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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Historian of My Heart

Слава Україні! East and West together!:)

Now that we’ve exchanged our brief family histories, it turns out we have a lot in common, both geographically and culturally. Not only do we have our roots in neighboring oblasts, but we also have our minds on neighboring wavelengths.
Your collection is fantastic, and I mean both ethnographic and personal sections;)! May Julija acquire the best of character traits her namesake has:)!

Pidhajtsi and Korets share similar landscapes and architectures. I tried locating Pidhajtsi (Підхайці?) on the map, but I guess I need your help:)

By the way, ages ago, I visited Riga and Jurmala (1990), and I absolutely loved it. The Dome Cathedral and St. Peter’s Tower; Jurmala’s amber beaches and aromatic pine forests… My friend’s sister lives there. How lucky the Balts were not to have “applied” for Soviet citizenship as early as we Ukrainians did.

Thank God, Korets, my paternal grandparents’ native town, belonged to a different country in 1932-33. The Holodomor was virtually unheard of there.
Vasyl, my maternal grandafather, nearly starved as a teenager in Holodomor-stricken Kupyansk, Kharkiv oblast. Of course, he always considered it nothing but a famine.

However, “knowing” the system from the inside, grandpa was open to alternative sources of information. His retirement before the dawn of the perestroika freed up time for him to keep abreast of current events.

And he cherished his “freedom of information.” After receiving his daily “Big Brother” rations in the Soviet evening news, he would go on a “night patrol,” a ritual I’ll never forget. Sealed in his room, he would spend an hour or two glued to an antique radio, trying to sort through the heavily jammed VOA, RFE/RL, and BBC broadcasts. These he called “alien voices” (ворожі голоси). Nevertheless, they must have held certain information value even for a card-carrying communist like him.

Mariya, my paternal grandmother, had an entrepreneurial streak in her. Despite a series of close-shave ОБХСС experiences, she stuck to her guns. (In those days, as you know, small business could translate into big jailtime.)

So, being the ball of fire that she was, she would storm the flea market to make the “Polish connection.” The Poles shuttled merchandise in and out of Ukraine, trading low-quality jeans, tape recorders, and bubble gum for Soviet-made home appliances, certain food items, and medications. Grandma did her share of strengthening trade relations. She would swap a few kilos of sugar for a pack of bubble gum, and that transaction meant the world to me.

Against a background of grave supply shortages in the USSR, bubble gum was the elixir of happiness for kids. It was a must-have attribute of Western civilization — the delicious genome of compassionate capitalism about to transplant itself into the stagnating Soviet system, so we thought. Back in the late 80s Kyiv, we kids had our “quality circles.” During these street forums we fervently discussed (the) Ukraine’s prospects of reaching America’s living standards. As funny as it sounds today, our most conservative forecast put us at 15 years away from Easy Street.

Born into a family of intelligentsia, I’ve been literate since the age of 4. My parents subscribed to a stack of papers, among them a carefully combed foreign press digest called Za Rubezhom (abroad). Though not exactly a child prodigy, by the age of 8, I had already gotten hold of the press in the house and had been vaguely conversant in global and local developments.

So, come November 1988, I “voted” Dukakis:) In spring 1989, I became one of the three top students in class to be promoted to the rank of pioneer, the Soviet equivalent of a boy scout. However, my loyalty to the Soviet regime was flailing, and so was the Soviet regime itself.

In spring 1989, I observed my first Rukh rally, and it was fun. That same year, I jumpstarted my English studies.

OK, enough:)! Oh my, why am I such a sucker for bucolic, pre-Kravchuk/Kuchma Ukraine? The retro/introspective dimension of my personality must have cultivated a sharpened sense of lost opportunities and cultural belonging. And I guess I should “blame” my dad for it. Listening to the full gamut of his counter-mainstream, colorful, high-octane WWII bedtime stories shaped me into the historian of my heart.

Anyway, I have friends here in Kyiv who are thoroughly addicted to western Ukraine. I myself plan to spend a few days in wintertime Korets.

Your public relations advice had me thinking. I started out almost a year ago, unsure about my involvement in the blogosphere.

All I wanted to do was write something big and beautiful so I could climb on top of it and say, “Hey! Look at me, I’m a smart guy and I speak idiomatic English!”
I hungered for feedback which I could use as a reference for employment purposes. That’s how I thought up this narcissistic URL of mine.

Now, where do I want to go with this material I’ve compiled? Do I want to continue in low-profile, aloof mode or do I want to go public, make myself blogger-friendly?

You’re 100 percent right. If I pick the latter strategy, I will need to create a friends section and spread the word blog-to-blog. Of course, I know the tradecraft:)

As you noticed, I’ve rebranded my blog to make it more communicative, succinct, and catchy. No, I haven’t seen "Syriana" yet, but I’ve already IMDBed it and I’d love to see it.

