Monday, February 26, 2018

Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine

Today, a lot of people are justly concerned about Russian interference in the 2016 election, but they do not seem particularly interested about anything that came before. Where were they in 2014 and 2015? Had the America and the West responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine more forcefully, the world might look like a very different place today. Hopefully, it is not too late for Ukraine, if we finally rally to the embattled democracy. Viewers will get a field report on the state of the Ukrainian state and a step-by-step chronicle laying out how we reached this point in Mark Jonathan Harris & Oles Sanin’s invaluable Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Democracy is a fragile thing. Ukraine won it during the Orange Revolution, only to lose it again due to the new government’s incompetence. Putin’s loyal puppet Viktor Yanukovych was duly elected president in 2010, even though everyone knew he tried to steal the election in 2004. However, that did not mean he could ignore the will of the people. When he refused to sign a trade treaty with the EU, at Moscow’s bidding, the people took to the streets. When he used violence against peaceful protesters, he lost any remaining claims to legitimacy.

That is exactly what the Maidan movement was about. Russian propaganda suggested otherwise, causing doubt in the Western media. In contrast, Harris and Sanin reveal the true nature of Maidan through their primary POV figures: Mustafa Nayyem, an Afghan-born journalist and democracy activist; Tetiana Chornovol, an investigative journalist who was badly beaten by Yanukovych’s thugs, Natan Hazin, a rabbi who became an officer in the volunteer Ukrainian army; and Andriy “Bohema” Sharaskin, the director of a children’s theater school, who defended the Donetsk Airport from Russian invaders. Russia would have us believe they were anti-Semitic militants—and the media bought their propaganda just enough to give it legs.

In fact, Harris (an Oscar winner for Into the Arms of Strangers and The Long Way Home), Sanin, and their expert commentators spend a good deal of time analyzing Russian propaganda. Especially galling is the actress who pops up at least three times pretending to be a local who duly spouts the Kremlin’s party line. Again, if the media had done their jobs properly in 2014-2015, maybe Putin would have been less inclined to meddle in other nations affairs and perhaps they wouldn’t now have to deal with Trump, who they so vociferously despise.

Sharaskin makes the point that it is far more motivating to be for something good and noble than merely against unpalatable. Despite Ukraine’s various setbacks, Breaking Point vividly captures the idealism and resolution of the Maidan movement. Hope is not dead in Ukraine, it is just getting shelled daily by Russia. Watching this documentary confirms the strategic significance of Ukraine as a line in the sand. If it falls, it would be a decisive loss for constitutional democracy and a major victory for Soviet-style kleptocracy. Somehow, Breaking Point is both inspiring and disheartening in equal measure, but it should be required viewing for anyone who cares about the future state of the world. Very highly recommended, Breaking Point opens this Friday (3/2) in New York, at the Cinema Village.