Archive for February, 2010


February 28, 2010

By 2004 a few dozens of the richest families in Ukraine had developed a powerful repressive apparatus. They were controlling the media to trumpet the country’s “successes” and they were using law-enforcing structures (tax inspection included) to bridle those who tried to speak up against them. On the other hand, there had already been millions of the Ukrainians who travelled to other countries (even doing menial jobs there) and who had already seen a different social and government system that was more efficient than the system in their own country.  For that reason the Orange Revolution in November-December 2004 was actually an anti-oligarchic uprising, the purpose of which was transference to a more efficient model of capitalism and to a European style of democracy. Everybody seemed to understand that but – as it turned out later – not the main hero himself. I am deeply convinced that 99 per cent of the problem were Mr. Yushchenko’s personal qualities.

Mr. Yushchenko said once in a TV interview that at every given moment he had hundreds of ideas which he would like to put into action immediately. In practice, however, he proved to be lazy and  irresponsible. His being late for almost every official meeting became proverbial. One of the parliamentarians remembers that Mr. Yushchenko invited him and talked with him about insignificant matters for more than two hours while the government ministers who had been invited by the then premier Yushchenko for the same time had to stay waiting in the reception room.

Yushchenko was arrogant and he thought himself inerrant. When a journalist asked him a question  about his son who frequented restaurants and, generally, used to be up on the town, Yushchenko the Senior got infuriated and started insulting the journalist. Pig-headedly, he would never admit that he had ever been wrong. “My only mistake, he said, has been Tymoshenko.”

Magnanimity, generosity, chivalry seemed to be the values the president had never heard of. He could publicly call the lady (aka “my only mistake”) a “bitch full of flees” and – while mentioning Tymoshenko’s name – he could tell a home-prepared coarse joke about a woman ready to give in to a stranger.

Though Yushchenko (especially by the end of his presidency) claimed he was a patriot and a pro-Ukrainian president, he never “aimed high.” His personal ambitions dominated over the ideas of serving his country and his people. Much of his patriotism came too late for an attentive observer to believe him. For one, the highest national award given by Yushchenko  to the WWII insurgent Stepan Bandera came a week before Yushchenko’s presidential term expired. Why not give it in 2005 when Yushchenko’s popularity among the Ukrainians was 60 per cent? The answer: before the second round of the presidential election the outgoing president set his mind on diverting the Ukrainians in the western part of the country (western Ukrainians think very high of Bandera) from Yulia Tymoshenko who was running off for presidency against Yanukoych. It was no coincidence that at the same time Yushchenko started saying that there was no difference between Tymoshenko and Yanukovich  and that he, Yushchenko, would not vote for anybody. That was the position which eventually played into the hands of Yanukovych, whose electorate was very disciplined, and it’s quite probable that those several percents of the advantage Yanukovych had over Tymoshenko were due to the camouflaged pro-Yanukovych stand by Viktor Yushchenko. I explain Mr. Yushchenko’s constant irritation the moment Yulia Tymoshenko’s name was mentioned by his pettiness and envy. Tymoshenko, with her personal qualities, had taken the Maidan’s heart over from Yushchenko. Besides, Yushchenko had a special talent for losing friends. By the end of his stay in Bankova (the Ukrainian White House) there were only a couple of people who were still loyal to him.

Even the two cultural projects Mr. Yushchenko could be honest about – the Arsenal Art Center and the Baturyn Memorial – lacked in substantial preparatory work and solid financial basis, so I think the projects will be abandoned after Yushchenko’s exit. The same concerns information about Holodomor (artificial famine). As a result, much of the Ukrainian patriotic cause was simply compromised by the president, who had been the initiator of those events. Incidentally, Baturyn’s massacre by the Russian troops in 1708 occurred after a traitor had shown to the Russians how to get into the fortress through an underground passage. That comes ironically to mind when you think of  Yushchenko’s betraying the ideals of the Orange Revolution and handing the country over to the Russian stooge.

Yushchenko also used to grant favoritism to his relatives and friends regarding more or less important  jobs in the government hierarchy. His favorites were even sarcastically called “beloved friends” – after the phrase frequently used by Yushchenko in his speeches.

