By Mikhail Kholodov
Being a member of the Libertarian Party, I cannot help but stare in amazement at the countless one-sided accounts of the conflict that is gripping Ukraine. The story we hear from the myriad media outlets can be summarized in just a few words: the people of Ukraine have revolted against their tyrannical government and Russia, in response, has invaded the Crimean Peninsula to annex it, finally taking back the lands it lost during the Soviet years. None of these two pieces of information, however, deal with the roots of the conflict and, as Libertarians, it is imperative for every member of our party to have a more complete picture in order to make our own judgment, through the prism of our party’s values. In a nutshell, the situation in Ukraine is that of a country, comprised of two politically, culturally, and psychologically different groups of people – Western Ukrainians & Eastern Ukrainians. Historically, these two groups have never had much in common and they never will. Western Ukraine feels strong ties to Poland and other neighbors to the west, while Eastern Ukraine is strongly tied to Russia. These two groups have perfectly opposite views on the way their country should be run, with Western Ukraine having deep roots in ultra-nationalism and Nazism (remember Stepan Bandera, who led the Ukrainian nationalists to ally with Hitler in WW2, and who is currently considered to be one of the greatest Ukrainian heroes by these people?). Similarly, Eastern Ukraine is overwhelmingly pro-Russian, being opposed to the country’s developing stronger ties with the West, instead pushing for stronger ties with Russia. This complete and utter division within the country’s society is what led to its current, as well as past political instability. Essentially, no matter who is elected to power in Ukraine, one thing is certain: one half of the country WILL be against him or her.
The current crisis was caused when the DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED PRESIDENT Yanukovich opted out of strengthening his country’s ties with the EU, an act that was met with overwhelming support in Eastern Ukraine, while infuriating Western Ukraine. In response, a Western uprising swelled up, leading to the violent overthrow of the president. It is absolutely essential to note that the grunt work within the uprising, the actual fighting, was conducted mainly by the ultra-nationalist forces, such as Right Sector, a paramilitary, right-wing group which, though a minority within the opposition, was the most willing to fight. Here in the west, these “freedom fighters” are seldom shown up-close, but the fact is, most of them are wearing armbands with Right Sector emblem on them, which is nothing more than slightly changed swastika (look them up and see for yourselves). These people stand for “purity of the Ukrainian Nation,” which is evident by one of the very first acts of the new government: to strip the Russian language off its status as a second regional language in the Eastern Ukrainian provinces, where most people speak Russian, instead of Ukrainian. Does this not remind you of a certain country in the 1930s and 1940s that also fought for the “purity” of its nation? Or worse yet, what does the fact that a large number of front doors, belonging to ethnic Russians, living in the western city of Lviv, were hung signs with a picture of Lenin and the words, “Russians Live Here!” on, remind you of? Any parallels come to mind? Of course, this was probably not sanctioned by the regional government, but the fact that it did happen, still remains. These extremely important facts, however, are hid from the people for the simple reason that this is the side that wants to ally with the West and, having forsaken their ideals ages ago, both Democrats and Republicans are always happy to betray their last principles in favor of political or monetary gains for the country and who WILL support an ultra-right wing coup (undemocratic by its very nature) if its leaders agree to work with them, instead of the Russians. Unlike them, Libertarians do not betray their ideals, which all of us need to remember.
In response to these grave developments in the central and western parts of the country, the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine came to realize that the foul-smelling wave of ultra-nationalist sewage was coming to them next and the only way to ensure their rights to live in peace and to think and speak whatever language they preferred, was to barricade against that and to initiate the process of secession. Of course, Russia was all too happy to help, providing many different kinds of aid, including a possible invasion.
I am in no way condoning the actions that Russia has taken in light of all this – it is certain that this is exactly the opportunity it has been waiting for to try and spread its influence westward. But this is only SECONDARY to the underlying problem within the Ukrainian society, especially to the fact that neo-Nazis and other far right-wing organizations are trampling the INDIVIDUAL LIBERTIES of each and every person to decide for him- or herself what language to speak, who to support, or which country to belong to. Being Libertarians, this is the most important fact that we need to focus on when dealing with this issue. EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO THINK INDEPENDENTLY! If we forget this, then we stand in danger of becoming no better than either Democrats or Republicans.
