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¹7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.



Will Georgia’s Fate Wake Up Ukraine’s Rulers?

The Russian invasion of Georgia this month should have smacked a complacent Ukrainian political class into some semblance of clarity. Should have – but did it?
It must have been fun belonging to the ‘democratic, Western-leaning’ ‘orange’ portion of the Ukrainian political class these last several years. Let’s say, for example, that you were President Yushchenko, that ‘reformist’ hero still popular in the West, if not at home. All you had to do was mumble out the occasional vague speech and jet off once in a while to mug for the cameras with Nicolas Sarkozy or Bill Clinton. People pinned medals on your chest in Boston and Philadelphia and for some reason Gerard Depardieu thought you were cool. Meanwhile, back home your cronies were looting everything that wasn’t riveted down and shoveling the resultant cash into Cyprus bank accounts, or using it to buy bunker-looking dachas or Bentleys with which to tool up to the entrances of vulgar restaurants. Your approval rating was down in the single digits, but who cared?

Various private coffers were swelling around you, and the naifs in Washington persisted in considering you the second coming of Sakharov, crossed with Thomas Jefferson. Life was sweet.
Then the Russians crashed their army into Georgia, a ‘reforming’ and ‘democratic’ country a lot like yours – that’s in fact closely associated with yours - and trashed the place. Oops. Maybe it occurs to you that the game you’ve long been playing might not be such a game after all.
Tell the truth, I would have loved to be in the room with Viktor Andreyevich when the news came of the Russian pirate raid into Georgia. Perhaps he was deep in a discussion with a friend about beekeeping or something, or discussing with his son what kind of super-elite-class BMW the latter was going to buy next. Then an aide enters and whispers the grim news in his ear. Disaster: Yushchenko has visions of some day down the road when the same Russian military units now doing their thing in Georgia storm into the Donbass to ‘liberate’ the local Russian minority. Or when Crimea declares itself Russian territory, asks Moscow for assistance, and Russian marines deploy from Sevastopol, pin down Ukraine’s Black Sea military presence, and isolate the peninsula from the mainland. I wonder if some light of realisation dawned over Yushchenko’s self-satisfied face – if he realised that, in a neighbourhood filled with thugs, there might turn out to be consequences to his regime’s spectacular misrule. Misrule, after all, gives thugs an excuse to barge right in the front door (which interferes with one’s beekeeping). And maybe – at least I hope – Yushchenko realised that Ukraine’s era of good feelings – that strange era we’ve all been living in for a while during which we’ve all pretended that Ukraine is a real independent country even as it exposes more of its soft underbelly to the Russian bear – really should end, for Ukraine’s own good.
We Are All Russians
Actually, in pretending to be an independent country, Ukraine’s just been doing what its new patrons back in the States and the West in general have encouraged it to do. That is, it’s been building itself a consumer culture based on incurring massive debt to, and building dependence on, other countries - countries the governments of which despise it. Americans, of which I am one, are in massive hock these days to the Chinese, for example, and we’ve made ourselves dependent on various corrupt oil satrapies. Such is the price of maintaining our American ‘lifestyle’, based on easy credit, heaps of consumer goods and dirt-cheap gasoline. We’re ultimately about as independent as an opiate addict taking the train uptown to meet his dealer.
So is Ukraine. It’s jarring to see the ‘orange’ ruling class of this country crow about its ‘independence’ and its ‘Western orientation’ when it’s content to remain reliant for its energy supplies – that is, for the lifeblood of the unsustainable consumer economy it’s so eager to build – on Russia. In other words, Ukraine hasn’t been truly ‘independent’ for even a nano-second since the Orange Revolution. The Kremlin and Gazprom have controlled Ukraine’s fate for every second of that time. At any given time during the last few years, Russia has had the power to turn off the energy spigots and shut this post-Soviet exercise in an ‘independent Ukraine’ right down.
Now, Ukraine’s leadership class - one glam member of which made her fortune gaming the post-Soviet energy distribution system – must know this. But it’s interesting what they didn’t do in response to this grim knowledge. Let’s take President Yushchenko again, in part because it’s always fun to kick him around, but also because for better or worse he has been the one articulating Ukraine’s Western pretentions and its desire to join the greater family of European nations. Yushchenko hasn’t, for example, even tried to rally Ukrainians away from their self-destructive embrace of a profligate new Chinese-style, energy-intensive economy. If he was serious about this country’s being ‘European’ he might have taken measures toward making Kyiv more like an environmentally responsible European capital, with efficient, super-convenient new public transportation networks, and not lent  his tacit support to Kyiv’s becoming an energy-wasting Beijing-style sprawl. He might have stressed that Ukraine’s huge reliance on Russian energy is a grave matter of national security and done something about the energy inefficiency of Ukraine’s Soviet-era industrial base. He could have used the moral authority he once had to steer Ukraine away from adopting an unsustainable American model of economic development, based on debt, environmental destruction and the frenzied exploitation of resources Ukraine doesn’t even have – and instead talked up, say, a Danish model, positioning Ukraine in the vanguard of those European countries turning to alternative energy sources. But he didn’t, perhaps because he’s timid and perhaps because he’s a shortsighted fool, or both. Instead, despite his occasionally tough rhetoric, he’s prostrated himself to the Kremlin and Gazprom. Like every member of the Ukrainian ruling class, he’s ultimately the employee of those entities.
Trash-talk as Policy
Of course, the pre-Orange regime of President Leonid Kuchma was not independent of Russia either. The difference was that the Russians liked Kuchma. He was one of them. He looked like them, spoke their idiom. He certainly didn’t poke them in the eye and trash-talk in their faces, which is what Yushchenko and the incompetents around him do, to Ukraine’s detriment. Common sense decrees that it’s unwise for a weak addict to trash-talk his strong drug-dealer, and poke him in the eye.
All of which brings me back to Russia’s Georgia invasion, which I brought up in the first place because, Georgia’s President Saakashvili and Yushchenko being soulmates and skiing buddies, it’s relevant to understanding how Ukraine’s leaders seem to see their place in the world. Saakashvili, either because he’s crafty and clever or because he’s stupid and naive, actually seemed to take at face value all the nonsense we Americans talk about saving the world and protecting the weak and storming around the globe to help freedom-loving and democratic peoples from assorted Dr. Evils of the Putin variety. Saakashvili actually seemed to think that, after he spat in the Kremlin’s face from his position of profound weakness, Captain America was going to swoop down out of the sky and push the wicked Russians back out of South Ossetia by using Extra-special Democracy Power Rays, or some such.
It’s quite possible that Yushchenko thought the same thing in relation to Ukraine. Either because he thought he could take advantage of the world’s self-declared hegemon, or because he’s not so intelligent, he seems to have assumed that he could repeatedly poke the bear in the eye from a position of Ukrainian weakness – and get away with it, because the American Superhero would swoop down to save Ukraine. We here in Ukraine are almost completely reliant on Russian energy? We have essentially no military with which to protect ourselves? So what? Let’s beg to get into NATO anyway, and try to kick the Russians out of Sevastopol, and demand Gazprom sell us sub-market-rate gas. After all, our magical Uncle Sam will come to save us if Russia objects.
But Saakashvili was wrong to think that way, and if Yushchenko and the Ukrainian ruling class are thinking like that, they’re wrong too. Uncle Sam’s not coming to save anybody for a long time, not because he doesn’t want to – we Americans would love to go meddling around the world in our messianic  way, ‘helping’ everybody – but because he can’t even save himself. He’s overcommitted, worn out, reduced to making cheap threats he can’t back up. Much as he’d like to guarantee the security of the Black Sea nations, just to make himself feel like he runs the world, he lacks the wherewithal to do it. Forget about it. As for NATO, there’s no way it’s going to go to war with Russia for Ukraine, even if it were a member.
Disasters, the self-help books tell us, are learning experiences. The irresponsible and ludicrous Ukrainian ruling class just watched a disaster happen to somebody else. Hopefully they’ll learn something and help their own country dodge a similar bullet in the future. Hopefully Georgia’s disaster will spur them to get their house in order and stop pretending that ‘independence’ means spending, destroying, consuming, stealing and buying Range Rovers for your prostitutes, even while begging NATO for military protection and grovelling to Russia for sub-market-price energy. (Why should Russia sell Ukraine sub-market-price energy? Answers on a postcard.) Hopefully they’ll wean themselves off Russian gas and oil, fast, and instead of having silly military parades like the one on this Independence Day and robbing the nation blind, they’ll use Ukraine’s tenuous new wealth to – get this - build an actual army that could protect the borders. In general they’ll stop using the false promise of American and NATO-Western aid and protection, which will never materialise anyway, as an excuse to keep cheating and conniving and wasting and misruling. But, of course, it wouldn’t pay to hold your breath.  