Last but not least, Yushchenko never lived up to his pre-election promise of punishing political “bandits”. Moreover, during his presidency the General Prosecutor of Ukraine was always a person who represented Yanukovych’s party. Those who had ordered the murder of the journalist Gongadze were never found. My strong suspicion is that in December 2004, when the social conflict was being solved by the heads of several European states in Kyiv, the condition for Mr. Yushchenko’s ascension to presidency was the clause: “and dare you not touch those who were your opponents.” And Yushchenko might have consented.


When the king’s procession in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale is moving along the street, a boy shouts “But the king’s naked!” I feel sad to draw a parallel with this blog entry but…wasn’t our king stupid?


February 21, 2010

1.Yulia Tymoshenko, who lost in the Ukrainian presidential run-off on February 7, managed through court to have the results of the election suspended until the case of the alleged fraud was heard. This step inspired some naïve supporters of Lady Yu with hopes that the tables might be turned and a third stage of the election would be fixed. However, even if the fraud was significant enough for her rival to snatch the victory, the court influenced by Regions would never have sided with the truth. I think Ms Tymoshenko understood it well enough. She just wanted to maintain her image of a fighter who struggles to a finish. Yesterday it was reported that Yulia had eventually dropped her case after the court had set for hearing only some minor cases of fraud which – even if confirmed – would not have made the public at large doubt that the winner was Mr. Yanukovych. The inauguration of Mr Yanukovych has been given the green light.

2.Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will visit Kyiv next week at President-Elect’s invitation to conduct a public prayer service at the Kyiv-Pechersk Laura monastery before Yanukovych’s presidential inauguration. Ceasaropapism both ways– that’s what I call it: the Russian president rules the Russian Orthodox Church by having made it a state institution, and the Russian patriarch bosses the Ukrainian president around.

3.The outgoing president has called on the Prosecutor General’s Office to open a criminal case into what he views as language- and ethnicity-based discrimination of people by the head of a construction company in the town of Pavlohrad, Dnipropetrovsk region. Yushchenko’s spokesperson Iryna Vannykova said at a news briefing in Kyiv on Friday that the company head had initiated the discharge of more than ten managers for speaking in the Ukrainian language at work and positioning the company as a Ukrainian producer… In my view, the head of the company has trimmed his sails to the wind. He understands perfectly well that his move is in line with the new president’s vision. My questions: wasn’t it Mr. Yushchenko who did his best to enthrone the anti-Ukrainian Mr. Yanukovich? Didn’t Mr. Yushchenko know about Viktor Yanukovych’s stand as regards ethnic issues? The questions are rhetorical.

Finally:. It was reported that the prison archives of the penitentiary of which Mr. Yanukovych was once an inmate contained a folder with his case. The only papers preserved in the folder were previously unknown Ukrainian poems by Anton Chekhov


February 14, 2010

Little Nick goes to an “American” school where all the courses are taught in English. During his winter holidays he broke his leg while skiing and now he has to stay at home for some longer time. His parents asked me to tutor Nick so he will not lag behind in his studies.

Conversational practice in Nick’s class is done through covering the so-called “units of inquiry”, similar to what people of my age generally knew as “themes” or “topics”. The UOI being worked on at the moment at school is COMMUNITY. As Nick’s teacher explained to me in an email, the kids focus on their school community: they interview their teachers, cleaners, guards, the principal and the assistant directors asking each of them about their specific duties. This way the children come to understand how the school community functions and what their place in the community is. By the end of their research the kids present a written paper to the teacher.

I started from telling Nick that a community is a group of people located in the same place but it is larger than a family. The community which may be the closest to Nick is a house community. All those who live in their apartment house take care of its maintenance, of the cleanliness and security of the house. The dwellers hire a caretaker, the guards, etc. Nick immediately remembered that his father had bought a rug which is now spread at the entrance door of the building. Then we moved to a neighborhood, a city community, a village community, an ethnic community, etc. I also explained that people in a community have common interests, they interact with one another while working for those interests, and they also feel more comfortable and safe within their communities.

All was going well until Nick asked me what was the Ukrainian for “community.” A good question. People usually say “that’s a good question” when they do not know what to answer. Well, I knew several Ukrainian equivalents for the English word “community” but there was hardly a word which would embrace everything we were speaking about. The word “hromada”, or “obshchyna”  were kind of obsolete and referred to the associations rural people formed in the 19th-century Russia. The word “suspil’stvo” was more like “society” on the national or even international level. The word “spivtovarystvo” was more like a company of intellectuals . The word “neighborhood” was evoking the memories of “kvartal’nyi komitet” (“committee in charge of a block of buildings”). In a moment I understood: I could not find ONE word because there was no one word. Historically we, the Soviets, did not have any communities. Communities are supposed to have their own mentality, their principles, their independence. The dictatorial society is hierarchal, it’s army-like. It’s not self-organized, it’s waiting for Big Brother’s orders from above.

While I was mumbling for the equivalents, Nick asked me if he could be considered a part of a rap lovers’ community. He said that on the Internet he chats with guys who also love rap music.

I readily nodded my head. I pretended I knew more about rap than I did.


February 14, 2010

The Party of the Regions (“the white-and-blue”) is in power in Ukraine.  Their mood is understandable: that of triumph. However, in the maliciousness of their statement and speeches heard on television and read in newspapers and on the Internet you can also feel their desire for revenge. The revenge for the humiliating defeat five years ago, for the disclosure of their attempts to rig the elections in those days, eventually – for  the scare they were given at that time. Yes, they were expecting reprisals, persecutions, trials, because they knew there were enough reasons for that. Instead, the scare turned to be only symbolic. The motto “Prisons to the Bandits” had never been implemented. Somebody remarked wittingly that to have that motto materialized, you will have to put up a sign “Prison” on the building of the Ukrainian parliament. Moreover, quite a number of the falsifiers were given high awards by the elected president.

What are we to expect from the new power in the near future? Traditionally, their steps should be spectacular and demonstrative. It can hardly be economics. You cannot handle that off the cuff. Yes, it was easier for the “Regionals” to “defend” the social standards when they were in opposition, but several days ago they voted against the bill envisaging raising social standards – the bill they themselves had introduced a couple of months ago.

Foreign policy is also something that depends on other countries and requires a delicate approach.

The sphere where the Party of the Regions is most likely to go wild at the moment may be the humanitarian field: in particular, education and language policy. At the next session the Ukrainian Parliament is going to vote on returning to the 10-year secondary education in Ukraine – instead of 12 years, as it is now. The Ministry of Education is against this move, saying that the 12-year term is in line with what most industrialized countries have. But the shortening of the school education period may be to the new president’s heart, who recently referred to Anton Chekhov as a “Ukrainian poet” and confused the “genocide” with the “gene pool”. As I once mentioned, Viktor Yanukovich also advocates the abolition of All-Ukrainian Universal Testing as an instrument for measuring high-school graduates’ achievements – the only criterion which gives the graduates the right to qualify for entering colleges and universities. Instead, every higher school will again select students for admission through oral entrance examinations – a fertile ground for corruption.

And then… the language. At the dawn of Ukraine’s independence the Ukrainian language was given the status of the only official language in the country to stimulate its revival. Russian as the second official language (this slogan is inscribed on the banners of the PoR) will deprive Ukrainian of any hope to expand on its own ground. Your principled usage of Ukrainian then will turn you to a political suspect.  I was living through it all some thirty-forty years ago.

In the picture: the newly-elect president is kissing the outgoing president


February 7, 2010

The Washingtonians will be discussing the blizzard the next day. A white wedding will be celebrated — with a lot of texted cancellations because the guests were not able to arrive, a church will collapse under the weight of snow, military trucks (even military trucks!) will get stuck  in snowdrifts, Dupont Circle snowball fight will be called by two enthusiasts via Twitter and Facebook, customers will start panic-buying at supermarkets,  President Obama will refer to the blizzard while assuring despondent Democrats that he would not abandon his health care commitments.

And my daughter emailed me the first snaps on the eve of all that: just a few pictures of what later will be so much tooted and trumpeted about. The pictures of the snowed up steet where she lives — the scene so much still, peaceful and quiet. And so beautiful.


February 7, 2010

A huge digital clock on my computer screen is measuring time second after second. Counting the first hours of a new epoch for Ukraine. February 7th, 2010 shall be remembered as Black Sunday in the life of this country (first I wrote “my” country and then replaced it with “this”: it’s hardly MY country any more). I have just returned from the polling station where I cast my ballot for who I think is the person the country needs.  But SHE will hardy be appreciated and accepted by the majority. The voting public identify themselves with their nominee. To identify oneself with “Lady Yu” one must rise to her intellect, her wit, her enthusiasm, her insight, her keenness of judgment. In the long run, one must rise to her ability to express herself and to get her message across to people. The electoral public will sooner prefer a nonentity. Because HE is closer to them: a former criminal who, in his youth, was jailed twice for robbery and for rape, a sham of a scholar who is unable even to spell his degree, a “Ukrainian” who is ready to kowtow to a Russian tsar (or a Russian president, or premier — whatever the title might be) and to shove the Ukrainian language into oblivion. He and his gang (look at the picture: wouldn’t an American knowing his/her history call the bunch “Chicago men”?) label her intellect “artifice”, her enthusiasm – “hysteria”, her judgment – “lies”, her desire to help – “populism”. Right before the final round of the presidential election through bribery in Parliament and through arm-twisting they managed to adopt laws which will almost guarantee their victory. The blue color of their party has overwhelmed the metro underground and billboards on the surface here in the city, and as people say when they call me, all over Ukraine. You must have strong pulls with local authorities to have your adverts up in that quantity.

What is the reason for the dominant sentiments in the country? The reasons are many, but the main one is moral degradation. In the last twenty years the values of society have changed and such notions as justice, generousness, integrity, idealism, conscientiousness, the idea of “hitching one’s wagon to the star” are only laughed at. At best they are simply ignored. Instead, unprincipled practicality, greed, scott-free aggressiveness, readiness to cheat and betray have come to the fore. It’s hard not to forget one’s own country if one has these new things in mind.

And that’s why Ukraine has been betrayed. Betrayed, in the first place by the now-sitting president who was playing on the side of the New Clan, by the “pro-Ukrainian” parliamentarians who are now queuing up to pay obeisance to the will-be masters of the country, by the Ukrainian nationalist parties, who keep obstinately saying that they are against both candidates (moreover, they say it will be better if a “more anti-Ukrainian” candidate was elected president, which is supposed to make the nationalists “stronger”).

Who would have thought during the Orange Revolution that in just over five years the chief leader whose name was being chanted on every corner of the capital city would be the chief accomplice in murdering Ukraine? And only because in his pettishness he is ready to annihilate Ukraine by not allowing the one he is jealous of to become president.

One of the most patriotic Ukrainian songs has the words “God, save Ukraine for us…” Miracles do happen. However, in this regard I remember a joke which sounds somewhat sad in this context. A man addresses God asking him to help the man win the lottery. The lottery day comes but the man does not win. The man keeps asking God, but does not win anything during the next lottery day, and then the next, and so on. Finally, when the man, utterly desperate, appeals to God with the question “My Lord, why have you forgotten me?” he hears the words from heaven: “Buy, at least, a lottery ticket”.

That’s all there is to it.


February 2, 2010

If you schedule a debate and only one candidate shows up, does it count?

In Ukraine’s presidential race, it definitely does — as an opportunity for Yulia Tymoshenko to level a few zingers at the “empty spot” representing her rival, Viktor Yanukovych.

“The important thing is that this empty spot will not become Ukrainian president,” said Tymoshenko during the 100-minute debate-turned-monologue. “And although he is absent, I can sense a smell in this studio. This is the smell of fear. I don’t want a banal coward to become the next leader of our nation.”

In the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, residents generally agreed that in the war of wits, Yanukovych — who famously misspelled “professor” on his own candidate application and recently referred to Russian writer Anton Chekhov as a “great Ukrainian poet” — was coming up short.

“He showed weakness because he refused to debate a woman,” said Andriy Shevchuk, a high school student speaking in the concrete-slab outskirts of town. “He’s afraid to debate because he’s just not smart enough.”

“Yanukovych is illiterate,” said Bohdan Perelyuk, a pensioner in snowy downtown Lviv. “She’s intelligent, and he’s a criminal who served two jail terms.”

“He’s poorly educated. He can only say what’s handed to him to read,” said Iryna Lipenskaya, a teacher. “And she’s educated and cunning.”

Lviv is not what you’d call a cradle of Yulia-mania. In the first-round presidential vote on January 17, the city backed incumbent Viktor Yushchenko, with Tymoshenko coming in second.

But this time around, most city residents say they’ll probably vote for Tymoshenko, only because she’s the lesser of two evils. They say all politicians are corrupt, but that a victory by Yanukovych would hand Russia control over western Ukraine.

— Gregory Feifer


February 1, 2010

The half-empty wagon was rattling louder than ever. The young people were taking a nap huddling on the bench seat across from me. I liked them being so young and so much trusting each other and couldn’t help taking this picture. They might have had a hard day behind them. They might have a long life ahead.

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