All my troubles seemed so far away,
Now it looks as though they're here to stay,
Oh, I believe in yesterday.
Generations of Ukrainians love this song, and so do billions of people all over the world. But who loves the scenario?
Billionaire Viktor Pinchuk, the man who brought Paul McCartney to Kyiv, is certainly not one of them. He wants no trouble. His bring-a-star-for-PR program aims at generating positive publicity and securing a bright tomorrow for himself and his family. In other words, PR = McCartneyPinchuk.
But does their bright tomorrow strike a high note with the “bright tomorrows” of millions of his fellow Ukrainians and their families? That’s the billion dollar question that reverberated through my brain as I stood in the pouring rain at Independence Square in Kyiv, the capital of one of Europe’s poorest countries, yet home to a dozen billionaires.
Here, at Maidan Nezalezhnosti, as we Ukrainians call it, the Orange Revolution took place in November 2004-January 2005. The goal of the Orange Revolution was to amend the social contract from a zero-sum game to a win-win game. That goal remains unmet.
It was here that on Saturday, June 14, 2008, at 9 p.m. EEST, we Ukrainians would meet Sir Paul McCartney, who came to Ukraine to perform his Independence Concert. (Proceeds from the sales of VIP tickets would go to help children with cancer.)
Actually, aside from Gen-Xers like me, the audience included scores of Soviet-born baby boomers, in their 50s and 60s, some of whom came from all over the former Soviet Union to worship the idol of their youth.
Long before glasnost and perestroika, The Beatles had become a legend in the USSR during the Khrushchev thaw of the mid 50s-early 60s. Despite this quasi-liberal post-Stalinist interlude, the Iron Curtain remained intact. The watchdogs of communism gnashed their teeth at the counter-cultural dimension of Western music, viewing it as “capitalist propaganda” and therefore a threat to the Soviet way of life. (I touched on this phenomenon in my previous post.)
I made a big mistake by not bringing an umbrella. Drenched to the bone, I had to desert my perch near the entrance to Fan Zone 3, and run for cover under the canopy of the Trade Unions building, the one with the red clock tower.
Before the concert began, they ran a telethon with major Ukrainian cities, Chas buty razom (Time to Be Together), along with a warm-up feature film about the local impact of The Beatles.
One of the interviewees shared his memories of how, back in the 60s and 70s, The Beatles records could only be purchased on the black market, at several times the monthly salary of a Soviet yuppie. At that time, a Soviet citizen’s love affair with Western civilization could cost them their career.
And guess what? All of a sudden, they put Kuchma in the memoirs mix! That’s no accident. Former President Kuchma, the autocratic leader whom the Orange Revolution cursed with "Kuchmu het!" ("Down with Kuchma!"), happens to be Pinchuk’s father-in-law.
I failed to catch Kuchma’s recollections of The Beatles era due to poor sound, but I instantly recalled the guitar gigs he pulled on television during his first presidential campaign in summer 1994. (I was 14 at the time.)
Kuchma’s unexpected two cents created cognitive dissonance for the Independence Concert, given Kuchma’s controversial role in Ukraine’s independence. Understandably, the event sponsors had a more favorable opinion of their extended family member. Later on, some other domestic policy issues would also pop up, adding to Kuchma's ever-present aura. (Tabloid has a few snapshots of the Kuchma family present at the concert.)
Anyway, the countdown finally reaches zero and Paul McCartney mounts the stage. He screams, “Pryvit druzi!” (Ukr. hello friends!) and sends ripples of joy throughout the rain-bedraggled Independence Square. His opening song: “Drive My Car.”
After a while, the rain almost subsided and I made it closer to the stage, finding my way through thousands of ecstatic folks of all ages. (An estimated 350,000 people attended the Independence Concert.)
It was a great pleasure to hear Paul McCartney cheer up his audience in Ukrainian. Naturally, I felt a little uncomfortable when I heard “the Ukraine.” Apparently, the event planners failed to instruct Paul, in the most polite manner, that we no longer live in “the Ukraine.”
