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Friday, March 24, 2006

Belated Belarus: When Will Europe’s Last Dictatorship Graduate to Democracy?

Long live Lukashenka, Belarus’ president-elect, whose “re-election” for a third term highlights his dictatorial lifestyle. According to election authorities, Alyaksander Lukashenka championed a whopping 82 percent of the vote while opposition leaders Alyaksander Milinkevich never made it past single digits. These democratically maladaptive voting patterns characterize a dependent, closed-circuit culture unable to defuse the cause of its mental condition.

Never in their wildest dreams had Belarusians imagined that Lukashenka would be here for a haul that long. A collective farm manager, he had harvested the 1994 election amid an ideological famine caused by the socioeconomic turbulence of the early days of the post-Soviet era. Struggling to find the answers to a mounting avalanche of bread-and-butter problems, common folks raided their mental closets for mothballed Soviet mantras.

Lukashenka seemed to read their minds. But the Soviet mantras on his inventory never made him a masterful manager. Also known as “бацька” (bah-ts-kah), or father, he has spent all these years shaping his country’s future with an anachronistic mindset. His strategy: Keep Belarus in Russia’s orbit in exchange for discount energy supplies. Eventual reunification seems to be part of the deal, but this commitment has been punctuated with intense bureaucratic turf battles between Minsk and Moscow. Bottom line: A poor and paternalistic society, lost in space and time, shunned by the rest of the international community, much like a mental institution.

Cheap energy supplies from Russia — the lifeblood of the Lukashenka regime — have nourished the Belarusian welfare state. Its modest blessings account for the backbone of his grass-roots support. Traditionally, Lukashenka has drawn support from older, Sovietized Belarusians. These people have a chronic crush on the communist past, a past that covered their bare necessities and held the promise of a “bright future.”

On closer examination, Russia’s feeding tube has all the proportions of a geopolitical control chord. This symbiotic arrangement offers a perfect “gastrointestinal” scope into the innards of both countries’ politico-economic models. What makes Belarus different is its cloistered and cathetered quasi-communism, as opposed to Russia’s crony and commodity capitalism of 33 Forbes-rated billionaires. On all other counts, Belarus’ serves as a magnifying lens for everything that’s wrong with Russia. Identity crisis. Big Brother. Obsolete economy. Addiction to paternalism.

No wonder, younger Belarusians do not subscribe to Lukashenka’s business plan. They challenge their country’s father-knows-best culture. True, their Jeans Revolution has failed to ignite the jaded masses. In a country of almost zero interest group dynamics and a tightened KGB grip, the opposition fell badly short on financial, organizational, and media support. Many kids will end up in jail. But this is not the end. It’s just the beginning. When they go home, they should set their hearts and minds to winning the hearts and minds of others.

There’s no agent of change like youth. Enlightened youth activists should spread their vision of a free and modernized Belarus. Big Brother must go. The Belarus Brainpower brand should retire him. The generation gap should serve as a creative destruction tool with which to bridge the gap between the Belarus of yesterday and tomorrow.

They should embark on door-to-door Promethean politics, raising awareness, inspiring people to believe in themselves, and thus rekindling the fire in Belarus’ belly. To shake the tyranny off its back, Belarus must stop crawling and learn to walk. Isolating Belarus won’t melt the ice. Using a flexible combination of sticks and carrots, the West should engage the regime in ways that would let the warm breeze of freedom slip through the cracks.

It took four years for Ukraine to move from “Ukraine without Kuchma” sit-ins to the Orange Revolution. On the eve of the parliamentary election Ukraine has a choice, something Belarus hasn’t experienced for more than a decade. Going the distance from ugly duckling to swan — from dictatorship to democracy — will not be an easy journey. As Belarus moves along, Ukraine will have its own political storms to weather. And when it does, Ukraine should ruffle its feathers and act as a role model for Belarus.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ukraine-Russia Relations
Letter 9

Certainly, not all Americans should brace themselves for bilinguality. But immigrants who seek American citizenship should. And as R. Smith noted, people interested in expanding their horizons or reviving their roots would be welcome, too. Shevchenko, the Langston Hughes of Ukrainian poetry, may be a tough nut to crack for English-speaking students of Ukrainian.

