Professor Aleksandr Buzgalin discusses the recent referendums for independence in Ukraine’s eastern regions
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.
A referendum for independence was held in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk a couple of days ago. The organizers of the referendum have declared the region independent and reportedly issued calls to join the Russian Federation.
Here to give us an update on what’s going on in Ukraine is Aleksandr Buzgalin. Aleksandr is a professor of political economy at Moscow State University. He is also editor of the independent democratic left magazine Alternatives, coordinator of the Russian social movement Alternatives, author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles, translated into English, German, and many other languages.
Thanks for joining us, Aleksandr.
So we’ve seen news reports that say that about 90 percent of the citizens in Donetsk have voted in favor of the referendum. It’s a similar figure to the results that we saw for the vote in Crimea. But I’m wondering how much widespread there is throughout Ukraine and Donetsk for independence or federation with Russia. And I’ve seen a poll from Pew Research that says that a majority of Ukrainian citizens, about 75 to 77 percent, wants to remain united with Ukraine.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN, PROF. POLITICAL ECONOMY, MOSCOW STATE UNIV.: Well, this is a complex question, and I want to start with a statistic. According to official figures, in the Lugansk People’s Republic–this is Lugansk region, big industrial region of southeast of Ukraine–81 percent of people came to vote and 90.5 percent said yes. In Donetsk People’s Republic, 74.8 percent came to vote and 89 percent said yes.
I want to stress that they said yes for the independence of these regions as People’s Republic. And this is important to stress, People’s Republic. This is not only a formal name. It’s real self-organization of different people. Of course not everybody of them are angels, and there are different people who some of them are Russian nationalists, some are supporters of simply independent development of these regions. Some want to have real democratic power and not to have people who came and who are using fascists. And I think majority of people who came to vote are simply against violence and against using of Nazi and fascist forces in Ukraine. This is important aspects, and I wanted to stress this and, importantly, that in the atmosphere of nearly similar with civil war, referendum took place, and in spite of the military conflicts, people who were killed, referendum took place. So this is important decision.
Of course, not everything was absolutely beautiful, but this is a revolution in some aspects. And I think in such situation it’s very difficult to have all formal details of democracy realized in all aspects. But generally speaking, I think this is opinion of majority. We have our colleagues who are working, who are fighting in the south and east of Ukraine in Odessa in Donetsk region, different people who are simply militants of civil society and who are militants of groups of defendants, so-called, of people’s defense group (I don’t know how to translate it better into English). And everybody said that it was a real initiative of the people. We had a lot of video in the internet, not only official video reports, with lines: people were standing two, three hours in the sunshine, and they were standing in spite of the fact that it was very big threat to be killed, simply to be killed by artillery, even, or whatever, and they were standing to give their vote, to say yes or say no. Ten percent said no.
About Ukraine in general, it’s difficult to say, because Ukraine is now very divided. And it’s not only division between southeast and all other part of Ukraine; there are a lot of contradictions between Kharkiv region and Kiev and so on and so far. In some aspects this is similar with, maybe, United States after the end of the Civil War in 19th century, or maybe even in the beginning of Civil War. South of your country and north-center of your country, it was two different countries in some aspects, in spite of the fact that it was one space, one language. Here, by the way, there are two languages. So it’s very contradictory situation. And opinion polls are very different.
Maybe one more example, historical parallel. You know that just before collapse of the Soviet Union, 70 percent–more than 70 percent of the citizens of Soviet Union said yes to the Soviet Union, to the continuation of the life of the Soviet Union. And after that, in Ukraine, Belarus, in many countries, majority of people said no to Soviet Union when agreement between Yeltsin and [other guys] was signed and the Soviet Union disappeared after [disappearance] of Gorbachev and so on.
So this is a revolutionary time, and this time is very speedy, if I can say so, and also very flexible. There are progress and regress tendencies, there is revolution and counterrevolution, and space is divided, time is divided. This is unusual situation, and it’s impossible to use traditional measures, traditional approaches for the understanding and examination of these events.
WORONCZUK: Well, you also said that Donetsk and Lugansk are major industrial sites of Ukraine. I’m wondering, like, what kind of support exists among the owners of industry in the Eastern regions for the referendum and for the uprisings in the East.
BUZGALIN: This is important question, by the way, because before referendum, majority of big forces of industry, owners, oligarchs, they were not supporters of this self-defense of people and they didn’t help them. All this organization was based on the small money which came from the ordinary people, and they were talking, without that, they don’t have money for normal food, sometimes for medicine, for gasoline for their cars, and so on. So it was not sponsored by oligarchs.
