Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Marina Lewycka in The Guardian (UK) on Ukraine and the West

The second world war has left its gory mark on this part of Ukraine in another way, too. Galicia was home to the notorious pro-Nazi Ukrainian Insurgent Army, whose leader, Stepan Bandera, was viewed as a hero by some Ukrainian nationalists (including my maternal grandfather), but a fascist antisemite by others (including my paternal aunt).
The staggering wartime losses suffered during the second world war, which is still called the Great Patriotic war by those in Russia and the east of Ukraine, also underlies much of the bitterness now surfacing on the streets, since a member of the new Ukrainian government actually tried to ban the use of the term. Some 20 million Soviet citizens perished in the war against fascism, an almost unimaginable sacrifice; hostility towards those seen as neo-fascists is easily ignited. It is a defining historical sacrifice for eastern Ukrainians, in a way that Stalin's famine of the 1930s has become a defining sacrifice for Ukrainians in the west. In 2006, the authorities in Lviv erected a statue of Bandera in the central square, which provoked outrage in the east. It is Bandera's spiritual descendants who provided much of the organised violent muscle on the streets of Kiev. To tar the whole of the protest with the fascist brush would be very unfair, since most of the protesters are clearly just ordinary citizens fed up with the suffocating corruption of the old regime. But the western powers should be careful not to collude with neo-Nazis (though, to judge from much media coverage, their snipers and molotov cocktails are OK, because they're on our side).
What will happen next? I predict that nothing will happen. There will be a tremendous amount of huffing and puffing of hot air; well-oiled muscles will be flexed and machinery moved about. Some kleptocratic Russian and Ukrainian ladies will have to put on hold their next shopping trip to Harrods or Gucci. But for the bankers, oligarchs and oilmen, it will be business as usual. They will still own big chunks of London. And, fortunately, their offspring will still be able to enjoy their elite education in some of the world's finest private schools cut-price, thanks to the generosity of the British taxpayers who have deemed those institutions to be charities.
Let us hope I am right, because the alternative is civil war: people slaughtering each other in the streets over some fabricated notion of ethnicity. And even a bit of hot air and hypocrisy is preferable to that.