Unfortunately, throughout the 15 years of Ukraine’s independence, its academia has been cash-strapped and in a state of atrophy. It has failed to produce popular online engines or quality self-help manuals for English speakers eager to learn Ukrainian. Anyway, explore these links:

And if anybody knows Yushchenko’s CIA controllers, ask them to share:)

Shevchenko became a cornerstone of Ukrainian culture for his insightful and inspirational rhymes such as, “І чужому навчайтесь, і свого не цурайтесь.” (Always learn from others, never unlearn what’s yours.) Unfortunately, millions of Ukrainians in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union had a different values system scripted for them: “Learn what’s mine, lose what’s yours.” Geopolitical corollary: “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine.”

With a mammoth PR budget at its disposal thanks to the big brother media, the Kremlin employs regional “escort services” in a bid to keep its ideological “adware” alive. After the Orange Revolution had run a devastating virus scan, they thought they could never plant it again. But the orange guys left too many things unpatched. And now comes another chance for the Kremlin to run its vampiric program. Breaking news: What does it mean for the grass-root donors? Among other things, it means being coopted as people with learning disabilities, disposable the day after the election — like an empty box of chocolates. Does a non-binding referendum guarantee Russian as a second official language? Not really. To amend Ukraine’s Constitution, the blue belt would have to muster a total of 300 votes in the newly-elected Rada. Tall order, isn’t it?

That’s how it goes. That’s why Ukrainization rings like a marketable bugaboo in Ukraine, while Russification doesn’t ring in Russia at all — it’s a bizarre notion. And what it all comes down to? Ukrainization probably holds the record for the longest run at number #1 on the Kremlin’s CIS agitprop charts. Whenever an election comes up in Ukraine, there it is — raving mad, from station to station, all across the nation. Dear Russian speakers, somebody wants to play you like a tune. Would you enjoy every minute of it?

More on the double standard. The Russian leadership propagates linguistic liberties everywhere except its own domain. Take Tatarstan, for one. Populated by a Turkic-speaking people, this oil-rich autonomous republic requested a switch from Cyrillic to Latin. Guess what the Kremlin said to the largest minority in the Russian Federation.

In Ukraine, the previous administrations would keep Ukrainian on the backburner while touting Russian to snag a few extra votes. President Kravchuk (1991-94), who craves reincarnation in this parliamentary election, campaigns for Russian as a second official language. President Kuchma (1994-04), who shuns the world of politics, had exploited Russian as a publicity scratch pad in the 1994 campaign. Once elected, he would quietly abandon it. Did his confidence trick signal a tsunami of Ukrainization to be unleashed on the Russian community? No. In fact, under the chameleon and colonial karma of these leaders, many Ukrainians would still consider themselves culturally lower-caste.

They would have their self-image probed on a regular basis. In the 90s, if one spoke Ukrainian to an urban Russophone, she could get a response that would amount to something like “Get your black ass out of here, you cotton field nigger.” Now that the melting pot of the Soviet Union had fallen apart, the Ukrainians expected cultural recovery. It didn’t happen. Not only did the Russians, whose language the Ukrainians had learned, refuse to return the courtesy, but in southeastern Ukraine they would also despise them. Thus, folks who strongly identified themselves with Ukrainian culture would often navigate their own country as islands unto themselves.

Ukraine did not buy into Communism Inc via a mail-order catalogue. CEO Vladimir Lenin had to dispatch his sales reps. Armed to the teeth and well-organized, they called themselves the Red Army. And they had to kill millions of prospects literary (1917-21, 1932-33) before ringing the sale and going bankrupt in 1991. On December 1, 1991, 90 percent voted yes to an independent Ukraine. Turnout was 84 percent. More than you would normally expect from a “deeply divided” country.

The Ukrainization of the 20s and 30s was a pet policy from the world’s most oppressive regime designed to increase popularity and ensure self-prolongation. The sticks that followed vastly outnumbered the carrots:

“Starting from the early 1930s, the Ukrainization policies were abruptly and bloodily reversed. ‘Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism’ was declared to be the primary problem in Ukraine. Ukrainianized newspapers, publications, and schools were switched to Russian. The vast majority of leading scholars and cultural leaders of Ukraine were imprisoned, deported, or shot, as were the ‘Ukrainianized’ and ‘Ukrainianizing’ portions of the Communist party. The so-called Great Terror in Ukraine reached its climax in 1933, presaging the Soviet Great Purge of 1937–38. Soviet Ukraine's political autonomy was completely destroyed. See Ukrainian language#Persecution and russification.”

