On 14 June the left bloc in the European Parliament voted against a motion demanding Russia release Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and 70 other Ukrainian political prisoners.
It was official policy of the left bloc, GEU/NGL, to vote against the motion. Only six members of the 52-strong faction rebelled: five by voting for, and one by abstaining. The GUE/NGL has not issued a statement explaining its opposition to the motion.
485 MEPs voted for the motion. 76 voted against. And 66 abstained.
Those who voted against the motion were almost entirely members of the far right factions in the European Parliament (ENF and EFDD) — or members of the “far left” GUE/NGL.
The GUE/NGL includes traditional Stalinist parties (e.g. Portuguese and Cypriot Communist Parties) and the “new Left” (e.g. Syriza and Podemos), with the German Die Linke and French Left Front halfway between the two.
In the 2014 European Parliament elections parties affiliated to the GUE/NGL increased their share of the vote by 150%. Their share of seats in the Parliament increased from 4.5% to 7%, amounting to 52 seats.
On the day of the vote GUE/NGL’s Twitter account did carry posts highlighting: GUE/NGL opposition to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians; support for a boycott of Israeli companies; Bahrein’s imprisonment of a human rights activist; Myanmar’s repression of the Rohingya.
But anything condemning Russia’s suppression of human and democratic rights? No.
Oleg Sentsov was arrested in Crimea in May 2014, shortly after Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. In 2015 he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on spurious charges of terrorism.
Sentsov is serving his sentence in the “White Bear” prison colony in the north of the Arctic Circle. He has now been on hunger strike for over a month, demanding his own release and the release of other political prisoners.
The 14 June resolution also condemned Russia’s use of manufactured charges, torture, and inhuman prison conditions in its ongoing attempts to crush opposition to its annexation of the Crimea.
It concluded with 27 demands, covering the release of political prisoners, an end to the harassment of human rights activists and investigative journalists, respect for human rights in the Crimea and in Russia itself, an end to Russia’s crackdown on NGOs in receipt of financial assistance from abroad.
Putin’s regime is profoundly anti-democratic. It promotes and glorifies an authoritarian strong state, Russian chauvinism, ultra-conservative social values, social and economic inequality, contempt for human rights, the (often physical) elimination of all forms of dissent, military adventures and imperialist expansion.
It is a regime which the parties affiliated to the ENF and EFDD hanker to create in their own countries. Not a few of them have also been bankrolled by the Russian government.
Why is the GUE/NGL not opposing Putin’s regime?
In the period 2014/2015, following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and the Russian-backed “uprising” in Eastern Ukraine, the GUE/NGL voted against an estimated 78% of motions in the European Parliament which condemned Russian military intervention and human rights abuses.
Members of the GUE/NGL spoke against the imposition of sanctions on Russia because they were supposedly dictated by the United States.
In debates on the war in Syria in late 2015 the GUE/NGL again took a pro-Russian position.
The GUE/NGL’s voting pattern in the European Parliament is a continuation of the Putin-apologist policies pursued by its affiliates in their own countries.
Leaders of Die Linke in Germany have claimed that the Maidan uprising of 2013/14 was financed by the US, Ukrainian political activists were trained in an institute named after Joseph Goebbels, and the Ukrainian state symbol of the trident was a Nazi symbol.
In 2014 Die Linke sent observers to the sham Crimean referendum staged under conditions of Russian military occupation. It followed this up by meeting with leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and organising ‘humanitarian aid’ for the DPR.
Last year’s congress of Die Linke overwhelmingly voted down a motion which sought to condemn Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and its military intervention in Eastern Ukraine.
The GUE/NGL has rightly been condemned for lining up with the far right factions in the European Parliament. The conduct of the GUE/NGL would have been no less outrageous even if the far right factions had, for reasons of their own political calculations, abstained or voted for the motion.
There is also something quite racist — or at least extremely chauvinist — about the refusal of the GUE/NGL and its affiliates to condemn the systematic repression of human rights in the Crimea and Russia.
For the GUE/NGL, citizens of Western Europe are entitled to the protection of “EU principles and values, such as the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights.” Indeed, such principles and values need to be reinforced.
Russians and the victims of Russian annexation, on the other hand, have a more limited choice: accept the status of victims of state authoritarianism; or be ignored — or denounced, by the GUE/NGL as agents of US imperialism — if they challenge that authoritarianism.