Posts Tagged ‘politics’


May 31, 2018

When his son decided to join politics too, the politician took him on to the roof of his house and said, ‘I am going to give you your very first lesson in politics. Stand on the edge of the roof.’ Reluctantly, the boy went to stand on the edge of the roof. ‘Now,’ said his father, ‘when I say, “Jump,” I want you to jump off the roof.’ ‘But, Dad,’ said the boy, ‘there’s a huge drop!’ ‘Do you want to succeed in politics?’ ‘Yes, Dad.’ ‘And you trust me, don’t you?’ ‘Yes, Dad.’ ‘So do as I say and jump.’ The boy jumped.  He crashed to the ground and lay there, winded and bruised. His father went racing down the stairs and ran up to him. ‘That was your first lesson in politics, son. Never trust anyone.’



January 12, 2018

Excuse my FrenchWhile speaking about developing countries from which most immigrants come to the U.S.A. nowadays, Mr. Trump used a word that was not in accordance with accepted standards of what is right or proper in polite society. Reportedly, Mr. Trump asked lawmakers, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He was apparently referring to Haiti, El Salvador and African countries. Leaving aside the hotly debated question of the American President’s views, I found it linguistically interesting to trace how the “serious” media across the world translated the improper word into their respective languages. The Ukrainian e-papers translate the word as “dirty holes” giving the original English invariant in brackets. In French, headlines featured “pays de merde”, using the expletive to refer to the countries but without the word “hole.” In Spanish, “países de mierda” was used, similar to the French, as well as “países de porquería”, which means “trash countries.” In German, “Drecksloch,” which literally means “dirt hole” but like the word used by Mr. Trump is considered vulgar. In Dutch, one newspaper used “achterlijk” (“backward, or mentally deranged”) as its headline. In Japanese, a word that translates as “outdoor toilet” was used. In Portuguese, one outlet used a word that translates as ‘pigsty’, while others translated the quote literally. Mr. Trump’s slur was translated into Japanese as “restroom-like countries,” ”unsanitary nations,” “countries not fit to be fertilizer.’ The Chinese (Taiwan and mainland China) preferred “softer” words: “trash countries,” “broken place,” “haunted spot.” Only once a ‘stronger’ expression “manure kingdom” was used.

The whole world is attempting to correct Mr. Trump’s speech manners. And I thought about giants. About George Washington who formulated the articles of the U.S. Constitution, about Abraham Lincoln’s carefully crafted Gettysburg Address in which he spoke about his country that was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” about J.F. Kennedy addressing his fellow Americans with “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” or Winston Churchill’s “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” or Charles de Gaulle’s “The leader must aim high, see big, judge widely, thus setting himself apart form the ordinary people who debate in narrow confines.” I thought about uplifting words that give wings.


July 31, 2017

2017-07-31TruthTaras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian poet, once predicted that his country would be lullabied into sleep by ‘evil people’ and then woken up to discover that it had been robbed and was on fire. The ‘evil people’, for Shevchenko, were Russians. Two hundred years after the poet’s prediction, another enemy, alongside Russia, is rising in Ukraine’s way: this time, Ukraine catches fire again and the arsonist is radical liberalism. Liberal ideology, with its values, language and censorship is becoming more and more tangible here in Ukraine. Liberal concepts are being implemented on the level of government, through well-financed organizations and with an active support of the media. They also impinge on the Ukrainian law.

Of late, the notion of ‘hate speech’ encroaches on the Ukrainian press. Demurely, the word combination is translated from English into Ukrainian as ‘speech of hostility’ (‘мова ворожнечі’), and is mostly a means to silence the truth. Since the times of classical liberalism, its advocates had insisted that they opposed censorship and upheld freedom of expression, of thought and of conscience. Not admitting that their censorship is a censorship, they cry wolf and lay all faults at the door of those who call things by their true names. With the ‘hate-speech’ label, liberals denounce any idea that contradicts their dogmas. If I, as a Christian, say that homosexuality is a sin, they say I use ‘hate speech.’ If I say that immigrants from Asia and Africa must respect the people and the laws of a country which welcomes them, but not go brazen, the liberals call it ‘hate speech.’