The bitter turf war between the Ukrainians and Poles during WW II witnessed atrocities committed on both sides. The Jews indeed were caught in the crossfire, as centuries of hatred accumulated against them translated into a series of terrible pogroms. Still, not all Ukrainians felt the same way about Jews. Many would risk their lives to saves Jews. Ukraine ranks fourth on the list of Righteous Gentiles among nations.

Propelled by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Russian troops stormed into Galicia as peacemakers. They also excelled as widowmakers. When it came to the art of genocide, Stalin could coach Hitler.

Members of all sides in this conflict with a heart for history have attempted reconciliation. But the Russian leadership often resists such attempts. Recently, the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office found no evidence of genocide in the Katyn massacre.

Ukraine is neither a confederation nor a federation. This distinguishing characteristic sets Ukraine apart from Switzerland, Canada, and Russia. If all Canadians spoke two languages, Quebec would never feel uncomfortable. (Still, in that case, Celine Dion would have probably launched her career in English, killing the very cultural ingredient that makes her special.) If all citizens of Switzerland spoke four languages, it could pass for a unitary state. If Russia promoted regional languages on a scale it promotes Russian in Ukraine, some 3 million Ukrainian Russians, the second-largest minority, would be free to practice their language. Some 8 million Russian Ukrainians have always been free to practice theirs.

Once destigmatized, the Ukrainian Russians would open a few more schools in Russia to discover their ancestors’ language. Once dechauvinized, the Russian Ukrainians would open their minds to Ukrainian while staying true to their roots. A healthy cultural diet neither stems from the inferiority complex nor does it flourish on the superiority complex.

Color me utopian, but when the Golden Rule rules, no one gets ruined.

And in our case, the Golden Rule would outrule the need for fraud, referendums, and “Abu Graib-Ukraine” mythology. The guy below would have saved himself the trouble of feigning ethnographic amorality.

He mounts a vocal defense of the use of Russian in Ukraine. But when it comes to the use of Ukrainian in Russia, he says the Ukrainians never uttered a word. What a nice “silence-of-the-lambs” argument. Well, Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who kept a diary, was quiet too. She never asked for Hebrew lessons when the Germans came to town. And Bubba, the African American character in “Forrest Gump,” had used to ride at the back of the bus, with his lips sealed tight. But then one day, Rosa Parks begged to differ, inspiring the Civil Rights movement.

By applying transactional analysis and drawing sharp historical parallels, you unmask the hypocrisy and help your neighbor become a better person.

In 1989, the last Soviet census took place. We discussed this event in school. I still remember one of my teachers raising her eyebrows and gasping in surprise the moment I reported Ukrainian as the language my family spoke. An otherwise intelligent teacher, she was enslaved by Soviet stereotypes, assuming that that Ukrophones didn’t measure up to Russophones.

The Soviet system is history now. I harbor no Soviet stereotypes, although I went to a Russian school from day one to graduation. No kidding. I took the best and left the rest. Did I forget Ukrainian? No. Did I forget Russian? No. That’s why I believe that Russian speakers who plan on being productive citizens of Ukraine should have no fear in learning Ukrainian.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Ukraine-Russia Relations
Letter 8


Ukrainian citizenship does imply rights and responsibilities. Ditto for Russian or US citizenship, for that matter. We don’t need the double standard, do we?

For more than a century, millions of Ukrainians have mastered Russian and English to become productive citizens of their host countries. If I were a member of the largest minority in Russia or America, would I be able to get a decent job without speaking the language of my host country?

Kuchma’s claim to fame started in a village where hardly a person spoke Russian. He quickly absorbed Russian in college and later on would trace himself as Russian. He rediscovered his Ukrainian roots only when he became Prime Minister. And he barely spoke Ukrainian at the time. But motivation moves mountains. He relearned Ukrainian and, in the twilight of his presidency, begot an international bestseller in Ukrainian:)

That’s why I just don’t believe that mastering Ukrainian, a Slavic language that has so much in common with Russian, creates a linguistic challenge for goodwilling Russians. The 2001 census did show a slightly stronger standing for the Ukrainians. Still, it was not a distant cry from the 1989 Soviet census to validate suspicions of rampant Ukrainization. In the good old Soviet times, many Ukrainians would dress themselves as Russians. What was the trick? Once they buried their ethnic identity and couched their credentials in the language of cultural superiority, they could gain access to better jobs. That’s how millions of Ukrainians unlearned their mother tongue. I doubt that the Russians would entertain the sort of cultural transition experienced by millions of Ukrainians.

