Two new items on the situation in Ukraine, which will have profound implications for the geopolitical situation, and not only in Europe. First, a sign that those in eastern Ukraine have little sympathy with the protesters in Kiev and western parts. This comes from a blogger’s report on an attempt by a right-wing group of 200-300 to seize government buildings in Odessa, on the Black Sea. Answering a call to ‘stop the Nazis’, thousands of citizens of Odessa turfed them out, aided by the police. After an hour’s standoff, the group dispersed with their tails between their legs. The governor of the Odessa region has called on people to offer a citizen’s guard of the local administration buildings, which they seem to be doing.

Second, a debate between Stephen Cohen and Anton Shekhovtsov, the former a specialist in Russian studies and politics, and the latter a researcher at the University College London. Unexpectedly, Shekhovtsov takes the ‘democracy’ line, arguing that the protesters seriously want to link up with Western Europe in the name of ‘freedom’ and so forth. Cohen, by contrast, calls this half-truth an ‘untruth’. He blames the EU for precipitating the crisis, for the EU insisted that there could be no three-way deal, between Ukraine, the EU and Russia (as Putin suggested). Instead, it was to be EU or nothing, with NATO military lines. Not only would it destroy any form of liberal democracy in Ukraine, with the EU supporting the overthrow of an elected government, but it would have been an economic disaster for Ukraine, since the EU was offering an austerity package. Not hard to see why it was rejected.

More importantly, who runs the show? For  Shekhovtsov, it’s the moderates of the Euromaidan, with a few marginal right-wing elements who are quite limp. For Cohen, on the other hand, the evidence points tellingly to the far right. Their position:

They hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine.

The debate gets quite heated towards the end, but what interests me the most is Cohen’s point that there really is a civil war under way in Ukraine already. The moderate leaders (Vitali Klitschko and others) have lost control of the streets. They have told the rioters to stop attacking police with Molotov cocktails (filled with napalm) and to vacate the occupied buildings. But the rioters have refused, as they have refused any possible deal. ‘And the street will not stop, partly because—I’d say largely because—the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war underway’.

Cohen points out what I have mentioned earlier: that there are really two Ukraines already. ‘One tilts toward Poland and Lithuania, the West, the European Union; the other toward Russia. … This is what every public opinion poll has told us since this crisis unfolded, that about 40 percent of Ukrainians want to go west, 40 percent want to stay with Russia, and, as usually true in these polls, 20 percent just don’t know or they’re not sure’.

(ht cp and ll)

More material from the Ukraine. First, from the earliest days these lovely lads have been doing security work for the protesters in the central square in Kiev:

Ukr 01

Armbands with Ukrainian swastikas, I believe. A necessary item of the ‘security guard’ wardrobe. And to spread the word of a white, Christian Ukraine, they read from and have read to them the xenophobic ‘Voice of Blood’. More here. The combination of a tanking economy, high youth unemployment and active far right groups – working hard for quite some time – seems to have provided the basis for what is happening now.

Ukr 03

Second, some western and a couple of central regions have declared independence. Or rather, a number of ‘people’s councils’ have done so. Further, Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv have banned the communist party. Meanwhile, those of the Donbass and other regions in the south-east have the resources and are quite ready to use them to defend their own interests. The breakup of Ukraine seems to be on its way, unless someone acts quickly.

Two friends from Kiev have sent me some of the latest, expressing the feelings of those who are horrified by what is happening.

One hints that the far right senses a chance for a coup. On Saturday, the leaders of the rioters – known as the ‘three little pigs’ (Klitschko, Tyahnybok and Yatsenyuk) - rejected offers from the President, with two of them to be given the positions of Prime Minister of Ukraine and Deputy Prime Minister of Humanitarian Affairs. Instead, the hit squads of the rioters stormed government buildings in Ternopil, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Zhitomir, Khmelnitsky, Lviv, Lutsk, and Rivne, demanding the local governors resign. They have also established ‘people’s commandants’. Knowing that they simply don’t have the numbers to win government, the only way is to work for a coup. Hence the constantly changing demands – reject Russia and turn to the EU, resignation of the president, and end to corruption, and so on. None of these are primary, for only the seizure of power counts.

The rioters may be claiming to represent the majority, even calling for a general strike. But they don’t, points out this comrade, and their calls are ignored The majority of people in Kiev, and especially the populations of Crimea and the eastern regions, do not support the rioters. These people are calling for an end to atrocities, an end to funding areas from the which the rioters come, and the imposition of martial law.

