The Ukraine crisis: Revolting complexity

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From the Budapest Business Journal print edition: Many in the world are celebrating the overthrow of the political regime in Ukraine and see the events as a clear-cut, heartwarming revolutionary story about the under trodden, oppressed population rising up against its corrupt masters in demand for democracy and basic liberties. As always, the matter is far from being as simple as that.

We tend to have a need for a clear distinction in any narrative between good and evil, the oppressor and the oppressed, to know who the good guys are. The pictures we saw are of the dead and injured protestors, the young woman who tells the world through a conspicuously high production value video that all the Ukrainian protesters want are an end to corruption and the same freedoms that are given to others.

Even worse, we like to think that the sole driver behind the events was the Ukrainians’ collective desire to join Europe and distance themselves from the oppressive grasp of Russia.

But after even cursory research, it becomes clear that the story is by no means as clear-cut. There are several allegiances, multiple groups with multiple loyalties and even when we accept that, we haven’t even begun to actually fathom what living in Ukraine is like, since it is a far away country about which we know, well if not nothing, then definitely not enough. 

When then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made a statement along those same lines regarding Czechoslovakia, he created the perfect definition of elitist ignorance and the kind of aloofness that had horrible circumstances. Unfortunately, the gist of the notion, the lack of knowledge, was as true then as it is now, even though distances have reduced or in many ways become irrelevant thanks to the media and the myriad of ways in which people connect.

While we ridicule the overthrown regime’s ludicrous creature comforts, we should also ask a few questions. Does the fact that right-wing radicals did the lion’s share of the fighting diminish the value of the end result? How do we feel about the fact that foreign powers surely had a hand in the developments given the country’s key geopolitical aspect? Do we have a firm grasp of what the various factions among the protestors are looking for, seeing that the political opposition had seemingly little control when the violence escalated?

We can’t give a definitive answer to any of these questions; perhaps those answers don’t even exist. But they are all factors that we have to keep in mind when we form opinions and when we look at the developments now that there isn’t any more gunfire on the Maidan.

Yulia Tymoshenko may be hailed as a symbol for some upon her release from a politically motivated prison sentence, but it is also no wonder that everyone didn’t cheer her. She is an integral part of the new Ukrainian political system and although she lost out to Viktor Yanukovich, she is still very much a part of the overall establishment that many of those protesting want to abolish altogether.

The story is far from being over and still carries the troubling prospect of turning ugly again. One of the first measures of the new regime was to pass a language law targeted against the Russian community in the country, who make up nearly half of the population and this measure is also hostile towards the Hungarian minority living there, even though they appear to be only residual casualties at this point.

Tensions are still very much alive and there are many strings being pulled on stage as well as off. If there was ever a time in Brussels, Washington and Moscow for circumspection, tact and caution in picking their approach and the sides they are going to back, it is now.

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