My primary concern about blogging is behavioral. You see, in my cyberlife, I’ve experienced symptoms similar to pathological gambling. When someone attacks me online, I just won’t stop until I get it off my chest, no matter how much time and effort it takes.

Given my occasional writer’s block, time management can become a joke. Here’s a case point. In March, I spotted two angry Ukrainophobes on and “enrolled” them in my history class. By initially mistaking me for Taras Kuzio, they took my enthusiasm to another level. I would revel in my status for weeks before finally revealing my true identity. In fact, the first guy who had cheered me up with the Kuzio hypothesis was DLW, my first and frequent reader. I want to thank him once again for the much-desired ego boost:)

And as for my ad hominem-prone “students,” there was no way I could quit lecturing until I hit them fair and square with the facts.

Unnerved by my blogorrhea, the blog owner probably blew a fuse and stopped publishing my comments. At that point, I felt sorry for myself, thinking, “Man, how could I be so damn attention-seeking?”

Since Ukraine is not Russia, as Kuchma put it in his ghostwritten “Україна – не Росія” bestseller, English is my third language:) While in high school and college I also spoke basic French and Spanish. (Not anymore.)

I consider myself a linguistic fundamentalist. English is my pride and joy. I won two bronze and one silver medal in districtwide English contests 1992-94. (District population: 300,000.) After failing the last stage of the 95’ FSA exchange program contest — for reasons still unclear to me — I avenged my hematomic ego by taking my business elsewhere. In fall 1995, I became a member of the America House Library. The rest is history.

Just one more boastful self-report here. When I’m in the right mood, I speak English with an accent so astoundingly American you wouldn’t know the difference.

That said, it goes without saying that near-native English speakers like me should know their limitations. That’s the only way we can push them.

Thank you for being a source of great encouragement in my endeavors. Do zustrichi v efiri:)!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Gone with the Nordic Wind
Yushchenko’s “EUro Party 2006” No Great Shakes

Except for Yushchenko’s crisp response to the Putin doctrine, the Ukraine-EU summit became just another talkathon typical of the Kuchma era.

No wonder, if we take into account his coalition capers, his newfound burden of multivectorism, and his acceptance of the dirty gas discount. The soiled political outfit in which he traveled to Helsinki made it extremely difficult for Ukraine to command credibility in the eyes of the Eurocrats.

As far as 2006 is concerned, President Yushchenko has exhausted his “give them something to believe in” list. So much for the guy who “walks the talk” on the WTO/NATO/EU.

The self-inflicted blow of the “Big in Helsinki” experience should have him rethink his ways. Or does he need a Borat-like figure to shake him up?

As long as he takes himself too seriously while not being serious about what he does, the Nordic wind will not subside.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Reg MPs Post Bail for Hacker

Somewhere outside the media’s current fixation on gas, there’s a story that merits attention.

A hacker ring that specialized in credit card forgery and cyber crime appears to have had well-connected talent on board.

With $4 mn worth of “business” over a period of two years, seven members will stand trial shortly and two remain at large, namely Andrew Kravchenko and Andrew Lazarev.

So where’s the fun? According to, Dmytro Golubov, a resident of Odesa, was released on a 30,000 hryvnia bail posted by PRU MPs Volodymyr Demyokhin and Volodymyr Makeyenko.

Let’s pause to think for a moment. What in the world would motivate sensible politicians to risk their reputation?

Unfortunately, the source offers no comments from the MPs themselves.

Needless to say, if seized upon by the Western media, this “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation would create a fallout of adverse proportions for the Regions Party. Considering the blue oligarchs’ demand for Western credits as well as their IPO ambitions, it could become, if not actionable knowledge, at least food for thought.

Do PRU strategists believe that public relationships with back-door professionals open the doors of the world’s top financial institutions?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

WTOeful Yushchenko Hits Helsinki

Now that Ukraine has locked in the $130 rate for 2007, witness the reloading of WTO/Euro optimism. That’s the lip-service message President Yushchenko will bring to the EU-Ukraine summit in Helsinki.

Last year, Yushchenko, the most vocal supporter of WTO entry, saw his country fail the entry exams. This year, given the conspicuous discount reflected in the $130 price tag, Ukraine’s prospects appear even more remote. From what can be observed, the only way Ukraine could become a member is by refusing the discount, which seems highly unlikely.

Surprisingly, just when the clouds started closing in the WTO won another top-level convert in Ukraine. Speaker Moroz has repeatedly expressed confidence that Ukraine, currently some 21 bills away from the WTO entry requirements, will make it by year end.