So why oppose the rioters and appear to support a government that is pretty corrupt (but then, so are nearly all governments)? The ragtag movement that the rioters represent is clearly feared to be far worse. Another comrade expresses what are probably the widespread opinions of most of those watching events unfold in discomfort and apprehension. Neither the government nor the rioters can be trusted. While the government is corrupt and uses underhand methods, the rioters are worse, for they are led by the ultra-right and entice many people into aimless violence against the riot police. If the economy was bad even before the crisis, now it’s even worse. Better to stay with the devil you know, I guess.

The big question is why the government hasn’t simply called in the army and crushed the riots. Stun grenades, tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets really don’t work in this situation. My suspicion is that it would lead to the breakup of Ukraine, but perhaps that’s already happening: a small western rump of mostly ethnic Ukrainians may become a new pseudo-state (actually like most of those tiny countries in Europe that really shouldn’t be states) and a larger eastern Ukraine that is much close to Russia.

(ht ll and ys).

Ukr 01a

Peaceful protest of concerned citizens? So much of the press around here would have us believe that the bunch above are out to burn some candles and sing songs of peace, for the love of Ukraine.

Actually, they are part of Svoboda, the All-Ukrainian Union, which is the leading force in the riots and has other groups under its direction. Svoboda used to be known as the Social-National Party of Ukraine, and their Führer is Oleh Tyahnybok. Apart from speaking of the ‘Russian-Jewish mafia’ that is supposed to be running Ukraine, he has openly praised the pro-fascist parties during the Second World War, which actively assisted the Germans in rounding up Jews and communists, and took part in the slaughter of 100,000 Poles. He and his party are anti-Jewish, anti-communist, and anti-Russian. Their base is in parts of Western Ukraine.

Actually, the protesters are flying the flag of that same party from the Second World War, the Ukrainian National Army (UPA), the military wing of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). It’s the red and black one:

Ukr 02a

And if you have a look at some of the pictures here, you’ll see the kind of weaponry they have assembled. One of my comrades in Kiev points out that the innocent looking Molotov cocktails actually have napalm in them:


So, the far right sees a glimmer of a chance to seize power, since they’ll never get it any other way. Of course, the EU among others is giving them all the support they want – wouldn’t be the first time. What is surprising people in Ukraine is that the government hasn’t cracked down on these neofascists earlier. In the Crimea and the eastern regions there have been rallies and meeting (somehow we don’t hear about those) demanding that the government act more decisively.

After recently witnessing yet again the devastation caused by neo-classical economic ideologues in the USA and by the European Union, I can’t help wondering:

Why would anyone think that the economic model touted so vigorously by ideologues in the USA and elsewhere is beneficial?

Why would anyone even consider joining the EU? Ukraine is a case in point here, with second class affiliate membership dangled out, alongside the usual threats and vague promises. Already the vicious economic measures the EU’s grey managers like to use are in evidence, but the government is standing firm in its refusal. That makes Ukraine join Belarus in aligning itself with Russia. Anyone who imagines the EU is a good deal is deluded.

Gotta love this: as I write, above Australia on the medal tally are leading sports nations such as:

1. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka North Korea) – four gold medals

2. Kazakhstan – three gold medals

3. Ukraine – two gold medals

Hmmm … isn’t one of these communist and the other two former communist countries? Oh yes, then there’s China pissing on the USA.

In an interview with The New York Herald in 1921, Lenin says:

Some people in America have come to think of the Bolsheviks as a small clique of very bad men who are tyrannizing over a vast number of highly intelligent people who would form an admirable government among themselves the moment the Bolshevik regime was overthrown (Collected Works, vol. 36, p. 538).

What is remarkable about this anti-communist propaganda is both how boringly similar it has been for about 90 years and how pervasive it remains. Anyway, given that those cliques of ‘very bad men’ have now been overthrown and they have been replaced by ‘admirable governments’ of ‘highly intelligent people’, let’s have a look at the state of play in the ‘post-communist’ countries of Eastern Europe

Then there is this recent survey in Romania:

Only 27 percent of Romanians said communism was “wrong,” while 47 percent answered “it was a good idea, but badly applied” and 14 percent thought it was a “good idea, and well applied.” A striking 78 percent said neither they, nor their families, ever suffered under communism.

All of this took place under that evil, hated ‘dictator’, Nikolai Ceausescu.

