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BEST OF 2014 | WHY SHOULD YOU GIVE A FUCK ABOUT UKRAINE?

by Max Barashenkov / Images by Ilya Varlamov / 27.12.2014

Originally published on 24 February 2014

Well, you shouldn’t really. That’s somewhere in Europe and we are on the southernmost tip of Africa, so it’s about as relevant to you as monthly rainfall statistics from China. Have a craft beer, roll a blunt.

The problem is that when you keep half an eye on world politics, on Syria, on Egypt and now Ukraine and Venezuela, parallels emerge, disturbing ones, little LEGO blocks of fucked-up. If you’re not a complete pretzel of a human being, concerned only with scoring Eminem tickets (or whatever the middle-class zeitgeist is of the day) – start examining these parallels in light of recent developments in our own merry Republic. Then it becomes quite apparent that we are swiftly rolling down the same hill. And at the bottom? Big violence. Chaos. Protestors shot dead by the very people that are meant to protect them. Civil war with all of its glorious tributaries.

Here’s a shock video interlude, for the purpose of popping your head out of your ass. This is Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, on Thursday 20 February. Less than a week ago, things here were not exactly sitting pretty here, but there were no bodies in the streets…

So what exactly is happening? If you give half a shit, you can read far more detailed and credible accounts elsewhere and birth your own opinion, but for the majority let’s roughly break it down: towards the end of last year, Ukrainian government, amid general decay, economic decline and rampant corruption, begins talks with the European Union about the country’s entry into the EU. Russia, who has long considered Ukraine an integral cog in its sphere of influence, is naturally not pleased. Putin calls up his old chom Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych: “Viktor, if you continue this business with the EU, we will cut off your gas and cease all trade.” Viktor (democratically elected, but never the smartest nor strongest of leaders – more about that later), promptly shits his pants and withdraws from the EU talks. Massive, but peaceful protests in Kiev ensue, demonstrators calling for his immediate resignation and a new government. Then, in December 2013, a cosmic blunder – government security units employ “force” against the Maidan protestors (from ‘Maidan Nezaleznosti’ – Independence Square in Kiev, ground zero of the protest movement). Nothing too drastic, just some batons and steel shields. In turn, barricades go up, Kiev’s city center is paralysed, the Maidan crowd dons makeshift combat gear, Molotov cocktails and bricks begin to fly, government buildings are occupied, Ukraine’s three opposition parties engage in heated (and ultimately fruitless) talks with the Yanukovych regime. Things remain more or less (in media speak) tense-but-calm; a stalemate of sorts. Then, on Tuesday 18 February, things flare up and this time, real rage roars. Real violence erupts; bullets and burning BTR troop carriers. Real blood is spilled by people who simply have had enough of being bent over the proverbial barrel.

“Alright, a royal mess,” you say.  “But what does it have to do with me? South Africa is not Ukraine!”

This is true. Every country’s situation is different, the nuances of an ex-Soviet state and a post-Apartheid African country are two different herds of cattle, but let’s look at the glaring similarities: radical regime change in the last 20 years? Check. Coming to power of an inept government, more concerned with filling its own pockets than with the welfare of its people? Check. Unwillingness by the government to listen to reason or to surrender even an iota of power? Check. Economic decline, beyond that of the economic crisis of 2008? Check. People’s rights being treated as toilet paper? Check. Worsening poverty? Check. Growing dissent among the electorate of the ruling party? Double check. Predisposition to the use of violence, both by the government and the dissatisfied? Triple check.

Looking through this lens, it becomes evident that the scenes of Maidan could very well be replayed on streets in Cape Town or Johannesburg, at some point. The real question is: how soon? Everything, from the Marikana Massacre to the hundreds of service delivery protests (these already resemble Kiev anyway – burning tyres and burning cars, people getting shot, police stations ransacked) and the ruling party’s open use of its supporters as a militant force to suppress opposition (as beautifully illustrated during the recent DA march in Jozi); it all points to a ‘sooner rather than later’ scenario.

Kiev 3

Before the elections of 2018/19, many fear we will see the Big Blood. 

So what can we learn from the Ukrainian situation? How do we try prevent the same outcome here? This is the question I pose to you: “What do we do?” Because it doesn’t ultimately matter how the Ukrainian clusterfuck resolves itself – blood has been spilled and the anger will not be erased by a new constitution or even a new government. On Friday 21 February, to general back-slapping in the West, opposition parties and the Yanukovych government signed a “peace treaty” that calls for presidential elections towards the end of the year. And the reinstatement of the 2004 constitution. Reaction from Maidan? “Yanukovych’s head NOW! Fuck you for shaking hands with those that were killing us yesterday!” Kiev is now entirely in the hands of the protestors; no control, no unity. All security forces have abandoned the city. The president has fled and a manhunt is on. The country is falling apart in the most literal of senses. And while in South Africa we currently don’t have a tipping-point issue, such as the question of joining the EU was to the Ukraine, the stage is set, the tinder is piled high, all it takes is another Marikana, or another Nkandla, or, perhaps, mass falsification of election results. And then? Well, the law of nature dictates that people, the ones that have been fucked over the most time and time again, once they reach a certain breaking point, they don’t stop, don’t listen to reason, they only want revenge. For everything.

