By Kirstie Yu
For the past few weeks, I have been receiving notifications on my iPhone lock screen about the current state of Ukraine through news applications such as the New York Times and Circa. However, I have not received any about the situations in Thailand and Venezuela, even though these conflicts have been going on for as long as or even longer, in the case of Thailand, than the Ukrainian crisis. Why is it that the United States and Western media are making headlines of the news in Ukraine when there are other global conflicts that are just as important as what is happening in Ukraine, if not more? I believe that the only reason the United States and Western media are so fixated on the Ukrainian situation is that it is simply easier for the media to cover and increase readership. In addition to this, the U.S. media and government officials are stuck in a Cold War mentality.
In Ukraine, tensions began to rise when President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian stance came into conflict with the pro-EU stance of the nation’s youth opposition. President Yanukovych suspended talks on an agreement between Ukraine and the European Union in which the European Union would help support the Ukrainian economy. Russia made its position clear on the agreement by changing its foreign policy to prevent the import of all goods from Ukraine. However, after the Ukraine-EU agreement broke down, Russia indicated that it would be willing to provide Ukraine with a $15 billion bailout loan, which President Yanukovych accepted. This infuriated Ukrainians who wanted to establish closer ties with the European Union and to distance themselves from Russia. In response, three months of protests, dubbed Euromaidan, began in November 2013, culminating thus far in a temporary truce that broke down less than a day after it was called between President Yanukovych and opposition leaders, the deaths of both protestors and police, the flight of President Yanukovych to Russia and his subsequent impeachment, the call for an early presidential election that will take place on May 25, 2014, and, most importantly, the beginning of Russian military intervention in Ukraine, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently received permission from the Russian parliament to deploy Russian troops in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
In Venezuela, protests have arisen due to President Nicolás Maduro’s inability to unite the country and stabilize the Venezuelan economy following the death of President Hugo Chávez almost one year ago today. According to CTV News, a myriad of reasons contribute to the growing displeasure with President Maduro’s regime, including surging inflation, scarcity of basic goods, problematic gas prices, high levels of criminal violence and persistent uncertainty about the validity of election results that put President Maduro in power in the first place. Although the first three reasons have important underlying economic implications, it is actually the fourth reason that has led most strongly to widespread student protests. On January 6, 2014, Miss Venezuela Monica Spear, her husband and her daughter were returning by car to Caracas after a New Year’s vacation when they were assaulted by highway robbers. Spear and her husband were killed, while their daughter was left wounded and orphaned. After this incident, protests began against the President Maduro’s regime, fueled by outrage over economic instability and overall insecurity. These mainly student-led protests only increased in force in February, especially because they coincided with the February 12th commemoration of the role of young people in a historical battle and because of the escalation of violence from both the government and protestors. The protestors’ main goal is the resignation of President Maduro, but he has yet to step down at this point.
In Thailand, protestors began decrying the unstable government under current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in late October 2013. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is the younger sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from office and has been in a self-imposed exile in Dubai and London since 2006. Many of the protestors see Yingluck as a puppet for her brother Thaksin, and this became even more apparent when Prime Minister Yingluck introduced an amnesty bill that would nullify Thaksin’s corruption allegations and allow him to return to the country without punishment. The public outcry against this bill led to protests in Bangkok, and the Thai Senate eventually rejected the bill in November 2013. However, the lasting backlash to the proposed bill caused Yingluck to dissolve the nation’s parliament on December 9, 2013, and call for new elections to be held February 2, 2014. Protests against Yingluck’s government are made up largely of younger educated urban middle-class citizens, who widely refused to vote in the February election because they did not believe the elections were free and fair. These demonstrators want every trace of “Thaksin’s regime […] wiped out” from their country and will not stop until an “unelected council is put in place to reform what they say is a corrupt political system.” In the aftermath of the February 2nd election, police have attempted to evict around 6,000 demonstrators from government sites, which has led to ongoing violence and contention between the protestors and police.
All three of these global conflicts are ongoing and all are important to the global economy and world affairs in distinct ways, yet the most attention has been paid to the Ukrainian crisis. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations has a Global Conflict Tracker that does not, at the time of publication of this article, consider the Ukraine conflict to be as high on their Preventive Priority Level scale as the conflicts in Venezuela and Thailand. Although it may be easier for the media to cover the Ukrainian conflict due to pre-existing negative sentiments towards Russia lasting from the Cold War era, it is wrong for the media to mainly focus on the Ukrainian crisis just because images of Russian imperialism may be more salient to news readers. The media’s job is to inform, and, when it chooses to do so, it can do an exemplary job, as we are now seeing in Ukraine. However, more should be done to cover the ongoing crises of Venezuela, Thailand and other ongoing global conflicts currently under the media’s radar. In the next part of this series, I will examine the implications each of these protests has on U.S. interests and explore why the failure of the media to cover them is so problematic.
Image by Brian Talbot