The Ukrainian parliamentary brawl: An annual tradition

Fights used to break out in the U.S. Congress -- an occurrence that became obsolete as news cameras started making their way onto the House and Senate floors. But the prospect of being caught on camera trading blows doesn't seem to worry Ukrainian politicians. Earlier today, dozens of MPs got into a fist fight in the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament.

Here's how it reportedly went down: When the head of the ruling, pro-Russian Party of Regions opened the session speaking Russian, his opponents in the nationalist Liberty Party began chanting "Speak Ukrainian!" and pounding on their desks. After the speaker called his opponents "chanting neo-fascists," a member of the Liberty Party took to the podium, the Party of Regions began calling him a fascist to drown him out, and the fighting began.

Here's a video: 


Before you get too carried away by the footage, it's worth pointing out that parliamentary fights between Ukraine's pro-Russian and nationalist factions are not new -- there is at least one a year. And in the grand scheme of political brawls, today's was nothing special. Last year, another fight over the use of the Russian language led to several broken ribs:

In May 2011, the vice speaker took out a deputy who walked to the front and demanded to make a speech:

In April 2010, a debate over Russia's use of a naval base on the Black Sea erupted into a clash involving smoke bombs, egg throwing, and head locks:


Reminder: Iranians are not the only people who celebrate Nowruz

On Monday, Barack Obama released a message to the Iranian people marking the beginning of Nowruz, an ancient holiday celebrating the start of the Persian New Year and the advent of spring. In a YouTube video with Farsi subtitles, the president offered a brief note of celebration before launching into the crux of his message: "the world's serious and growing concerns about Iran's nuclear program, which threatens peace and security in the region and beyond." He continued:

As I have every year as President, I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran. Since taking office, I have offered the Iranian government an opportunity -- if it meets its international obligations, then there could be a new relationship between our two countries, and Iran could begin to return to its rightful place among the community of nations.

In past years, Obama's annual Nowruz address has been regarded by some as a shining example of soft diplomacy and by others as a cynical case of political opportunism -- but all have agreed that the president is seizing the moment to send a message to the Iranian people and government. Which raises the question: What about the millions of non-Iranians who also celebrate the holiday?

Foreign Policy caught up with Adil Baguirov, who serves on the board of directors of two D.C.-based advocacy organizations -- the U.S. Azeris Network and the U.S. Turkic Network -- that have repeatedly lobbied Obama to make his Nowruz address more inclusive and less politicized. "The Turkic people who number some 200 million spanning across Eurasia, from Yakutia to Europe, were once again overlooked" in this year's message, he wrote in an e-mail.

But, he notes, this wasn't always the case. Baguirov drew a pointed distinction with the Bush years, when the president would "congratulate not only all the Iranic people (people of Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan , and some people living in other regional countries, as well as the diaspora in U.S.), but all the Turkic people and diaspora that trace their heritage from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgysztan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as a multitude of autonomous regions in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, the Turcomans in Iraq, the Uzbeks and Hazara's in Afghanistan, the Uighurs in China, and others."

In his 2006 Nowruz message, for example, Bush noted that for "millions of people around the world who trace their heritage to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia, Nowruz is a celebration of life and an opportunity to express joy and happiness." (It's worth noting that Bush focused a bit more on Iran in 2003, and devoted his entire 2002 address to Afghans and Afghan-Americans after the fall of the Taliban.) 

Baguirov, for his part, said Obama's approach is as if Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei spoke directly to the American people on Christmas or New Year's Day. "Other countries, especially if they have been celebrating those holidays far longer, would be rather baffled and even offended by such preferential treatment," he pointed out.

Clearly, the Obama administration now sees Nowruz as a chance to address Washington's increasingly fractious relationship with Tehran, and to reach out to and draw support from the Iranian people. Whether or not Iranians appreciate the gesture, it's clear at least some other Nowruz celebrants don't.