Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Orange Revolution: Spirit and Struggle

Spirit and the Struggle:

The most basic principle of materialist philosophy in all its variants is the notion that things do not happen in the world because of spirit. History and events do not take place as part of a process of spirit realizing itself; it is through things happening that some thing we might call "spirit" is constituted and that some process we might call "progress" happens (though there always also is regression). Since Marx stood Hegel on his head, progressives have been aware of this: the world is constituted in praxis, i.e., struggle. "Before Being, there is politics" (cf. deleuze/guattari). It is through struggles (becomings) of all sorts that our Being-in-the-world is produced and reproduced. The human world is produced in the multitude of class or economic struggles, political struggles, cultural struggles, reproductive struggles (the struggle for liberal reproductive rights, or control over one's own body, especially by women), sexuality struggles, academic and intellectual struggles, etc.

The key word in all of this is not spirit, but struggle. Better than the birth of spirit, the Orange Revolution is thought of as a significant moment in Ukrainians' post-Soviet struggle to change their country, a struggle that is far from accomplished and that still requires grassroots action and organization--which was, at the time of the Orange Revolution, still only at a rudimentary level, appearances to the contrary aside. (An active NGO sector is neither a replacement for nor a necessary indication of a nation-wide, consolidated and deeply-rooted grassroots movement for change.) The Orange Revolution was still just a beginning, not a culmination. Yushchenko's inauguration day proclamation of the end of Ukraine' s post-Soviet history was premature (unless the nature of elections and relative freedom of press are the sole issues defining the boundary between post-Soviet and post-post-Soviet), and what is more, was an indication of the degree to which Yushchenko and gang considered the need for real struggle already over. This in turn indicated that Yushchenko and gang would soon capitulate to Ukraine's oligarchic or elite-driven political system and capitalism instead of leading a genuine, progressive struggle against oligrachic control. (Their capitulation to their oligarchic adversaries and betrayal of their Orange Revolution promises is an event that is marked on the pages of the ill-considered, so-called "Memorandum of Understanding," signed by Yushchenko and Yanukovych in the autumn of 2005.)

Like Kuchma and gang, though not to the same degree, Yushchenko and gang in the last two years have pursued a high level of compromise with their oligarchic adversaries (it was right to point out that many in Yushchenko's gang are oligarchs--business tycoons with political clout--and to claim that the Orange Revolution was in part the opportunistic rebellion of certain millionaires against Ukraine's billionaires and their cronies), instead of using the full strength of the will they had backing them after the Orange Revolution. In so doing, and though they promised to struggle for deKuchmization, they have betrayed those who really made the Orange Revolution happen, and are complicit in the (re-) creation of a Kuchma-lite system that is now taking hold in Ukraine, one in which only some (perhaps none!) of the extremes of Kuchmism are eliminated. They have shown that they are preoccupied with inter-elite struggles for their own sake and that they are nearly as removed from everyday people as are those they once called bandits and criminals. As Kuzio put it (here), Yushchenko has failed, as much as his predecessors, to be a listening president. In Yushchenko's case--in an effort to bring about the important disenchantment of the Yushchenko myth so widely spun in the heady OR days--it is important to recognize that one does not become a politician of the multitude of Ukrainians simply by virtue of having roots in a village one left behind long ago and by having a (bourgeois) passion for (collecting) folk art and (the leisurely study and promotion of) Ukrainian history. Yushchenko was only but ever a reluctant revolutionary (here), and has with almost total consistency refused any warrior path. The Orange Revolution was a remarkable exception in his technocrat's life. He prefers what he frequently called "clean politics," or to be what he fancies a proper, European gentleman-politician, indeed, an elite--real struggle is too messy, especially for the investors and governments abroad and for the interests of captial at home whose desires the president sought to fulfill more than those of the people whose struggle he claimed to champion. In this context, the manner in which the president chose to mark the second anniversary of the Orange Revolution, with an elite gathering far removed from "the maidan" and its people, is no surprise (here).

nd so the necessity of (an anti-oligarchy, anti-Kuchmism) struggle remains.