In the Ukrainian context, the liberal-minded journalists say we can’t call our soldiers fighting the Russian troops in Donbas ‘our heroes’, just as we can’t call the Russians or their allies in Donbas “aggressors’, ‘invaders’ or ‘terrorists.’

Should the doctrine of liberalism be implemented (which is actively done in a number of industrialized countries!), people may get disarmed in the face of Evil and lose their ability of adequately evaluating events. On the other hand, being the backbone of the modern civilization, Christianity teaches that it’s wrong to be ‘overcorrect’ where you should be categorical. In Matthew 23, Jesus does not mince words when he addresses the Pharisees:

“…you hypocrites…you, blind guides… You blind fools! …inside they (the Pharisees) are full of greed and self-indulgence… You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness… “ And further: “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Please, notice: not ‘alternatively devout’, but ‘brood of vipers.’

 My feeling is that these words are spoken today and about what is happening now.


May 10, 2017

2017-05-10Good healthToday’s Financial Times (Wednesday, May 10, 2017, p.7) compares reactions of world leaders to Emmanuel Macron’s victory last Sunday. While there was no doubt, the papers says, about the sincerity of congratulations directed from Berlin and Brussels, for Moscow the election of Mr. Macron was a straightforward defeat. Of all the serious candidates running in the French election, Mr. Macron took the hardest line on Vladimir Putin’s Russia. A last minute release of hacked emails from the Macron campaign was widely blamed on Russia. Under the circumstances, some read a certain menace in Putin’s congratulatory message to Mr. Macron wishing the 39-year old “strong health.” Did Putin mean something that he didn’t write?

I think no conspiracy was implied. My guess is that the Russian message had a natural tinge of Russian mentality, whereby the wish of strong health is quite conventional in congratulations. This time we have a situation when a Russian learner of English might wish a “good appetite” to a native English speaker eating at the same table. That kind of wish may sound sort of strange to a Briton’s ear (“Is there anything wrong with my food?”). Though, you can never be sure about conspiracies in politics. Especially when you remember how the Polish government finished near Smolensk in April 2010.

In view of what has been said, I remember British students once visiting Kyiv University of Foreign Languages. During the joint Q and A session about some cross-cultural peculiarities a Ukrainian student asked the guests: “What would you say to a girl sitting in a restaurant at the next table if wanted to get acquainted with her?” — to which the British student answered: “I don’t think we get acquainted that way.”


June 20, 2016

0-the green floorI have known Mykola longer than any other person. Actually, the roots of our friendship go as far back as our mothers’ childhoods – they were classmates and had been sharing the same desk till they left school and married “good guys”, as they put it, soon afterwards. Mykola and I were born in the same year, and after another seven years we went together to “our mothers’ school.” As our mothers, we also sat next to each other at the desk, got our noses to every possible grindstone and loved the German language – our favorite subject. Later our roads parted: I entered the foreign language department at a pedagogical institute, Mykola failed in his entrance exam in German and switched over to agronomic studies. He got a degree in agriculture, settled down in a village some twenty kilometers from Kyiv. Now he is a farmer, he has two cars, and he is “his own 1-vegetable gardenboss,” as he himself expressed it. Kyiv is a good market for his organic produce. He works hard, but feels financially secure.

Now and then we visit each other – I go to his place on the Left Bank, or he comes to my Obolon. Yesterday my wife and I were invited by Mykola to spend the Sunday with his family and his two cousins. Needless to say, the invitation was accepted most willingly. The floor of Mykola’s house inside was traditionally strewn with green leaves, and the rooms were pleasantly cool. However, it was decided that a better place would be under a cherry plum tree where the table was spread. While the food was being carried from the kitchen to the table under the tree, I was entrusted with a responsible task – to keep watch over the food – 3-strawberry boyguarding it against their cat, a potential miscreant. However, my heart warmed towards the cat when I saw his “patriotically” colored collar, and from time to time I secretly dropped meaty bits feeding him under the table. Later I found out that the cat bore a proud name of UKROP, which is a compounded abbreviation of “Ukrayinskyi Opir” – “Ukrainian Resistance.” Incidentally, Mykola is rather politically minded and very critical of every Ukrainian president and all the oligarchs for their pinning small business and entrepreneurship. With a satellite dish on the roof of his house, Mykola is more versed in nuances of current politics than I am. “Have you watched the latest match (of Euro-2016)? he asks indignantly. It looks like the coach instructed our football-players like this: you, guys, try to win, but don’t attack the opposing side … Very much like our soldiers are instructed in Donbas (in the East of the country) by their generals. And then… don’t you think, Vitaliy, that it’s most indecent, if not criminal, to send young boys to the war zone and make them living targets for the Russian fire, and at the same time to do business with Russia?”

