18 Apr 2014

The power of parody in eastern Ukraine

The tired looking young men in t-shirts and combat fatigues manning the barricades in Slovyansk say they are not going anywhere.

Yesterday the agreement thrashed out in Geneva between the EU, the US, Russia and Ukraine said that all unauthorised roadblocks and occupied municipal buildings should be cleared.

But they’re not obeying those orders in eastern Ukraine.

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“The government in Kiev seized buildings, that’s how they got to power so we will leave when they do,” said a round faced man in a black jacket.

What those occupying government building in eastern Ukraine are doing is an echo of the Maidan, the 24-hour encampment in central Kiev that brought down the government of Viktor Yanukovych back in February.

Western governments were enthusiastic about that uprising. Senator John McCain took a tour of those barricades so did William Hague. Many here in eastern Ukraine believe European and US governments didn’t just support the revolution in Kiev, but they fomented it.

The Russian government has been studying the language and tactics used by the west. These days, instead of railing against the “colour revolution” of the early 2000s that brought western-leaning governments to power in former Soviet states, it is simply mimicking their tactics.

That’s why those manning the barricades here won’t abandon them until the remains of the encampment in Maidan, which has turned into a memorial for the “heavenly hundred” killed back in February, has been dismantled.

What people in Kiev call a revolution those here call a coup.

President Putin has also borrowed the language of “humanitarian intervention” invoked by western powers after the failure to stop genocide in Rwanda 20 years ago. That catastrophe, in which 800,000 were killed, led to the doctrine of Responsibility To Protect or R2P which authorises countries to intervene in sovereign states if civilians face slaughter or starvation.

Mr Putin says the people of Crimea were facing a humanitarian disaster back in March. Russian media said hundreds of thousands were fleeing persecution. (They weren’t – I saw no such exodus.)

Russian politicians said that Crimeans who spoke the Russian language were under threat. That, says the Russian government, meant they had no choice but to intervene. It was their Responsibility to Protect.

The same language is being used in eastern Ukraine. The government in Kiev says it has sent soldiers to restore law and order, but Russia says the troops are threatening to kill people here. Reluctantly, and under great provocation, the Russians say they may be forced to intervene again.

It is said history repeats itself – first as tragedy then as farce. But in eastern Ukraine it seems it repeats itself not as farce but as parody.

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