Spirit can always be lost. If the world is not the product of a spirit that is inevitably heading toward a telos (goal)--i.e., Freedom--but is created as the result of a wide variety of everyday becomings or struggles, then gains can be lost. "Freedom" is potentially gained (and lost) in struggle. If one doesn't like Marxist talk, perhaps one can appreciate terms borrowed from Zen Buddism: The Buddha was never content to relax. The Buddha had to renew his efforts everyday, lest he fall from his Enlightenment. If the Buddha can slip from Enlightenment without daily struggle and effort, Ukraine can loose the spirit of the Orange Revolution that hasn't yet been fully realized. Like any person after a flash of realization, Ukraine as a nation can become stuck in a semi-realized state and can succumb to old and new illusions, despite the Orange Revolution.

The Orange Revolution was a collective kensho, a momentary glimpse of Enlightenment, or a glimpse of the Enlightened world Ukrainians could live in and build. Realizing it will take ongoing effort, or struggle.

This is not to say that there is no positive or progressive accumulation of successes from previous struggles--that is, gains of the oppressed vis-a-vis the powers-that-be are in a certain sense permanent (cf. the life work of Antonio Negri, in particular this, this, this and this). There is a positive/progressive accumulation of the gains made in struggle that parallels the (negative, repressive) accumulations of capital and power. This is not a contradiction of the principle that there can always be a reversal to oppression and a loss of spirit after a progressive victory. Because of the positive accumulation of struggles, the political and capitalist powers-that-be are forced to innovate in their techniques of control and exploitation. This very thing is happening in Ukraine right now, and most of Yushchenko's oranges are reduced today to a scramble, not to stop this innovation, but to hold on to a meager share of the power they so quickly and unwittingly ceded to their oligarchic adversaries out of the blindness of their beliefs/interests and/or the hubris of their personalities.

Thus, after a victory of the oppressed, the powers-that-be can no longer rely solely on previous techniques, but there always-already are new techniques of control and exploitation to be invented and combined with older ones. Many critics have pointed out that two central limitations of Marx's thought were a) his failure to foresee the flexibility of capital and capitalist forms of rule in overcoming economic and political crises and, relatedly, b) his conviction that crises would necessarily lead to capitalism's collapse. For all their talk about needing stability in the market, capitalist powers have over and again demonstrated they can strive in times of crises, for it is in the resolution of crises that they can reassert their power and control, often with greater depth than before (cf. Negri, again). This process of reassertion is taking place in Ukraine right now, and Yushchenko and gang have enfeebled themselves to such an extent that they are not able to stop it (and it is likely that some among them benefit from and support the Kuchmism-lite system). Thus two similar criticisms of Yushchenko and gang and their apologists can be made:

a) They overestimated their societal level of support and gravely underestimated (due to their ideology? or meak personalities? or their own vested interests?) and therefore failed to appreciate the flexibility of their oligarchic adversaries;

b) They foolishly believed that their oligarchic adversaries would eventually capitulate--because of reasoned orange arguments and proclamations without any real orange stick--to full cooperation with an orange power, and become a kind of consolidated-on-orange-terms "national bourgeoisie." This latter bit was more an element of faith--not of some kind of level-headed pragmatism--that entered into their beliefs, willy-nilly. And so once again, religious leaders have failed to deliver to Ukrainians that for which they so long have prayed.

Thus, though positive change has happened in Ukraine--the minimum that was possible after the Orange Revolution--one should not prematurely think the struggle is over, nor that the Spirit of the Orange Revolution will live on without ongoing efforts. Ukraine after the Orange Revolution is stuck in a semi-realized state and is stuck with a plethora of top-level politicians who leave much to be desired (including Tymoshenko). This situation requires that the people who dreamed of much more and who felt the spirit two years ago renew their efforts in building a real movement for change in their country. I fear that no political force in Ukraine today is capable of delivering what the multitude of Ukrainians dreamed of or glimpsed in Nov-Dec. 2004. That force is still waiting to be made. Thus the most basic but important work of organizing and solidifying a real grassroots movement against corruption and elite intrigue is still of the upmost importance in Ukraine--and this is the reason why the ruination of Pora! as the embryo of a real, all-Ukrainian grassroots movement by the hubris of one man and the pretension of becoming a political party was one of the greatest tragedies of the post-OR days. But it is not a tragedy that can not be overcome.

Spirit is nothing without struggle; spirit will perish if concrete struggle does not continue.

For this reason, those who continue to occupy tent camps and to protest in Kyiv and across Ukraine, and who picketed outside of Yushchenko's elite gathering for the OR's anniversary, and who otherwise refuse to make any apologies for the way in which Yushchenko and team have betrayed "the people of the maidan," are in my opinion doing the right thing.

