Goldilocks and the Oligarchs

On Ukraine, writes Rue 89’s Daniel Schneidermann, the foreign press got a lot of things totally wrong. But to date, he says, we don’t even know what they got right.

And suddenly, all of the world’s cameras were focused on the prisoner with the golden braids. Every news agency cocked its ear to the voice of Yulia Timoshenko. Having defeated the oligarchs all by herself, Goldilocks was leaving her prison-hospital. She was free. She was flying to Kiev. She was on her way to the Maidan. She was arriving, she’s here, stay with us please, this is a historic moment, let’s hear her first words.

As if her updo braids hypnotized the cameras. Very nearly erased the images from earlier in the day, the hallucinatory tour of the Neverland palace of the ogre Yanukovych, with its fawns, its galleon, its golden faucets.

They were rowing painfully against the current, however, the foreign correspondents: their Ukrainian interviewees invariably told them they were skeptical about the return of the former prime minister. She is no better than the oligarchs, they said, like them, she will be carrying off the country’s treasure; we don’t want our revolution to be confiscated.

Never has there been such a chasm between history as it is being written at a distance – history as ‘the system’ wants it to be written, with its happy ending, its heroes and heroines – and the reality on the ground: vague, chaotic, uncertain, unreadable.

On television there was Bernard Henri Levy, our media philosopher-compass who always manages to point somewhere to the south. Yes, him again, telling us some story about his relationship with the daughter of the former prime minister: more confusion on top of the general confusion.

The Ukraine revolution is a lesson for all of us foreign observers, western outsiders, whether we are journalists or political decision makers. The truth, the only truth that we can point out from our morning outpost over here, our non-Russophone and non-expert outpost, from which not a single one of us has ever set foot in Ukraine, is that this victorious insurrection is largely closed to us. We are all commenting on reflections of reflections.

And what shall we make of the accusations of corruption against Timoshenko, in this political society where criminal indictments and ‘Bastilling‘ are debating techniques? Were outside observers underestimating the importance of the extreme-right among the revolutionaries of the Maidan, as we previously suggested?

Conversely, when we ourselves pointed out that the far-right presence among the protesters was being underestimated, did we contribute to overestimating its influence there? What does it mean for a Kiev Ukrainian to be a ‘nationalist’? What about for a Crimea Ukrainian? And when we talk about the country’s east, things are even muddier: is it headed for secession or not? And what about Russian President Putin? Is he off in a corner muttering angrily, or getting ready to cut a deal with Timoshenko and her allies?

Sometimes it is wiser to stick to asking questions, instead of trying to answer them all immediately.

Daniel Schneidermann, founder of Arret Sur Image.