lot of bureaucratic obstacles.” And in the current situation, “this needs to change” or some of these people will be killed.

Konstantin Kalachev, a Moscow political analyst agrees. “Russia seems ready to digest large numbers of people,” as shown by the handling of the Ukrainian refugees a year ago, “but politicians are not ready to take responsibility … Russia only thinks about this issue in the context of bigger politics.” And in this regard, no issue is bigger than that of the Circassians.

In an act of genocide in 1864, Russian officials expelled and thus sent to their deaths hundreds of thousands of Circassians from the North Caucasus after the latter resisted Russian colonial expansion for more than a century. Those who survived prospered in the Ottoman Empire and its successors, including Syria and Iraq.

But in recent years, faced with rising nationalism and Islamism, many of the estimated five million Circassians in the Middle East have expressed interest in returning to their homeland. If even a portion of them did, that would change the ethnic balance in the North Caucasus and likely undermine Russian control.

As a result, the Russian authorities have done whatever they could to block almost all Circassians from returning. Moscow has not given them the assistance they had a right to expect under the compatriots program, and Russian officials have been anything but welcoming to those few who have arrived home.

Since 2011, when Syria’s civil war began, Weir reports, “about 1,000 Syrian Circassians have moved to the north Caucasus republics of Karacheyevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria, where their ancestral language is understood. But most report that they have received little official help.”

“Many people here have been good to us,” one of their number told the CSM journalist, “and we do feel wonderful to have regained our homeland. But economically, it’s very hard. Many of our people prefer to go to Europe, or America, though I would like to stay and make it work for my family here.”

Shevchenko says that Russians “need to change our views and become concerned about not only those who are Russian, or married to Russians, and start helping more people,” adding that he expects that to happen. But any movement by Moscow on the Circassian front seems unlikely.

Vladimir Putin and his regime are still furious for the efforts of Circassians around the world to call attention to the ugly fact that his 2014 Olympiad was held exactly at the site of the 1864 Circassian genocide, and consequently, neither nor other Russian officials appear ready to help the Circassians of Syria.

The international community needs to take note of this fact and to hold Russia accountable especially since Moscow routinely claims it is engaged in humanitarian efforts – when the reality is that its work in this area is highly selective and to date, the Circassians have been very much excluded from any of its benefits.

"There is no policy on refugees in our state," says Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the Committee for Civil Assistance, a nongovernmental organization that works with migrants. "When large numbers of Ukrainians started coming here, they were at first met with kindness. But soon all official interest in them disappeared."

See also:

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Donbas can starve say 'rebel' leaders

Last winter there were some reports that people had starved to death in Eastern Ukraine. The reason was that humanitarian aid was being stolen by the criminals who run the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk 'People's Republics' (DPR/LPR).

The insidiousness of Russian propaganda is shown by what you'll find if you look for that information, which is widespread Western media reports of deaths being blamed on Ukraine and not the 'rebels'. This is because Ukraine stopped social payments and because some truck convoys were blocked.

That humanitarian aid to the Donbas was being stolen was the claim of former rebel leader Igor Girkin on Russian TV. Another rebel commander, Pavel Dremov, said that only one in ten of Russian aid convoys actually reached the people. Trucks supposedly delivering aid through Ukrainian checkpoints have been found to be carrying alcohol instead.

International agencies operating in the Donbas have come under increasing pressure. Monitors from the OSCE, there because of agreements signed by the 'rebels' and by Russia, have been harassed and had their vehicles destroyed. In April the International Rescue Committee, which looks after refugees, was expelled after being kidnapped and accused of 'spying'. Aid from the European Union that does get through has been repackaged to appear to come from the 'republics'.

Now, just weeks before temperatures plunge, the rebels have expelled every single international aid body bar the Red Cross - and Russian groups. This includes the United Nations and Médecins Sans Frontières. The Red Cross may be next given that they have been harassed in the past.

According to the UN, this is the situation in Luhansk:
Sick children deprived of essential medications, patients forced to undergo surgery without anesthesia, and food prices so high that many residents can’t afford to eat properly.
The UN also said that when the 'rebels' switched pension payments to rubles they "duped" pensioners by rigging the exchange rate.

Said the UN's Stephen O’Brien:
Some 150,000 people are not receiving monthly food distributions, 1.3 million people’s access to water is at risk, and more than 30,000 people have not received shelter materials and household items they urgently need.
Those most at risk are in the villages and small towns, especially in the east. Well away from Donetsk itself, so unlikely to be seen by Western journalists. Much trumpeted Russian humanitarian aid convoys have time and again been found instead to contain weapons.

So why are the 'rebels doing this? According to the newspaper News of Donbass it is because of "a new strategy for the external security and counter external and internal threats." Specifically a "threat posed by these counter-revolution within the republic."

Just let that sink in. So because of politics, because of ideology, because of paranoia their 'people' can be sacrificed? 

The mentality that 'foreign' organisations must be a threat of course comes from Russia, where numerous human rights and even scientific groups have been effectively closed down after being labeled as 'foreign agents'. It is also indulged by many in the West who think that Russia is 'surrounded' and at risk of a Western supported 'colour revolution'. Russian TV (all the people in the Donbas are allowed) is devoted to feeding this paranoia so of course a benign humanitarian group like Doctors Without Borders cannot be what the sane people reading this blog post see it as. No, it must be peddling 'illegal psychotropic drugs'!

But these are the lunatics that the likes of Unite's Andrew Murray, the RMT union and Stop The War Coalition's Lindsey German (and many, many others) are supporting. So called 'anti fascists' who think the UN will foment counter revolution and who are prepared to see their 'citizens' starve or die in agony, the weakest among them first.  Thousands will die because of this decision.

It is not like there has not been fair warning aplenty before but this should be the final straw. 'Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine' should shut up shop and anyone on the left who continues to back these people deserves to be shunned. 

Edited to add: KHRPG reports that:
Ukrainian billionnaire Renat Akhmetov’s humanitarian aid is also not affected by the ban.  Jock Mendoza-Wilson from Akhmetov’s Foundation is reported to have suggested that the militants are hoping to receive humanitarian aid from Western countries via Russia.  His idea is that the aid would be presented as though from Russia.  It seems difficult to believe that western agencies would agree to this, especially given that they would be in breach of Ukraine’s law on temporarily occupied territory if they entered such territory from Russia, without Ukraine’s permission.
Edited to add: IRIN, the UN's news agency reports:
Some 500,000 children up to 10 years of age urgently need polio vaccination in rebel-held areas, and many of the 8,000 tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS patients will die unless medicine is provided, [UNICEF] said.