Let us now move to Bulgaria, a place I know quite well. In a recent book, Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism, Kristen Ghodsee notes a growing nostalgia for the communist era. Why, especially in a supposedly Stalinist state? When capitalism was suddenly imposed in 1989, a few well-connected foreigners and a new local class of oligarchs and criminals took over the formerly state-owned assets – those we would call ‘business people’. Ordinary people felt they had been robbed, many lost their jobs just as the state’s social support system was dismantled. Is this unique to Bulgaria? No, it’s called capitalism as usual.

Mind you, these are states that were supposed to be unbearably repressive, paragons of dictatorship. And not, say, Yugoslavia, which was often held up as example of a humane and workable communism. While we are in Yugoslavia: four in five people with whom I speak from the ‘former Y’ tell me that it worked pretty well.

At this point the well-oiled reply of the Right will probably come in: yes, of course, older people can get nostalgic for dictatorships and autocracies, because they had some certainties in their lives, however bad things might have been. But we can dismiss these feeble longings of the old …

Crap. I have met young Russians, born either just before or after 1989, who have together raised toasts to – the USSR! Add to that the fact – as a colleague in Kiev reports after much research – that perhaps one or two countries in the former Eastern Bloc have attained the GDP of 1989 – after more than two decades of capitalism.

Maybe, just maybe people actually value things such as universal health cover, education, full employment, short working days, plenty of time to meet and talk. Maybe, just maybe, planned economies are in fact better. Even the hated (in Eastern Europe) and former anti-communist Zizek seems to think communism was better. As he puts it: we had cradle-to-grave security, never took our rulers seriously and had the mythical West to dream about.

Then again, as a friend from one of these places told me some time ago: when we learnt about capitalism at school, we all thought that it really wasn’t that bad, that our teachers were simply making it up; but now, living under capitalism, I realise that what they said was true.

You know the joke about taxi drivers in China or Russia or Hungary or Bulgaria or Ukraine or …: never trust the one who asks you ‘Taxi?’ at the station door or even inside, for sure enough you will be led – as I have been – around the back, over a fence and into a car that has at least once been used as a car bomb. And then the ‘driver’, who plonks a light on the top and wires it up for the trip, will then charge you Yom Kippur rates. The sage advice is to go to a recognised taxi rank and get in line, or better still phone a reliable number. At least those cars have meters, licensed drivers, four wheels, brakes, doors …

Not so in the USA anymore. Dodge the ‘taxi drivers’ at the station or terminal door, line up, get in a yellow-looking vehicle with a sign that says ‘Taxi’ on the top and I guarantee it will be worse than those ‘illegal’ taxis mentioned above. The dashboard warning lights flash like a Christmas tree, meters have been dumped as so much unnecessary paraphernalia, the regular thunk, thunk, thunk on the rear right-hand-side sounds distinctly like a missing tyre, and on the off chance that a receipt is available it will be a piece from the year-old burger wrapper  lying on the floor .

It’s one thing to ponder the politics of decline from a distance, but quite another to experience it first hand.

What makes a place sensual? Is it topless bars or erotic dancing? Is it a dubious reputation, like Paris or Rio? Is it golden sunsets, beaches and fine wine – the sort you see only on tourist advertisements? Is it, as Annie Sprinkle once opined concerning porn and erotica, the whole chicken or a feather?

For me the criteria are very subtle, concerned above all the carriage of the body. Learned through a long, supple and largely sub-conscious apprenticeship by children and teenagers, the way we carry your body involves posture, shape and movement. For example, it concerns the way one stands, turns or tilts one’s head, holds one’s shoulders just so, positions one’s body in relation to others, interacts on the street, uses eyes and mouth, or moves one’s hands – in short, the way we are present in and with our bodies.

Reading such bodies requires a little intuition and much patience, but it’s deeply satisfying. So what are the most sensual places on earth?

Top of the list must be Ukraine. Ukraine!? Through a mix of fortunate genetics and excellent upbringing, Ukrainian women and men would have to be among the most sensuous on the planet. The way they amble among a crowd, the unconscious ability to move a thigh or slide perfectly shaped buttocks in a long stride is simply amazing. As is the turn-and-look movement while talking, the carriage of the head and the inquisitive eyes.

Russia is comparable to Ukraine, since they were part of the same country for many years, but some subtle differences soon show up. Ukrainians are more up front in their assessment of you, but not Russians, at least the ones I have met. Walk down a street and none of the Russian beauties looks at you. Or at least it seems as though they don’t look at you. No matter how surreptitiously you try to glance at someone passing, you never catch any one so much as flicking a look in your direction. And yet you get the distinct feeling that you are constantly being checked, surveyed, and assessed in the most sensuous manner possible.