Of course, in the end, one should give credit where credit is due: the press is a degree freer, elections cleaner, civic activism a degree higher, and some moderate success has been gained in Ukraine's culture wars (Yushchenko's success on one front of the culture war--i.e., recognition of the holodomyr as genocide--is respectable). And the oligarchy-elite remain as firmly entrenched and in power as ever.

*All but the last five fotos, which were taken in Kyiv, are still-fotos captured from digital video that I took in various locations in Western Ukraine during the OR.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Latvia: Commemorating in 2007 the Barricades of 1991

This is footage of members of the folk choir Skandinieki singing this past weekend at a rock that marks one of the spots in Riga where 5 people were killed during a Soviet crackdown on January 20, 1991.

In the course of its terminal year segments within the Soviet government made two bungled attempts to keep things from falling apart. The second of these is better known--i.e., the August Coup. However, that long and tense year began right away with a display of the Soviet authority's anxiety--a crackdown was launched in the breakaway Baltic States. In the Spring of 1990 each of the Baltic States had made moves toward independence from the USSR. On January 13, 1991 in Vilnius and on January 20, 1991 in Riga, blood was spilled as the Soviet government tried, unsuccessfully, to reassert control after months of failed negotiations by which the Soviet government had hoped to persuade the Baltic States to sign Gorbachev's new Union Treaty. To read more about what happened in Riga, you can go to this post on my blog. Scroll down to the middle of the post where the red letters read "About the Massacre."

5 people were killed and hundreds were injured in a park in the center of Riga in 1991. On the places where the dead fell are large rocks bearing the victims' names. Throughout the year in Riga people place flowers and candles on or near these rocks, and they especially do so each year on January 20, which is an official day of commemoration. I went with some fellow members of the folklore ensemble Skandinieki to sing at each of the rocks in honor of the day.

January 20 was the culmination of a week long series of events during which, in 1991, people built and staffed, night and day, barricades throughout Riga in expectation of a Soviet crackdown. Thus each year on January 20 folks come out to rebuild a small portion of the barricades, light campfires, eat soup and sing, much as they did in 1991. 

The experience of people standing at the barricades, sharing food, singing, and risking their lives together was a foundational moment for the renewal of Latvian statehood and of Latvian society in general, one that remains meaningful for many people in the country today. For others, in the context of Latvia's current woes (the lowest wages in the EU, high unemployment, labor leakage/brain drain to Western Europe and the US, continuing corruption, and heightened tensions between Latvia's largest ethnic communities), January 1991 is a fading memory or is viewed as a moment of an all-too-delusional hope. It is just as likely that one in either camp--the camp of those for whom January 1991 remains a vivid memory or of those for whom it is a fading experience--could bemoan the current situation in the country with statements like, "Remember what we stood for in '91?" or, "Too bad things couldn't be more like they were in '91." or, "When did things start to go so wrong?"

In either case, memory of the day is still conjured in a way that endows it with a powerful role in the making of this nation.

January 20 is an important part of the country's yearly cycle and a pillar in the formation of its post-Soviet national identity.

Note, however, that though the number of those who do come out on January 20 each year is often small--as it was this past Saturday--many people in this country will attest to the importance of the day.  Thus it is important that a subcultural or small group actively makes the event that helps keep the memory alive; and it is no surprise that members of the folk choir Skandinieki--many of whom together as members of the group and seperately played important roles in the anti-Soviet resistance--would take an active role in commemorating events on January 20. 

And perhaps one can comment here that if a critical enough mass of people could have--after the deluge that was the Soviet collapse--eventually become as active again in the political and cultural life of the country as they had been in the days of the barricades, and as member of the ensemble continued to be, many of the woes mentioned above might not have come to pass.  

And this speaks volumes to Ukraine's ongoing experience of the Orange Revolution.  Spirit will perish without struggle and the efforts of, at the very least, a very determined minority.  Thankfully a sizable enough mass exists to keep the spirit of the OR quite alive in Ukraine; but how about the larger, political-economic picture?  Much struggle is still needed. . .

