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Monday, March 13, 2006

Ukraine-Russia Relations
Letter 7


Building an orange coalition in pre-election mode was like herding cats. Building an orange-blue coalition in post-election mode would be like cross-breeding cats and dogs — their voters watching in disgust.

This parliamentary election features too many variables to arrive at a precise forecast of the new Rada’s makeup.

Echelon 1. The Big Three: RoU, NSNU, BYT. The combined firepower of NSNU and BYT matches that of RoU. These elite echelons will set the tone.

Echelon 2. The Small Two: the Socialists and Communists. Equal firepower. The Socialists will join us. The Communists won’t. Each of these players boasts a guaranteed-entry ticket.

Echelon 3: The Do-or-Die Ones: Ne Tak, pro-blue; Vitrenko, pro-blue; Plyushch-Kostenko, pro-orange; Pora-PRP, pro-orange; Lytvyn, neutral; Vitche, neutral. The last echelon in Ukraine’s electoral matrix is the most enigmatic. Whoever makes it past the 3 percent magic mark, their affiliation will count. They might have a balance-altering capacity.

Absent a Gallup-caliber polling service in Ukraine, poll credibility remains a sticky issue. Different strokes from different services. The numbers they post keep dancing a statistical salsa, with variances as wide as the Gulf of Mexico. Experts treat these phenomena as smoking gun evidence that some parties simply stick to their “hired guns.” In summary, until all the votes are in, all bets are off.

Amid hopes of a reasonably fraud-free election a “whistleblowing war” already rages on. Both sides claim that mass fraud is in the making. Both zero in on the southeastern region. The blue ones charge the orange ones with translating the Russian name registries into Ukrainian. What does it look like? Кузнец (Russian) > Коваль (Ukrainian). Linguistic nonsense? Absolutely. In fact, representatives of the Central Electoral Commission have confirmed such incidents. But the Regions are reading more into it. Performed accidentally on purpose, this “registry revolution,” they say, is intended to plant a bureaucratic booby trap aimed at preventing the blue folks from voting blue. Some even go as far as to declare that entire housing projects have been purged from the registry.

The orange ones refute the allegation and charge the blue ones with “dead soul” mining and chain voting. What’s the trick? Re-enfranchising an army of deceased persons and having them vote your way. Vote of mass destruction. NSNU maintains that the local electoral panels are dangerously “understaffed” with their members.

Who’s responsible? The blue ones fault the local police and administrations appointed by the orange “carpet baggers.” The orange ones slam the local legislatures run by the local chapter of the “KKK.”

Interesting 19th-century America analogy, if you dig into it. Hopefully, Ukraine won’t have to wait another hundred years to have its surrogate “Jim Crow” ways abolished. In the meantime, both parties have urged their voters to check their registry records before coming to the polls on March 26.

Last Friday, a poll was taken on Svoboda Slova, the exiled talk show with Savik Schuster, the Russian freedom of speech guru. Q: “Do you believe that an orange comeback coalition will contribute to a stable in Ukraine?” Surprisingly, 59 percent answered yes, while 41 percent answered no. All of it on ICTV, a channel allegedly controlled by Kuchma’s son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, the #2 man in Forbes’ Ukraine section. Hadn’t he had his toy trophy Kryvorizhstal removed from him last fall by Yushchenko? That said, Savik insisted that the audience does represent the overall population. An independent polling service does selection, he said. Can anybody imagine such a rich media smorgasbord served under Yanukovych the chef?

Could it be that the KP outsourced their HR function to Donetsk? Joking aside, Donetsk probably did outsource their campaign management to GOP talent. (They say Paul Manafort is in town.) Next, they picked on the Clintonesque “It’s the economy stupid!”, injected some hyperbole, and shaped it into something of a drag queen. An anti-American party tapping into American talent. Or did I get it wrong?

Ukraine has become a fishing pond for PR wizards of all creeds — and a funny convergence point for libs and cons. Now see this: Guys who quietly support federalism and plutocracy trying to get us hooked on demand-side economics and equal opportunity.

Of course, some sort of bipartisan consensus will emerge from time to time. Short of these contingencies, a blue-orange coalition would be rejected viscerally by the grass roots. If attempted, it would result in transplant failure — loathed by both sides. The North and South, the East and West will never come to terms as long as cheating remains the norm. March 26 will be another litmus test for this country.