The one thing that does become evident from the Maidan mess, is the need for strong and smart leadership. Things got ugly there because the opposition parties couldn’t agree amongst themselves, could not reach an agreement with the government and, in the process, lost all influence and control over the protest – to the point where things have degraded into semi-tribal urban warfare, where every radical-group-turned-war-gang runs amok. We’ve seen the final stage of this process – Syria, where it’s neighbourhood vs. neighbourhood these days.

Kiev 1

Similarly, in South Africa, we lack leaders. We have the utterly corrupt and inept ANC Elite, who we can discount from the get go. The DA? Zille and her crew have shown themselves as worthless lately. Firstly, we can question their intelligence and political savvy over the Ramphele circus (another “leader” who turned out to be nothing more than a silver-tongued opportunist), and secondly, their backbone and conviction – turning the march in Jozi around might have been a smart move, but in essence they ran with their tails between their legs at the first sign of smoke. Who else we got? Is COPE even a real thing? Which leaves us with Malema, who, despite his obvious shortcomings and dangers, has displayed himself as both the best political operator on the SA scene and the only man with enough balls to stick to his, however-misguided, guns. Pretty perspectives right?

So, where to from here? To war? You ready?

All images ©Ilya Varlamov

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RESPONSES (18)
  1. Scott M says:

    Great stuff, Max.

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  2. creep says:

    first you support laugh it off’s homophobia and now you publish max the fhm rape joke guy…nice going mahala.

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  3. Choco Litman says:

    Fuck you Creep, Max is a G

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  4. Sour Grapes says:

    So what, Mahala and the world should shun the guy forever, for one dumb facebook post. We should hold you to the same standard, creep.

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  5. Karl says:

    Max – missed this a lot son.

    Creep – go suck a bag of steaming dicks you self-righteous colostomy bag.

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  6. George Bacon says:

    Love your work Max.

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  7. Desmond Wolff says:

    Dude the politics and socio-economic situation of Ukraine and RSA are so profoundly different that your article strikes me as a piece reflective, primarily, of your personal wish for a violent revolution.

    You’re a better writer and thinker than this. You call for smarter leadership? Demonstrate that through smarter, more nuanced criticism rather than simple rabble-rousing and fear-mongering.

    This has a little of that: http://www.bdlive.co.za/opinion/columnists/2014/02/21/the-country-of-the-oft-prophesied-apocalypse

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  8. Alex says:

    Fuck Ukraine!

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  9. muddebunker says:

    More reactionary shit-stirring; welcome back you have been missed

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  10. Brian Green says:

    Welcome back, Max. I hope you’re tasked with covering Ramfest again next month.

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  11. Tuvok says:

    It is not surprising that there are no intelligent comments on this topic, but rather a focus on the social media status of the writer. When all of Gugulethu and Khayelitsha are taking over your land and homes, and all of Hebron and Fochville are petrol bombing government buildings, think of Max. He is what truly matters when police are shooting mine workers in Marikana or the ANC’s supporters are suppressing freedom of expression. Feel comforted that Max is there, and everything will be alright when he posts his next ignorant Facebook status. Because nothing else matters until you’re staring down the street at an angry mob approaching your home with knob kieries and pangas, and you’re shitting and pissing yourself wondering, “Where’s Max now with his witty Facebook status?” It is no surprise at all that there are no intelligent comments. There IS NO intelligence left. It is, after all, your right to be an ignoramus and to ignore the signs.

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  12. muddebunker says:

    Tuvok your finely developed sense of irony is joy to behold

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  13. don p says:

    There’s an even deeper issue here. I suspect there’s a puppeteer behind the EU called US, which always desperately needs an enemy to keep its war industry going. Putin’s not the best guy on the block but he’s not stupid. He’s watched the US break its promises about not arming Nato. He’s watched the missile bases creep across Europe one country at a time. The Ukraine is Central Europe’s breadbasket and right up against Russia. There’s a split in the Ukraine between the east and the west, with the west pulling (being pulled?) towards Europe and the east pro Russia. The Ukraine just could be the line in the sand for a new Cold War, with a wall going up down its middle. Putin has mobilised hundreds of thousands of troops just across the border in Russia and the US is making ‘hands off’ noises. And when the authorities lose control as Max indicates shady forces with singular intention start to take control. This could be another Syria, which is bad enough. It could also be the touchpaper for an even nastier international confligration. That’s why we need to give a fuck about Ukraine.