Roman Shpek, Ukraine’s envoy to the EU, believes that a free trade agreement with the EU can be signed prior to accession, provided the required legislation has been passed. Well, that’s the most realistic EUresult we should expect this year.

A Fradk-Off or Just a Façade?
Shortly after Fradkov’s departure, Yushchenko rebuked the Russian PM’s suggestions of synchronized WTO accession, saying that Ukraine and Russia should seek entry out on their own. He added that Ukraine would seek no advantage over Russia. Well, there’s no advantage to speak of. Sold out.

Russian Black Sea Fleet to Protect Ukraine from Ukrainians?
The Putin doctrine has had another public relations twist. Speaking at a press conference, Puttie offered the Russian Black Sea Fleet Ukraine as a perennial shield to protect Ukraine from outside meddling. (Mr. Putin, in case you haven’t noticed, by being so overprotective, you’ve just won yourself the Best Meddler Award.)

But wait until you hear this one. On the issue of the Crimea, Puttie volunteered the Russian experience in ethnic conflict resolution. What exactly did he allude to? The massacre in Chechnya? Or Russian multiculturalism, as applied to Georgia, for instance?

That’s how the $130 price tag smells, and it smells all the way to Helsinki.
Despite Ukraine’s strong human rights progress, the ladies and gentlemen he will be seeing there will probably do their own thinking.

They have every reason to question the sincerity of a man whose party has suffered from acute loss of political orientation, has approval ratings of about 9 percent and is led buy a man with a nonexistent sense of humor.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Korets: My Second Home

Thank you so much for reading my blog, Stefan:)!

Now I know this place is not as lonely as it sometimes feels.

During my three-day getaway to the countryside last week I had a wonderful opportunity to do some soul-searching and to reconnect with the cultural soul of Ukraine.

I was born in Kyiv, then capital of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine, in 1980 — a year that marked the beginning of the end. You know how the story goes: The Soviets invade Afghanistan, Washington boycotts the Moscow Olympic Games, and Reagan gets elected.

While rampant Russification in Kyiv rooted out all things Ukrainian, I spent every summer in Korets, Rivne oblast, where my grandparents lived. And it was there that my appreciation for Ukrainian culture sprang.

I always think of my grandparents as a sociocultural microcosm of Ukraine.

Mother’s parents come from Kharkiv oblast. Grandpa Vasyl, whose lifespan perfectly matches that of the Soviet regime (1917-1991), had a checkered career: NKVD officer, head of a kolhosp, insurance agent. Before his assignment to western Ukraine, he fought the Japanese in Chiang Kai-shek's China.

Still, in the twilight of his life, he lost his faith in the system and spoke openly about it. He died in the local hospital, just a few months before Ukraine declared its independence.

He could have lived longer, had it not been for negligence and medical supply shortages. We checked him into an organization that reflected the general state of affairs in the country. It was no longer the country whose socialist fabric he had worshipped. And there was no turning back.

Fifteen years after he passed away, grandma Halyna, who is 86, keeps herself updated in current events and can even be argued with.

Father’s parents — mother and step-father, to be precise — were a totally different crowd. Both deceased now, they provided food supplies and lodging for banderivtsi. Grandma Mariya barely escaped execution by the Germans.

Born in the first month of the occupation, my father still recalls how the Germans gunned down Jews and hanged banderivtsi. After the Germans retreated and the Soviets marched in, one of the banderivitsi secretly visiting their house proudly showed them a trophy gun which, as he claimed, had belonged to agent Kuznetsov. This legendary Soviet mole assassinated a cadre of high-ranking Germans in Rivne, then capital of Reich Kommissariat Ukraine.

The only problem was he worked for an agency far more repressive than the Gestapo.

So, you could say, my parents built themselves a Romeo-and-Juliet type of family. What set them apart from urban Soviet mainstream? They never unlearned Ukrainian, the language their parents spoke.

I have lots of friends in Korets, some of them members of the local NSNU chapter. We all share disappointment about the NSNU top brass.

This 800-year-old town of 8,000 I call my second home. Korets has a hallmark — a ruined castle situated on the rock overlooking the Korchik river. Magnificent! It’s this landscape that makes Korets the quintessence of small-town western Ukraine.

Vestiges of Polish and Jewish cultures can be found in the two old cemeteries on the town’s outskirts.

Hundreds, if not thousands, Koretsians are toiling as migrant workers in the EU and Russia. Yet, despite the potent forces globalization at work in Korets, some things are still the way they used to be when I was a kid.

Take courtship customs, for instance. Boy and girl go to disco, just like they do anywhere else in the world. But if it gets serious, boy will send his parents on a mission to get approval from girl’s parents.

That’s how Korets helps me recharge my batteries. It helps me look forward to the future with hope and confidence.