I listened to Mykola agreeing to every word he said. I enjoyed the Northern Ukrainian dialect of his cousins while they were talking with each other. I was craving for those half-forgotten tunes, for this lush greenery which was enveloping me now, for this fresh evening in the open, for the direct truths told by my friend point-blank, sometimes in blunt terms. And I also knew that he valued no less the time when we had been sharing the same desk and the same textbook in a small village school that had only three classrooms. I know it each time when he phones to invite me to his place and jocularly says a few opening phrases in German.8-help yourselves to varenyky

7-his name is UKROP

6-potential miscreant


9-the ruby-reds on balcony of Floor sixteen


April 5, 2016

My FB friend – a talented businessman btw – re-posted a blog originally written in Russian on 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.

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.


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 ( ). 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!”


March 18, 2016

A politician looks forward only to the next election. A statesman looks forward to the next generation (Winston Churchill)

A few days ago I shared on Facebook David Cameron’s Easter message (

I like these traditional several minutes when the UK Prime Minister makes his annual Easter statement. Even if messages are similar from year to year, it’s good to hear the uplifting eternal truth about Easter as a time to celebrate the ultimate triumph of life over death in the resurrection of Jesus. I respect the leader saying openly and unequivocally (and, in the time of political correctness, courageously) that he is proud his state is a Christian country, and that he has personally experienced Christian kindness in his life. Having a global vision, he also realizes it’s his responsibility as a leader to stand for those Christians all over the world who are being persecuted and martyred for their faith.

For comparison, I browsed the Internet to see/hear President Obama’s Easter messages. I found one (though there may be more, of course) which was delivered at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast in April, 2015 ( ). Significantly, Mr. Obama’s speech was far less high-flown. Moreover, it was low-keyed, and it was a talk rather than a speech. At first the President said he was a Christian, and as such, he was supposed to love his neighbor. However, as he put it, he felt concerned when he listened to “less than loving expressions of Christians.” A Freudian slip: Barack Obama didn’t say “less than loving expressions of other Christians.” Having said what he said, he dissociated himself from Christians in their entirety, casting doubts on the sincerity of everything he spoke about later, making me judge him more by what he did NOT say. And President Obama didn’t utter a word about the massacre of the Christians by Muslims in a Kenyan college that had taken place shortly before the White House Easter Breakfast.

One of the journalists commenting on Mr. Obama’s sarcastic remarks directed at the “unloving Christians” explained them by the President’s confrontation with the Republicans that had taken place some time earlier. I may agree with the journalist. But… wasn’t that the time of Easter, when ultimate triumph of life over death is celebrated in the resurrection of Jesus? The British Prime-Minister spoke about spiritual cathedrals, the American President remembered the political rubble.


February 15, 2016

There are not so many articles in the foreign and local (Ukrainian) media that give a good view – both global and precise – of Ukraine’s current problems. I think the article below is one of those few. The author has put his finger on an aspect of Ukraine’s political and social life that brings to a standstill the country’s headway since the day it gained its independence in 1991. That’s why I made up my mind to re-post the article. The source is:


Rada deputy Oleg Barna removes Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk from the tribune, after presenting him a bouquet of roses, during the parliament session in Kiev, Ukraine, December 11, 2015. Fights in the country’s parliament have become so common, they only make the foreign news.VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS


Last December, anonymous billboards appeared in Kiev with the message “Run, Rabbit, Run”, to tell the youthful but bald Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, who some say resembles a rabbit, that his time was up. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was also in town the same month, delivering the contradictory message that Ukraine must not miss its last chance to reform, but in the name of stability shouldn’t get rid of the unpopular government that is holding back reform.

So what is going on in Kiev, two years after the would-be revolution that began in so much optimism and ended with the Russian annexation of Crimea and proxy war in the Donbas? It’s not just the war: In an opinion poll last summer, only 30.3 percent blamed the situation in the east for the lack of reform. It’s not just that Ukraine’s politicians are fighting amongst themselves. That happens all the time. Fist fights in parliament are so common they only make the foreign news—although the meeting of the National Reform Council in December that ended with insults and water being thrown was a new low.

It’s certainly not just that a reformist president is battling a cautious prime minister, despite the novel spectacle of two presidents ganging up on Yatseniuk. President Petro Poroshenko is destroying his reputation as a reformer by protecting the Chief Prosecutor Viktor Shokin and his attempts to sabotage the new Anti-Corruption Bureau. Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, has founded a Movement for the Purification of Ukraine to openly accuse leading cabinet members of corruption, but is himself allegedly backed by a billionaire oligarch.

The real problem is that there has yet to be a strong enough challenge to the old system, which stumbled but never quite fell two years ago, and is now reconstituting itself. Ukraine chose an evolutionary path to reform, but in the words of one MP, Serhiy Leshchenko: “The evolutionary approach isn’t working.”

The same old vicious circles spin round. Politics is all about money, and politics in Ukraine is expensive. Campaigning is largely based on TV—not just ads, but covert payments for favorable coverage and fixing Ukraine’s famous talk shows. The main TV channels are all owned by oligarchs, so only the well-funded can afford to compete, and oligarchs can sell their own parties and politicians on their channels. In the last local elections, several newer parties tried campaigning only on social media, but their impact was minimal outside the big cities.

Mainstream parties are therefore full of placemen. Some are entirely fake, so-called political technology parties set up to siphon off rival parties’ votes or as Trojan horses for corrupt interests. Cynical commentators note that Yatseniuk’s and Poroshenko’s problem is not just that they are unpopular, but they have yet to set up “life-raft” parties as the next home of convenience for their supporters. The worst types of fake parties are fake populists, who mimic popular anger at the system in order to defuse it and mouth anti-oligarch slogans paid for by their oligarch sponsors.

Politics is full of strange terminology—Ukrainians talk about “watchers” or “money bags”, who protect the financial interests of the corrupt. Once appointed to key positions in the still Byzantine bureaucracy or Ukraine’s murky state enterprise sector, they pay back their sponsors with state funds.

And the circle goes round again. When the current government was formed, it was therefore thought to be a good idea to parachute in foreigners like the Lithuanian Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius. On February 3, he resigned, saying, “Neither I nor my team have any desire to be a cover for open corruption, or to be a marionette of those who want to establish control over state money.”

Many good things have been done, but they don’t break these circles. The budget has been reformed; a deal with creditors has saved Ukraine billions; the gas sector, Ukraine’s biggest single source of corruption in the past, is being cleaned up.

But more needs to be done at the heart of the problem. Ukraine needs state financing of political parties. The fledgling public broadcaster, the National Public Television and Radio Company of Ukraine (NSTU), needs people and resources. The state enterprise sector needs transparency and privatization. Tentative steps towards e-government need to be vastly expanded, so the state bureaucracy becomes a service, not a means of raising revenue.

People want change, but they can’t vote for it. There are a few reformers in parliament and government, but not yet enough to make a difference. Almost two-thirds, 73 percent, blame the “corruption of power” for the lack of reform—48.4 percent think the government has done “nothing” and another 24.6 percent think it has only “done 10 percent” of what needed to be done. The war in the east has been quiet since September; but instead of re-concentrating on the domestic front, Kiev has picked fights with Russia over Crimea. There is nothing wrong with reminding the world about the annexation, but it looks like the same kind of diversionary politics as in Russia.

What next? As is often said, Ukraine has a strong civic sector, but activists and journalists cannot reform the system on their own if politicians are constantly trying to stop them. Elements of civil society—militias, populists and even protestors—can be used as cover for the politicians to carry on as usual. New elections won’t necessarily work either, if the same old vicious circles are still in place. The one thing that does work is what locals calls the “sandwich”—Ukrainian politicians grudgingly reform when they are subject to twin pressures from society at home and donors abroad.

