Ukraine 2014: A Decolonial Take

      According to newsbreaks around the world, 95.5% of Crimean voted in favor of Russian annexation. The current Ukraine acting-government has lit the torch of civil war. Prime Minister Yatseniuk is quoted as saying that “the ground will burn under their feet.” The US announced to make effective and immediately sanctions against Russia.

       The EU expressed its opinion: “The referendum is illegal and illegitimate and its outcome will not be recognized,” Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, European Commission President, said in a joint statement on Sunday.” 

       What shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been thinking and writing about the democratic disconnect, as well as its failure, to be facing one more a clear evidence that democracy has turned into a noble discourse to advance by force the imperial interests.  On Saturday March 15, 2014, Russia vetoed a request presented at the United Nations to declare the referendum to be voted on March 16, 2014 unconstitutional and pleaded to the international community to deny its legality.

       It is true that—before the referendum–Russia had violated existing international law at the moment that Viktor Yanukovych fled the country.  The problem is that international law has been built through the centuries according to European first, and the US later, interests. That means that international law as we know it today is half of the story and it is also Eurocentered, as Carl Schmitt argued and demonstrated. Schmitt was not a radical leftist, but a German conservative Catholic. That did not prevent him from denouncing the Eurocentrism of international law. By Eurocentered Schmitt meant that international law was written down to defend European interests around the world.

      Russian government would have known what was known by many of us who do not have access to inside politics but who consult different sources of information: what was known shortly after the uprising erupted was that the political forces of the moderate and radical rights were supported by the EU and the US.

Thus Russian overt violation of international law seems to be a response to the covert violation of international law that preceded the Russian intervention. This is no longer a secret or a statement being made by radical leftists. It is already widely known and accepted, even by the NYT.

      Now, there is ample evidence that the uprising was a legitimate protest by the population–the civil society that reached the limits of Yanukovych’s bad governance cum corruption. What has not been stressed enough in everything I have  read is that the civil society was not the only force that wanted to oust Yanukovych. The moderate and the radical right too. I am not saying that the rights forces, with the support of the EU and the US, started the protests. I am saying that the protest of the politicized civil society was welcome.

      One evidence is that no one is “representing” (in the sense representation has in democracy). The acting government is in the hand of members identified as “moderate” right. (who is who). I has been also pointed out that behind the moderate there is the hand of the radical right, the one who move the economic and political strings. Even more, there is also a widespread belief, supported by convincing evidence, that what we are seeing in Ukraine is the coalition between neo-liberalism and neo-fascism

      I have been advancing, in articles, interviews and in one chapter of my latest book, that after the “end of history” a new history began: the confrontation between re-westernization and de-westernization (interview critical legal thinking). It is no longer the Cold War that is shaping the present and outlining decades to come. The difference with the Cold War was liberal capitalism vs. State communism. Today it is (neo) liberal capitalism (that is, re-westernization) vs. state capitalism. But there is more than this. The Cold War was framed in an ideological struggle, liberalism vs. socialism, that is, two sides of the same coin: the legacies of European enlightenmets.

      Instead the confrontation between re-westernization (US and the UE) and de-westernization (Russia, China members of BRICS; Indonesia and Turkey, members of the MINT) involves the racial distribution of capital and knowledge and involves also responses to humiliation infringed by Western imperial states to the rest of the world. Russia and China are two of the five members of the UN Security Council. When Russia vetoed the US’s request to declare illegal voting in the Crimea referendum China abstained. France, England and Canada voted yes. Russia has the memories and humiliation of the Cold War defeat. China has the memories and humiliation of the Opium War defeats. Both are struggling for re-emerging. As someone said, it is not the “rising of the East” but the “return of the East.” One could guess that Henry Kissinger knew this

      Nathan Gardels is the only one to my knowledge that pointed out that there is more than meets the eye in Putin’s interest in Crimea. Gardels framed his argument in terms of “post-America” and the “Clash of Civilizations” anticipated or promoted by Samuel Huntington in the mid 90s. The unrecognized or ignored fact is that, on the one hand, Russia is not Iran or Cuba, where sanctions worked effectively.

     Secondly, the unrecognized fact that there is simultaneously a decline in the trust or fear the world placed in the US leadership and the growth of confidence, particularly in long standing civilizations that were never conquered by Western power. Certainly, Russia doesn’t have the long history that China does. The formation of the Russian Czarate, and later on Empire, is parallel to the formation of the Spanish Empire: the fourth quarter of the fifteenth century. However, the strength of the Russian Czarate/Empire and that of the Soviet Union is a legacy that allows Russia to be where it is in the international arena.

