Ukraine’s Paper Fascists

Independence Square. Kiev, December 2013.

The Euromaidan protests have resulted in the second Ukrainian revolution in a decade. However, you wouldn’t know that based on progressive coverage in the West, much of which has settled on the idea that they engineered a fascist coup. This editorializing flies in the face of most reputable experts on the country, some of whom have gone so far to sign a petition that argues against the idea that Euromaidan was anti-democratic. The signatories are a loose alliance of intellectuals, journalists, analysts, and local officials, who are all troubled at the tone of international coverage, since Euromaidan was a grassroots rebellion against Kremlin domination that ultimately led to revolution.

Let’s be clear: no one is saying that there are no fascists running around Ukraine right now. They are out there, in force. The petition’s argument is that since the protests involved upheaval that touched all currents of  Ukrainian society, regardless of ideology and background, it simply brought the far-right out on to the streets as well. That is certainly cause for alarm, and smart politics need to be practiced in the months ahead.

Nonetheless, that does not mean the revolution was a coup, as I have seen argued on Voltairenet, Consortiumnews, Alternet, and Democracy Now, among other left-wing outlets. For anyone who has followed the revolts of the past few years, some far-right growth is actually to be expected, since revolutions always allow fringe voices to assert themselves. Left-wing journalists outside of Ukraine ought to do a better job of covering pro-democracy activism.

This trend is arising from two major problems in progressive Western journalism. Particularly in the United States and United Kingdom.

One is strictly a professional consideration, since fascists are sensational enough to grab readers, especially when English-language audience are already primed to be cynical about movements like Euromaidan. Words like “coup” cater to the preconceptions of people who already expect the revolution to end badly and are now seeking media to validate their beliefs.

Superficially, it fits a narrative of capitalist Westerners supporting the toppling of democratically-elected governments. It’s cynical to automatically expect this from revolutionary movements, but it is understandable, especially given the current turmoil in Egypt. Not to mention how bad the ’89 revolutions turned out, for so many countries, in the former Soviet Bloc.

This latter point is especially relevant. Twenty-five years after the fall of Communism, many leftists still don’t seem to understand how Eastern Europeans can view rebelling against Russia as an act of liberation. This plays into Putin’s own post-Soviet ambitions in the region. The popularity of state broadcaster Russia Today, with it’s decidedly center-left views, does little to dampen such worldviews. Particularly when it promotes radicals like Julian Assange, and Slavoj Zizek.

It is much the same story as during the Autumn of Nations. Many refused to understand how “counter-revolutionary” forces like nationalism could help articulate despair against Soviet autocracy. It’s a familiar response, bringing up old anxieties. Eastern Europe didn’t adopt market capitalism because fascists led those revolts. It was because the Soviet Union became too much to bear. The only way out was getting rid of state socialism altogether, even if it meant taking on a new enemy: capitalism.

That free market, today, ironically, is represented by both Moscow, and by Brussels. That’s what we need to remember. Thus, there is no taking sides, between East and West. The only side worth taking is that of Ukrainian democracy. The sooner we remember that, the easier it will be to responsibly cover the region.


Photograph courtesy of Jose Luis Orihuela. Published under a Creative Commons License.


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