But now some of owners of huge industrial enterprises in the East/South of Ukraine started to support a referendum, because they’re simply afraid that workers will, I don’t know, nationalize or socialize their enterprises. They say that we will ask [places] from the West or black–I am sorry; black–right sector, right-wing nationalist forces for support of–for defense of their enterprises, of their property. So this is not simple choice even for big business.
For small business it’s also not simple, but a lot of ordinary small farmers and owners of shops and so on supported this referendum and supported this struggle.
Also important, that miners, workers from the miner factories, they keep mining factories working, because it’s very dangerous for them and for everybody if they will be closed. So when Ukrainian, Central Ukrainian, Kiev propaganda says that Russia supports East of Ukraine because they want to stop production of coal, steel, and so on to have preferences in the world market, it’s not true. Workers are continuing production, and they’re trying to continue production.
But from another side, we have information that Kiev government is now taking bread, taking grain, food from East of Ukraine, and they want to create shortage of food in the East of Ukraine. And this is not good idea to act this way with people of Ukraine. And southeast of Ukraine, this is part of Ukraine.
By the way, I don’t know what will be the result of referendum as far as configuration, geopolitical configuration of their country is concerned. From one side, if military actions will be continued, if it will be artillery, airplanes, and heavy weapons, or even simply big masses of tanks and vehicles and so on used against the regions in the East and South, I am sure that people will ask Russia to defend them, not because they want to be part of Russia very much, but because they simply do not want to be killed. This is also the challenge, and important challenge.
But if it will be peaceful, real peaceful democratic negotiations, if West will tell to their, I think, puppets–in some aspects, Kiev government, they are puppets in the hands of the United States bosses and the NATO. And if Western establishment will tell to Kiev puppets, guys, you must solve this question by peaceful means, they will do this. And in this situation, it’s very probable that Ukraine will be normal federal system of states, like United States, like Russia–but Russia is also a federation, and, for example, in Islam regions we have two languages. We have very big specific national traditions, another atmosphere of the life, another holidays. It’s a very big difference inside Russia and no big problems. And this is Russia, where, from my point of view, regime is not very democratic and state is not very democratic. So it’s not the case, federalization. The case is that this situation will be very threat to Kiev puppets that they will be maybe reelected, maybe dismissed simply, because not very much peoples of Ukraine like modern president or so-called executive president of Ukraine, and especially more and more people are afraid of growth of nationalism or right-wing nationalism and semi-fascist tendencies inside Ukraine.
WORONCZUK: So some of the leaders of the referendum have also called to federate with Russia. What do you see Russia doing? Do you think that Russia will actually integrate these regions into the federation if they ask to do so?
BUZGALIN: So Russia is also not one country. We have officials. We have ordinary people. We have different types of bureaucracy. We have oligarchs. And this is not one united country.
But from another side, in modern situation we have more and more unification of Russian population around Putin.
By the way, for the left, this very provocative, if not, say, more–how to say?–strong words, if not to use more strong words about Western establishment and the Kiev government, their behavior provoked a big growth of Russian patriotism. And in this patriotism we have mixture of great-power chauvinism, which I hate, and real feelings of people who wants to have one country, country which will be respectable, country which can protect their friends, their natives, Russian-speaking people in other regions, and so on. And also we have growth of anti-Western intentions among Russians, and even a big part of former liberals, right-wingers, now became patriots. So this is a very strange mixture now of restoration of Soviet trends, both positive and negative, a restoration of some tendencies or traditions of Russian Empire. But in the same case, it’s very big growth and very positive growth of real feelings, antifascist feelings.
I will use only one example. In Saint Petersburg, May 9, the Day of Victory for Russian people, it was huge rally, main Prospect Avenue, three kilometers, very broad. It was full of people who came with portraits of their grandmothers, grandfathers, fathers, who were soldiers of Second World War. They were working with these portraits, and it was a whole manifestation of the unity with generation who defeated fascism. Of course, not only Russia participated in this war, but everybody stressed that it was Ukrainians, Belarus people, Kazakhstan people, Uzbekistan people, it was antifascist struggle in the West and all over the world, really. And this antifascist uprising, if I can say, if I can use this word, this growth of antifascist tendencies and intentions to have peace, this is very important.
And in Russia now, NATO is symbol of war. It’s not symbol of defense. It’s not symbol of stability. It is not symbol of guarantee of democracy. In Russia, NATO is transforming step by step to the symbol of war. And this is very dangerous for international relations and very contradictory [turn(?)].
WORONCZUK: Okay. Aleksandr Buzgalin, professor of political economy at Moscow State University, thank you so much for joining us.
BUZGALIN: Thank you very much for opportunity to translate to you opinion of our friends, colleagues, and my opinion about events in the world, in Ukraine, in Russia, because this is very important, for us to have open dialog with you colleagues.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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