In fact, learning Ukrainian never implied unlearning Russian. When Ukraine became independent, the Ukrainians did not retaliate by stigmatizing the Russians culturally. Had they done so, the Russians would have either walked away en masse or crammed themselves with Ukrainian. If all-out Ukrainization happens to be the case, then why do they have just a couple of Ukrainian schools in the entire Crimea and in Donetsk?

Ukraine does vote along ethno-geographic lines to a high degree. But other patterns also come into play. In December of 1991, the Ukrainians were not alone in voting for Ukraine’s independence. In July of 1994, the Russians living in Ukraine were not alone in voting for a pro-Russian Kuchma. In October and December of 2004, large numbers of Russian-speaking intelligentsia voted Yushchenko. And Yushchenko defeated Yanukovych in a total of two rounds — round 1 and 3. The March 26 parliamentary election does not promise a landslide victory for any single party.

I reject nazism in any form. I’m not a fan of KUN/UNSO extremist escapades, and I don’t think they are as active in Ukraine as skinheads are in Russia. At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words: On March 6, an elderly Cuban was murdered in Moscow.

Can anybody recall a single Russian slain in the streets of Lviv by Ukrainian nationalists, given the fact that Russian troops slaughtered and deported their fellow people by the tens of thousands? It’s still the other way around. A famous Ukrainian songwriter was slain in Lviv by a Russian who didn’t like Ukrainian songs.,3604,393658,00.html

Can anybody imagine a Ukrainian who would demand that a famous Russian songwriter stop singing Russian songs in a Moscow café, let alone assault him? What would be the consequences for the Ukrainian community? No Russians were killed in revenge, and that makes the Ukrainians different.

Kyiv rejects the idea of a referendum in the Crimea for exactly the same reasons why Moscow would reject one in Kaliningrad. Neither Ukraine nor Russia exhibits much interest in promoting separatism on its own soil.

More than 8 million Russians live in major Ukrainian cities: Kharkiv, Odessa, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Kyiv, Lviv. Almost 3 million Ukrainians live all across Russia: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kursk, Stavropol, Khantymansiysk, Komsomlsk. Have all the Ukrainians living in Russia mastered Russian? Yes. Have all the Ukrainians living in Ukraine mastered Russian? Yes. Have all the Russians, or at least younger people, living in Ukraine mastered Ukrainian? As of today, the answer is no.

The best way to promote unity and uniqueness is to treat people as linguistically capable and responsible individuals. It means individuals who are neither forced to forget their mother tongue nor are loathe to learn the mother tongue of their host country.

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.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Ukraine-Russia Relations
Letter 6


Thanks for your cordial and longstanding support. No, I'm not Taras Kuzio. Taras is my real name, though, and I’d been using it long before I realized the association. Yes, I tried posting on Blogger, but it didn't work out. The Internet offers a wealth of reputable sources on neo-Nazism and Stalinism. Assuming your request concerned English-speaking sources, here’s my selection:





Please do not consider this a pure act of grandstanding or a striptease show of Russia’s flaws. By confronting their past and present, Ukraine and Russia will open the road to a better future.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ukraine-Russia Relations
Letter 5

A dollar collapse would mean a lot more people losing their job — billions, probably. Russia and the US would not stand alone in this apocalypse. There’s nothing intellectually unique about the Russian policymakers, as one can hardly find a major Asian currency divorced from US debt.

Nor does the Blue metallurgic sector portray the proletariat alone. Rinat Akhmetov, one of the front runners on the Regions ticket, remains Ukraine’s richest man, according to Forbes magazine.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ukraine-Russia Relations
Letter 4

In the world of professional debate, people base their arguments on issues, not people. Rule of thumb: Every time you label a person you’re arguing with, you lose the argument. It’s called argumentum an ad hominem and belongs in the counter-culture of debate. Yes, I know I sound condescending but the facts of life will be here to stay.

No, I’m not a Russophobe. I have never experienced panic attacks while speaking Russian, my co-native language. And I do not recall having called you a Russophile either. Please be more attentive interpreting my editorials.

Ukraine and Russia have a right to live without fear of being blackmailed, annexed, or partitioned in any way. Do you agree with me? What makes them different is transactional analysis. Ukrainian troops never ventured into Russian territory. Ukraine never ruled Russia. Ukraine never breached agreements with Russia. It was always the other way around.

