For the Western media Tymoshenko’s trial is the hottest story of the moment. Yet few in the West understand what is happening at this trial, the motives of its principal protagonists and what new implications, dialogues and trends will arise out of it.
In my view, things become much clearer if one regards the ‘Tymoshenko Case’ as not just a struggle for power and property between two mighty Ukrainian financial and political clans, but as a confrontation between modernism and postmodernism.
The present Ukrainian government is a distinctive product of political modernism. Its credo is a gradual, ponderous but unswerving growth in production, that is to say an increase in the supply of large calibre pipes, iron, coal and steel; the transport of billions of cubic metres of gas in one direction and billions of dollars in the other. It was after all a community based on coal, steel and gas that eventually led to the European Union of today. And today’s Ukrainian elite could be seen as a union of coal, steel and gas. Its watchwords are ‘stability’, ‘development’, ‘gradual change’. And the words that sound sweetest to its ears are ‘Budget flows’, ‘Western credit’ and ‘Eastern pipelines’.
“The present Ukrainian government is a distinctive product of political modernism. … Led by its monumental president Yanukovich, [it] is as heavy as iron, as dangerous as molten steel, as clumsy as a tie-laying machine and as predictable as trunk oil and gas pipelines”
Ukraine’s political elite, led by its monumental president Yanukovich, is as heavy as iron, as dangerous as molten steel, as clumsy as a tie-laying machine and as predictable as trunk oil and gas pipelines. Its main goal is a slow, gentle evolution along the lines of the Soviet planned modernisation model. For it knows the secret of success: ‘slow modernisation means fast profits’. If, of course, this modernisation is completely under your personal control. The founders of the world’s first Socialist state once described Communism as ‘Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country’; the present Ukrainian government could describe its ‘Communism’ as ‘the modernisation of production plus the monopolisation of power and profit by the ruling clan’.
And opposing this elite, let’s call it ‘modernist’, or better still, ‘modernising’ , we have the counter-elite headed by its Pasionaria, Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko likes to compare herself to Joan of Arc, but in terms of her personality, aims and motivation she is much closer to Dolores Ibarruri or the almost forgotten Chilean communist leader Gladys Marin. Yulia, like Dolores and Gladys, is a pure product of postmodernism in all its particulars. At the heart of postmodernism lies a repudiation of laws as such (both economic and judicial) and a rejection of all links between cause and effect. It is the absolute primacy of revolution over evolution. It is the replacement of gradual development by ‘breakthroughs’, ‘ruptures’ and ‘great leaps forward’. It is the triumph of aesthetics over ethics, kitsch over classicism, glamour over respectability.
Tymoshenko likes to compare herself to Joan of Arc,
but more accurate historical parallels are Spanish
republican leader Dolores Ibarruri and Chilean revolutionary
Gladys Marin. Photo: Demotix/RFEFL
Full, absolute and individual power is as essential for the fulfilment of Tymoshenko’s plans as it is for her powerful opponents. Only her slogan would differ. Her ‘communism’ would be ’the Yulification of the whole country plus Western adoration’. In other words, the creation of the cult of ‘Bereginya’, the mythical Slavonic mother goddess, as the principal and unique aesthetic, stylistic and political criterion of perfection for the nation and state. Not forgetting, of course, the admiration of foreign leaders and the glitterati. .
In the battle between modernism and postmodernism victory goes to whoever is fighting on home ground. For modernism, home ground means the factory, the industrial estate, the business park. For postmodernism it is the television show, the street scene, the courtroom. Because the main instrument of modernism is management, a talent for organisation, whereas for postmodernism it is the ability to perform and reinvent oneself.
As a result, modernism can only exist so long as it keeps moving ahead. It is like a bicycle: if it goes too slowly it will tip over either to the left, into post-Soviet authoritarianism, or to the right, into corporate-oligarchic all-permissiveness. Postmodernism, on the other hand, flourishes only when it stands still, on stage; which stage doesn’t matter - Parliament, the streets, a prison cell. As soon as it begins to move in the direction of banal economics it immediately loses all its charm, shine and attraction.
With an intuitive feel for her ‘home ground’, Yulia Tymoshenko has put all her efforts into making a courtroom the main arena for her battle. Not for her the factory gates, to win over the dirty handed sons and daughters of toil, nor the office blocks to win over the white collar workers. So she has had to put considerable energy into winning the right to a trial, and even more into actually being imprisoned.