Give It To Me, Baby!
Gas @ $130 for FY 2007

Glory to the great gas-giving nation of Russia! The Ukrainian economy will make it through next year!

Despite a prior statement to the contrary, Fradkov and Yanukovych apparently did discuss gas during their Tuesday meeting. The new alleged offering: $130 per 1000 cubic meters, down from the previously forecast $135.

Why sell at a discount? Now here comes the punch line. Russia wants its sons to stay in charge, and is willing to back them with humanitarian aid.

This also implies that, with Yushchenko’s silent approval, Kyiv and Moscow have reached an understanding on the issue of Ukraine’s WTO and NATO accession. Ukraine will hold its horses, or to be more precise, will allow itself to be held in the missionary position, right?

Well, not the worst price, if we take a look around, as some might argue. But how does this paid deceleration relate to Yushchenko? It pulls the rug from under miles of deceptive $95/5 rhetoric Yushchenko and his gas baron Ivchenko have indulged in.

Undoubtedly, Ukraine’s employability in the WTO and NATO can be seriously restricted if the country’s industry and the public sector remain Europe’s most energy inefficient.

Some relief comes from the fact that the modernization movement is sweeping Ukraine’s industrial giants. IPO-bound SCM and ISD have already beaten a path to the world’s financial markets.

The big question, of course, is whether we common folks should pay for it with our geopolitical and economic liberties?

Reinvention or Retardation?
NSNU Convention Goes on Three-Week Recess

Following a harsh opening address by the honorable Chairman Yushchenko, Snoozers called it a day, leaving a huge time frame for behind-the-scenes politicking to do its work. Experts vary on the outcome. Will there be a revolution within a revolution or will the whole thing continue to rot?

Yushchenko’s grading rampage is long overdue, and so is his self-appraisal. It didn’t take two years for NSNU to slide from the top of the class to the definition of mediocrity.

Yushchenko Sux! Yushchenko Sux! Yushchenko Sux! Sux! Sux!
Remember the theme song of Maidan? (“Razom Nas Bahato”) Of course, back then it was tak, instead of sux, but you already got the idea. So, the biggest joke around Maidan today is: “2009. Dear friends, meet Victor Yushchenko, the PRU contender for the presidency.”

On the eve of Maidan second anniversary, Yushchenko presides over a party that closely resembles the Communist Party of the Soviet Union circa 1989. Not only did this apparatchik-infested garage flunk the parliamentary race, but it also made an outrageous effort to sell its soul for scrap to Donbas, without getting its asking price.

Fairly good at speechifying, Yushchenko is bad at concealing his fragile ego, or so it appears. No other character trait more aptly betrays his leadership failure. Guess what? Rather than waiting for an incoming earful of criticism from fellow Snoozers, he simply disappeared into thin air immediately after the sermon.

Katerynchuk Misses His Fluke
The soul of the reformist faction should call October 21, 2006 his Lost Opportunity Day. Despite half the assembly chanting his name, there wasn’t much of a response from the hero himself. He never took control. He should have taken to the stage and said something like, “Come with me if you want to live.” He didn’t. The lyubi druzi won. As the delegates dispersed, one could probably see Mr. Bezsmertny laughing his ass off at what a pussy you are.

Fradk Off?
Visiting Russian PM Mikhail Fradkov has said that the gas issue will not be on the agenda. The leave-me-alone statement came amid widespread concern that the anticrisis coalition may be willing to bargain away some of Ukraine’s national interests. What are they? Accession to the WTO and NATO, as some sources indicate. What can’t our cash-strapped industrialists do in exchange for measured gas price increases?

The fifteen years of Ukraine’s independence have finally convinced State that Ukraine and the international community is linguistically better served with Kyiv, the Ukrainian version, rather than with Kiev, the Russian version. It’s never too late to change your mind! Keep up the good work, Condi.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tymophobia a Theme in NSNU’s Opposition Behavior

Contrary to what Tymoptimists had expected, the separation of the Yanushchenko conjoined twins, deeply mourned by both, has not facilitated even a mild recovery for the Orange Revolution.

So far, all those childish Valentines with which Tymoshenko has bombarded NSNU’s ward have been treated as spam. Instead, NSNU has launched its “European Ukraine” pet project, essentially a political asylum for second-class parties like Pora, PRP, HDS, etc. No such invitation has been extended to BYuT.

Apparently, Saber Toothed Snoozers depend on the ice age for their survival. Whereas NSNU considers itself to be a right-of-center icon of Europeanness, it looks on BYuT as a left-of-center geopolitical mobile circus, and an incorrigibly populist one. For them, Tymo carries the badge of multivectorism, thanks to her alleged hush-hush visits to Russia. She may deny it, but her party’s roster is indeed overpopulated by petty oligarchs. These BYuTiful people, some of which have already walked away on her, had to pay hefty subscription fees to get in and are now uncomfortable with their opposition lot, since it’s not what they bargained for.