      My understanding of what is at stake in Ukraine coincides, in general, with Gardels. But I have a different explanation. What we are witnessing in Ukraine are the consequences of the dispute for the control of the colonial matrix of power and the role of the small state in that dispute. We have seen it in Syria and we are witnessing it today in Ukraine and Venezuela.

     What does it mean that the colonial matrix of power is being disputed?  Briefly the following. A form of global governance emerged in the sixteenth century forced the transformation of local European monarchic/theological states in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. International law was a necessary creation of that period. That form of governance placed emerging imperial monarchic/theological states (Spain and Portugal first, Holland, France and England later) into a double bind: to govern the colonies and to govern themselves in relation to the colonies and to competing States avid of their own colonial expansion.

      A significant mutation of the colonial matrix took place from the end of the seventeenth century (the Glorious Revolution in England), the American Revolution (and the creation of the US of America) and the French Revolution. The monarchic/theological states began to be supplanted by the bourgeois-secular state. The immense fortunes amassed by European imperial power from the colonies, and the demands of a growing international market, created the conditions for the industrial revolution. Since then, England supplanted Spain as the largest Western empire until then. After WWII the US supplanted England. There were certainly disputes for the colonial matrix, but that disputes were family feuds. We can see its legacy today: the US and the EU have differences, but they have more commonalities than differences.

      Thus, the votes of the Security Council regarding Ukraine and the declarations of Van Rompuy and Barroso, bear witness of the cosmological solidarity across the Atlantic. Russia and China belong to different cosmologies, different among themselves, but connected by the memories of humiliations infringed by Western empires. Signs of radical changes were evident by the end of the twentieth century. Today they are obvious: Western former empires, even if we consider the history from Spain to the US going through England, as one Empire, can no longer manage and control the structure of international governance. That structure of international governance is the colonial matrix of power.

       Xi Jinping has been reported to say: “the situation in Ukraine is highly complicated and sensitive,” which” seems to be accidental, (but) has the elements of the inevitable.”  Within the analytical frame of the dispute for the colonial matrix of power, Jinping’s dictum is indeed transparent. It seems to be accidental and isolated but “has the elements of the inevitable.”  What does it mean? It means that the dispute for the control of the colonial matrix of power reached, with and in Ukraine, the point of non-return.

      The inevitable is both, the effort by US and the EU governance to maintain the management of the colonial matrix in their attempt to re-westernize the world through the neo-liberal model and the will of Russia and China (among others) of not submitting any longer to Western wills. For this simple reason, re-westernization can no longer work as westernization from the sixteenth to the end of the twentieth century.

It can work neither by liberal democracy nor by social communism, which are both expressions of Western cosmology.

       The dispute for the control of the colonial matrix is possible today because of the economic growth of states, like China and Russia (but also BRICS and MINT) who disobeyed the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank. Now, the time has arrived to disobey the White House or the European Commission. 

Ukraine is the point of no-return because it evinced the limits of democratic principles and state sovereignty. Crimea votes evinced that for Ukraine and its supporter, it is more important an abstract entity like the territory of a nation-state than the will of 95.5% of Crimean people. The EU and the US condemning Russia very well knowing that they are as responsible as Russia in the crisis of Ukraine, as it is evident by now, are making un-democratic evaluation and are undermining their own concept of state-sovereignty (which was violated by US and England when invading Iraq in 2003).

       It is also the point of no-return of small states that are at the crossroads between the political and economic interests of re- and de-westernization. The myth of democracy and state-sovereignty more or less worked while the colonial matrix was in the hands of Western Europe and the US. Today, those principles of global governance are becoming obsolete. It is loud and clear in Ukraine, not only because of Russian troops in Crimea but also because of the contradictions expressed by Barack Obama (Putin is on the wrong side of history, a sentence than Bill Clinton applied to China), John Kerry (we are no longer in the nineteenth century) and Angela Merkel (Putin questioning whether Putin is in touch with reality).

       What is coming next is difficult to say, but that a historical cycle closed is evident. It is not the end of history; it is the end of Western domination. The dispute for the control of the colonial matrix is taking place not only in the sphere of inter-state relations. It is taking place also in the emerging political society and the dispute for the control of knowledge and understanding.

       Now, there is no question that Obama and Putin are on different sides of history, which doesn’t mean that Putin is on the wrong side. Both are on the right side in their own view and both are on the wrong side in the view of the other. It doesn’t mean either that Putin is in the nineteenth century, as Kerry suggests. Kerry’s statement repeats one of the common indictments of Eurocentric racism: the denial of coevalness, a formula invented in eighteenth century Europe. As for Merkel, I would agree that Putin lost touch with “her sense of reality” for to be sure Merkel doesn’t have the property right on what constitute “the sense of reality” beyond what she thinks it is.

