Ukraine currently suffers from large-scale domestic upheaval and the breakdown of daily life. There has also been considerable bloodshed, which I am afraid, will not have reached its endpoint yet. In this post, however, I don’t want to analyse the developments that led to such turmoil. Rather, I will be trying to show that this conflict (and that in Venezuela) reflect a fissure in the credibility of the idea of liberal democratic capitalism (as far as democratic capitalism ever actually existed, that is).
What surfaces quite vividly when one follows the comment sections of major publications, but also Facebook, is that the actions of NATO are seen much more critically than those of Russia. Comments actually are most often diametrically opposed to news articles, and in Facebook the opinions of anti-government pundits, conspiracy theorists, and special interest groups denouncing NATO standpoints are shared widely. The EU/US are often depicted as colonialists, who try to run over a small country in order to exploit its natural resources and geographical position (the Ukraine is sort of an entry point into Russia), the same way they did in Iraq. Back then Bush, Blair, and their lackeys kept repeating the lie of Iraq’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The worries about WMD were also drummed in peer reviewed journals, which I as IR student have to read widely. In the end, we now know and always suspected, this was all rubbish, conceived in order to shift taxpayer money to the military-industrial complex as well as churn out lucrative contracts for the biggest energy companies.
Yet, the warmongers miscalculated to extent of public awareness, and so they could never really dampen down opposition to the intervention (especially not in Europe where, I dare say, the media are not that cosy with the powers that be). Those who believed nevertheless in the lie of WMD and the sacred mission of bringing freedom to Iraq, lost faith quickly after no weapons turned up. And that was that for liberal democracy as benign form of political organization.
The financial crisis of 2008 deepened such sentiments as it laid bare the dismal state democracy found itself in. Citizens watched on in disbelief as governments turned billions of dollars over to bankrupt banks, but not a dime for the people in the street. This phenomenon made even the staunchest believers conclude that democracy has always been more like a fancy accessoire of liberal capitalism; both do not go together by necessity. (Peoples in Latin America woke up to that reality much earlier.)
Today there is little talk in the media and politics about who caused the crisis, why and the actors who shuld pay for it. Rather it is the case that with the help of spin doctors a view manifested that sees ‘generous’ social security arrangements for ordinary folk were to blame. As if some minimum social benefits could bring the whole system down! Unfortunately, this is consensus among many Germans, for example, who feel that they are now paying for the welfare of ‘lazy Southerners’. The special accounts Germany and the EU put the money for crisis alleviation in are rarely mentioned. It’s not a topic that these accounts are for the sole purpose of debt reduction. As such money in that accounts goes straight back to banks which – similar to 1980 in many non-industrialized countries – just embarked on a lending spree, without being prepared to actually take the risk. The Germans, yet, still enjoy the luxury of not being exposed to the material and physical results of such lending practice, whereas the peoples of Greece, Italy and so on observe it every day. And that was that for the idea of liberal capitalism as wealth creating instrument for hard-working folks, instead of instrument of an imperialist instrument for greedy elites.
The specters of the Iraq invasion and the financial crisis now come to haunt the political elites of the NATO countries. People in the (formerly?) industrialized world distrust their leaders to such a degree that makes them susceptible for Russian propaganda, and I dare say, henchmen for the Kremlin, in the sense that they further undermine their own governments’ credibility. Works for the Kremlin. Just imagine what would have happened if NATO for example, was to dispatch tanks and masked soldiers, unleash a barrage of advertising propaganda which urges the people of Ukraine to vote in favour of a EU/NATO-Ukrainian partnership. I am not saying that limiting governments’ actions on foreign policy is necessarily a bad thing. Blood and money spent in violent conflict is never paid by the politico-economic elites who benefit from such adventures. What I perceive a cause for concern, is that an autocratic and imperialist leader like Vladimir Putin holds more sway over public opinion in other countries, and is even seen as being right to do so, than would be healthy for democratically minded peoples. This is only possible because democracy and liberal capitalism lost their legitimacy.
These are interesting times indeed.