Archive for November, 2010

ET FUMUS PATRIAE DULCIS

November 30, 2010

Today my wife went shopping the first time after she had returned from Georgia the day before yesterday. The supermarket is very much like the one she used to go to in Tbilisi. Having come back from the shop, she said that in her opinion the Ukrainians live better-off than the Georgians. The supermarket in Kyiv has got a bigger variety of products, more people are queuing to the cashier’s desks (and this is a week-day – not Sunday or Saturday). In a supermarket in Tbilisi the shoppers are few and far between and looking at their carts you may see that they do not buy too much food each time. The prices are pretty much the same. However, there’s a noticeable difference with one kind of fruit: tangerines. In Georgia they are 1.5 times cheaper than in Ukraine. No wonder, tangerines are imported into Ukraine from Georgia!

One needs to leave one’s country from time to time to get a fresh eye. And “nose” – because sweet is the smoke of your homeland.

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GOSSIPGATE

November 29, 2010

On Sunday November 28 Wikileaks began publishing US Embassy cables, the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain. The information is subdivided into several categories depending on the degree of secrecy, topics of discussion, sources of information, countries concerned etc. The cables, which date from 1966 up until the end of February this year, contain confidential communications between 274 embassies in countries throughout the world and the State Department in Washington DC. 15,652 of the cables are classified Secret.

The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.

A part of the document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors. I am more than sure that if the persona in question had known that their unseemly remarks about other public figures would be popularized internationally, they would never have uttered those remarks. It’s a really good lesson: NEVER SAY IN THE ABSENCE OF A PERSON THOSE THINGS WHICH YOU WOULD FIND EMBARASSING TO REPEAT IN HIS/HER PRESENCE.

THE ROADS WE TAKE

November 28, 2010

My wife has arrived from Georgia where she was staying for quite some time. Souvenirs are displayed on the kitchen table:  a small Georgian flag in a flag-stand, refrigerator magnets with the views of Tbilisi, small bottles of odorous salts, boxes of Georgian tea, a model of a 7thcentury cathedral, etc. I’m listening to her stories like a kid. Exotic names “Sakartvelo”, “gamardzhoba”, “gmadlobt”, “Rustaveli”, “Mtkvari”  are not merely “survival” words: they are the echo of an ancient culture. The author of the “Knight in the Panther’s Skin” might have used them.

I plunge into the Internet. I compare the ornamental script of Georgian proper names with how they sound in Ukrainian – that is the shortest way to learn the phonetic side of the alphabet. I fish pictures of the country and the sights of the capital. Then I come to my wife with a sheet of paper and surprise her by quickly writing a couple of words in that knotty decorative print: “You know what it is? This word means “Tbilisi”, and this is “Narikala”… I don’t tell her that there are two more sheets on my desk written all over with these words when I was trying to learn the Georgian alphabet in the last half hour. Then we start looking together through the views of Georgia on the Internet. A picture of the 19th century Tiflis painted by Mikhail Lermontov is really impressive. We decide that next summer we are going to Georgia together. To our daughter.

At the moment I am drinking the Georgian tea. The brand of the tea is “gurieli.” I hope I didn’t place the box with tea-bags upside down when I was taking a picture of it 🙂 (see the photo)

THE UKRAINIAN HOLOCAUST

November 27, 2010

No less than seven million people died from artificial famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933. The figure three million is quoted by communists. Earlier the communists denied the very fact that the famine was man-made or that it even had taken place. Now they insist that the famine was no genocide, as the Ukrainian patriots claim it to be. How then should we interpret the fact that in 1932-1933 not only grain was confiscated from the Ukrainian peasants (procurement of bread for the “state” was ordered by the Kremlin), but everything edible – potatoes, beans, onions, fruits, etc? Moreover, cows and horses were also taken away. On the other hand, in neighboring Byelorus and Russia food was available and many Ukrainians attempted to go there to buy some flour for their families. However, many of them were stopped by military cordons and brought back home. Robert Conquest’s book The Harvest of Sorrow (1986), which is a research on those times, has a subtitle Terror-Famine. After the famine the percentage of the Russians and the Ukrainians living in the then Soviet Ukraine changed by almost 10% in favour of the Russians. When you have read the book and analysed the number of deaths from the famine in Russia, Byelarus and Ukraine you arrive at the conclusion: the famine was artificial and it was aimed primarily at the Ukrainian nation.

The crime committed was also in the framework of the communist policy of “melting” the nations, or rather russifying them. After the famine hundreds of trains brought settlers from other parts of Russia to Ukraine. That explains why there are Russian-speaking villages even in central Ukraine. The Soviet government had a special committee that was dealing with re-settlement of nations. In the years 1933-1937 the committee moved to Ukraine more than 44,000 families (221,465 people if to quote the official document) from other parts of Russia. It is worthy of note that the major part of the settlers (117,149 people) arrived in Ukraine in the famished year of 1933. In the early 1934 the deputy head of the resettlement committee “comrade” Rud reported to the authorities that as of December 28, 1933 the plan (everything was planned in those days!) had been fulfilled by 104.7%.

That is the true story. It is remarkable that President Kuchma and “his” parliament were forced to admit the truth of Holodomor in 1998. The fourth Saturday of November was officially established as the Day of Holodomor Victims. But balancing between the hard facts and the wagging finger from the Kremlin they first named it the Day of the Victims of Holodomors and Political Reprisals. The matter is that there were at least two more famines in Ukraine (in early 1920s and late 1940s) which could partially be attributed to poor harvests. By using the plural of the Ukrainian word famine (“holodomor-s”) as well as by uniting the observation of the Day with the political persecutions the pro-Russian rulers wanted to lessen the tragedy of the 1933 famine and to camouflage the role of Russia in it.

I could write about it for hours: about the Holodomor, its reasons and its impact on the Ukrainian nation and the Ukrainian mentality. In my private library I have a book of more than 500 pages –reminiscences (in small print) of those who survived the tragedy. I also remember what my parents told me about those times. Maybe, one day I’ll blog about it again. But now I am going just to light a candle in memory of those millions who died and of those millions who were not born in the aftermath of the Ukrainian Holocaust.

TRANSLATION TRICKSTERS

November 26, 2010

The Ukrainian authorities are rather sensitive to the European Parliament in Strasbourg analyzing  their activities. Due to their lobbying,  the approval by the European Parliament’s of the resolution on Ukraine was postponed twice – on October 21 and November 10 this year. The regime didn’t like the resolution to be critical of their methods of administering the country. Yesterday the resolution was adopted at last. Mentioning the local and regional elections in Ukraine the resolution called on the authorities to fully investigate all reports of infringements of rights and freedoms, to remedy any violations identified and to investigate the role of the Security Service of Ukraine with regard to interference in the democratic process.

Members of the EP also expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine with freedom of expression and media independence. The word used in the original was “DEPLORED”. The meanings of the verb “deplore”, as taken from an explanatory dictionary, may be illustrated in the following way:

Verb1.deploreexpress strong disapproval of; “We deplore the government’s treatment of political prisoners”

2.deploreregret strongly; “I deplore this hostile action”;

However, when the resolution was being translated into Ukrainian (with the participation of the Ukrainian side, of course), the “milder” variant “regret” was chosen– even without the component “strongly”. So, if you read the Ukrainian version of the resolution you will see that the European Parliament just feels SAD (“vyslovlyuye zhal”) about the freedom of the media in Ukraine.

We’ve got skillful translators here, haven’t we?

THANKSGIVING DAY

November 25, 2010

THEY ARE A SPECIAL PEOPLE.

They are tirelessly mobile: you can meet them in any country of the world…

They’ve got the pioneering spirit that took (and is taking) their country through all the trying times…

Their values are freedom and family…

They strongly believe that through persistence and talent, and especially hard work they can rise well above the station in life to which he or she was born…

Their fortune came from the ability to adapt to the present and to look towards the future…

They believe that a person’s well-being and personal interests are best looked after by himself or herself…

Everyone of them expects to have an equal opportunity to achieve his or her personal goals in life…

The first thing I liked with them when I first met them was that they put emphasis on personal opinions…

When you are among them, you may be sure that your point of view will be respected…

They tend to treat other people as peers (even in cases when one knows very well those people are not peers :-)…

They don’t have any special forms of address based on social position or age, such as are common in many other countries…

They can make friends virtually in any new setting; most of them are very warm and accepting towards you from the moment they first meet you…

They aren’t secretive at all. On the contrary, they tend to be candid and outspoken and are willing to share with others a wide range of facts about themselves, even on short acquaintance…

They can ask “direct” questions expecting “straight” answers…

They usually try to resolve differences in a face-to-face meeting rather than relying on the services of go-betweens…

In dealing with others who are seeking advice or guidance, they try to be as accurate and objective as possible …

Their most widely spread theology holds that each person is directly responsible to God for his or her behavior, and they associate hard work and personal achievement with being in favor with God…

They also know how to be grateful to the Almighty for the gifts and blessings I have listed above.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, AMERICANS!

NIMOELLER ABOUT UKRAINIANS

November 24, 2010

Martin Niemoeller was a German pastor and theologian. He was an anti-Communist and supported Hitler’s rise to power at first. But when Hitler insisted on the supremacy of the state over religion, Niemöller became disillusioned. He became the leader of a group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler.  In 1937 Hitler had him arrested and eventually confined in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. His statement, sometimes presented as a poem, is well-known, frequently quoted, and is a popular model for describing the dangers of political apathy.

 

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

 

The quotation is on display at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and is also on display at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Israel.

KICKING THE BUCKET

November 23, 2010

This evening I had some spare minutes and stopped at Maidan Nezalezhnosti. I compared the current gathering of people with the one that was being held 6 years ago. Maidan-2004 was aiming higher, of course. It was led by skillful politicians and talented speakers. It was international (the legendary Lekh Walesa from Poland, representatives of the opposition movement in Belarus, Georgian flags in the crowd). It was supported by religious leaders of various confessions. Maidan-2010 is more down-to-earth.Whenever people take the floor, they speak about their own life, their own problems. By the way, these narratives are interesting to listen to. If writing is your job, you may stand at the podium for one day only and by the end of the day you may have quite some material for a collection of mini-stories that are likely to become a bestseller at some point.

However, there was one thing that made me doubt that the protesters will achieve what they came here for. A repeated theme throughout the speeches was that of begging. “Viktor Fyodorovich, my prosim…”(“Viktor Fyodorovich, we kindly ask you…”).  The Russian language is rich in nuances  as regards addressing people by their names. The use of the President’s patronymic name (“Fyodorovich”) indicates a certain degree of respect towards the addressee and recognition of his authority. But this is the wrong form of address used at the wrong time. It is very much the same as if the opponents of Prime-Minister David Cameron’s reforms, having blocked Trafalgar Square for traffic, would address him at their rally by saying: “Dear Mr. Cameron, we beg you not to go on with your reforms…”

Also the protesters asked the Russian religious chief Kirill to bless the President to veto the new tax-code. (Kirill has just arrived in Kyiv and his arrival was a pretext for the Kyiv Administrative Court to abolish the rally in the center of the capital).

The protesters in Ukraine traditionally believe in the good czar. They should understand that the czar and his nobility of office and wealth are “birds of a feather.” For me, personally, the current regime in Ukraine is hostile and equal to a regime of occupation – as if some foreign country occupied Ukraine.

A finishing touch to the today’s blog: Yamato, drummers of Japan, gave a concert at Kyiv’s most prestigious concert hall UKRAINA yesterday.  Drumming is an element of ancient Japanese culture. In old times drums were used in Japan as cell phones are used nowadays. It is said that the furthest point at which the village drum could be heard marked the edge of the village. Some drums brought by the master drummers this time are 300 years old and weigh about 10 kilos each.

I would hardly mention it but for the fact that the businessmen currently protesting all over Ukraine (also in Kyiv) against the new tax-code are using buckets, pans, frying pans, spoons and other instruments as means of their dialogue with the government. The arrival of comrades from Japan may be a useful sharing of experience.

WHAT DO THEY WANT?

November 22, 2010

At the moment I am watching the protest rally which is being broadcast live from the central square in Kyiv – Maydan Nezhalezhnosti. It is at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/kat-ua1 No TV channel is showing the 10,000-strong gathering. Moreover, they say that there are no more than 2,000 people there. A court in Kyiv banned the rally for a laughable reason: it cited visits by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Prince Philippe of Belgium as reasons for the ban. The people are defying the ban. They are ready to stay in the square till their demand for abolishing the new tax code is met. At the moment they are waiting for tents to arrive – the tents in which they are going to stay.

The atmosphere reminds of the Orange Revolution 6 years ago. A bit more rough, probably, and not so well organized. And there are fewer people. An emphasis is made on non-alignment with any political party. However, the opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was given the floor.

Now entrepreneurs are paying the flat tax of 200 hryvnias a month and the rest of income they earn is theirs.  If the code becomes law, they will have to submit details of their operations to the state tax inspectorate, and pay 25 percent of their profits, instead of fixed payments. For the overwhelming majority of them it will mean the return to the state when they were eking out their existence some ten years ago. On the other hand the code does not touch the rich, the new rules for whom have not been worked out yet and are expected to be formulated only in five year’s time.

By launching the new tax code the presidential clique is pursuing another goal: they are going to crush the emerging class of entrepreneurs who do not depend on the government for their livelihood.  “An entrepreneur-pedophile has been arrested,” a police report says. The fact that the criminal was an entrepreneur would not have been mentioned earlier. Very often they get a derogatory name “torgashi” (hucksters, hagglers). The occupation sounds threatening to the powers-that be.

The Ukrainian entrepreneurs arose in the 1990s. They emerged out of their dire need to provide for their families because the government was not paying salaries for months. They went to the “rynki” (markets) to trade. Now they are doing everything that the “business sharks” don’t stoop to do: they supply all those who cannot afford to pay sky-high prices – they sell them clothes, footwear, food and lots of other everyday necessities. They do not take any money from the state budget. There are about four millions of them, and that means that no less than another 15 million people – their parents and children – also live on what they earn. Besides, many of them give jobs to people who work for them. In short, they are representatives of small and middle business, they are the growing middle class which is the backbone of any more or less developed society.

What does this middle class want? It is ready to pay AFFORDABLE taxes and does not want to be interfered with by any state authority. It wants TRANSPARENT and FAIR rules in the game with the state machine. It wants FREEDOM.

While I am finishing writing these lines the famous Taras Petrynenko is singing for the protesters his hit – the song “Ukraine”.

RECIPE

November 21, 2010

Western observers who were watching the Ukrainian elections last winter and this autumn did not notice any major irregularities. Meanwhile, how can you explain the fact that many ballots were cast right before the polling stations were about to close at the end of the day? Or unreasonable delays in announcing the election results in many districts?  Western watchdog organisations should be specially trained to observe the Ukrainian elections. The observers usually sit at the voting station during official hours when everything is spick-and-span. However, the machinations are carried out when the calculation of the votes is being done. Ballot boxes are stuffed, necessary changes are introduced into papers and the papers are written anew. The Crimean chapter of the Party of the Regions awarded its member for achieving “high results” in the latest elections. The party member had been the head of the election committee. My question is: if the head of the election committee is authorized to see to the fairness of the results, how did the “high results” depend on him?  What did he do to ensure the desired results – for which he got the award?

Today Afghanistan’s election watchdog has disqualified 19 candidates who stood in the September poll for alleged fraud. On television I saw Afghan voters dip their fingers into some paint when they were voting. Maybe that’s what the Ukrainians should do to guarantee the fairness of their results – to dip their index fingers into indelible ink and to invite watchdogs from Afghanistan?


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