A number of very interesting papers were presented at the recent Danyliw seminar on Ukraine here at the University of Ottawa. These have now been posted online. Here I would like to highlight three which provide a different interpretation of the causes of the war in Ukraine from that current in the West.
Volodymyr Ishchenko of Mohyla University in Kiev discussed the role of the far right in the Maidan protests in Kiev and the pro-Maidan demonstrations which took place in other Ukrainian cities. According to the data collected by Ischenko:
The far right’s participation in Maidan was anything but insignificant. … The far right groups were the most frequently mentioned collective actors at all stages of Maidan. Despite the decline in Svoboda’s participation in the last days of the armed insurrection, Right Sector took first position. … Our data indicates that significant far right involvement in Maidan protests were hardly an invention of hostile Russian media.
Ishchenko says that the prominent role played by the far right in Maidan was ‘a natural and inevitable continuation’ of a coalition which the more moderate opposition parties had formed with the nationalist Svoboda Party even before the Maidan protests began. This ‘legitimized the far right as a part of “normal” Ukrainian politics without any serious challenge to their reactionary and anti-democratic ideology.’
In contrast, according to another speaker, Lucan Way of the University of Toronto, the Orange Revolution of 2004 had always been very careful with its use of symbols, avoiding anything which might antagonize the people of Eastern Ukraine. Also in 2004, opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko rejected overthrowing the government by force as he understood that such an act would lead to civil war. In 2014 this caution was abandoned. This was not the 2014 revolutionaries’ only misjudgment. According to Way, ‘There was a mistaken belief that Euromaidan represented the whole of Ukraine’. This arrogant attitude meant that upon taking power the revolutionaries refused to come to any sort of accommodation with their political opponents. Instead, says Way, ‘what happened was victor’s justice’.
The result was counter-revolution in the east of Ukraine. According to a third speaker, Serhiy Kudelia of Baylor University, the collapse of the previous governing party, the Party of Regions, following the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovich, left the people of Eastern Ukraine without representation. Consequently, they took matters into their own hands. The subsequent insurgency, says Kudelia, was ‘organized horizontally not vertically’, in other words it was not directed from above by Russia but was local in origin, being organized by ‘local strongmen’.
Subsequently, the new Ukrainian government’s reliance on paramilitary forces who ‘engaged in massive human rights abuses’ stoked the insurgency, as did ‘indiscriminate violence’ by the Ukrainian Army. ‘Ukrainians underestimated local support for insurgents’, Kudelia claims.
It is commonplace to blame the war in Ukraine entirely on Russia, and certainly Russia must bear a fair share of the responsibility for what has happened, as all the speakers at the Danilyw seminar acknowledged. But as their papers show, those now in power in Kiev are responsible too.