Anne Applebaum can’t tell left from right

by John Quiggin on December 2, 2004

Columns in the Guardian by Jonathan Steele and John Laughland, asserting that demonstrations against the rigging of the Ukraine election were a Western-funded plot, have been the subject of a lot of criticism here and on other blogs. As far as Laughland is concerned, Chris gave us a good rundown on his views and assocations (which could broadly be described as lunar right) some months ago, and there’s more, in the Guardian itself, from David Aaronovitch.

Now we get this column from Anne Applebaum claiming that Steele and Laughland are part of a leftwing plot

The larger point, though, is that the “it’s-all-an-American-plot” arguments circulating in cyberspace again demonstrate something that the writer Christopher Hitchens, himself a former Trotskyite, has been talking about for a long time: At least a part of the Western left—or rather the Western far left—is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush, that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to any government that would be friendly to the United States.

Applebaum is generally well-informed and, while she does not name either Steele or Laughland, she says “Neither author was a fringe journalist”, which implies some familiarity with their positions. In any case, she presumably reads The Guardian. Why then doesn’t she acknowledge that the views they put forward draw the (minuscule) support they have attracted from the right as well as the left ?

UpdateOver at my blog, commenter Alex points out that Applebaum used to work for The Spectator which has published Laughland fairly regularly.

{ 19 comments }

1

Motoko 12.02.04 at 9:52 pm

The right-wing wsws has a good overview of the organizations behind the protests:

“For their part, the driving forces of the opposition movement make little secret of their backers. The relevant information is for the most part available on their own Internet sites. (…) The most active opposition grouping is the network that bears the name “Pora” (“It is Time”). (…) According to its self-portrayal, Pora has its origins in a decision by the “Freedom of Choice Coalition” of Ukrainian non-governmental organisations “to create a broad volunteer network for the implementation of a nation-wide informational and educational campaign, aimed at securing the voter rights of citizens”. Pora expressly refers to the “successful activities of volunteer networks” in Serbia (“Otpor” in 2000), Georgia (“Khmara” in 2003), and other countries. Pora proudly affirms that it has been advised by these groups.

Freedom of Choice is an umbrella organisation founded in 1999, ostensibly consisting of over 300 different groups. According to its own sources, it is supported by the following institutions: the American, British and Canadian embassies; the National Democratic Institute, which is chaired by the former US sectretary of state (under Clinton) Madeleine Albright; the International Renaissance Foundation (IRF), which is the Ukrainian offshoot of the George Soros-financed Open Society Institute; the Eurasia Foundation, which is likewise financed by Soros and the US government; the World Bank; the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; the US Agency for International Development; Freedom House, chaired by ex-CIA director James Woolsey; and the right-wing Konrad Adenauer Institute of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU).”

2

Giles 12.02.04 at 10:01 pm

“Why then doesn’t she acknowledge that the views they put forward draw the (minuscule) support they have attracted from the right as well as the left ?”

Perhaps because if both authors wanted to attract support from the right they would have wanted these articles publised in the Telegraph – not the Guardian. They didnt so presumably they dont see this line as attractive to the right.

3

Chris Bertram 12.02.04 at 10:07 pm

Except, Giles, that Laughland also puts his views forward in the Spectator.

4

Donald Johnson 12.02.04 at 10:10 pm

I know nothing about the Ukraine and haven’t tried to educate myself about the situation. But I just read Steele and he seems to be saying that both politicians are bad, which isn’t the same as saying that the guy in power is good.

I don’t know if Steele is right–I’m just pointing out a logical distinction.

5

George 12.02.04 at 10:14 pm

The plot to spread the rumor of a rightist plot to bring down a leftist plot is actually a leftist plot? I think that’s the plot of Foucault’s Pendulum.

Seriously, when I first heard the claim that the “Orange Revolution” might in some small way have been facilitated by the US, I was shocked at the idea that American intelligence could have accomplished something both competent and admirable.