“The Ukraine,” as in “the Ukraine girls really knock me out,” defined our country as a Soviet republic — as a province of Russia — not as an independent country. Since Ukraine became independent, we say Ukraine, without the definite article. And, of course, when we talk about
the Ukraine, we say Kyiv, not Kiev. Well, because many Ukrainians speak little English and often converse in Russian, the outdated usage did not register with the audience.
A few more caustic observations. The telethon kicked off with two hosts: Ani Lorak, who spoke Ukrainian, and this other guy, a member of Comedy Club Ukraine (can’t recall his name), who spoke Russian. Here comes politics. On the one hand, this bilingual commercial approach traditionally serves to attract Russophone audiences. On the other hand, it provides a disincentive for Russified Ukrainians to learn or relearn Ukrainian.
Paul McCartney punctuated some of his songs with a playful combination of spasibo-dyakuyu/dyakuyu-spasibo, or thank you in Russian and Ukrainian, respectively. While I certainly don’t believe that he meant to upset non-Russified Ukrainians like me, I suspect that this learned meme reflects the event planners’ segmentation of Ukraine’s linguistic landscape.
In the 2004 presidential election, which sparked the Orange Revolution, Mr. Pinchuk favored Viktor Yanukovych of the Party of Regions. The PRU owes much of its popularity to being the driving force behind the bid to make Russian a second official language in Ukraine. If approved, the measure would effectively kill the Ukrainian government’s modest efforts at reviving the Ukrainian language. That, in turn, would preserve the linguicidal legacy of Russification in eastern Ukraine.
So here’s my question: Does making Paul McCartney a party to this intimate policy issue — no matter how subtly — promote Ukraine’s independence?
One can study Russification on a family basis. Judging by their public appearances, neither Viktor Pinchuk nor his wife, Olena Franchuk, former President Kuchma’s daughter, speaks Ukrainian.
Ironically, Kuchma does speak Ukrainian. A native of Kostobobrovo, a small village in Chernihiv oblast, Kuchma spent most of his pre-political life in Baikonur and Dnipropetrovsk, where he learned Russian and unlearned Ukrainian. After becoming President of Ukraine in 1994, Kuchma relearned Ukrainian without unlearning Russian.
His linguistic success story — one of his few presidential achievements of which Ukraine can be proud of — begs the question of why his daughter and son-in-law can’t master Ukrainian. After all, they want to be perceived as supporters of Ukraine’s independence, correct?
That said, the show was terrific, a time travel experience from a true legend. Ageless Paul McCartney rocked the rain away and received the warmest reception from the people who were having the happiest time of their lives.
As the concert drew to a close, they begged him to perform “Yesterday,” and he did it! It was midnight, but the people walked away with their eyes shining. Thank you for coming to Kyiv, Paul!
As the concert drew to a close, they begged him to perform “Yesterday,” and he did it! His valedictory song brought tears to many eyes. It was midnight, and the people walked away with their eyes shining bright. Thank you for coming to Kyiv, Paul!
My advice for Mr. Pinchuk: Put the people first and do more for Ukraine!
Maidan under heavy clouds
Crossing police cordons
In half an hour, I'd be taking a shower
Taking a shower
Damn, I should have brought my own umbrella!
The last shot I made before deserting my position and running for cover
My "drydock" vantage point
Ani Lorak and (dunno his name), hosting the Chas buty razom (time to be together) telethon
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Leeeeooooniiiid Kuuuuchmaaaa!
Verka Serduchka, cultural neighbor
A Pinchuk Foundation promo
Waiting for showtime
The Union Flag flies over Maidan
The sky goes orange...
And there he goes again!
"Privet druzi!" (Rus. hello, Ukr. friends)
"Drive My Car"
"All My Loving"
"Got to Get It Into My Life"
"Let 'em In"
"Back in the U.S.S.R"
"Let It Be"
"Yesterday" (Novy Kanal)
Thank you, Paul!