                                                                                                                             Andrey Slivka  

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Comments (6)
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MiT | 20.11.2008 18:53

Bravo!! So who's listning?

nadhob | 18.11.2008 13:53

Russia is in for a few surprises as well if oil drops below $50. They may have to tone down their arrogance a bit. Let's face it Stalin/Kruschev/Brezhnev and even Gorbachev were not the best role models for the self proclaimed uber-elites. Consequently, they were neither equipped nor capable of managing the unprecedented in history transfer of wealth from a command/control/fear/kgb based economic configuration to a free-market economy. Free market to most meant - take what you can for free. I don't hesitate to suggest that most Ukrainian lawmakers haven't a clue about what democracy is about to the same extent that Ukrainian and Russian business people understand what business is all about. Maybe they have to get it wrong many times before they understand how to get it right - or maybe people will someday actually get a chance to elect accountable politicians as opposed to the highest bidders.

Blair | 04.09.2008 09:17

And, notably, a long article on the Orange Revolution in the New Yorker, way back in early 2005, if memory serves.

Editor | 01.09.2008 15:23

This 'journalist', actually our deputy editor, does write for the FT and the Wall Street Journal!

We're very proud of him!

Rascal | 01.09.2008 15:11

The style's a little hairy, but the points are all very well aimed and taken, against all concerned, including the US. Thanks, Andriy!

Julieta | 31.08.2008 05:41

Finally an intelligent analysis of the real situation in Ukraine. This journalist should be writing for the FT or Wall Street Journal!

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didn’t Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Univer­sal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they don’t understand the meaning of these words.

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