Good neighbors are always welcome. Bad neighbors are not. What does it take to be a good neighbor? Just a little common sense and good will. Creating a mutually beneficial modus vivendi based on a level playing field. Laying to rest the paradigms of the past. Searching for win-win solutions and a place under the sun in the 21st century. Master-slave relationships mean retardation for both.

What would be a win-win solution for the crisis at hand?

1. Trans-Dniester businesses register in Moldova.
2. Moldova does not burden them with double taxation.

That’s it. Trans-Dniester has been a de facto autonomy for more than a decade. Unless the conflict escalates out of control, it will maintain the status quo indefinitely.

Both China and Taiwan have prospered from free trade. Of course, Taiwan businesses do not have to register with mainland authorities. That said, China would not tolerate a hornet’s nest of smuggling near its shores.

For most countries, the one-China policy does not preclude economic relations with Taiwan.
If China opts for non-peaceful reunification measures, it will lose. If Taiwan rocks the boat, it will lose. In a sense, the same applies to Moldova and Trans-Dniester.

Michael, I have to disappoint you. I’m not the real McCoy:) I’m an independent label under my original name.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ukraine-Russia Relations
Letter 3


Flaming seldom creates fireproof arguments. I did not intend to make you feel insecure. I did not mean to patronize you. And I'm not afraid to put in an extra effort to keep this debate professional and forward-looking. Could we keep it that way?

Back to the substance, I think the "blockade" decision, which involves the Ukrainians on the other side, does have its rough edges. Speaking in Cold War terms, I would say that Ukraine has made a tough call in order to contain the Kremlin’s “divide-and-conquer” policy.

Whenever the Kremlin fuels kingsize separatist ambitions, the price is always paid by common folks. In fact, as you know, Moldova (former Moldavia) had become a fully-fledged Soviet republic overnight — with a stroke of Stalin’s pen. Ukraine never had a quarrel with Moldova, except for a minor border fracas in 2004. Moldova’s major quarrel came from within, but the Kremlin did pull a few strings.

That’s why managing potentially disastrous ambitions — to prevent a repeat of the 1992 bloodbath — is worth the effort. When your backyard becomes a hotbed of geopolitical activity, fence-sitting doesn’t always work. However, great care and flexibility should be exercised in resolving this crisis.

Finally, no liberals posed as firestarters in the 1992 episode. And I do remember a refugee girl who came to our class when the Cold War had already ended and a hot war began there.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ukraine-Russia Relations
Letter 2


If a hypothetical rent re-evaluation carried no upside potential for Ukraine, then why would Russia resort to stonewalling? Why would the Russian Federation employ the border clause as the last line of defense? I think the jury is still out on the question of whether Ukraine has been shortchanged. In my previous post, I tried my best to pave the way for this question via a historical kaleidoscope based on extreme reductio ad absurdum. Anyway, thanks for calling me a dude/weirdo:) I really appreciate the title. When A applies ad hominem treatment to B in absentia — and in a conversation with C — that sequence may speak volumes to the audience. It might have broken someone’s heart to see the Russian tricolor go that pale — to the point of passing for a white flag:)

Now that we’ve traded shots, can we tackle the substance? Of course, neither Kaliningrad nor the Crimea will ever be on the geopolitical “swap market” again. The Molotov-Ribbentrop transaction cost humanity dearly and must not be repeated in any form. Immanuel Kant, a native of Konigsberg, would definitely have supported this categorical imperative if he had seen all the German soldiers who had met their death in the Crimea. Ditto for the Russians and Ukrainians they had killed; and the Crimean Tartars whom Uncle Joe had brutally banished as scapegoats.

Neither Moscow nor Tbilisi will bid to compensate Gulag and Holodomor graduates for the tortuous odyssey of their lives, directed by the mustached genius of genocide. Still, Moscow would clearly have an edge in this tender, in terms of bona fide qualifications and related experience. To keep the qualifications, Moscow should continue playing gaStalin/gasPutin to Georgia or whatever former Soviet republic it may pick for a playmate.

But as for the whole of Russia, the game of reinventing itself would push it much further up the learning curve. After all, Russia is more than just a clique of KGBremlins from the Kremlin and their business partners. More than a hundred million Russians do not run a single oil or gas well. They have to make a living other than pocketing the lion’s share of the country’s exports revenue.