6

dsquared 12.02.04 at 10:39 pm

Applebaum rather had the ground cut out from under her when the left-wing Guardian published a rather good article by Timothy Garton Ash this morning, tearing the living crap out of Laughland ‘n’ Steele. I think that the real problem is that American journalists can’t really conceive of a newspaper industry less fearfully boring than their own.

7

Giles 12.02.04 at 10:57 pm

Indeed Chris – and I’ve seen articles by him in the Telegraph. Its called PR – you Put your message where you think you’ll get a Responce. And presumably by targetting the Guardian, he thinks there is fertile ground for this line amongst its readers.

8

nick 12.03.04 at 12:03 am

Many of the same people who found it hard to say anything bad about Saddam Hussein find it equally difficult to say anything nice about pro-democracy demonstrators in Ukraine.

And who are these people, exactly?

Remember, too, that Anne Applebaum’s column two weeks ago pooh-poohed all the talk about electronic voting paper trails:

Most Americans now conduct at least some of their financial transactions without paper, or at least sleep happily knowing that others do. Yet when it comes to voting — a far simpler and more straightforward activity than electronic bank transfers — we suddenly become positively 19th century in our need for a physical record.

It is, if you think about it, quite inexplicable…. Given our reliance on computerized accounting, the explanation for the American paranoia about computer voting cannot be rational.

Oh, yes. Electoral accountability for thee, but not for me.

9

dstein 12.03.04 at 4:06 am

Well, the problem is that Yuschenko isn’t just getting support from western movements looking to build a right wing anti-soviet bloc along their border, its that they have a lot of support from former Ukrainian Nazis. There’s a reason he was in the front row at Slava Stetsko’s funeral, and a reason why his wife ran the Captive Nations project for two years. There’s a really big story here about Yuschenko’s nazi ties that is only getting scratched at, hopefully we’ll get some more of it soon.

10

abb1 12.03.04 at 8:15 am

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Truth and Consequences in Ukraine.

Look, what’s wrong with pointing out that the US government – to whatever extent it’s involved, and it sure is – is not a philanthropic organization? Look at Venezuela.

What’s wrong with pointing out that the Russian government has legitimate concerns there?

Steele is making perfectly sensible points; his points aren’t everything one could say about this situation, but the more obvious aspect of it has been trumpeted (and, perhaps, overamplified) all over the place, so why repeat it?

11

Matthew 12.03.04 at 8:29 am

She does name a Guardian journalist, whose naame I can’t remember and I can’t look at her story because I’m not registered (and lazy), but the article she quotes from is constantly praising the American effort in Ukraine. So the only point really is whether it is accurate or not, and I see no reason to believe it isn ‘t.

12

Andrew Brown 12.03.04 at 8:40 am

But I always (and out-of datedly) think of Appelbaum as a British journalist. At one stage she was actually employed by the Spectator, and I have certainly been to meals in London at which she was present more or less as a native. So she does know a lot about the British press, its hatreds and competitiveness..

13

Andrew Brown 12.03.04 at 8:46 am

dstein: this is a general problem with all the anti-soviet movements in Eastern Europe and their descendants. In that part of the world, you just naturally eneded up allied with Hitler if you thought that defeating communism/Russian imperialism was the most urgent problem. In the mid-Eighties, I spent some time with the then Baltic independence movements. their elder generation saw nothign wrong with watching Nazi propaganda films about the “crusade against Bolshevism”. But the important point is that their children were _horrified_. TGA is, as usual, right on the money.

