Letter From Berlin

Frances Mountier_March2014The Ukrainian enigma

By Frances Mountier
A NZ-er living in Berlin

There’s a Ukrainian flag hanging out a window of our building; its owner – a couple of floors down from us – has taken to playing loud music at dusk. I hope he’s doing okay.

There have been numerous public talks and movie screenings about the Ukraine in the nine weeks we’ve in Berlin.

I haven’t made it to any due to German classes but I read a fascinating interview the other week. Though it was written February, it usefully outlines some of the complexities of the situation in the Ukraine. I recommend it: “Maidan and its Contradictions,” an online interview with a member of the Autonomous Workers Union.

The complexity of the Ukraine

It is difficult to gauge events from here in Berlin, where certainly — as Ukrainian flags attest — there’s great interest in what’s happening in that country.

Ukrainian flag over Berlin
Ukrainian flags in Berlin

Some radicals in Europe have dismissed the protests as fascist, but it’s surely much more complex than that.

From what little I know, it seems that in the Ukraine, white supremacists quietly joined protests pushing for the country to join the EU (despite their own previous ideological opposition to that proposal).

The state, which had earlier talked up the merits of joining, attempted to squash the protests. One day in particular, the Police were overly violent, and in reaction, tens of thousands of people, horrified by this brutality, joined the protests.

Some were the very ‘antifa’ usually fighting the fascists, some were liberals, some were doctors, some were young and old Ukrainians, shocked, and desperate to help.

Yanukovych hated

It became a generalised popular protest against the regime. It had all sorts of elements: a strong nationalist element, a pro-EU element, a strong anti-corruption yanukovychelement against Yanukovych and his cronies who had blatantly enriched themselves, a reaction to falling living standards. It was a weird mixture of left and right-wing elements. The one thing uniting them was getting rid of Yanukovych.

Then Yanukovych was forced out, and Russia annexed Crimea. Whoever wins the upcoming May election will impose staggering austerity cuts as a condition of the IMF bailout.

The real world is scruffy and full of struggle and complexity. To add to the messiness, now in Kyiv there are clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukranian supporters.

For a more up-to-date article on the current bleak situation, I recommend Counterfire’s, “‘The enemy is within’ – Ukrainian left speak out.” In this interview, Kolesnik Dmitry writes:

“Inside the country the current government represents mainly the interests of those oligarchs who supported the Euromaidan movement (though some of them supported it from the ex-ruling party)… In general the current government rather well understands that it will not last long and, therefore, tries to adopt the most unpopular decisions and take the maximum benefits as soon as possible.”

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Frances Mountier is a NZ writer and activist who currently lives with her partner in Berlin.

The photo is of German flags flying over the German parliament in Berlin. It’s a nice photo though.