Archive for November, 2007

Entry for November 29, 2007

November 29, 2007

 

MAPS

I love maps. The first time when I came to know what a geographical map is, was at the age of about six or seven. I dropped in at my cousin’s place (four years older then I was) and saw him being tested by his sister (who was already in her senior high school) on his knowledge of geography. My cousin did not seem to know much about cities and rivers in the central part of the map, but he was jubilant each time when his sister asked him to show the Arctic Ocean. Then the cousin would stretch his arm to the top of the map and cover the ocean with his palm.

I bought the Map of the World the next day. Since that time it became my favorite read. I learnt the map by heart. From time to time my father used to ask me (often in the presence of visitors) how I would travel by sea and/or land from Ukraine to another place on the map. With my head raised and my eyes half-closed I enumerated seas, rivers, valleys, plateaus, mountain ridges, isthmuses, straits, big and small cities – until I reached the destination. Dad would just look victoriously at the visitor: he always took pride in his children.

Later I developed a habit of analyzing other kinds of maps. Geological maps made my imagination run wild: I visualized a solid mass of dry land split under the explosions of vulcanoes from below and the newly-formed continents starting moving apart. I heard dinosaurs stampeding all through what is now is called Ukrainian steppes and later dying from the severe cold which gripped the Earth after an asteroid hit the Yucatan Peninsula and triggered the dinosaurs’ mass extinction.

Historical maps were particularly exciting. Great Britain, for one, was washed by Oceanus Germanicus in the East and Oceanus Hibernicus in the West. The two biggest cities were Londinium and Eboracum (later: York) and they were linked with the Roman road. The tribes populating the British Isles bore exotic names: Brigantes, Cantii, Cornovii, Ordovices, Durobrivae, who afterwards yielded to Saxons, Angles and Jutes. Where are now the then powerful Mercia and Northumbria, where are King Cnut and William the Conqueror? The city of London in the 14th century was coinciding with the present-day City to the west of the Tower of London. There was no Buckingham Palace and Fleet Street, Strand, Somerset House and Westminster were beyond the city area.

I know for certain that much of what I am now may be attributed to my ability as a child to see and hear through time and space when I was traveling across my maps – traveling without tickets or visas, reaching any destination in no time. I was flying all across the world. I felt it almost physically. THE REASON BIRDS CAN FLY AND WE CAN’T IS SIMPLY THAT THEY HAVE PERFECT FAITH, FOR TO HAVE FAITH IS TO HAVE WINGS (James M. Barrie. “Peter Pan”)

Advertisements

Entry for November 28, 2007

November 28, 2007

THE ADVERSARIAL STATE

What is a state for? One of the functions of the state is to safeguard the life and well-being of its citizens. Are my life and well-being secured just because I live in this state?

I get up in the morning and I am not sure whether I will be able to hear the news on the state radio because the state radio channel is not properly financed and the presenters have either given in notice, or the van which usually picks up the presenters on the way to the studio – before any other public transport starts functioning – failed to get out of the garage for the same reason: there was no money to buy petrol or to pay the driver.

I cannot read a quality newspaper in my own language which would make me feel I am able to have my say in the national decision-making

When I am crossing the street, I know that I must be careful over and above any normal attentive behavior: drivers (especially those who drive posh cars) will bear little responsibility if I am run over. Those who have pulls with the powers-that-be will present the accident in the way that will leave me the “party in fault”.

If my apartment is burgled or if I am robbed of my mobile phone on an unlit flight of steps and then apply to the police about it, the policeman will reluctantly accept the application and will promise something uncertainly. His promise will hardly be fulfilled.

If I decide to open my business, there will appear oodles of bureaucratic hurdles on the way, which will prove unsurmountable if I don’t tickle the takers’ palms. If my business gets eventually going and I make up my mind to do it by honestly paying all the required fees, duties, taxes etc., I will not survive against my competitors because the competitors make their goods or services cheaper by paying ridiculously low taxes – just because they make machinations with import papers or simply by hiding the real turnover — with the state turning a blind eye to all that.

