Archive for April, 2016

“ON EASTER DAY UPON A HEAP OF STRAW…”

April 30, 2016

Tomorrow is Easter in Ukraine. I think of a poem by Taras Shevchenko that is in tune with the Feast.

На Великдень на соломі

Против сонця діти

Грались собі крашанками

Та й стали хвалитись

Обновами.

 

Тому к святкам

З лиштвою пошили

Сорочечку. А тій стьожку,

Тій стрічку купили.

 

 

Кому шапочку смушеву,

Чобітки шкапові,

Кому свитку. Одна тілько

Сидить без обнови

Сиріточка, рученята

Сховавши в рукава.

— Мені мати куповала.

— Мені батько справив.

— А мені хрещена мати

Лиштву вишивала.

 

— А я в попа обідала. —

Сирітка сказала.

 

On Easter Day

Upon a heap of straw in the sun

the children played

with their Easter eggs.

Then, boasting,

they began showing off

Their finery – brand new.

 

One received a blouse

embroidered for the holy feast,

For one a ribbon,

and for another laces were bought.

 

 

To one a little cap of dappled grey,

To another horse-hide boots were given.

Another received a jacket…

 

Only one sat without a gift–

an orphaned child,

her little hands tucked into her sleeves.

Hearing:

“My mother bought me …”

“My father got for me….. “

“It’s my godmother’s embroidery …”

 

“And I had lunch with the priest!”,

said the little orphan…

 

When I was taking my high school exam in Ukrainian Literature, each of us, students, had  to additionally recite our “personal” poem by Taras Shevchenko – outside the required curriculum. My choice was this poem.

Analysing the poem in one of his articles dealing with Shevchenko’s works, Professor Hryhoriy Klochek (my former colleague and my good friend) emphasized the inherent humanity of these verses (http://www.anvsu.org.ua/index.files/Articles/Klochek2014/7.htm#_ftn3 ). He also referred to another Ukrainian poet – Volodymyr Basylevskyi, who said that in the two closing lines of Shevchenko’s poem there’s more heart than in hundreds of rhymed texts that one may read today.

You can hardly add anything more.

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WHAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE TO ME

April 29, 2016

Early in April the Ukrainian President Poroshenko visited Japan. Meeting journalists at a press-club there he said, “We will secure peace in the Donbas even if some of our steps are unpopular among the Ukrainian people.”

I connect Mr. Poroshenko’s words with  Victoria Nuland’s  position in Kyiv a few days ago. The U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs (in this capacity, she is also the “Ukraine monitor”) spoke in Kyiv about the elections in the Donbas. She insisted that the elections should be held even before Russia stopped supporting the rebels there and before it removed its troops from the area. Her idea was that Russia would do that later.

Does Mrs. Nuland think that the Ukrainians are idiots? Holding the elections in the region occupied by the enemy, with the Russia-Ukraine border opened and the hatred towards the Ukrainian state whipped up by the Russia-controlled media in the Donbas, and also with the American and West European demand to give autonomy to the pro-Russian region by changing the Ukrainian Constitution, which will be naturally followed by integrating the alien Donbas in the body of Ukraine – all that will be tantamount to subordinating Ukraine to Russia. You don’t know what is Russia (or, the Soviet Union – give it any name it’ll smell as rotten)? It’s not the largest country in the world covering one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area. It’s a country zombied by  communism, obsessed with its own self-importance, taking pride in its mission to spread its religiosity all over the globe. It’s the country that was experimenting with humanity through almost the whole of the 20th century. In that experiment the gulag was invented, the genocidal famine of my nation was arranged, the alliance with Hitler was formed and, consequently, WWII unleashed in which millions upon millions of soldiers and civilians were killed. Russia is the country where every expression of free thought was, and is, stifled (see the latest example at http://www.rferl.org/content/russian-nationalists-attack-event-for-high-school-history-students-ulitskaya/27704871.html )

The majority of the Ukrainians are against the Russia as I know it. I wonder if Mr. Poroshenko meant that he was accepting Mrs. Nuland’s list of demands when he spoke about the steps that “would be unpopular” among the Ukrainians. What else I didn’t like was that the President’s “we” (“We will secure peace in the Donbas even if…”). It looked like Ukrainian society was on the one side of the dividing line, and “they” (the oligarchic octopus with Mr. Poroshenko as one of the oligarchs) were on the other side, and that they were ready to go against the will of the majority. Remembering our President’s commercial mentality this perspective seems very real.

Many foreigners studying Ukraine keep wondering why its national poet Taras Shevchenko, whose 200th anniversary was observed two years ago, remains so popular in modern Ukraine. The answer is that Shevchenko has never ceased to be modern. Quite a number of his poems sound as if they were written only yesterday. Take the lines written in 1847 when Shevchenko was imprisoned in St. Petersburg.

It makes no difference to me,
If I shall live or not in Ukraine
Or whether any one shall think
Of me ‘mid foreign snow and rain.
It makes no difference to me.

…………………………………………….

It makes great difference to me
That evil folk and wicked men
Will lull Ukraine, once so free,
To rob and plunder it at will…
That makes great difference to me

(translated by Clarence A. Manning, Columbia University New York, 1944).

That makes a difference to me too.