In fact, the same syndrome has evidenced itself in NSNU, as it used a similar technique in building its roster. That’s how atavistic denizens of the Kuchma regime have penetrated both Orange camps.

When blasting Tymoshenko on populism, apparatchik Bezsmertny somehow forgets the populist cross his patron Yushchenko bore back in 2004, but never delivered.

Historians with a selective memory should at least reevaluate their academic credentials. Before giving Tymo the cold shoulder, they should file a progress report on their unspoken “No Thug Left Behind Bars” policy, with a registry of prisonless gangsters in this country attached. (“Бандити сидітимуть в тюрмах.”) Or how about a “Righteous Rich” catalogue of those rare noblesse oblige species, so we poor folks could worship them? (“Багаті допоможуть бідним.”)

Who’s the Best Opp?
At a time when Yanukovych Republicans are singing paens to the West in Washington Post placements, NSNU’s interpretation of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” also know as the EU anthem, could be dubbed the “Orange Curtain.”

Needless to say, this intra-opposition Cold War weakens both parties and plays into the hands of Regs. Yushchenko has a long way to go to start making sense again. What do you make of his plans to step down as the Moses of NSNU? Should we expect a council shakeup? Hopefully, the upcoming NSNU convention will clear some things up.

Even with fresh blood now circulating on Bankova, the rejuvenation of the flatliner Yushchenko has become into a falcon watching every move Yanukovych makes will not happen overnight.

Guaranteed, they have their ideological differences, but synergy works better than solo. Yet both have a chance to prove their love for taxpayers by voluntarily curtailing their parliamentary golden parachutes.

Regardless of how her love and hate relationship with NSNU will proceed, it’s opposition that puts the O in Tymo.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Anna Politkovskaya (née Mazepa)



friend of the free world,

arch-enemy of the Putin regime,

daughter of the Ukrainian people,

and one of the countless gunned down, poisoned, butchered, smothered, or “disappeared” people who had the guts and intelligence not to keep their mouths shut in a war led by post-Soviet tsars against their people.

Orgy Over: NSNU Pulls Out

We have a pulse! After a near-death political experience of speeding through a tunnel of scorpionic turf wars and disgusting extramarital affairs, NSNU has shown signs of returning to life. As of the evening of Oct 4, 2004, NSNU announced its withdrawal from the enlargement talks to assume an opposition role with regard to the PRU-SPU-CPU coalition. NSNU also vowed to recall its share of ministers nesting in the coalition since August.

Note: Due to their special status in charting EU-NATO integration policy and constitutional immunity from coalition considerations, Defense and Foreign ministers will probably stay put. Short of the latter two, whoever refuses to follow this instruction will be purged from the party.

In Ukraine’s diametrically opposed geometry of electoral sympathies, of which all parties had tried to remain mindful, yesterday’s gymnastic event achieved some semblance of emancipation from the prodigal sabbatical that had blighted NSNU’s career for months.

It’s not everyday that you flip on your TV to the splendid scene of Yushchenko’s legion having its chakras flung wide open and turning its face back toward the people.

Opposites Attract?
Not this fall. The final failure in fine-tuning two divergent agendas has resulted in the Regs’ Zen-like patience and AVN-style sex appeal being wasted all for naught. What a déjà vu! Fall 2006 brings the Orange guys together back again together under what may eventually mushroom into an opposition umbrella.

However, NSNU fans should not read much pathos into the event. Pragmatism offers a far better perspective. Observing the coalition behave like a bull in a china store must have knocked some sense into NSNU fence-sitters. It doesn’t take a PET-scan to realize what happened. There came a precious moment when they did the math and saw more advantages to jumping back to their own side, rather than seek humiliating accommodations. The realization that being on the wrong side may wipe them off the map in the next election surely has kept their blood pressure sky-high.

Winter will put the coalition to the test. PRU office holders are facing a whole Himalayas of chilling issues in the public sector. Chief among them: making utilities affordable and keeping the infrastructure well shaped and supplied and throughout the subzero season. If Regs are to make good on their promise of “Better Living Today,” they should roll up their sleeves. But whenever they try, all we see are their Vacheron Constantin watches, to the tune of the annual remuneration that we as taxpayers as have to make available to them. No way are they meeting their PR sales quota. Recent polls suggest the Yanukovych Cabinet has not added a penny to Ukrainians’ livelihood. They’ve probably discovered that underneath the surface “Better Living Today” has a doppelganger called “Death and Decay.”

