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Saturday, December 16, 2006

You Voted a Strange Person, or "Got Kefir?"

The strange person is Mykola Azarov, Vice Premier and Finance Minister in the Yanukovych Cabinet.


Появляется мнение о том, что якобы существуют такие проекты, от которых нужно отказаться, и нужно экономику развивать через увеличение потребления кефира нашими пенсионерами. Я задаю себе простое питання: сколько надо кефира дополнительно выпить нашим пенсионерам, чтобы построить мост через реку Днепр?"
One school of thought has it that there are projects out there that we should forgo, and that we build the economy through increased consumption of kefir (fermented milk) by our seniors. Now here’s a simple question I ask myself: How much more kefir does it take our seniors to build a bridge across the Dnipro?
Sounds strange, doesn’t it? If you voted PRU, contact your representative and invite him or her to a kefir party.

BLT, or “Better living today,” (Yanukovych’s campaign slogan) could definitely make a smashing success in the world of kefir brands.

How about this: BLT. Bringing Lives Together. Every time you vote.

Mouthwatering, isn’t it? Enjoy responsibly.

Brought to you by Yanukovych and Co.


Jeffrey said...

We moved to Ukraine over a year ago and no one in my family can stomach Kefir yet. I was under the understanding it was a Ukrainian hangover remedy. If they are counting our family of twelve, that bridge will never get built!

Taras said...


Unless you've applied for Ukrainian citizenship and are considering one of our local pension plans, you can be sure kefir will not be your business:) lol

As for me, I’ve enjoyed kefir since childhood. But not the Yanukovych government and its appetite for leaving the rest of us folks with as little kefir as possible;) That’s what I write about.

And what brings you twelve to Ukraine anyway?:)

Sergiy said...

Hi Taras!:)

It seems that the true question of Azarov was: "What is more important - well-being of seniors or a bridge across the Dnipro?"

For many years, we have been living with governments characterized by a perverse understanding of its role. Instead of maximizing well-fare of its citizens, at best, they have been motivated by the idea that their primary objective is to develop smth "grandiose", to embark on some "great project".

Certainly, the matter of intergenerational equity is of crucial importance for policy-makers. But we appear to be the only country governed by people always ready to sacrify well-being or even lives of current generations to achive some not perfectly clear long-term goals.

What do they make them so "romantic"? Total absence of responsability?

But the government of Yanoukovich is a very specail one. Professionalism, coherence and clear strategic vision allow them to agressively pursue, at the same time, Keynesian policies implying a strong government interventionnism, and the neoliberal ones as Azarov repeatedly insisted on the necessity of more rigour in social spending.
Well, my guess is that we would not have to wait long for the results: decreasing standards of living, rising inequalities, inflation and deterioration of public finances would the essence of the BLT politics. And I hope everyone will fully assume its responsability.

Bon week-end

Taras said...

Salut Sergiy!:)

I must admit I’ve never noticed much neoliberalism in Ukrainian policymakers. Kuchma’s penchant for IMF loans — as a socioeconomic tranquilizer for his blowout privatization (aka prykhvatization) policies — did not result in any serious transfusion of neoliberalism into his person. Let’s not overestimate the Westernizer-connoisseur in Kuchma;)

I’ve heard about the debate on the need for welfare reform in France, Germany, and Scandinavia. I see it in terms of replacing the entitlement culture with that of productive citizenship, as the laws of global competition demand.

Azarov’s kefir thing is nowhere near that area. He’s not here to rescue Ukrainians from the welfare trap. He’s here to prolong it. He’s here to use it for his boss’s benefit in ways his communist coalition pals always have. On Ukraine’s cost of living calculator, the Cabinet’s minimum wage of less than $100 per month for FY 2007 goes way below the poverty line.

