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.
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.
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