Beware the liberal who instructs you to "back" this or that political trend, always for humanity's sake and usually overseas. You aren't allowed to ask questions or, worse, criticize his or her command. Once the flag is planted you either salute or crawl away in shame.
This lib variation on Bush's With Us/Against Us has surfaced in the wake of Ukraine's recent elections and the Orange Revolt conducted by Western Ukrainian supporters of Victor Yushchenko. Stephen Zunes, an academic with proper lib credentials, issued the call in a
piece that's making the Web rounds. Seems that segments of the American "left" (not specified) have rejected the Orange Uniform, a moral & political failure that undermines the very nature of liberalism and freedom itself. According to Zunes, anyone who claims to be a "progressive" should be skipping with glee now that Yushchenko's Our Ukraine has defeated the Moscow-backed regime of Viktor Yanukovich. Oh sure -- there are some unsavory and rather illiberal elements backing Yushchenko (thanks to Michael Turner at Marc Cooper's blog for that link), but his is a big tent, and the best chance for a long-suffering people to at last know democracy.
Now, I have no beef against those in Ukraine who despise and took to the streets against the pro-Moscow gang headed by Yanukovich and his political boss, Leonid Kuchma. I sympathize with anyone who wants to be free from state corruption and intimidation. But let's not get too misty-eyed about the Orange crowd. The people working them are hardly free of taint themselves. As my friend Chris Doss, who lives in Moscow and is the coordinating language editor for MAIK/"Interperiodica," the main publishing arm of the Russian Academy of Sciences, put it recently on LBO-Talk:
"Here's what's happened in Ukraine, as far as I can
"What is Ukraine? It is a quasi-mafia state run
by oligarchic clans and an astoundingly corrupt
government -- rather like Russia in the 1990s, only
poorer because Ukraine has much less stuff. This issue
with the election was secession. Kuchma knew, much
like [Boris] Yeltsin knew in 1999, that, unless he
succeeds in covering his ass and getting some member
of his clan to come over to him, whatever rival oligarchic clan
seized power would a) definitely take all his stuff
and b) quite possibly jail him, which they could
probably do legally as Kuchma's career has been so
astoundingly sleazy. That's what Yanukovich was.
He was Kuchma's ass-cover. Yushchenko represents the clan of
Tymoshenko -- I suspect she would
have run for president herself but for her gender and the period
she served in jail. Although [Yushchenko] likes to present
himself as an outsider, he is very much a part of the
same corrupt mafia world -- he was PM a couple of
years ago, for God's sake.
"Yushchenko depended on working up popular discontent
over a corrupt regime, and on playing on Western
Ukrainians' fear and resentment of Russia, plus
fanciful promises of EU membership.
"(He also said that if Yanukovich won,
Ukrainians would be drafted by Russia and sent to
fight in Chechnya -- how's that for lame?)
"Yanukovich played on Eastern 'Ukrainians'' (i.e. mostly
ethnic Russians) fear and resentment of Ukrainian
nationalists, plus fanciful promises that Eastern
Ukraine, which is where the economy is, would 'stop
feeding those parasites in the West.' Russia supported
Yanukovich because Russia ALWAYS supports the incumbent. I
can't think of a single election in the recent past
anywhere, including Spain and the US, in which Russia
hasn't supported the incumbent -- this is because
politics as Moscow knows it depends on backroom deals,
and if a new guy is in, you have to do the deals all
over again, and stability in international relations
is very, very important for Russia. The EU and the US
supported the new guy, as they always do in the
Commonwealth of Independent States, I think for
reasons of ideology and lack of knowledge.
(And they didn't support him very much -- $16 million
is not a whole lot of money even in Ukraine.
Tymoshenko probably blows that much on a typical
vacation.) Yushchenko seized on this as a means to work
up his crowd and say 'Look! The world is with us!
We'll get EU membership next Tuesday!'"
As for the idea that the US is looking for a foothold in Ukraine (and thus is cynically backing Yushchenko, which I think is certainly part of it), Chris adds:
"What I'm saying is this -- the word 'Ukraine' means
'borderland,' which is appropriate since it is between
two great powers, the EU (taken collectively) on one
side and a rising (better: re-emerging) Russia on the
other. As such, it can, and has to, play both sides
against each other without really alienating either,
which would be disastrous (good-bye oil!).
"(I don't think the US matters so much here --
the EU and Russia are who have leverage over Ukraine.)
"This puts it into a situation similar to that of
Kazakhstan, which analogously plays Russia and China
off each other, and, somewhat more tenuously,
Uzbekistan (Russia and Iran in this case), and at the
opposite end of the spectrum from someplace like
Armenia, which is trapped between its only ally,
Russia, and a lot of hostile states (with the result
that Russia controls Armenia's entire energy system,
including the nuke plant).
"No change of leadership is going to change this
situation, unless Russia or the EU totally collapse."
Not a pair of clean hands in sight, which is why one should always be skeptical when American liberals like Zunes and the Times's Nicholas Kristof begin waving the democratic pom-poms in an effort to get us to chant along. And should Yushchenko prove to be less than liberal once he assumes power (remember, nearly half of Ukraine's voters went against him), it'll be interesting to see how our Official Humanitarians publicly respond.