Got Gas?
“Vote Yanukovych, and voilà! Russia gives you all the gas in the world" My dear Eastern friend, if that’s how your brain worked this spring, prepare for cryogenic therapy this winter.

It’s safe to conclude that no belly-kissing was performed on Yanukovych during his secret Moscow voyages. That poor little boy captured by the camera remains the only one to date.

The Kremlin’s policy of pricing escalationism appears nonnegotiable. SCM needs gas? On your own dime, gentlemen. Royally pissed about the NSNaU revoir, the proffessor posse has left the door open.

People define themselves by who they aren’t, a rule that hardly detracts from the value of team play. If NSNU retracts its “bridges burned” position, it will need the FBI’s finest team of DNA experts to id its political corpse.

When Diamonds Are a Girl’s Worst Friends
Because the 2007 budget proposal, if not amended, promises little in way of binge eating for the little man, Yushchenko have said that he will veto it. Meanwhile, a battle flared up in the Rada over the current MP benefits program that grants each MP with a panoply of perks such as a title to a Kyiv apartment worth upwards of half a million dollars.

Yuliya Tymoshenko, one of the most outspoken critics of the program, became the woman of the day. Interestingly enough, as the local face of Luis Vuitton, she has frequently drawn flak for her affluenza-stricken outfits. That’s why could not escape being the target of an ad hominem attack. PRU heavyweight Yevhen Kushnarev attempted to thwart her social responsibility drive by speculating that the necklace she was wearing on that day alone could sustain an average Ukrainian family for five years.

A gleeful Tymo rushed to the rostrum to submit her belongings for evaluation, which the press corps eagerly did. Soon, it turned out Mr. Kushnarev had made a seriously flawed assessment.

The jewellery expert consulted by the press corps estimated the book value of the necklace to be in the neighbourhood of $200, this being a costume jewellery item presumably made in the United Arab Emirates. Of course, its post-evaluation publicity-laden market value may have climbed hundredfold. The moral of the story: A self-enforced dress code can save you from a public relations disaster.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Azaroff with Attitude, or Regionomics Rules!
“Better Living Today” Starts with a “Better” Budget

Speaking in Parliament last week, Finance Minister Mykola Azarov sliced and diced a diet budget proposal from Chef Viktor Yanukovych. Neither NSNU nor BYuT displayed much appetite. “That’s one hell of a budget for a weight watcher like me,” the Evita Peron of Ukrainian politics probably thought, as she sat through the PowerPoint presentation that had her on the verge of vomiting.

After reading the menu between the lines, Snoozers sounded the alarms on the strange and sudden death of a maternity benefit program. One of Yushchenko’s “populist” policies, the program has pledged some $1,700 in several installments to mothers of new-born babies. Because hundreds of thousands of families have relied on it to cover some of the expenses, a change in government policy could affect procreation decisions nationwide. What could be more anti-democratic in a low-income country slowly recovering form a decade of depopulation?

Since the barren 90s, when the birth of Oligarchs Inc instituted abusive patterns of stratification for the rest of the country, Ukraine has shed some 5 million of its population. Today’s demographic resurgence, while far from a baby boom, raises hope that population growth will finally break even.

With his budgeting behavior now compromised, Azaroff threw a graceful wish-you-well cover-up. He smiled on the distressed gene pool, proudly saying that the program will continue unscathed. He then explained that the funding criteria reflected in the proposal simply restricted the program’s eligibility to financially disadvantaged applicants.

Too many hearts in this country refuse to melt when social responsibility crawls into the Regionalists rhetoric. A little bureaucratization here and there — and you will have to carry a second baby full term before you collect these much-needed monies for your first one.

The good news: Extraclinical research indicates that fear of negative publicity sometimes works to destroy other potent fears. The experience of being caught red-handed can trigger an adrenaline response that partially inhibits the panic welfarephobic syndrome, a state of acute anxiety known to affect top-ranking officials. It occurs when the patient believes that current levels of government spending may eat into the profit margins of the interest group he or she represents.

Humor aside, the mind boggles at the thought of whatever esoteric budget pranks may be buried well below the public’s immediate grasp.
Key budget projections:
Revenues.........................................................UAH 180 bn
Expenditures…...............................................UAH 200 bn
Budget deficit, as a percentage of GDP……..2.55 percent
GDP growth………………………………….6.5 percent
Inflation, annual……………………………...7.5 percent
Loans, domestic ……………………………..USD 1 bn
Loans, foreign………………………………..USD 10 bn

Not an entirely self-reliant budget, isn’t it?

The Old Deal, or the New Ordeal
In dire need of maintaining high visibility of activity, Tymo approached the budget issue in the mood of cougar-like agility, intent on signing NSNU home cats to an opposition deal. She postulated that their shared indigestion of the budget proposal could become the basis for an allied BYuT-NSNU opposition. As an extension of this initiative, she called for a shadow government to be formed.