Serbia wins a spot here since it is the historical point where many ethnic groups have fought, razed the city and then rebuilt. The result is a mongrel people, and mongrels are by far the strongest, healthiest and have the most positive outlook on life. As a result, Belgrade women have the smoothest, olive skin, taking every opportunity to show off as much of it as they can (at least in summer), long dark hair, lithe flowing bodies and the challenge of a direct and sustained look.

I can’t leave Denmark off the list, especially Copenhagen. The key here is the blending of bicycles and people. Flowing hair, long thighs descending into high-heeled boots, baskets overflowing with beer or bread or clothes, all moving in a slow, sensuous rhythm along every city street.

Greenland: an unexpected entry on this list, but Greenlandic people are stunning. Meet a tall, well-endowed Greenlander on the street, with jet-black hair and the tough eyes of one who has seen far more than you will ever hope to see, and you will be smitten.

Last for now is China, although this is a very subtle one. Initially I simply didn’t get it: Chinese people in China were, it seemed to me, as missing in sensuality as the many I had met in Australia. The men wore their pants impossibly high (amazingly avoiding the squeak I constantly expected) and the women were reserved, if not withdrawn. But then, after some time in China, the subtlety began to dawn on me: a fold of clothing at a metro stop, a surreptitious glance on the street, a careful move of a hip.

I can’t leave this discussion without pondering the most un-sensual places on earth.

USA: sorry, but you just don’t have it. Brash and awkward and botox ain’t sensual.

England: ditto, but worse. Everything doesn’t work here – posture, movement, carriage. A turn-off.

Germany: Big, clumsy and rough. For some, that may mean sensual, but not for me.

Latvia: curious one here, since the military-like precision of their manner may do it for some. Not me.

Norway: sorry about this Norway, but you are slick, glossy and a little obscene. Too much money and simply no sensuality; even in high-heels, you look awkward and ungainly. Go to Ukraine to find out how to do it. And running or riding about town in yet another expensive sports outfit is not sexy.

France gets a thumbs-down as well. I know many will be surprised at this, but France is just too self-absorbed, too convinced of its own sensuality that it’s like one great wank. Not much fun for anyone else.

The full story soon enough, but this was one of those epic rail journeys, three days and nights without a wash, border guards who have developed the fine art of waking you in the middle of the night just when you fall into a deep sleep, bangs, thunks and shudders from an old, heavy train rolling slowly along tracks, and countries most people have never heard about. The first leg was on that old run from Sofia to Moscow (mostly the Roman script was pretty much absent, so an  ability to read Cyrillic is somewhat advantageous):

We travelled through four countries on the way – Bulgaria, crossing the Danube at Russe into Romania, Moldova and then the Ukraine (I got off in Kiev). A cosy corner for me, with bags of food and bottles of water. Thankfully they had toilet paper, since I’d forgotten that:

A late night stop in Bucharest:

And then at Ungheni on the Moldovan border (the old border of the Soviet Union) I was roused from my snooze by a swaying, banging carriage. WTF, I thought, until I saw they had jacked the carriage up and were changing the rolling stock:

Apparently, the rail guage was deliberately varied on the border in order to deny those pesky capitalist Americans a free ride into the USSR should they invade. They’d have to stop first for three hours to change over all their wheels.

The Moldovan border guards were nice bunch, as were the Romanians, but not so the Ukrainians. I was up for four hours from 1.30 am, questioned, had sniffer dogs in my compartment, had police, army, airforce, navy and the rest searching the train high and low. The reason: drugs had been ‘found’ in the toilet:

But it all went the way of whatever else enters such collective receptacles:

Kiev at last. Grimy and fucking freezing, I had a squizz at the famous city:

Final leg was a luxurious and clean Ukrainian train from Kiev to Simferopol. Ukraine certainly has the right approach to train conductors:

And they know how to pamper you:

One more night on the train and I was in Simferopol in the Crimea. Boris met me and insisted I board a mini-bus for the two-hour run over the mountains to Yalta. The driver was one of those multiskilled types, able to smoke, talk on his mobile phone, change gear with his little finger and overtake slow trucks on tight mountain corners – at the same time. A shit, shower and shave in Yalta and I was whisked away to a conference on Religion and Civil Society – all in Russian, but I had a lovely Tartar woman whispering the translation into my ear. At the end of this long day I finally sat down to a warm meal, only to be set upon by a singing troupe:

The evening ended with vodka-fuelled Ukrainians and Russians dancing wildly away to old Soviet numbers. I even shared a toast to the Soviet Union with some Russian Marxists.