AT THE SCHOOL DOOR

April 6, 2016

Today the Dutch people are casting ballots in a referendum on whether Ukraine should (or should not) have an Association Agreement with the European Union. The recent polls show that 66 per cent of Dutch voters would reject the Agreement, and it looks like the only favorable outcome for Ukraine can be a less-than-30-per-cent turnout of voters – in that case the referendum will not be recognized as valid. It’s sad, of course, especially if we remember that the Euromaidan began in November 2013 after then-President Viktor Yanukovych had had made a U-turn away from Europe and was ready to be bear-hugged by Russia. It’s also sad, if we remember thousand of Ukrainian lives that have already been lost in a war started by the revengeful Putin. Definitely, Ukraine would be getting more “European” in character if its judicial and economic system were controlled by such documents as the Association Agreement. But here’s the absurdity of Catch-22: the solution of a problem is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem. In Ukraine’s case it means that to get more “European” (as regards all aspects of its life) the country should join Europe, but it can join Europe only if it is “European” enough, i.e. uncorrupted, law-abiding, sharing values of the European civilization, etc.

PZ 400:03 Inv 5598	 Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky: At the School Door, 1897 The Russian Museum

As a teacher, I also measure Ukraine’s aspirations by comparing them to an intention of a primary school pupil (an underachiever, to make things worse) to get into college. Another image that crops up in my mind is a picture by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky, an artist belonging to the Russian 19th-century realist school of Itinerants. The picture is titled “At the School Door” and it shows a teenager who usually guides a blind man, but this time he has just dropped in at a rural one-room school and is enviously looking at children sitting at desks. Take a wild guess: which of them can personify Ukraine? Which can represent Europe?

I have a dream: one day, а well-situated, economically strong and trouble-free Ukraine receives an offer from the EU to “join Europe.” The Ukrainians are voting on the offer, and the results of the referendum are very unpredictable.

IT IS NO SIN, UNLESS…

April 5, 2016

My FB friend – a talented businessman btw – re-posted a blog originally written in Russian on  https://site.ua/sergey.ivanov-malyavin/3382-prezident-ofshora/ I liked the observations made by the blogger and decided to translate some of them to keep my English-speaking friends in the picture about public sentiments in this country. This entry is actually the extension of my yesterday’s post.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-stranded-sea-image23874005

Some judicial experts in Ukraine are now trying to condescendingly explain to us, dummies, that there is “nothing illegal in setting up an offshore company.” Is it a sin, they ask? – It is definitely no sin to keep an empty lifeboat on a ship, unless the boat has been hidden by the Captain of a ship in distress.

Is it a sin to keep one’s own financial assets in a foreign country? – It is surely no sin, unless the assets are owned by a person whose duty is to raise added capital in one’s own country.

Is it a sin to put your own valuables in a safer place (“Better safe than sorry!”)? – It is no sin at all, unless you are responsible for the safety of the financial wealth owned by your compatriots.

Is it a sin to manage your own capital reasonably – especially in the time of war? — It is no sin, unless you identify with millions of people who freely donate their last kopeck to keep up the soldiers at war.

Is it a sin to commit a slight transgression not necessarily punishable by law? – It is no sin, unless the Attorney-General is your appointee.

BASIL AND UKRAINIAN POLITICS

April 4, 2016

Basil_brushThe winter of 1978 was called the Winter of Discontent in Britain. Industrial disputes and strikes made James Callaghan’s government very unpopular. At that time I had a temporary teaching job in Sheffield and I remember the atmosphere of resentment and derision that reigned in our staff room when the Cabinet’s actions were discussed. Everybody was politically-minded in those days. Even the red fox Basil in the BBC Basil Brush Show could state from the screen: “My stomach is as empty as Jim’s promise.” Later I discovered that similes relating to untruthfulness (even when they were one-off creations) were frequently based on political concepts. A person could be “dishonest as local elections,” or some information could be “as false as government’s truths.” Back home in the time of “perestroika”, I was indignant over Mikhail Gorbachev’s stepping down from his promises of renewing the country, and I wrote about it to my former colleague in the UK. My friend answered by quoting a sentence that dated back to the time of Jonathan Swift: “Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken” (a politician’s motto, he said).

I thought about all that when the news of the Ukrainian President’s financial offshore dealings grabbed the media headlines yesterday (https://www.occrp.org/en/panamapapers/ukraine-poroshenko-offshore/ ). Being a chocolate baron in Ukraine, Mr. Poroshenko channeled money to the British Virginia Islands. His adherents insist that there’s no crime in this arrangement. But, as it looks, there are at least two violations: according to Ukrainian law a businessman must renounce his business when he is elected to a political job. Also, Mr. Poroshenko concealed the fact of his owning another company. Besides, the moral aspect is that a businessman (this time, of no lower caliber than President) diverted his money out of Ukraine not to pay taxes in the country which he had vowed (promised!) to make economically stronger. In my view, however, what made Poroshenko’s actions particularly disgusting was that he had been performing his underhand operations exactly at the time when Ukrainian soldiers were dying by the hundreds in eastern Ukraine in August 2014.

The Basil Brush Show, a BBC children’s sitcom, has been on until now. The modern spin-off is far away from the 1970s original, but each time when I watch “Basil” on YouTube, I’ve got an impression that in a moment or two this red puppet fox will stand again on his hind legs, straighten his back, raise his tail (his most prized possession which he calls “my brush”) and shout at the top of his voice: “Down with the sleazy politicians! Basil for President!”


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