So part of the job of the civil sector in Ukraine is to convince the West that change is possible and financial support is not just disappearing down a black hole. The job of the West is to keep paying attention, when they are so many other diversions, from Syria to the refugee crisis.

Andrew Wilson is professor of Ukrainian Studies at University College London and the author of Ukraine Crisis and The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation.  


February 5, 2016

1.’My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.’
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (35th President), 1961-1963.

2.’If I were two-faced – would I be wearing this one?’
Abraham Lincoln (16th President) 1861-1865

3.’There is a homely old adage which runs: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.”‘
Theodore Roosevelt (26th President) 1901-1909

4.’Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt’
Herbert Hoover (31st President) 1929-1933. President during the Great Depression.

5.’The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd President) 1933-1945. The President whose ‘New Deal’ tackled the Great Depression.

6.’Washington DC is twelve square miles bordered by reality’
Andrew Johnson (17th President) 1865-1869. The President who bought Alaska from the Russians.

harrystruman1_2740563k-large7.’You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.’
Harry S Truman (33rd President) 1945-1953. Truman is pictured here with the infamous copy of the 1948 Chicago Tribune, published early on election night, with the mistaken headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

8.’You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.’
Abraham Lincoln (16th President) 1861-1865

9.’I can’t deny I’m a better ex-President than I was a President.’
James Earl Carter Jnr (39th President) 1977-1981

10.’I know only two tunes: one of them is Yankee Doodle – and the other isn’t.’
Ulysses S Grant (18th President) 1869-1877

11.’This is a Government of the people by the people and for the people no longer. It is a Government of Corporation by Corporation and for Corporation.’
Rutherford B Hayes (19th President) 1877-1881

12.’I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency – even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.’
Ronald Wilson Reagan (40th President) 1981-1989

13.’It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one’
George Washington, 1st President (1789-1797).

14.No one ever listened himself out of a job.’
Calvin Coolidge (30th President) 1923-1929.

15.’Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?’
George W Bush (43rd President) 2001-2009

16.’It was involuntary. They sank my boat.’
(asked how he became a war hero)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK, 35th President), 1961-1963

There were more of these witticisms on the website of but I picked up only these  – maybe because I associate them with what I saw (and keep seeing) in my life. You start reading John F. Kennedy’s famous words about putting “duty before self” (see No 1) and you feel that it’s impossible to “think high” when every day brings evidence of greed and corruption on the part of those who rule Ukraine. Even when they step down, our ex-presidents cannot apply Jimmy Carter’s jocular words (No 9) to themselves: crowds in the streets of Kyiv used to chant to Viktor Yushchenko “Judas, Judas” (meaning Judas Iscariot) long after he ceased to be President. You can only give a sad smile when you read Herbert Hoover’s one-liner about the national debt (No 4), or what Rutherford B. Hayes said about a government (No 11) – just  “Ukrainian” situations. President Ronald Reagan’s joke about sleeping in the Cabinet’s meeting (No 12) makes me think about the senile Leonid Brezhnev who used to sleep while reading his speeches from the rostrum (he could read the same page twice without noticing that it was the same text). As for the Bushism under No 15 (still I think that it was a slip of the tongue), quite a number of similar “isms” were picked up in impromptu talks of each of the Ukrainian presidents, especially in those of Viktor Yanukovych.

Linguistically interesting is Calvin Coolidge’s No one ever listened himself out of a job. (No 14). It contains the verb “to listen” used with an additional component of movement (change of state), as may be observed in phrases of the type: “to whistle out of the station (about a train)”, “to sing oneself into fame”, etc. A useful example for seminars in English lexicology!  🙂 It is hard to find a parallel in the Ukrainian language, but I think I remember one. As a child, I was frowned upon when I whistled in the room: old people in my village believed that money, if any, could disappear out of the household if you whistled inside the house (I’m not sure whether this prejudice keeps nowadays). The reproof sounded like “висвистиш із хати всі гроші” (“you’ll whistle all the money out of the house”). A good example of cross-cultural linguistics, I presume.

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