Championing the cause of scaling back the utility hike has benefited her employability. She even gets unsolicited offers! Yushchenko, for instance, has mentioned the possibility of appointing her to the NSC job. She had no immediate comment. (Go, go Tymo! You da bomb! But wait a minute, et tu BYuT? No, this can’t be true. Maybe the point is, you will create more opposition value by being inside the game? According to this line of reasoning, the sales pitch of the sensational would-be offer in question appears crystal clear. It invites you to exercise your biological imperative. By playing out your dominatrix fantasies on the scene, you will provide a Condi Rice-like counterweight for the shorthanded Yushchenko to stand up to Yanukovych.)

More seriously, Tymo’s protégé Mykola Tomenko has been shortlisted for the Speaker job. As for this courteous concession, less far-fetched than the previous scenario, it should not be confused with a mere giveaway. If confirmed, Tomenko will take some of the sting out of the lone ranger in her, and, most important, the act will solidify a reciprocity-based precedent to fall back on in case the government changes hands.

Attention public sector employees! Oligarchs Inc strikes again. Those of you who licked their lips for a New Deal-type of social contract from the Yanuke Cabinet, you have a dirty mind. This man Azaroff — you better read his lips. Not only does he speak horrible Ukrainian without feeling sorry for the linguistic Chernobyl he creates, but he also has a leg in tax collection. You got it right! Whether you work a nine to five job or run a small business, he’s out to trim a little fat off your pockets. Your ballooning incomes are a menace to Ukraine’s ramshackle industry! As you consume ever more conspicuously, thy poor neighbor, the oligarch, scrimps and saves for innovation. How dare you have a feast amid famine? This goes no further!

Get ready for a low-cholesterol diet next year. Your planned salary raises will be cut in half. Also waiting for you is a 2 percent increase in the payroll tax. There’s yet another trend at work here. FY 2007 Cabinet maintenance and administrative expenses will surge 47 percent. Hallelujah!

And, yes, it’s the economy stupid! A massive PR lobotomy involving an airborne assault of GOP-leaning talent — like the one that claimed you during the spring parliamentary campaign — doesn’t come for free. From now on, expect no more passionate overtures to the welfare state. Regs, who vowed to rid the land of poverty, are now busy reassessing their strategy with a view to bringing your middle-class aspirations to a plateau.

Yanuke the Ripper
“Live it to the fullest!” That’s the maxim of the old school of thought now repatriating itself to the upper tiers of government, skilled as it is in the art of Kuchmocracy. Intoxication with power regained by a stroke of dumb luck, or, rather, orange dumbness, sends sparks to Yanukovych’s eyes.

The corollary would be “Take whatever you can and run if you have to.” All this adds up to strategy that could go by the name of Yanuke the Ripper, or Regionomics, a strategy of reaping quick benefits before a possible coalition collapse. By no means does this imply outright embezzlement. Those days are gone. Sophistication is the word today. Put your men at the helm of a mammoth monopoly like Naftohaz, Ukrzaliznytsya, or Ukrtelekom — and you have cash flows running wild, straight into your hands, and in pretty legit ways.

Reaganomics v Regionomics
When matched against Regionomics in terms of serving private interests, Reaganomics pales by comparison. For all his worship of free market forces, for all the bruises inflicted on the welfare state, for all the unfair tax cuts and untold budget deficits, for all the excesses of deregulation and decentralization, the good ol’ Ronnie would never support Spanish as a second official language. For that matter, neither would the Spanish-speaking Dubya, nor even the soft-on-immigration Governator.

In contrast, Regs are conservatives in a sense that Reps aren’t. Regs are compassionate about conserving what communism created. That explains why many of them don’t care enough to learn Ukrainian. They exhibit little compassion for the victims of communism And what makes it even more funny, they are capitalists.

Aside from time and space constraints, it is motivational sets that keep Regionalists and Reaganites words apart. Whereas Reaganites had the Evil Empire to contend with, Regionalists have a closely-held, export-oriented commodity empire to take care of.

Despite the brand of supply-side economics firmly attached to it, Reaganomics arguably produced a host of demand-side effects. It did so through sexier defense budgets in an arms race that drained the economy out of the Evil Empire, whose Ukrainian share of industrial remnants is now possessed by proponents of Regionomics.

Regionomics therefore has more of a supply-side profile, something Regionomics doesn’t have. Cheap labor and natural resources — the key ingredients that go into the competitive advantage of Ukraine’s aged, energy-inefficient, low-tech industry — are more of a curse than a blessing. The heavy guns of post-Soviet industry will hardly keep Ukrainians’ lungs clean, nor will they churn much butter, economically speaking.