She began by refusing for a whole year to recognise the present government, referring to the President as a ‘bandit’, a ‘criminal’, a ‘usurper of power’. The government fell for this provocative behaviour and allowed itself to be taken to court. Then Tymoshenko spent several months calling the judges and lawyers ‘criminals’ and ‘fascists’ and refusing to recognise their authority. The judicial authorities fell for this provocative behaviour and allowed itself to be put behind bars with her.
So now Ukrainian postmodernism, as personified to perfection by Yulia Tymoshenko, is winning the fight on its own ground. When she lies in court, it is called ‘irony’. When she sneers at witnesses, it is called ‘boldness’. When she urges her supporters to revolt, it is called ‘her right to defend herself’… And she is as beautiful as Dolores Ibarruri, for whom a court was a welcome platform for her literary talent. And as stylish as Gladys Marin, who adopted a different hairstyle every day of her trial or hunger strike, winning followers with the sheen of her anthracite locks.
Oh yes, Yulia Tymoshenko is once more a joy to behold: as radiant and lively in her imprisoned state as she was dull and low-spirited in her everyday life as a free woman.
At one time she used to compare herself to a flower, and would appear on billboards holding a cute little flower pot. It is now clear that this flower blossoms only in adversity – her plait shines like a halo, and an expansive smile never leaves her lips. She believes that postmodernism will win. The country will once more burst into happy chaos; instead of going about their boring work, people will spend days and nights storming government buildings and barricading roads and squares. Everyone will forget about boring things like GDP and the minimum wage, and will live on inflammatory revolutionary slogans and barricade songs. She believes that this will happen – after all, the West will help us!
"In a direct confrontation postmodernism will always defeat modernism, which in any case tends towards the half-hearted and inept. To discover any virtue at all in modernism you need to take a look through sooty factory windows."
And Yulia’s expectations are indeed not without foundation. Postmodernism is striding victoriously round the planet. Its first serious symptom was the moral victory of the incomparable Julian Assange over the Western judicial system. The pathetic Western courts were reduced to charging him with sexual assault. However, in a postmodernist context sexual excesses are a male virtue, and not a feminist shortcoming.
Today the pathetic Ukrainian judicial system is similarly reduced to accusing Tymoshenko of overstepping her prime-ministerial authority. In other words, of administrative excesses. However, in a postmodernist context any excess is more fun than observing the stupid bloody rules.
These days the postmodernists can enjoy following the trial of former Egyptian president Mubarak for the brutality he showed to protesters against his regime. And the cup of the postmodernists will no doubt be full when British Prime Minister David Cameron is brought before a court for his severity in dealing with the antics of London’s youth on the capital’s streets.
In a direct confrontation postmodernism will always defeat modernism, which in any case tends towards the half-hearted and inept. To discover any virtue at all in modernism you need to take a look through sooty factory windows. Whereas to see the justice and democracy of postmodernism, all you have to do is read the English street fighters’ blogs on the internet. According to them, the riots in London were the apotheosis of democracy and justice, and when you have a two metre plasma screen on your wall, removed from a shop for free, you do begin to believe in justice in the Western world.
So the Tymoshenko case is alive and well and evidently heading for victory. Clear signs can be seen in the fact that her supporters, blocking the entrance to the court building, are now trying to beat up witnesses who ‘give incorrect evidence’ against their idol. Oleksandr Shlapak, once deputy leader of President Yuschenko’s administration, has already been punched in the face. And surely this is just the beginning?
In Britain sales of baseball bats went up by 5,000% during the recent week of street fighting. The demand for baseball bats is also quietly growing in Ukraine. Be prepared, witnesses against Tymoshenko! Yesterday you were knocked about the head by plastic water bottles; tomorrow it will be baseball bats.
There is just one ‘but’ that might, unfortunately, cut short this rising tide, this ‘festival’ of turbulent life. Any postmodernist act needs its charismatic figure. Without the super-charismatic Salvador Dali there would have been no Surrealist postmodernism in art. Without the super-charismatic Assange there would be no internet-postmodernism in information hyperspace, and so on.
But the point is that the maximum acceleration of super-charisma requires what you might call a psychological collider. This is known as ‘binary charisma’, when two linked subjects, reflecting one another’s signals, send their combined charisma soaring to unbelievable heights. Think of Bonnie and Clyde, of Dali and Gala, of Assange and his blonde, or, if you like, Saakashvili and Burdzhinadze, the Dollar and Euro, or Tymoshenko and Yuschenko.
However, when this link breaks, binary charisma changes from a ‘collider’, boosting signals, into a ‘black hole’, which swallows them up.
In other words, for Timoshenko’s postmodern case to reach its final, definitive victory, she needs to bring back Yuschenko.