If you put all Russians living outside major cities, struggling to make both ends meet, on the balance sheet, you will discover that the Kremlin’s imperial ambitions add no value to them. What does add value is the human capital of millions of Ukrainians who have contributed to upgrading the “evil empire” to the “energy empire” it is today. For centuries, the Ukrainians have been among the pioneers of Russia. How many Ukrainian schools do they have in Russia?
That’s why adopting a modernization strategy with a realpolitik component will add more value to Russia than carrying the torch of a retardation strategy with a hardline component.
Do I love Jewish ways? I love German ways! The Germans made no effort to disown their ways. They assumed responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by their fellow men. And they are making a good faith effort to help the victims and their relatives. Eleven countries have laws against denying the Holocaust. Ask David Irving, the British historian who is appealing his 3-year jail sentence in Austria, Hitler’s native land. Moreover, Austria, annexed by Germany in 1938, is looking forward to contributing its share of the compensation payments.

Of course, one might argue that rich countries simply can afford this type of noblesse oblige. In contrast, Russia, which prides itself on being a G8 member, cannot afford to do so. Good point. Despite sustained growth, Russia’s GDP per capita trails the rest of the G8 by a wide margin. Confession may open the floodgates of compensation claims that may dampen growth.
Where did things go wrong? In 1990, Yeltsin had set out to make the Russian Federation a prosperous democracy respected by the international community. By the end of 1999, all he left was a poor kleptocracy fighting a bloody war in Chechnya. His alcohol-powered, blowout privatization policy, along with its scorched-earth income distribution patterns, had led to the demise of the Russian Dream in its embryo. With the wrong pilots at the helm, transition from a paternalistic, command-and-control state eventuated in the birth of a socially Darwinist, crony capitalist monster — with a cavernous income gap and a values vacuum.

Not exactly. Russia’s identity crisis became fertile ground for Nazi–inspired hardliners. Sixty years after the victory in the Great Patriotic War, Der Fuehrer has established himself as a popular, customizable political brand around Moscow. In the streets of Moscow, Mein Kampf is sold as a souvenir; Africans, Asians, and Jews are assaulted on a regular basis.

Why does this keep happening in a country where every family had lost someone dear in the war? In a country that used to sponsor liberation movements in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America and welcomed students from these faraway places? How could a country with galaxy of the world’s finest scientists, writers, and composers have its lights turned off?
Uncle Boris’ two terms of office left Russia poor and messed up; Uncle Vlad’s have done little to make it right, except making use of skyrocketing energy prices. Has the value of life appreciated accordingly? Kursk the submarine, 2000. Dubrovka the theater, 2002. Beslan the school, 2004. These benchmark episodes offer bloodchilling evidence to the contrary.

Oligarchs are as much of a problem for Russians as they are for Ukrainians. In this regard, these nations are brothers in distress. What makes the Russian oligarchs different? They are bigger and badder. They need more space. That’s why Ukraine has become part of their habitat. True, many of the top oligarchs are of Jewish origin. Scattered all over the Roman Empire and Christendom for centuries, the Jews always stuck together in order to survive. Wherever they found themselves, their business skills and goal-orientedness always came to prominence. Once successful, they would set up nepotistic networks probably in the same manner the locals did. These networks created reverse discrimination, amplified existing economic tensions, and brought the sociocultural climate to the boiling point. Branded as the “murderers of Jesus,” members of this tightly knit, geographically mobile, and highly visible ethnic group had their social sins stereotyped unlike any other nation on earth.

What’s right about Israel? After WW II, the Jews have pulled themselves together from all over the world and built Israel from scratch. How many Israelites spoke Hebrew at that time? How many freshly-minted Israelis would despise learning Hebrew in the 21st century? Israel and the Arab Street have been fighting a turf war since biblical times. For decades, America has locked itself in a close relationship with Israel, its longtime client state and, more recently, ally in the woebegone war on terror. Most Arabs view it as a tandem to be destroyed when in fact it’s often the case of the tail wagging the dog. What’s wrong about Israel? There will be no peace until the Israelis find a way to help the Palestinians produce something of economic value to hold on to — other than AK-47s and explosives.