14

vernaculo 12.03.04 at 9:26 am

What is up with Yuschenko’s face anyway? Is that a right-wing plot, or a left-wing self-mutilation plot to create sympathy? Or is Yuschenko not left-wing? If you campaign against a communist aren’t you automatically not left-wing?
Berezovsky, what about him? Now there’s a fine fella. And he’s close with Roman Abramovitch, a truly fine fella – they don’t come any finer than Abramovitch. And Yulia Tymoshenko, where’s she at in all this? Good guys? Soros was trying to unselect Bush wasn’t he? Now he’s trying to unselect Yanukovych? So that’s good isn’t it?
There were all these pictures of pretty girls in the snow putting flowers on the shields of the riot police – was that p.r.? Or is the p.r. suggesting that that was p.r.? How much spin can be applied to an event before it creates terminal velocity?
Anyone who suggests that any political contest of any import now is anything more than two not-goods running against each other, with a slight tilt one way or another the deciding factor, for at least the next couple of years, is a nincompoop.
What does Kurt Vonnegut have to say about Yuschenko? That’s what I want to know.

15

Hektor Bim 12.03.04 at 2:54 pm

abb1, the problem with van den Heuvel’s article is clear. Pointing out that Russia has legitimate interests or that the US government is not a philanthropic organization is not the problem.

The problem is what these articles always lead to, this article not excepted. What this article effectively pushes is for us to back off from supporting democracy in Ukraine, for us to cringe our heads and say “both are bad, it doesn’t matter” and give in because it wouldn’t do to annoy Russia.

If we are for democracy and human rights and the rule of law, then we should be for them everywhere. That means we should be for them in Venezuela and Ukraine and anywhere else. It doesn’t affect how I feel if the US government is hypocritical.

The choice in Ukraine is clear: either you are for imperial meddling, faked elections, extrajudicial killings, and creeping authoritarianism or you aren’t. Yanukovich and Kuchma are for these things, and the protesters are against them. I’m with the protestors. Who are you and van den Heuvel with?

16

Hektor Bim 12.03.04 at 2:55 pm

abb1, the problem with van den Heuvel’s article is clear. Pointing out that Russia has legitimate interests or that the US government is not a philanthropic organization is not the problem.

The problem is what these articles always lead to, this article not excepted. What this article effectively pushes is for us to back off from supporting democracy in Ukraine, for us to cringe our heads and say “both are bad, it doesn’t matter” and give in because it wouldn’t do to annoy Russia.

If we are for democracy and human rights and the rule of law, then we should be for them everywhere. That means we should be for them in Venezuela and Ukraine and anywhere else. It doesn’t affect how I feel if the US government is hypocritical.

The choice in Ukraine is clear: either you are for imperial meddling, faked elections, extrajudicial killings, and creeping authoritarianism or you aren’t. Yanukovich and Kuchma are for these things, and the protesters are against them. I’m with the protestors. Who are you and van den Heuvel with?

17

seth edenbaum 12.03.04 at 3:16 pm

Why is it so unreasonable to be somewhat of a cynic about all sides? Abb1, To say that Russia does not have legitimate concerns, is not to ignore that they exist. The Ukrainians are pawns for both Putin and Bush, and other than that we could and should be having the same discussion about eastern Ukraine as we are about Kansas.

On the ground the argument is between those at the bottom with few expectations, and those with hopes and aspirations for themselves. Since I don’t celebrate self-interest as a moral principle, I view both sides with irony. But if course that’s not the same as defending the rulers themselves.

It’s the continuing Haussmannization of the world.

18

abb1 12.03.04 at 3:50 pm

I’m with the protestors. Who are you and van den Heuvel with?

I’m with the protesters too. But let’s not get too excited. I agree with Seth: take it with a bit of healthy cynicism.

19

dstein 12.03.04 at 7:10 pm

Mr. Brown – that’s a good point, but just because you hate communism and russian influence doesn’t mean you have a free pass to align yourself with a totalitarian racist government. Many of these protestors may well want Democracy and freedom from Russia, but they aren’t going to get it with Yuschenko in power: they’re going to get the remnants of the nazi regime along with 40 years of hard core right wing politics. You can cheer all you want for democracy in action, but Yuschenko is really really bad news.

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