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Saturday, May 03, 2014

Reporting on the Ukraine - the man in the devil suit did it!

I have this sick, deja vu feeling about the u.s. ukraine reporting:it shares the same vices and mindframe as the reporting on Iraq in 2002-2003.
It is important to be clear about what happened. The former president was deposed - and he was deposed, apparently, by groups that were opposed to him in the previous election. Unfortunately, none of these groups seemed to have any roots in those areas that voted overwhelmingly for Yanukovych. This kind of thing happens all the time in countries that have no democratic tradition or institutions - one party, faced with the victory of another party, kicks that party out. It certainly is not an instance of overthrowing tyranny. That both sides are corrupt is pretty much a given in oligarchy ridden Ukraine. One doesn't have to be for I think running away was probably a good way not to get killed.
Unfortunately, the reporting in the NYT, the NYorker (with its pathetic series by Jon Lee  Anderson, the LRB (with its pathetic reporting by James Meek) and the NYRB on Ukraine has pitted good guy Maidan protesters against Putin. as the whole story - when it is a sideshow This is convenient to the American mindset, but it eclipses the reality of what is happening in the Ukraine. The regions that voted overwhelmingly for Yanukovych are not being hypnotized by Putin - they are understandably disgusted by a Kiev centered political operation that has negated their political will. Over and over again, you read that they neither want to be part of Russia - nor accept the Kiev government as legitimate. Why is this position - which is pretty simple - simply ignored in this "series of portraits"? Because it inconveniences what Joan Didion once called the "narrative" - the way establishment newsmakers have determined a news story should go, whether it reflects reality or not. In fact, what is being missed is the framework for what is happening. To make it good Kiev versus bad Kremlin is a disservice to American readers. It will lead to Americans not being able to understand events in the Ukraine. It is overwhelmingly reminiscent of American reporting about Iraq, which similarly so mislead readers that the insurgency was wholly unexpected, and the whole unwinding of the occupation was a big enigma. If the press had done its job, that wouldn't have been so much the case.
But the press has long substituted one job - reporting - for another - lobbying - when it comes to foreign news reporting in the U.S. Thus, Ukraine is given to us in two historical periods - it appeared in the 1930s, when a georgian born dictator, Stalin, starved to death its people, and it appears in February 2014, when the Maidan protests gathered steam. However, a less supernatural view of the Ukraine would assume that it also existed in 2013, and 2012, and 2011, and 2010. From this angle, the question is who voted for the party of the Regions and where, A look at the map would show you that the Party of the Regions was extremely popular in the East. Here's the wiki map of the presidential election (the percentages are part of the total of the 48.95 percent that Yanukovych got in the second round of voting). This map indicates pretty strongly where the overthrow of Yanukovych is going arouse unhappiness. You don't need to posit some hypnotic power by Putin. Evidently, the power in Kiev is either going to have to compromise with these areas or occupy them. Or the Ukraine will split. This isn't really that hard to see or understand. The project of not understanding it, of ignoring it, of pretending that 2010 didn't happen, is a strong indicator that what we are getting in the mainstream media and the thought journals about the Ukraine is simply propaganda. Easy to swallow, since after all, Putin is a dick and a war criminal (and also the unexpected result of the last massive U,S. intervention in Russia, when the US aided and dragged Yeltsin to victory in 1995 in Russia). 
But don't believe the man in the devil suit is the main actor here.   

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