Monday, January 08, 2007

Warsaw Workshop on Post Socialism and the EU

I will be at a workshop in Warsaw this weekend; a selection of the most relevant posts on my site to the subject matter of the conference:

On the Road to a Documentary, Part II: Neglect (text and photos)

On the Road to Documentary, Part III: Tradition (text and photos)

On the Road to a Documentary, Part IV: Decay, Ruin, Neglect, Immiseration (text and photos)

Fall Harvest in Western Ukraine, Part I (text and video)

The Mill and the Peasants (text and video)

A Baba Feeds the Fowl in Western Ukraine (text and video)

Boloto ne Zoloto (text)

Tales from the Village, Part I: Beet Harvest in Pictures (text and photos)

Remembering the Fall Harvest in Ukraine

Not related to conference topics, per se, but here is some film footage that a social science-oriented visitor to this site may find interesting:

A Hutsul Wedding, Part I

A Hutsul Wedding, Part II

A Hutsul Wedding, Part III

A Wedding Procession in Pidhajtsi

New Year's Eve 2005 in Kyiv

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year's Eve 2005 in Kyiv, Ukraine


this is a long, 20 minute clip from new year's eve 2005 in kyiv. the orange revolution demonstrations and the third round of elections (that yushchenko won) had just concluded. on this day, people were anxiously awaiting the inauguration of yushchenko and the start of a truly new year.

i post this as reminder of the optimism about the potential and, what is more, of the strong will for change that existed at the time in ukraine. my point is not to feel pessimistic about all that hasn't happened in ukraine since, but rather, to provide a reminder of what is yet to be done.

most of this was filmed on a tiny, hand-held jvc, dv-camera without the use of a monopod, tripod, or proper microphone, so the quality is pretty shabby. the quality greatly improves about half way into the clip, for the simple reasons that i was no longer standing smooshed between people and therefore had more control over my movements than in the huge mass, and i wasn't using digital zoom to film things too far off in the distance anymore.

i did not provide subtitles, so here are some notes:

the first speaker is mikheil saakashvili, the current president of georgia who rose to power via similar events as the orange revolution. saakashvili was once a university student in kyiv during soviet times, and brilliantly addressed the multitude of new year's revelers that night on independence square mostly in ukrainian.

the next person to appear is yushchenko--he made that night a claim that has become a rather famous for him; in sum, he says that for the last 14 years before the orange revolution, ukraine has been independent but not free, but after the orange revolution, ukraine has become not only independent but also free at last.

following yushchenko, julija tymoshenko then oleksandr moroz give some new year's greetings. moroz's comments were cut short by the arrival of the new year, something that today seems rather appropriate--i.e., that his comments would be cut short.

after the holiday greetings follows some music:

first, oleksandr ponomarov sings the national anthem of ukraine. 

then the band Green Jolly makes an appearance.  they first played their hit song that was an anthem of the orange revolution, razom nas bahato, nas ne podalaty (together we are many, we won't be overcome).  their next song, dobryj vechir (good evening) is, to my mind, a beautiful one, and the moment at that time on independence square when they sang it was really great, filled as it was by a song that seemed so heartfelt. in the song, the narrator is singing good evening to his/her mother and friends, wishing them good fortune, good health, etc.

following next is footage of the super star group tartak. i included footage of them singing their two hits, veselo (happy)! and hoolihan (hooligan). i quite dig this group.

after them comes someone singing a more traditional ukrainian pop song--i forget the singer's name, ale, ras, dva, try, bud'mo--hej hej hej, anyway! there is nice footage of people dancing around and of a contemporary zaporozhets (not of a car, but of a fellow sporting a cossack hair-do).

this would not be a clip edited by yours truly without what comes next: folk musicians and people dancing on the street.

next is a bit of footage from january 1: the tent camp on khreshchatyk (the main boulevard through heart of kyiv that was the epicenter of the orange revolution), followed by one of my favorites of all my clips: a really great shot of a spetsnas (special forces) soldier guarding the presidential administration building and unwrapping some candy or gum. the shot is reminiscent of vladimir putin's refusal of the big baby viktor yanukovych's offer of candy during a parade that took place in kyiv, just before the start of the election debacle that led to the orange revolution.

after that come two more clips of dancing and of new year's reveling. these two clips--one of folks dancing on independence square to a guy playing accordion, and another of a baba busting some fantastic moves to the musicians playing in the entrance to the teatralna stanstija (theater metro station)--are the best bits of this entire little 20 minute film. (most especially the baba dancing!!)


us'oho najkrashchoho,

i veselykh svjat!