As for the Jewish Russian oligarchs, a good many of them are having the “best of the two worlds.” Keeping their “hard-earned” billions in offshore banks, they cruise the world’s best resorts. Some bluntly admit to plotting to put Puttie out of business, and are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Others are in the British soccer business. Their lifestyle sparks outrage among millions of common folks left behind and cheated out of their future.
That’s why thousands of younger Russians have embraced Hitler, while millions of older Russians can’t let go of Stalin. The gruesome twosome who had slaughtered their fellow men by the tens of millions made a comeback. They are fighting the battle for their hearts and minds of Russia. Can anybody imagine a Jew praising Mein Kampf or an African American sporting a KKK white robe and hood?

As for me, I love being able to know my ways and the ways of others, without falling into the trap of self-serving bias. What are our ways? Crony capitalists and convicted criminals must go. They have no right to run the Ukrainian government — nor any other government, for that matter. That’s why we made it to Maidan, and still haven’t received those CIA paychecks. No anti-Russian folks showed up with us, pro-Ukrainian folks only. Amongst the myriad banners waving out there, one could spot a quite few Russian tricolors. The folks waving them spoke with a strong Moscow accent. Guess how many of them had their banners burned.

With all the ups and downs, we have not come to the end of the road. While convicted criminals have been held at bay, crony capitalists refused to go away. Sad to say, we became the laughingstock of our opponents and supporters because some of the crony capitalists looked orange. That was our fault. We should have worked harder. We should have sworn them to “off-duty mode.”

As we have our values challenged, they become more clear to us. We gain valuable foresights into the challenges lying ahead. One of the them is not losing what we’ve gained. Democracy. Freedom of speech. A better social contract. Convicted criminals riding their Trojan horse in this parliamentary race do not share these values. In 2005, the year the oranges “killed the economy,” it grew at a modest 2.4 percent while earnings rose 20 percent and the budget surged 63 percent. Ukraine received more value for a single state-owned enterprise than the combined value of all past privatization proceedings. If James Carville were to comment on the numbers, he’d probably come out with “It’s the shadowy economy, stupid.”

Finally, how does the WTO come into play? Ukraine is heading for the WTO’s door. And so is Russia. The assumption that the Kremlin sold out to the West makes little sense. Russia’s accession to the WTO will not be a zero-sum game. The Kremlin expects to improve its fortunes and keeps negotiating to get the best deal it can. Neither Ukraine nor Russia should crave jamming fingers in the doorway to extract some first-mover advantages. Synchronized accession could solve that problem.

The Ukrainian economy will not be sold for scrap. It’s the Ukrainian steel makers who will no longer have their sales scrapped by antidumping laws. And most of those steel makers are non-orange. Long-term benefits do outweigh short-term losses. Minimizing the latter and maximizing the former should be the goal. Free trade works better than free aid. Ask China. Of course, the “freer” the trade the better the aid.

That’s why Ukraine and Russia should keep their eyes wide open. And may neither one have its arms twisted — nor its mirrors.

Orange Coalition Dies in Pre-Election Miscarriage, Parents Share Blame

A Bestseller That Refused Sell
In the face of the past regime's rampant hydra, the idea of Maidan's reunion made a bestseller among its grass-root supporters. Somehow, the idea didn’t sell to the leaders. Somewhat impregnated with it, they didn’t deliver.

Like the rivalry-laden fragmentation bomb that had shredded the orange camp to pieces last fall and poisoned the hearts of Maidaners, this fresh act of non-performance adds to the lengthy chronicle of lost opportunities. Each of them constitutes breach of the “Contract with Maidan.” This could have been avoided had Maidaners been smart enough to maintain a rapid-response camp on standby. The “Embassy of the Ukrainian People,” shall we call it? Any early signs of derailment coming through — a massive mobilization follows. Self-organized protest units storm the streets. Maidan reconvenes and puts the train back on the right track.

We never rose to the occasion, they never stayed the course. Maidan has become a mere shadow of its former self. Maidan’s roadmap has become a relic. We stayed home when we should have been there. And now we’ve come to resent our self-administered “cabin fever.” We opted for the wait-and-see, not-my-job approach. Kitchen table talk and no action. How did we expect to own success without owning the problem?