Lately, there also have been numerous mentions of the Russia-Georgia conflict of 2008 over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I am, perhaps, the best expert on this issue within all of LP, as I was born in the Republic of Georgia. For decades, ultra-nationalism has been the driving force for the Georgian politics which, being an ethnic Russian, I had the “pleasure” of experiencing first-hand. This reluctance to work with the various minority groups insisting, instead, on building a “Georgians’ Georgia” was the culprit for the uprisings that led to an all-out war between the Georgian forces and the rebels of Abkhazia in the early 90s. After engaging in mass genocide against ethnic Abkhaz, Russians, Armenians, Greeks, and other minorities in Abkhazia, Georgia finally lost this war and was forever thrown out of Abkhazia (the people of Crimea are perfectly aware of this and are eager to choose Russia’s dominance, which will, at the very least, ensure their safety from the grave threat of Western Ukrainian-born and raised nationalists). Decades later, Georgia lost Abkhazia and South Ossetia for good, after its final attempt to take over these territories had been thwarted by the ever-opportunistic Russia, eager to spread its own dominance. Just like the current Ukrainian conflict, the events in Georgia had been presented to the American people as simply Russia invading the Republic of Georgia to take its territories, omitting all mentions of the root of the problem. Not surprisingly, Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s president at the time, was pushing a 100% pro-American political agenda, allowing the United States to build military bases within its territory (I am not saying that building these bases is wrong, but if this requires betraying the principles of LIBERTY, it becomes unacceptable) – that is why the Western media kept working very hard to repaint the picture of the country of Georgia. In essence, the image of a totalitarian, nationalist state that was trying with all its might to suppress its minorities was being painted over with an image of a struggling democracy, involved in the fight of its life to shed the chains of Russia’s influence. Here, too, Russia did not cause these grave tensions between the various ethnicities – tensions, which are the underlying causes in this conflict – instead, it was seizing the opportunity to help the breakaway countries of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in order to extend its influence in the region. As the advocates of Liberty, we have all the right to condemn Russia for its actions, but just like in Ukraine, Russia is simply taking advantage of a serious situation that has been brought on by the internal strife and utterly disgusting, highly nationalistic ideology, intentions, and actions of the majority, trying to build their “perfect societies,” where everyone thinks and acts alike.
In the face of these events, numerous, yet frighteningly similar in nature, the stance of both Republicans and Democrats on the right of independence-seeking regions within countries has varied greatly. In fact, it has a surprising resemblance to the two-faced Janus from the religion of ancient Rome: when a region, such as pro-Western Kosovo, seeks independence, it is treated in the framework of one of the two faces, defending the right of the people to choose their own future, but when a region, such as pro-Russian South Ossetia or the Crimea seeks independence, their situation is examined through the eyes of the second face, working within the framework of the right of a country to stay together in light of any unlawful secession-causing processes.
Overall, being Libertarians, it is our duty to not follow the rhetoric proposed by our current government blindly, but to examine both sides of the Ukrainian conflict, focusing on the root causes that allowed it to not only become possible, but to actually come to fruition. Having done that, it becomes clear that the main cause of the current Ukrainian political situation is the unwillingness of the country’s ultra-nationalist groups to accept the fact that it is OK for some people to have opinions that do not go in-line with their own. This acceptance, however, is very unlikely, as all of us know that the concept of the purity of their nations is the foundation, upon which far-right groups build their entire political programs.
In light of the facts presented above, I urge every member of the Libertarian Party to spend extra time to learn more about the conflict, because we cannot afford to go along with the overwhelming mass of highly lopsided information and oppose the right of a people to decide on the status of their own land, be it the Crimean Peninsula, Kosovo, East Timor, or South Ossetia.
Liberty and freedom is the right of every human being on our planet.