So, except maybe for the promise of better living for themselves, the promise-packed campaign Regs orbited with the expertise of GOP talent stands little chance of gaining escape velocity. This about wraps up the stellar conquest of “Better living today” for the rest of us.

Tax-Free Zones Get a Fresh Start, But Not Working Seniors
After lying fallow for a few years, tax-free zones are back in business. Finance Minister Azarov, a staunch advocate of these economic preserves, claims that tax-free zones have a history of cultivating oases of innovation in this country. If you find yourself at loss for recalling any quantum leaps in innovation, there’s another side to this story.

Gossipy pundits have long wagged their tongues over these oases being economic black holes for siphoning money out of the government in countless VAT crimes. They have also traced them as points of entry for smuggling billions of dollars worth of uncertified consumer goods and foodstuffs. If by and large what they say is true, then these “Silicon Valleys” incorporate a skunkworks of the shadowy economy that keep money and goods on a neverending joyride in and out of the country. Such core competencies fit them into the category of political fiefdoms. Exactly what cult of innovation do they belong to, Mr. Azarov?

Attention seniors who bring home a few extra hryvnyas worth of bacon! You can’t have too much of a good thing. Stay home and smell the happiness. Just where do you think the expression “death and taxes” came from?

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, you just became unwitting test subjects in somebody’s dirty little scheme.

All Is Not Quiet on Mount Olympus
By bouncing a sheaf of executive orders, Chief of Mischief Yanukovych may have amused himself, but he surely enraged Zeushchenko (pardon the portmanteau), who has every reason to be paranoid about losing his grip on power. “Just who the hell you think you are?” roared the prime deity in Ukraine’s pantheon of politics as he cast his thunderbolt.

This happened the day PRU legal eagles falsely instructed their patron that his refusal to countersign executive orders constitutes a veto policy. Once aware of having overstepped his authority, Yanukovych responded with pacifying gestures like “we’re in it together” and “there’s room for everyone.” However, he hasn’t pardoned the five oblast governors on his hit list, Yushchenko’s appointees, whose dismissal he has vigorously demanded.

On Wednesday, October 4, NSNU convenes to pass its final decision on whether or not to join the coalition. Its position: NSNU will settle down only if the coalition goes by the book, that is, by the Universal of National Unity.

Earlier, Speaker Moroz issued a love-it-or-leave statement, warning that unless NSNU joins, it has no place in the government. However, one caveat is in order. The Constitution says that, no matter what happens, the President retains his coalition-exempt share of Cabinet appointees, namely Ministers of Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs.

Tired of fighting his little town blues with routine acts of spraying canned pontifications on a weary public, President Yushchenko has set out to refashion this staff. It takes quite a bit of courage to sanitize his tabernacle of the lyubi druzi (beloved buddies), the two words that have become a cliché for the beehive of cronies he’s compiled around himself.

Recent staffing decisions have led some experts to believe that the President plans to “make a brand new start of it,” as Frank Sinatra put it in his “New York, New York.” The timing could not be more perfect. For the first time since the Orange Revolution, his approval ratings have plunged below Premier Yanukovych’s.

That’s why Yushchenko keeps delayering the lyubi druzi in the hope of winning back some of the supporters he has alienated. Among others, the new wave of talent features former Emergency Management chief Viktor Baloha and former Economics Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Baloha made a name for himself when he stormed out of the then-almighty SDPU and took a load of followers with him. He has replaced Oleh Rybachuk as Chief of Staff. Well-connected in the pre-Revolution government, Yatsenuyk has earned praise for being one of the finest Young Turks in finance and is considered to be an asset to the economic section.

The change of the guard didn’t sop there. Spokeswoman Iryna Herashchenko, Yushchenko’s confidante of five years, stepped down in a move she described as the “passing of the baton. Iryna Vannikova, who has made a sterling career in news, took the baton.

The big question, of course, is whether changes in style will be matched by changes in substance. Unless improvements in public relations go hand in hand with improvements in policymaking, no improvement will be made overall. External decorum cannot substitute for internal dynamics.

Maidan Graffiti Comes to Grief?
Vice Premier Andriy Klyuev (PRU) has urged the Central Post Office, to have the relic of the Orange Revolution erased due to what he termed as politically incorrect, obscenity-laced content.

Taken under a protective glass covering since 2005, the graffiti has beautified the entrance columns of Maidan’s chief edifice. No wonder this vivid piece of history, located at the epicenter of the Orange Revolution, has horrified the likes of Mr. Klyuev and his Austria-based brother, foiled as they were by people power in 2004. And those who did this to them are now too traumatized to put up much resistance.

That’s why the second anniversary of Maidan may find a blank space in place of the bittersweet mementoes still dear to them.