      It is curious, nonetheless, is that the Ukraine acting government and Western spokesman, are insisting on the nation-state sovereignty and Russia is insisted on the safety of people, Russians in Crimea. What is curious is that Ukrainian government and Western state-spokesman want to save an abstract entity, historically constituted in the nineteenth century, while Russia want to save people. Granted, both are clearly arguments to justify position of interests. The curiosity is that in this regard Russia seems to be on the right side of history putting the horses in front of the chart (interest in people) instead of maintaining the chart in front of the horses (interests in saving institutions).

        I am not arguing that Putin is “right.” I am arguing that he cannot be said to be “wrong.”  Making such a statement puts us on the way to totalitarianism. I am not advocating either cultural relativism, in the sense that everything goes. I am advocating for what is unavoidable to recognize at this point many unfolding histories: the end of Western domination put us in a world in which there is no one truth and one form of global governance. Just imagine what would be the situation now without Russia open intervention responding to the covert interventions of US and the EU? Democratic Ukraine would have not.

      To accept this radical change, would no doubt contribute to building a multi-polar politico-economic world in which pluriversality of understanding, knowing, believing, feeling and thinking would co-exist in harmony and plenitude. For this, the horse has to be placed back in front of the cart: people should matter first, and institutions shall be at the service of people and not other way round.

      The idea that future global governance as a “middle way between East and West   global version of Giddens “third way  is not going to fly. “Middle and Third” ways are hopes from the presupposition that there always one historical line and, therefore, the best compromise between two opposing pols are middle or third ways. That view of history is over. What de-westernization is bringing up is a multi-polar world and in a multi-polar world, which is the view from an-other side of history, doesn’t have room for middle ways. The West is becoming one of the poles of a multipolar world but not longer half-of any kind of “middle way.”

       Finally on sanctions. Canadian-Nishnaabeg writer, activist and singer, Leanna Simpson, makes a point in marking the distinction between Christina idea of education and First Nations (Indigenous people of Canada). Christianity education is based on prohibitions and punishments.  Nishnaabeg in nurturing, for the simple reasons that prohibitions and punishment encourages in a child violation of the prohibitions and revenge to the punishment. US implementing sanctions on Russia follows the Christian way of Western education. I think it was Kissinger in the article quoted above that pointed out this is not a wise way to lead international relations at this point in time. Time has changed. The US paternal punishing of Russia is may to work in the way the US expects to do. The rest of the world is growing up and punishment doesn’ t stop the independent behavior of grown up, children of states.

           PS: After reading this posting Francisco Carballo reminded me of a conversation we have had for some time. It is not uncommon that well mean readers would interpret that i am “favoring” de-westernization over de-coloniality. Aware of such interpretation, i titled this posting “a decolonial take.” I think that part of the misunderstanding may come from forgetting the meaning of “imperial difference.” Imperial difference is a type of racialization of people, regions, languages, nationalities that were never colonized by the West, like Russia and China. Russia and China have learned that to be independent from Western dictates  they had to embrace “capitalism.” So in this regard, there is no qualitative difference between the West Europe, the US, Eurasia and East Asia. The difference is politica– who call the shots, so to speak. De-westernization is just that: the confidence and decision power to not surrender to Western dictates. Small states, today, have no choice but to go one or the other way. National sovereignty becomes a rhetorical formula to hides political and economic interests. Ukraine is a telling moment of the fact that Western imperial states do not control anymore the colonial matrix, failing to install in Ukraine a government of its convenience. Western designs were disputed by de-westernization. The dispute for the control of the colonial matrix takes place in the sphere of inter-state relations. Decoloniality is not a state project (Bolivia could have been an exception, but it currently–as it all Latin American “left” oriented states–have joined de-westernization) and i am not Secretary of or Ambassador of any state. Decoloniality is a project of the emerging global political society (which includes so call social movement, re-emergence of Indigenous civilizations, artists, scholars, intellectuals, journalists, activists, warrior of the word, and  a growing number of actors confronting both re- and de-westernization. But more often than not, the confrontation is one at the time. The originality of decolonial thinking is that of starting from the entanglement of re- and de-westernization, entangled in the dispute of the colonial matrix and the differential of power in the dispute. De-westernization is contesting and delinking from the re-westernizing will to homogenize the world. Dewesternization has to be critiqued from a decolonial perspective, without forgetting that our critique to de-westernization could be applauded by re-westernized actors and institutions. And vice-versa. So the decolonial take delink from both at the same time that recognize the power differential in the dispute.

         It is that power differential that more often than not are not only overlooked by some of my readers, but for the majority of “experts” in interstate relations.




1 comment

  1. Great text. I am also decolonial autor and i am courios about Your opinion on the situation now.

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