For the sake of our “open-book” financial and political management, I think we should walk the extra mile. As a native speaker of Ukrainian and Russian living in Kyiv since 1980, I’ve been a voracious consumer of the local media. If need be, I can enrich Dan’s account by several degrees of magnitude. So, at the risk of posing as a fig leaf for the anatomy of Yushchenko’s pre- and post-Revolution failures, let me unearth a few more geological layers.

Let’s go back to 1992-94. Who was who when hyperinflation hit Ukraine? Kravchuk: President, 1991-94. Kuchma: Prime Minster, 1992-93. Zvyahilsky: Acting Prime Minister, 1993-94. Yushchenko: Governor of the National Bank, 1993-99. Notice Yushchenko’s undercapitalization in terms of time horizons.

Kuchma came to office as a man with no plan. His famous parliamentary address quote: “Tell me what to build, and I’ll build it.” However, his lack of vision did not prevent him from enjoying Goliath-like powers. His decrees became the law of the land the moment he inked them. In this prolific role, he churned off a score of loophole-laden ones that, experts believe, contributed to a saga of bigtime Ponzi schemes of the mid 90s.

After Zvyahilsky had stepped down, he spent some time in Israel as charges of embezzlement were filed against him in Ukraine. Surprisingly, on his return, the prosecution dropped the charges. He has been a member of the Regions Party for the last couple of years and is running for reelection.

When the summer 1994 presidential campaign arrived, Kuchma tanned himself as a pro-Russian, Soviet-style exec struggling to rescue the Ukrainian economy from the throes of stagflation and isolation from Russia. Despite his less-than-stellar track record as Prime Minister, he made a home run, because the incumbent-intellectualizer Kravchuk just couldn’t help himself. His immortal quote: “We only have what we have.” In the current episode, Kravchuk is on a mission to get his parliamentary groove back–as the anti-NATOrange face of the guerilla brand Ne Tak. Chances of success? Modest.

Should these veteran policymakers be taken into account, Yushchenko’s financial footprint would pale by comparison. In those early days of Kuchma’s officialdom, covering budget deficits by printing money was considered a panacea. And the money-printing machine was not entirely Yushchenko’s business.

Yushchenko would keep a low profile all the while. By the end of 1994, hyperinflation had been harnessed. On September 2, 1996, the hryvnia went into circulation. Initially equal to the Deutsche mark, it became a store of value with unparalleled staying power throughout Ukraine’s independence. All of a sudden, the Russians, who had long poked fun at our hyperinflated karbovanets, had the tables turned on them. The ruble no longer ruled in Ukraine. And when Russia defaulted in 1998, Ukraine experienced a softer blow.
Do the math:

Ruble: 27,0 (1999), 20,65 (1998), 5.960=5960 (1997), 5.121=5121 (1996)
Hryvnia: 5,44 (1999); 3,9264 (1998); 2,0385 (1997); 1,848 (1996).

Besides internal failure, a new dimension came to light in that crisis. Yeltsin’s Russia reached out into the world economy only to have its stock market crash — a year after the Asian contagion had erupted. In contrast, Kuchma’s Ukraine carried on a more cocooned existence and had no stock market to start with.

But as Governor of the NBU, Yushchenko made the right call, keeping away from the money-printing machine. At the end of the day, it saved Ukraine a lot of grief.
God bless the hryvnia, the ruble, the euro, and the almighty dollar.
P.S. Of those polled in the 2001 census, 67 percent considered Ukrainian their mother tongue. A total of 78 percent considered themselves Ukrainian. The Ukrainians are a majority of the population everywhere except for the Crimea.

Virtually every Ukrainian speaks Russian, while only a fraction of Russians speak Ukrainian. Many of them have been living here for decades. It appears that in this mall we call Ukraine a lot of Russians prefer shopping for Russian, while boycotting Ukrainian. I have every reason to doubt that Russian Americans could command the same kind of privileges in America, let alone Ukrainian Russians in Russia.

Therefore, I still have a dream that one day Russian Ukrainians will enjoy their linguistic rights without eschewing their responsibilities.

1 comment:

Bohdan Amerykanski said...

Excellent post. Free Tymo!