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Friday, November 26, 2004


The enemy of my enemy...?

Watching political events unfold in the Ukraine, I always suspected that things were not as black and white (or rather, blue and orange) as they seem.

The west's darling, Viktor Yushchenko, may be preferable to the disputed election winner, Viktor Yanukovich, but it is naive to suggest he is a panacea - politicians rarely are. While Yanukovich is a corrupt, old-school Stalinist, Yushchenko is not exactly whiter-than-white; it turns out that his campaign has a strong anti-semitic element and that his key backer is millionairess
Yulia Timoshenko, who made her fortune in dubious circumstances.

Jonathan Steele, writing in today's Guardian, warns that the west is playing with fire if it adopts a simplistic partisan stance. In the same paper, Ian Traynor analyses the way the USA has been funding election campaigns throughout the former Soviet bloc. This investment has helped remove some nasty characters from power but it risks alienating local opinion and creating instability, especially when the primary goal is to establish client states rather than encourage democracy.

There is nothing new in this American strategy. For example, from 1945 until at least the 1980s, many 'moderate' figures in the British Labour Party benefited from CIA largesse.

The choice between two unsavoury East European politicians reminds me of Clement Freud's quip during a late-night Young Liberal caucus at the 1976 Liberal Assembly in Llandudno. Newly-elected Liberal leader David Steel had turned up, with Clement Freud in tow, to justify his controversial strategy of pacts and deals. One YL asked Steel whether he would prefer a coalition with Labour or the Conservatives. Before Steel could answer, Freud replied, "Which would you rather have; syphilis or gonorrhoea?"

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