In the same way I will not get a high-quality education if I rely only on teachers salaried by state, neither will I get proper treatment at state medical institutions…

My state cannot defend my country: it lets aggressive neighbors do here whatever they like (we are putting up with foreign military bases on our territory, we are losing the battle against the influx of illegal immigrants). Moreover, the state cannot protect even its own defenders – soldiers! There are so many reports about cases when conscripts are terrorized and victimized by older servicemen.

And our statesmen are having their incessant infighting – with the president being the puppeteer. What is, then, the state for?

Entry for November 27, 2007

November 27, 2007

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

When I was doing a research into the language of newspapers many years ago, I was amazed at the journalistic skill of giving a needed spin to any concept. A strike was named an “industrial action”, dismissal from work went as “redundancy”, and when garbage men were not cleaning streets and the garbage was being brought to one place of the city area, that place started being called A ‘temporary refuse collection center” instead of a “garbage heap”.

The tendency developed and there appeared an avalanche of words and collocations which were to soften unpleasant ideas. Here are a few examples from the Internet which humorously present the situation:

Dirty Old Man: Sexually focused chronologically gifted individual.
Perverted: Sexually dysfunctional.
Panhandler: Unaffiliated applicant for private-sector funding.
Serial-Killer: Person with difficult-to-meet needs.
Lazy: Motivationally deficient.
Fat: Horizontally challenged.
Fail: Achieve a deficiency.
Dishonest: Ethically disoriented.
Clumsy: Uniquely coordinated.
Body Odor: Nondiscretionary fragrance.
Alive: Temporarily metabolically abled.
Worst: Least best.
Wrong: Differently logical.
Ugly: Cosmetically different.
Unemployed: Involuntarily leisured.
Short: Vertically challenged.
Dead: Living impaired.
Vagrant: Nonspecifically destinationed individual.
Spendthrift: Negative saver.

With the arrival of political correctness the problem acquired ridiculous proportions. In my student years it was quite normal to use the word “Negro”. Later it was replaced by “a “black American” and recently the compound word “Afro-American” is being used with the first two words being shunned into oblivion (actually, the word “Negro” has already become a taboo). “Awkward” passages and texts are deleted from the U.S. textbooks. Thus, a short biography of Gutzon Borglum, who designed the Mount Rushmore monument consisting of gigantic heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has been taken out. Why shouldn’t school children read about this acclaimed national monument? Because the Lakota Indians, said the panel, consider the Black Hills a sacred place to pray and consider the sculpture “an abomination.”
A passage about owls was eliminated from a proposed test because a panel member said that owls are taboo for the Navajos. Harry Porter is incorrect because many Christian groups object to it on the ground of its themes of spells, sorcery and magic. On the other hand, during the 2008-Olympics in Beijing noBibles will be allowed in the Olympic village — due to the same political correctness. For the purpose of equal rights (democracy!) censorship (the idea alien to democray) is being introduced. Funny, isn’t it?

Entry for November 25, 2007

November 25, 2007

ETHNOCIDE OF THE UKRAINIANS

7-10 millions of Ukrainians who were murdered in the organized mass-starvation of the 1932-1933 are being remembered these days . The present-day Ukrainian and Russian communists flatly deny any artifical famine of that time. While admitting millions of deaths, the Putin government in Russia insists that the famine was initiated for purely socioeconomic reasons and cannot be treated as genocide. It argues that the characteristic features of genocide listed in the UN Convention (killing members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part) relate not to the Ukrainians as a nation but to the whole of the Soviet peasantry as a class. Another argument they give is that some areas in the neighbouring Russian republic were also suffering from famine (it must be noted, however, that the Ukrainan population was dominant in those areas in Russia at that time).