Who is he? What is he? In my opinion, Azarov represents a mélange of Soviet bureaucratism and post-Soviet crony capitalism, and so does the rest of the Yanukovych Cabinet. His career path offers useful insights into his philosophy. Until Kuchma appointed him head of the Tax Administration in 1996, he made a living as a geologist. Hell of a career change, isn’t it? His reign of tax terror spanned six years and won itself the title of azarovshchyna, or Azarovism. A disciple of Kuchma, he perfected tax collection into an instrument of interoligarchic turf warfare and parliamentary majority management. Azarov and the public good don’t mix, period.

Neoliberalism does not figure into Azarovism. Neither does neoconservatism, nor any other Western platform for that matter. As for BLT — or Regionomics, as I would put it — we could define it as supply-side economics gift-wrapped up as demand-side, with the latter being in much lower proportion to the former, compared to Reaganomics.

The way to interpret Azarov’s “guns v. butter” model is by defining the guns as SCM’s offshore coffers and the butter as public kefir consumption. It’s that simple. Hopefully, we kefir-loving Ukrainians won’t have to use kefir cartons or, heaven forbid, guns to get our points across;) lol

Au revoir,
de l'Ukraine avec l'amour:)

Sergiy said...

Indeed, the debates of the French Présidentielle essentially are focused on the need for this internal change - "la rupture" - solicited by almost all the candidates, from Ségolène and the socialist camp to J-M Le Pen, from the extreme right, not to forget Sarkozy, with his "rupture tranquille". But the most exciting thing is that these debates deal a lot with an "external" change. In France, many people reject the mere idea that they should dismantle, partially or totally, their social security network in the name of global competition. They see no reason and argue that rather the rules of the latter should be modified. For instance, last week, we had a conference, on which one of participants made a brilliant presentation on a "social VAT" which could be charged on products originating from countries with low or zero social standards. The main argument was : if we have explicitly admitted that this policy is justified and necessary in case of services, when rejecting the directive of Bolkenstein, why should not we extend this logic on products? Of course, it is just an academic debate. Nevertheless, it could be a good indicator of scepticism present in French society towards eventual outcomes of the global game. Well-generalized is the feeling that the next generation would be less well-off than the current one.

But that is the problem of the "Old Europe". Coming back to those of an emerging "New One", I would readily agree that Kuchma and his past and actual disciples are impermeable to any doctrine. They think they are totally de-ideologized. But is it a case? From 1993 to 1996, we moved from highly protectionist to fairly liberal foreign trade regime. Pryhvatization and distorted price liberalization have appeared and prospered in the broad neo-liberal context. Their emergence can be imputable to the engineers of the Washington Consensus, who strongly believed in the universality of their solution, regardless local context and practices. Loans in exchange of rapid privatisation and tight monetary policy was what allowed the world of rent-seekers, described by Anne Krueger, to become reality in Ukraine and made Kuchmism a self-sustainable system, to the point that we could not totally uproot it in 2004. Clearly, blindly applying the solution with universal ambitions, but in fact poorly adapted to local realities and put into practice by people with little or no notion of general interest, was what actually gave rise to crony capitalism in Ukraine and other countries, subjects to an intensive neo-liberal therapy.

Have a nice day,
Many thanks for your interesting insigths into Ukrainian quotidien:)

Taras said...

Ca va Sergiy!:)

Merci beaucoup for your in-depth comments and analysis:)

Absolutely agree with your focus on the monetarist myopia and complete lack of true liberalism in Ukraine’s neoliberal experience. With a technocratic background in the Soviet military-industrial complex, Kuchma simply couldn’t care less.

As for globalization, I believe that its corollary, factor price equalization, is just a question of when and how.

Unless a tsunami of protectionism similar to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 sweeps ashore, there’s no reversing globalization. From what I can see, despite a flurry of problems, the WTO shows no signs of disbanding. And for Ukraine it all comes down to this: Get there in advance of Russia or face the consequences.

Low labor costs in newly-industrializing, developing countries will continue pushing down living standards for people employed in low-tech sectors of postindustrial, mature economies. That’s where the first commandment of capitalism kicks in: Why pay more? Why subject my business to extensive regulations if moving production to China will do the job for a fraction of what I pay in France? Agricultural subsidies have already cost the West a bundle.