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  14. don p says:

    Oh just in case you think I’m a Putin tankie waving a red flag, no sorry, I’m not. But US foreign policy really scares me. They have absolutely no fucking morals, they shoot before they think half the time (based on poor CIA intelligence) they talk sweet but their foreign-office apparitchiks graze on gunfire and shit bile. I’d be really surprised if they kept their fingers off Ukraine.

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  15. Mox says:

    I’m sorry but Max and Tuvok, are far off the mark.

    The assumption that events in the Ukraine and SA are comparable on any level is quite crazy and shows a deep lack of understanding of geo-political affairs.

    Most of the reasons Max lists for similarities are completely off.

    Coming to power of an inept government? First off that sounds dangerously like a pro-apartheid idea and a cursory glance at the state of affairs in SA over the last 20 years will show you the opposite of that.

    Ukraine like Syria is nothing more than a proxy war between a fading a US using the EU as a vanguard and an aggressive reasurgent Russia. There is no people fighting for rights this is just an elite fighting amongst themselves. The Ukrainians elected Yankukovich a year ago, now they’re suddenly dissatisfied? Please it’s like Egypt with Morsi, an elite with different foreign backers fighting for control.

    This article is full of a lot of dramatic language by someone who doesn’t seem to understand the geo-politics of the world. It’s like Max saw a lot of pictures of people rioting and decided that the world will burn so SA must then burn.

    There is a quote by Lenin that is the opposite of what Max and people who believe that revolutions are spontaneous Social-Media inspired things:

    “Organisation not based on principle is meaningless and,in practice, converts the workers into a miserable appendage of the bourgeoisie in power”.

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  16. Nemanja Cvetkovic says:

    Hmmm… I think you seem to misunderstand the dynamics of the Ukraine situation quite fundamentally and the conclusions you then draw to South Africa become a bit spurious don’t they?

    What is going on in Ukraine has very little to do with Ukraine itself and everything to do with the wider geo-political context and the imperial bickering between the US/EU and Russia. There’s no mention of the agreements between NATO and Russia for the post-Soviet era and the expansion of NATO around Russia’s borders, no word on the role of the CIA in funding and encouraging the protests, or the neo-Nazi elements that have acted as the armed wing of the insurrection and the failure of the extremist elements to adhere to a negotiated settlement between Russia, Ukraine and the EU just before Yanukovich was ousted? Nothing?

    Do you know which is the only European country with members of the extreme-right in government? Ukraine now. The Svoboda party (the ultra-nationalist neo-Nazis to us) polled less than 2% at the last election yet they miraculously now control ministries? Nothing to do with their thuggery on the streets of Kiev or their role in the toppling of a democratically elected president. Definitely not.

    You also present the whole EU-Russia dynamic as EU steps in to help Ukraine to sort out its bankruptcy and corruption problem while Russia threatens and blackmails. Meanwhile the fact of the matter is that the EU presented Ukraine with an ultimatum in which in order for them to agree to the Stabilisation and Association Pact (which is like a pre-pre-pre-pre-pre-maybe-but-not-really-firm agreement on the start of the possibility of eventual negotiations to think about joining the EU some day), they would have to turn their backs on any relationship with Russia and become a de facto EU/NATO satellite state at Russia’s doorstep. Not only is a huge chunk of the Ukranian population ethnically Russian, but they have historic ties with the country and would you really want to piss off your biggest and strongest neighbour in exchange for weak aid, endless fiscal austerity and false promises of one day becoming the EU’s source of cheap labour? Russia offered them a bailout totalling $15 billion, with far less strings attached, and a massive discount on energy. Why is the EU a natural choice and why was Yanukovich wrong to choose a better deal?

    I fear that you don’t really know all that much about the situation other than a passing glance through a few of the major news networks and the odd global newspaper web-site but there is far more to this story than the old ‘Russia’s bad, Europe is grand’ narrative.

    This is an interesting publication and the rest of the content seems to be quite interesting and well-researched, but this piece unfortunately isn’t. Why should we give a fuck about Ukraine? Well the truth is that what is happening there IS a reflection of our society, but only in the sense that what happened to them happened to us in a different way 20 years ago. In a time of great change and upheaval, a popular struggle was hijacked and transformed into a neo-liberal revolution in which a popular insurrection became a vehicle for large-scale transfer of whatever wealth the nation has into the hands of a tiny elite that acts as a gate keeper to multi-national corporates who actually run the show and steal all our loot.

    Or something like that.

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  17. Putin says:

    Crimea is Russia

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  18. Heverry says:

    Ukraine is the most disgusting place in Europe, even a little dirtier than France. Ukrainians are filthy scum, only limited to whores, pimps, rapists, robbers and assassins. The program of their government is fascism. Ukrainians stink.

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