Those who visited the Central Railway Station in Kyiv before the 1990s may remember the huge statue of Vladimir Lenin in the main hall with his arm outstretched in the direction of Russia. The idea of the arm oriented that way was to align the Ukrainian life with respect to Moscow (the monument to Bohdan Khmelnytsky erected by the Russians in the center of Kyiv in 1888 has the scepter of the Ukrainian hetman also directed northwards, but some meticulous personalities calculated that Bogdan Khmelnitsky is pointing to Sweden :-)). My father, who told me much about the 1930s, mentioned a rhyming verse that was popular among the country folk in those days. When translated from Ukrainian, it sounds roughly like “Lenin wields power by showing where you should go to get some flour”. The thing is that in the autumn of 1932 the communist government took away all agricultural products from the peasants in Ukraine and many of them had to go to Russia to get some victuals there. A witness of the 1933 famine who lived on the border between the Russian Republic and the Ukrainian Republic speaks about two neighbouring villages in these two neighbouring republics. On the Ukrainian side everything was taken away. On the Russian side there were normal corn taxes. That is why the Ukrainians had to climb onto the roofs of passing trains and travel to Russia to buy bread there. The real reason for the Ukrainian Holocaust was national, not socioeconomic. That was the only way to preserve Russia as an imperial power. The Ukrainian peasants were the stronghold of Ukrainian character and they had to be destroyed.

Another question arises: why not so many countries (only 14 so far) have recognized the 1032-1933 Ukrainian artificial famine as genocide? Even the Israelis, who — remembering the Jewish Holocaust during WWII — could be more compassionate to the Ukrainian tragedy. The main reason is the unwillingness to get into a conflict with Russia because of this. In the Israeli case it may also be stereotypical thinking about Ukraine — burdened by memories of all the dark pages in Ukrainian-Jewish relations in the past, as well as a belief in the unique nature of the Holocaust and unwillingness to recognize that histories of other nations also had tragic events that were no less painful for them than the Holocaust was for the Jewish people. But let’s remember the Armenian genocide of 1915. If the world community had appreciated the danger of such crimes for humanity at that time and had found a remedy to counteract them, there might have been no 1933-32 Holodomor in Ukraine, no Holocaust of WWII, no mass killings in Rwanda in the recent times. The pain of every nation must become the pain of all humanity.

Entry for November 22, 2007

November 21, 2007

Bogdan

There follows my son’s e-mail which I found in the Internet this afternoon and thought it would be reasonable to post it right away. My feeling is as if all that was not three years but three lives ago

Monday, November 22, 2004

Many of you will ask me about Ukraine, I’m trying to put my answer into
this email.

I went to Ukraine for four days to vote. (Of course, I wanted to see
Ukraine from the inside, but the main reason why I didn’t vote in the
Ukrainian Embassy in London was that the KLM return ticket to Kyiv from
Leeds was about the same price as two journeys by train to London. The
two journeys were necessary for registering and then voting at the
Embassy).

I support the opposition, as do all my Ukrainian friends. These
elections are not just about whether Ukraine will be moving towards the
West and the EU (if the opposition candidate, Mr.Yushchenko, wins) or
towards Russia (if the current Prime Minister, Mr.Yanukovych, wins). It
is difficult to believe that now in Ukraine, in the European country of
the 21st century, the Prime Minister has two criminal convictions for
street robbery, being the head of a criminal gang when he was young, and
since then his methods didn’t change much. It is a long story how
Ukraine came to this point, but this is where we are now, and the PM
runs for presidency.

Journalists say Ukraine today resembles Germany in 1933 or
Czechoslovakia in 1968. People try to defend democracy, to stop mafia,
to stop the culture of corruption and political assassinations which
gradually engulfed the country during the last 10 years.

The election campaign was very brutal – without access for the
opposition to national media and with several attempts to kill the
opposition leader (by poisoning and by road accidents). Nevertheless the
opposition leader won the first round by a narrow margin and in the
second round he was supported by several runner-up candidates.

The elections were held last Sunday. The night before the elections, on
Saturday, I heard the news which originated from someone close to the
government: the outcome of the next day’s elections was already fixed,
that the PM would win by 3%, which would be announced on Monday. This
scenario started to look very probable after I saw the television
address to the nation of the outgoing President, Mr.Kuchma, who supports
the PM. The President said that “there will be no revolution” in Ukraine
and that “the minority should accept the defeat”. He spoke as if he knew
who will be the “minority” a day before the elections. This was the
first time I thought that my country has no hope.

On the election day I voted at 8 am and spent practically all day
following the news. Falsifications were everywhere. Government paid its
supporters to travel by busses to other cities and supplied each of them
with up to 30 absentee ballots, so they could vote in several places.
Busses with such “absentee voters” came also to a place where one of my
friends was the head of a polling station; some reports said they were
even in the polling stations in neighbouring countries like Moldova.

