Foreign intervention in Ukraine led to a putsch by far-right forces on Saturday. One day before, an EU truce laid the groundwork for the formation of a national unity government, leaving President Yanukovych as a ‘powerless figurehead’. But protesters, backed by the opposition, would not give up until he left power. They threw firebombs, advanced on police lines, and soon 25,000 people, allegedly led by overtly fascist elements, surrounded parliament. The police responded with violence, but the protesters couldn’t be stopped.
Victoria Nuland, chosen by Obama to deal with Ukraine, thought the EU was ‘insufficiently confrontational’ with the Ukrainian government. She apparently threatened sanctions on wealthy backers of the governing Regions Party, like Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov, if the police used force against protesters. After police repression did indeed occur, many of Yanukovych’s party allies predictably abandoned him, leaving the opposition in control.
Once in power, the opposition immediately impeached the president – without the necessary approval of the Constitutional Court. The new government seems dead set on accepting an IMF bailout package – in exchange, of course, for ‘reforms’ (which could see strong resistance from pro-Russian areas in the east and south). They also voted for Ukrainian to be the only official language, marginalising the 20% of the population which speaks Russian – a decision showing the clearly nationalist intentions of the new ‘government’. Another worrying sign of the increasing power of the country’s right-wing is that Kiev’s Jews have received threats of violence.
Yanukovych himself, not exactly a revolutionary figure capable of mobilising mass rallies in recent weeks, compared events to the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s. Protests have indeed often been dominated by violent right-wingers, but also by competing oligarchs and imperialist powers. Ukraine’s working class, meanwhile, lacking in political consciousness thanks to years of paternalism, was largely left voiceless. Nonetheless, the eastern districts – the country’s most economically vital industrial areas – have threatened to seek autonomy or independence as a result of the opposition coup.
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the US would love to get rid of another democratically-elected government it doesn’t like. And the violent turn taken by recent opposition protests, also linked to far-right sectors of the population, has captured Obama’s attention. However, US eyes have been firmly fixed on the oil-rich Latin American nation ever since the socialist Hugo Chávez won elections in 1998. Carl Gibson, for example, alleges that USAID (along with Colombian consultants) has recently been trying to destabilise the country through economic sabotage. Apparently, it encourages “hunger strikes of numerous days, massive mobilisations, [and] problems in the universities and other sectors of society now identified with government institutions.”
At the moment, the right wing campaign calling for “La Salida” (or resignation) of democratically-elected president Nicolás Maduro is led by “extremist politicians Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado” who, having been implicated in the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela, once again call for protests to continue until the government is removed. López, according to a Wikileaks cable, has been linked to CANVAS, the US-funded ‘democracy-promotion’ (i.e. regime-change) organisation that Ukraine’s Yanukovich banned from Kiev just prior to his downfall.
Venezuela is largely divided by class rather than ethnicity or region, and is not likely to fall to pro-US elites as easily as Ukraine did. Mass rallies of support for the government, for instance, exemplify the immense support the government has. Even a long list of prominent left-wing figures in the UK has today denounced the wave of violence, sparked by “minority and extremist sections of Venezuela’s opposition”, which has left at least 3 people dead, 60 injured and has seen “physical assaults on government institutions including shots and Molotov cocktail attacks on the state TV channel and a state governor’s residency”. People in Venezuela are guaranteed the right to protest peacefully by their Constitution, but the current protests have not been entirely peaceful. The question is how the government can avoid further violence.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina has also seen unrest, but this time against a pro-Western government. Ex-workers from recently privatised factories took to the streets to claim healthcare and pension payments, get the pay they were owed, and ask the government to fight youth unemployment, which currently stands at 60%. According to the scholar Chiara Milan, “failed privatizations, rampant unemployment and a thoroughly inefficient and unaccountable political system lie at the basis of the Bosnian protests.”
Trade unions and the Association of the Unemployed were joined by both students and citizens when they marched on government buildings, to be then pushed back violently with teargas and rubber bullets by the police. Rallies in solidarity with these workers soon spread throughout the country, in both the Serb and Bosniak-Croat areas – some remaining peaceful but others becoming violent. As “symbols of a corrupted and incompetent political class” were attacked, politicians resigned.
The privatisation imposed on the country by international capitalists after the communist era simply resulted in the bankruptcy of industries, the subsequent job losses, and economic collapse. Overall unemployment today, for example, stands at around 28%.
While some of the rage may have been ‘irresponsible’, as indeed it was probably described in the first capitalist economic crisis in Europe in 1873, it is inescapable when a government and its institutions only represent societal elites and drives its population into desperation. Far from the ethnic conflicts which have plagued the nation in the recent past, these protests included all of those disenfranchised and exploited by their corrupt, incompetent, Western-backed political class. Just like in Greece, Spain and Turkey, Bosnian squares are burning as popular resistance to the injustices of capitalism rages.
The presence of massive protests like these has increased since the most recent global economic crisis, just as it did in each previous capitalist crisis. We must be very careful not to allow ourselves to be taken in by everything that the TV, newspapers, or internet media tell us. Everything that is happening must be understood in the context of injustice and exploitation. Sometimes governments are entirely responsible. Sometimes they are only partially responsible. But the exploiters are always present, trying to ‘protect their interests’, whether through protests or through governments. And we need to keep that in mind when we read about protests – wherever in the world they may be.