Globalization’s work in low-tech sectors will not be done until rising living standards in the developing world get on the same page with falling living standards in the developed world. (I read about this scenario in “The Future of Capitalism” by Lester Thurow, while in my first college semester. I was thoroughly fascinated by his work.)

Back to business, there’s another thing that’s causing me great worry. We all know of studies indicating that if the rest of the world consumed resources at the rate the West does, civilization would collapse.

Mother Earth, how do we prevent this from happening? How do we save the world? Here’s what I think:

One, by wrapping our minds around that precious little thing we call the globe.

Two, by striving to be better in everything we do.

Three, by having our leaders adhere to well-crafted, win-win domestic and foreign policies.

And how does the West deal with the downside of globalization? My answer would be as follows:

One, by re-training its blue-collar workforce through incentive-based programs.

Two, by gradually outsourcing its low-tech industries.

Three, by keeping an eye on overseas labor and environmental practices as well as its own.

Even as the Information Revolution spreads its wings, Asia, Africa, and Latin America have a lot of dirty work to do completing the Industrial Revolution. They can’t skip this stage. However, with the help of Western investment, technology, management, and yes, human rights organizations, they can skip some of its dehumanizing aspects.

Ukraine drew its first breath of industrialization a mere two years after Marx published “Das Kapital” in 1867. (Donetsk was founded in 1869.) Prior to WWI, the Carpathians accounted for 5 percent of world oil production. Now that we’ve traveled the distance from Stalin’s industrialization to Kuchma’s prykhvatization, I think it’s time for us to move on.

I see the West’s “good citizen” role as that of an intellectual capital incubator, a pioneer of knowledge-based frontiers, and a beacon for talent from all over world. The above wishlist makes up my idea of a globalization détente between the different tribes that populate the global village.

Au revoir:)
Say hello to Nestor Makhno;)!

Jeffrey said...


OK obviously it was not the Kefir that brought me here. Actually it's a very long and somewhat odd tale. My wife and I and our ten children left America, our home, my successful business, our friends and family over a year ago to work with the orphans and children at risk here in Ukraine. We came not with an organization or a traditional church sending, but independently. We are a very small drop in a huge bucket, but feel this is where we are to be. That's the short answer. We are adapting slowly and learning quickly about our new home. We have found many places to serve, and are truly grateful to be here. I have enjoyed reading your Blog as it has offered me one very real "Ukrainian" perspective on all that is going on around us. I realize it is simply your opinions, but it is important to us to try to understand better the differing views in Ukraine. Our story is better outlined at our web site Thank you for the time and commitment to sharing your views. I enjoy the perspective!

Taras said...

Jeffrey, you have an amazing family:)!!!

You do the kind of work that the neither our government nor the pillars of our community have shown much interest in, except when going after publicity opps.

Here in Kyiv, there’s this guy who used to walk in sheepskin and preach sermons. Guess what — using a Trojan Horse of a charity chain he got himself elected as mayor and now expects us to more than pay for his investment.

That’s exactly what sets your commitment apart: You’re not doing it for the god of money; you’re doing it for the God of Love.

I grew up in a dysfunctional and depopulating country. I grew up in country where having a child often amounted to economic suicide. As a result, tens of thousands of children ended up in orphanages and on the streets.

And so the story continues: Millions of people on this planet who want children can’t have them; just as millions who have children don’t want them. When I grew up I realized how simple it is to define the problem and how difficult it is to solve it.

I dream of making this country a better place, a place good enough to raise a family of my own.

God bless you and your family. Thank you so much for the work you do in Ukraine. Don’t be a stranger:)

Taras said...

P.S. You guys have quite familiarized yourselves with western Ukraine:) By the way, my parents come from Korets, Rivne Oblast:)

The opinions I express very much represent the public opinion in Kyiv, my native city, and in western Ukraine, my second home. To put it bluntly, my opinions echo those of the 51.99 percent of Ukrainian voters who supported Yushchenko in the 2004 election. And unlike Yushchenko’s approval ratings, our views remain strong:)