Another method of falsifications was called the “merry-go-round”:
government supporters gave people a ballot with a mark for the PM
outside the polling station and asked them to cast this ballot and bring
them back a blank ballot, and receive about 10 GBP/15EUR in return.

Observers from the opposition were removed from the polling stations in
entire regions, especially in the East, and packs of ballots for the PM
folded together were found in the ballot boxes. One head of the polling
station mixed such packs with other ballots in front of TV cameras.
Journalists and international observers were also removed from these
polling stations.

By the closing time the turnout in the East was about 75%. Then a few
hours later the turnout figures for the Eastern regions were suddenly
changed: now about 96% “voted”, even 100% in some places. The members of
the polling teams shamelessly threw votes for people who didn’t come;
all ballots were for the PM.

By the end of the day the results of 2 exit polls were made public, the
opposition leader was winning by 11% when the people were asked to cast
a secret ballot and 4% when they were interviewed openly – the
difference shows that 6% are afraid of telling that they supported the
opposition. There appeared some hope that the government will accept the
defeat.

On Monday afternoon the final results were announced — the PM won by 3%
— so our source close to the government appeared to be right.
Opposition leaders said that we just had a coup d’etat. I think we had
it much earlier, when these bandits came into government.

The EU and the US observers said the election results were falsified.
The city councils of 5 Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv,
didn’t recognise the election results and said they no longer trust the
Central Election Committee. The opposition organises a campaign of civil
disobedience, there are tent camps in the central square in Kyiv, now
there are about 100.000 people there.

I was leaving Kyiv for Leeds on Monday afternoon. On my way to the
airport I saw about 15 busses with riot policemen moving into Kyiv, and
there are reports that trains with policemen are coming to the capital
from other cities. There are rumours that the tent camp will be attacked
tonight by the police. The electricity on the central square was cut at
1 AM, people are expecting the assault every minute now. If they win
today, tomorrow they are going to march on Parliament and other
government buildings.

Tomorrow, on Tuesday, Ukraine will be a different country.

Bogdan Babych

Entry for November 21, 2007

November 21, 2007

DISSATISFACTION

There must be some legal grounds for Abdul’s living in Ukraine. When from time to he is stopped in the street by the police he shows them a kind of certificate which explains who he is and why he is here. Why should he be stopped? It’s because he does not look like an ordinary Ukrainian and is clearly recognized as an “international” (to be more specific, as a native of the Near East or Middle East). Until recently Abdul had been speaking about the necessity to have his passport extended because it was expiring in a few months and with the expired passport he faced the threat of being deported to his native country where he was sure to be put in jail just because of his convictions and beliefs. The Ukrainian officials explained to him that there was some snag in his case and the passport could be extended only if some additional fee was paid. The fee varied considerably from lawyer to lawyer. The only common factor in all that variation was that the fee was too big for Abdul to pay. So, it looked like it was a real fix for Abdul.

But I wish you could see him last Sunday. He was quite a new man! All smiles and cheers! It turned out that with all his going offices and knocking doors he had run into a clerk who stamped Abdul’s passport, permitting Abdul to live in Ukraine for another year. And all that was done for a few hryvnas of the official fee – just a mere nothing compared to the amounts demanded by the extortionists earlier.

I am a Ukrainian national – with the passport that guarantees my stay in this democracy as long as I live (you may call it a “democracy” if you forget that people who look like Arabs or Turks are stopped by the police and their identification papers are checked – to say nothing of the journalists who may be murdered only because they expose the machinations of the powers-that-be). Yes, the passport requires periodic extensions – every 20 years – but only because my countenance ages and I may look different from what I looked 20 years ago. And nobody will tell me to pay six or ten thousand dollars for the extension. However, my average attitude is that of DISSATISFACTION. I am dissatisfied with everything – with neighbors, with dirty stairwells of my apartment house and graffiti on the walls, with overcrowded buses, low salaries, rising prices, with bookshops closed down and posh shops opened in their stead, with the inefficient president and the aggressive premier, with the ruling coalition and the parliamentary opposition… Shouldn’t I look at Abdul and be happy just because Abdul would be more that happy to be a citizen of this country?


%d bloggers like this: