Archive for December, 2010

THE IMPERIAL BURDEN

December 29, 2010

Many Russians say that the Caucasians are the guilty party in the ethnic clashes in Moscow on December 15 this year. “The visitors feel as if they are at home”, they complain. Most of those who come from the Caucasus and Central Asia are rather boorish, they usually walk in groups and may, for instance, harass Russian women by loudly addressing them with some offensive remarks in the streets of the capital. I’d like to remind that the starting push for the clashes was the murder of a Russian soccer fan by an immigrant. The immigrant was later released by the police. The representatives of the Caucasian diaspora say that the real reason was xenophobia and anti-Islamism among the Russians.

However, the initial cause is the failure of the nationality policy in Russia. The Russian economic system and propaganda machine must be rather effective and the distribution of wealth must be fair enough to keep the country united. When the economy is weak and the ethnic minorities feel their interests are ignored, the most the law-enforcement bodies will be able to do is to close a couple of libraries (see the previous blog) but not to harness the mutual hostility of ethnic groups towards each other. In Moscow there live millions of ex-USSR citizens who came from the ethnically different outskirts of the empire. Their proportion in the population of the capital keeps growing. By the mere force of inertia, the Russians continue thinking they are dominant as the title nation, but the non-Russian newcomers don’t think so.

There’s one more factor: traditionally expats living in Russia had no other means to protect themselves but to be linked together as closed ethnic groups. The Russians had always relied upon the “strong hand” of the government when their protection was concerned. This time the government is over-cautious as regards nationalities in the country, trying not to challenge the nationalist sentiments of its ethnic minorities. As a result, when the national pride of the Russian was hurt, they started self-organizing themselves to the degree which is getting uncontrolled.  For example, the youth organization “Nashi” (“Ours”) is actually an extremist group who feel that whatever they may do, will go unpunished. Many others are nothing but criminal gangs encouraged by the taciturn connivance of the Russian officials. With this orientation Russia is moving towards its own end as a multinational country.

Advertisements

THE LIBRARY THREAT

December 29, 2010

The Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow has been closed down and its doors sealed. Before the police raid on the Library began, camera men and journalists from three federal TV channels had been invited to film the event.  During the search the police told the director of the Library to hand in all the books the titles of which contained the word “nationalism.”  That was the criterion for categorizing books as” dangerous”.

The raid took place a month and a half after the NGO “Ukrainians of Russia” had been banned.

On December 15 in ethnic clashes between racist hooligans and minority groups from Caucasus about 1,000 people were detained, and that was used as a pretext to clamp down on the Library – the “ideological center of Russo-phobia, xenophobia and nationalist extremism”.

The present-day Russian policy should be viewed in a broader context. I’d rather remember the times of Ivan the Terrible when a Slavic nation that was being born on the territory of the Princely state of Novgorod was liquidated in the 1570s: the city was sacked, thousands its inhabitants were slaughtered , the city’s merchant elite and nobility were deported to Moscow, Yaroslavl, and elsewhere. Russian chauvinism is also traced to the times of Czar Peter and Czarina Katherine when the very word “Ukraine” was banned and only “Little Russia” was in use. In the 19th century the then Russian government stated that the Ukrainian language “did not exist, does not exist and cannot exist”.  In Soviet times there were no Ukrainian schools in Russia. Of those which were opened after the collapse of czarism in 1917 the last one was closed in 1932.

Regarding the closure of the Library, I could grow indignant over the ineffectual  stand of the Ukrainian government which didn’t utter a single word of protest, if it were really a UKRAINIAN government.

 

AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE ALTERNATIVE

December 28, 2010

The earliest example of an alternate history is Book IX, sections 17–19, of Livy’s Ab Urbe condita.  Livy contemplated an alternative 4th century BC in which Alexander the Great expanded his empire westward instead of eastward; Livy asked, “What would have been the results for Rome if she had been engaged in war with Alexander?”

The latest example of an alternate history is the Russian premier’s statement that Russia would have won the war with fascist Germany without anybody’s help – due to a simple fact that the Russians are a “victorious nation” (see my blog of December 22).

The collage below demonstrates an alternative opinion to Mr. Putin’s alternative history.

THE OUTGOING YEAR

December 27, 2010

How will the political year 2010 be remembered in Ukraine?

  1. In the first place, it’s the death year of the Orange Revolution. The opposition that arranged the protesters’ Maidan five years ago is non-existent.
  2. In 2010 the new masters of the country made a U-turn from their pre-election promises. The presidential candidate Mr. Yanukovich promised a five-year tax holiday for small businesses during the 2010 presidential election campaign, but he ended up accusing small business owners of trying to avoid paying taxes. While in opposition before his February 7 presidential election win, he championed unaffordable pension increases. Now he charges his main opponent Ms. Tymoshenko with wasting money on pension increases.
  3. As a reaction to the broken presidential promises which resulted in the imposition of unaffordable taxes, Maidan-2 (organized by small businesses) erupted. Some people characterize it as a “half-Maidan” that gained a “half-victory.”
  4. A draft of the new Pension Code introduces unfavorable changes in the earlier system. For one, an age at which people can officially retire has been increased without considering the fact that, according to statistics, life expectancy for some categories of people is lower than the official pension age.
  5. All branches of power have been totally subjugated to the president. The Prosecutor General of Ukraine says he will fulfill any presidential order. Courts and judges go with the attribute “puppet.”
  6. The laws were selectively employed, whereby only opposition leaders were interrogated – while the   new rulers’ and their loyalists remained untouched. The president’s anti-corruption campaign is a farce. It targets political opponents; human rights are trampled upon. Criminal investigations are politically tainted because lawbreakers in the ruling party are unpunished. Selective application of legislation is a typical weapon of undemocratic regimes.
  7. Ukraine stepped back from Europe by agreeing to rent part of Crimea in exchange for cheaper gas, and by reinstalling the 11-year Soviet model of education.
  8. Ukraine’s new rulers rolled back media freedoms: some media have “supervisors” delegated to them from the Party of Regions. The supervisors may be unprofessional at all but their duty is to “control” and “report.”
  9. The Party of Regions banned peaceful protests and put the fix in nationwide local elections. The October 31st regional poll was marred by widespread use of government powers to help the ruling Party of Regions.
  10. Gangsterism on the government level is sanctioned in the country. On December 16 in parliament pro-presidential deputies viciously attacked and beat outnumbered oppositional parliamentarians, who were blocking legislative work to protest the criminal probe against their leader. The head of the human rights organization Volodymyr Lesyk disappeared on December 21. He was one of the organizers of the entrepreneurs’ Maidan in November-December this year. The police are very slow and inefficient in investigating the case. They were such when Georgiy Gongadze disappeared (and whom, as it turned out later, they themselves had murdered). One of the oppositional leaders Yuri Lutsenko was arrested while he was walking his dog near his house. The team which captured Lutsenko consisted of 11 policemen. Are we in for night arrests of 1937?
  11. Authoritarian and dictatorial leaders in Russia and Belarus will encourage the death of democracy in Ukraine, while many European nations tune out or continue treating Ukraine as a market, source of cheap raw materials, food and labor.
  12. The Ukrainian government imposed a new 40 per cent duty on imports of refined oil and increased royalties on gas and oil extracted in Ukraine. As a result, foreign energy majors will have little reason to invest in the country. Non-energy companies are treated similarly. Deutsche Telekom and Norway’s Telenor have long eyed Ukraine’s national telecommunications operator, Ukrtelecom, but the Kyiv government excluded them from the privatization on a technicality.
  13. The tendency is to form a one-party political system – like it was with the communist party in the former Soviet Union. Before a candidate is installed in any decision-making governmental position, he is offered a membership of the Party of Regions. If the candidate rejects the offer, a more compliant candidate is invited.
  14. The role of the Russian Orthodox church in Ukrainian life is prioritized and the church itself is enjoying a privileged status if compared with other confessions.
  15. Further limitations were put on the functioning of the Ukrainian language by the very fact that this language, which was affirmatively supported, has been placed in unequal conditions with the dominating Russian language.
  16. Museums and bookstores kept being closed down, the circulation of books was on the decline.

This morning I was returning to Kyiv from a place more than 300 km from the city. On the way I saw no less than 20 billboards with the president wishing the Ukrainians a Happy New Year and a Happy Christmas.  The wishes were definitely insincere, taking into account to what degree the powers-that- be are considerate of people. And then, can you imagine billboards with Barack Obama in America or Angela Merkel in Germany wishing their citizens a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year every 15 km on the highways (autobahns)?

EXACT TIME

December 26, 2010

A tradition in Soviet families was to sit down in front of a television a few minutes before the New Year set in. Actually, a family (guests including) sat round a festive table but everybody watched the television intently. At that moment all TV- and radio stations of the country used to broadcast a New Year message of the government to the Soviet people. The message was usually read by the Communist party leader of the country. In my time it was Leonid Brezhnev. The voices were hushed down – not for the reason that Brezhnev was particularly respected but because people didn’t want to miss the first seconds of the New Year. The pre-recorded message of the Soviet leader was timed in such a way that right after he said the last sentence the chimes of the Kremlin clock signaled the beginning of the New Year. The most thrilling thing was that we were sure: that was the exact time. All kinds of our clocks and watches were naturally fast or slow (even if that inexactitude was measure by a few seconds only) but the Kremlin clock was never wrong. That fact imparted a special significance to the message and gave a feeling that the life was stable.

The habit to address the nation on the New Year eve has been continued until now. Last year the then-president Yushchenko’s address was said to last 5 minutes 11 seconds – less than usual. Today it was announced that president Yanukoych had recorded his message after the sixth attempt and it’s going to last only a minute and a half. While giving a comment on the news an Internet reader  suggested sarcastically that Yanukovych’s message should also be curtailed…by 1.5 minutes. This way or the other, but we, in our family, decided that we will not watch the New Year in. Instead, we will go to the site http://time.is/ on my laptop and welcome the New Year the moment it comes to Kyiv – without contemplating the loathsome mug.

We understand, of course, that our “boycott” will affect the mafia-like government in no way – the government doesn’t care a rap. But at least we will be honest with ourselves.

When you ask me which time I would prefer – Brezhnev’s or Yanukovich’s – I will answer unhesitatingly that I am choosing this time. I realize that it may sound paradoxical. But I’d trade the “stability” for a chance to be politically sober and to say about this government what I think of it.

PEOPLE IN JOBS

December 25, 2010

Yesterday my wife, my daughter and I were riding on a bus. We were going to a town some 300 km to the south of Kyiv. It was a smaller bus – not a mini-van, but also not as huge as those double-decked Mercedes buses with air-conditioning, TV monitors and attendants who bring you coffee or tea whenever you inform them that you are thirsty.  Our bus was crammed with 25-30 passengers some of whom were standing. The atmosphere was kind of friendly and you didn’t feel you were “anonymous.” The two drivers were in front. They were in their fifties. One of them was driving and his mate was ready to replace the buddy any moment the other guy felt tired. The road was really difficult: the wintry morning was wet and the asphalt was slippery at times. However, the drivers looked confident. On the way they stopped several times to pick up hitch-hikers who were thumbing a lift. The drivers even knew some of the novices when those stepped aboard and exchanged jokes with them. A special care was taken to see that no passenger stayed behind after a-few-minute stopover, and once a stray cat was warded off from under the wheels of the bus where it could otherwise be run over.

By the end of our trip, which lasted more than five hours, we drove into a thick fog – so thick that you could hardly see anything in front. The speed was rather slow. Both drivers put on their eyeglasses and were peering into the fog. Some time later there appeared shadows through the mist and after a few seconds we saw a few crashed cars on the road and in the ravines on the roadside. There was an ambulance and the police were sorting out the accident. One of the cars was completely wrecked.  “It’s more than just an injury here”, one of our drivers remarked gloomily.

After we arrived at our destination and I went to the luggage compartment to pick up my suitcase, my “thank you” to the driver was more than a politeness cliché.

The same evening we went to a supermarket to buy some food for supper. When my wife addressed a woman cashier at the till with some question about the products the cashier answered that my wife had a pair of eyes in her head and could read everything by herself. My daughter said that people in a job which they didn’t like should be given a cold shoulder to. We agreed. There was no question of our “thank you” at all.

MADE RICH

December 24, 2010

We may often hear that Christmas is not about giving or receiving presents, which is generally correct. But if we consider the idea of Christmas closely we should agree that in the centre of it is still GIFT-GIVING. On this day the Christians received the greatest gift ever given by the greatest gift-giver. Thanks to the Christian mentality (even if they may not admit it) secular-minded intellectuals see this world as a vertical structure with its venerable heights and profane lowlands, with its ETERNAL and its TEMPORAL. For the same reason romantic wings are given to poets and writers, and common people measure their morality by the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…” In fact, all of us have been made rich through Christmas.

We are also rich because Christmas is a day of remembrance — a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved. Christmas is a time when we get homesick — even when we’re at home. At Christmas all of us are Peter Pans, for there would be nothing sadder in this world than to awake on Christmas morning and not be a child. On this day we, by one consent, open our shut-up hearts freely. Although I have said it is a “day”, in actual fact it’s not only a day. It’s not even a season. It’s a frame of mind. Let’s honour it and keep it as a part of ourselves.

BIOGRAPHIES AND AUTOBIOGRAPHIES

December 23, 2010

An acquaintance of mine likes reading biographies. I understand him very well: this genre is usually about outstanding personalities – somebody who is quite real, whom readers already know and in whom they take interest. In addition to this reading stimulus there’s a deeper insight into the lives of the protagonists. Formerly hidden personal details, when unveiled, make the hero closer to the reader and enhance the empathy, i.e. identification with the hero and understanding his/her situation, feelings and motives. If the literary form of the biographical presentation is also good, the success of the book is guaranteed.

When I go up or down the escalator in the metro and see hundreds of people moving slowly on the escalator which goes in the opposite direction, I feel amazed at the cosmos of human lives before me and at the depth of this human universe. Volumes of biographies could be written about each of the people. And that could be the most interesting read – even if they were biographies of the most ordinary and “uninteresting” people. Or another idea: you ask each of them to write two (just two!) episodes from their lives which a person considers to be the most interesting or significant. If people from different countries and continents wrote their literary autobiographies, presenting their beliefs, wishes, strivings, achievements, triumphs, failures, thrills, disappointments, hurts, offenses, joys, expectations, etc., etc. we would have to build the highest sky-scraper imaginable to contain all those books. And that would be the eighth wonder of the world no less famous than the Library of Alexandria in its time.

ALTERNATIVE HISTORY à la PUTIN

December 22, 2010

Joseph Stalin, understanding about linguistics no more than any Tom, Dick and Harry did, dared make judgments and issue recommendations for specialists in this field of knowledge. Vladimir Putin, knowing about history hardly more than Stalin knew about linguistics, “revolutionized” it by stating that Russia would have won the war with Hitler even without Ukraine’s participation, or without the participation of any other republic of the ex-USSR. “…Because we are victorious” he said to the audience argumentatively. The audience started to vehemently clap their hands. However, soon after that protests started pouring in to Putin from various organizations in Ukraine and young people arranged a picket at the Russian Embassy.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t angered at all. My feeling was that of contempt and aversion. What I heard only confirmed what I had always known about the Russian jingoism and high-handedness in reference to other nations. Wasn’t it Putin who at the NATO session in Bucharest (2008) said to President Bush: ““You understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state!”? Putin is also known to have aggrandized the hater of Ukraine general Denikin who fought against the Ukrainian troops in 1919.

I am even glad that Putin’s frank revelations will help many of his Ukrainian admirers open their eyes to hard facts

Russia suggested that together with Ukraine they publish a common textbook on history. Let the Russians first prepare a common textbook with the Mongolians about Chenghiz Khan. And I’ll see what will come off it.

Russia stole from the Ukrainians the name “Rus” and started using it as its own name.

For centuries it suppressed the Ukrainian language.

In 1932-1933 Russia arranged an artificial famine in Ukraine.

Would anyone choose a thief, an oppressor and a murderer for a co-author?

I do sincerely hope that Putin’s words will render ridiculous those hypocritical declarations about “the two fraternal peoples and brotherly love between them (meaning Russia and Ukraine)”. You may also hear a talk about the two “sisters”, “mother-daughter relationship,” etc. But, as one wisecracker wittily remarked addressing Russia: “Mother Russia, we want to be orphans.”

HALCYON DAYS

December 21, 2010

Halcyon is a name for a bird in a Greek legend. The bird is commonly associated with the kingfisher. The phrase comes from the ancient belief that fourteen days of calm weather were to be expected around the winter solstice – usually 21st or 22nd of December in the Northern Hemisphere, as that was when the halcyon calmed the surface of the sea in order to brood her eggs on a floating nest. The Halcyon days are generally regarded as beginning on the 14th or 15th of December.

Halcyon means calm and tranquil, or ‘happy or carefree’. It is rarely used now apart from in the expression “halcyon days.” The name of the legendary bird was actually “alcyon”, the ‘h’ was added in regard to the supposed association with the sea (“hals” in Greek).

The source of the belief in the bird’s power to calm the sea originated in a myth recorded by Ovid. The story goes that Aeolus, the ruler of the winds, had a daughter named Alcyone, who was married to Ceyx, the king of Thessaly. They were very happy together and often sacrilegiously called each other “Zeus and “Hera”  This angered Zeus, so while Ceyx was at sea, the god threw a thunderbolt at his ship. Ceyx appeared to Alcyone as an apparition to tell her of his fate, and she threw herself into the sea in her grief. Out of compassion, the gods changed them both into halcyon birds, named after her.

In Henry VI, Part I, 1592, Shakespeare refers to halcyon days:

JOAN LA PUCELLE:
Assign’d am I to be the English scourge.
This night the siege assuredly I’ll raise:
Expect Saint Martin’s summer, halcyon days,
Since I have entered into these wars.

(St. Martin’s summer is what we now know as Indian summer)

Our current use of halcyon days tends to be nostalgic and recalling of the seemingly endless sunny days of youth.

I used to explain the background of this idiom to my students every time when I delivered lectures in English Phraseology. Now, when I am working as a translator for a company, I have my own “halcyon days” which start at Christmas – round December 20th. Although I attend office, there’s practically no work for me at this time because our partners in the West are having their rest. After the New Year, when the West “wakes up” and immerses in work, Ukraine relaxes for its Orthodox Christmas time, and I have no work either –  I’m just brooding (in the sense: “meditating”) over my blog in a floating nest 🙂


%d bloggers like this: