As a teen, I got dragged off to Europe, by my parents, for a number of reasons. Some of it was, I think, tied to the idea that the California way of living at the time (1966) was a bit of a gilded cage, and that the offspring could use a little perspective. This was not done lightly, and may have had a note of seeking refuge from the American commercial juggernaut. Whatever it was, there was a particularly interesting interlude of about a month when we crossed the border at Trieste into a (drumroll and dire music) Communist country, the Yugoslavia of the day. Tito’s Yugoslavia was something of a renegade in that there was some leeway for personal and community initiative and where parts of the country were more of a transitional zone between communist and capitalist parts of the world. There was a lot of tourist infrastructure, particularly along the Dalmatian Coast, with evidence that more was in the offing. By Western standards, it was insanely cheap, somewhat frugal, but the beauty of the place and the general warmth of the welcome lent some magic to pretty much the entirety of the month-long sojourn.
Most of our travel was in Croatia, with forays into Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia. We never got into Serbia at all, but these divisions appeared less political and more ethnic and culture at the time, particularly to an outsider who didn’t speak any of the local languages. Encounters with locals rarely veered into the realm of politics or government: it was clear that people were not encouraged to debate the merits of Tito’s rule.
Mostar, when I was there, looked something like this:
Mostar, in the midst of the post-Tito dismantling, looked something like this:
The horrors of the struggles in Bosnia, in Croatia and, eventually in Serbia are well-documented and a bit of a cautionary tale on what a combination of history, religion and ideology can unleash on entire populations. this was clearly a conflict where insanity prevailed and where there were no good choices, or at least the good choices never made it to the decision-making process.
It has often occurred to me over the last years, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring, that it is often the case that what might be better choices are often not considered, and this fits in well with a current of thought stating that it would be mistaken to think that those who govern do so in the broader interest of the governed. Egypt seems torn between two utterly blind alleys, Libya is a total basket case and a cauldron of conflict, and Syrians, either wittingly or otherwise, have put themselves into the jaws of a vise where neither side presents anything other than repression and misery. The addition of meddling by Iran, by the Saudi clique, and by the Western clique only exacerbates the problem, prolonging the conflict and muddying the possibilities for resolution. Almost all the principals in these struggles are bad actors, often representing monied interests who are more interested in a dominant business model than in the resolution of a bloody and terrifying conflict. Assad is a bad actor, Morsi is a bad actor, Al-Sisi is a bad actor, Obama and the House of Saud are bad actors, as are the Mullahs in Iran and a host of other smaller fractious players working at the destruction of civilization.
Such also appears to be the case in the Ukraine, where factions aspiring to EU membership are in barely restrained warfare with other factions cleaving to old connections with Russia. No one speaks of a possible other course, favouring neither one not the other. The EU is a monster bureaucracy and an instrument of global capital. Russia is a bastion of corrupt dictatorship with some of the trappings of democracy: neither seems like a model that any sane person would want to emulate or with whom one would want to form close ties, and there may be good reason why the choice to not align never gets heard. As was the case with the original Orange Revolution (also the Rose Revolution in Georgia), there have been serious incursions of outside influence. Isn’t it stunning to hear Stephen Harper decry the lack of democracy in the Ukraine while he works actively to subvert and destroy what little is left of our representative parliamentary system here at home?
In an article published yesterday at CounterPunch (thanks to Murray Dobbin for circulating it), Eric Draitser puts the current situation in the Ukraine into perspective, enumerating the moves to co-opt a peaceful protest and escalate to violence and possible civil war. The Timoshenko/Ianukovich cleavage is well documented and, while presented as a battle of ideologies, it often looks more like a war of factions looking for dominant privilege. The only question left should be as to how to limit the damage done by both outside influences and by those in thrall to those influences, and then the consideration of whether, rather than choosing between Russia and EU, it might be of greater benefit in the long run to remain unaligned, where the best choice, given what’s on the table, is no choice at all.
Draitser’s article is well worth a read, both for what it says about Ukraine’s struggles, those of the Arab World, Greece, Italy, the EU, but also for lessons to be extracted in relation to governance slower to home.