Will Baby Oranges Make It?
Nasha Ukraina, BYT, Pora-PRP, the Kostenko-Pliushch bloc, the Socialists — what did these parliamentary hopefuls lose? What was at stake? They lost a niche of supporters who had believed in them as a whole — synergy, not sectarianism. Turnout will be no small issue in this election. A vote lost by the Orange crowd is a vote gained by the other crowd. In the oligarch-oiled calculus of the Rada, every vote will count. Well, not exactly. Those who miss the 3-percent magic mark will not count. For baby oranges that shun the umbrella of the big league, striking out on their own comes down to a make-or-break decision. Ditto for voters who support them. Where do “broken votes” go? Down the drain.

B-class orange stars, as they may also be called, are barely making it. Pora-PRP, the YMCA of the Orange Revolution that dressed itself as the midwife to the coalition, is in limbo. Will Vitaliy Klychko, aka “Dr. Ironfist,” fight his way through the hearts and minds of the voters? The Kostenko-Pliushch bloc — welcome to the other cliffhanger B-class orange project. With all due respect, these oldtimers will probably have to throw the towel in, too.

A-class orange stars should have downgraded their king/queensize egos to a politically healthy level. Shipping them off to a b-school to hone their teamwork and negotiations skills would be worth every penny of the taxpayers’ money.

Cross-Orange Fighting
Meanwhile, they excel at heaping scorn on each other, equipped with a bundle of Stone Age PR tools. Witness the explosion of cross-orange smear campaigning. Tymoshenko has been the victim of guerilla attacks involving spoof artillery. Just take a look at those fake McDonald’s flyers apparently aimed to kill electoral appetite, and those fake Cotex testimonials that hit below the waistline. Having collected all this unsolicited memorabilia, she even chose to put a whole gallery on display on her site. A couple of revelations-packed brochures are also on the market. The first one dissects Yuliya’s moneyed associates, goes all the way down to her ethnic roots, and borders on anti-Semitism. Dmytro Chobit, a renegade man who had sat on her party’s ruling council, released this intimate material. He had cut his teeth on the pillars of the past regime. His scathing reports could cost him his life at the moment. He put the punchline in his second brochure. Chobit accuses Tymoshenko of conspiring to commit a coup d’état the night before Yushchenko fired her Cabinet. Rumor had it Tymoshenko and her loyalists had known what was coming and pulled an allnighter at SBU Director Turchynov’s dacha to think things over. It was during this unholy supper that they called US Ambassador Herbst. They asked his opinion on how the West would react to Yushchenko being impeached, the brochure says. Tymoshenko has denied role.

The President’s Public Relations Chernobyl
Editorials portraying Yushchenko as the semi-godfather of RosUkrEnergo have become the sport of his cross-orange opponents. All the more frequently, Yushchenko makes the bed and then has to lie in it. A few months ago he set off a chain reaction that generated a publicity bonanza for the non-orange opposition segment as well. He made the unfortunate suggestion that Chernobyl could become a world-class nuclear waste repository. As Russia jacks up spent fuel storage fees, Ukraine could save a lot of money and perhaps even make a few bucks, so the President’s logic went. Feeding this controversial vision to the media in an election year, and one that will mark the 20th anniversary of the disaster, was the recipe for a political suicide of sorts, a public relations Chernobyl. Unwittingly, the President has reopened the scars left by the world’s worst nuclear accident, adding credibility to his demonizers.

The area surrounding Chernobyl will be uninhabitable for centuries to come. There’s one exception: Some aging evacuees are coming back. These nostalgia-driven folks despise radiation. They are returning to the villages they deserted in the bitter spring 1986 exodus — to spend the “golden fall” of their lives there.
By now, there’s no count of all the children and clean-up personnel who died of thyroid cancer and leukemia. Gorby wouldn’t address the nation until the free world rang the alarm bell in ear-splitting mode. Even then he adopted a tongue-in-cheek
attitude, offering no estimates of the accident’s extent.

Talk about a winnable nuclear war. We lost one with our government. Army rookies, fresh out of high school, were sent to their death. The Red Army relied on a very “generous” lethal exposure scale, unmatched by those found in Western democracies’ militaries. These kids Soviet Union were ordered to shovel the “funky” molten tar off the reactor’s roof. Heroes? Yes. Nuke fodder? Yes. They saved millions of lives in a country where a single life didn’t cost a thing. The Communist Party’s valuation model had exacted a heavy toll on the Soviet people. It was malignant. Chernobyl made an X-ray of it and thus became a catalyst for perestroika.

Two decades Chernobyl awaits a new sarcophagus to replace the ramshackle concrete structure assembled in a hurry immediately after the accident. Reportedly, it already has quite a few cracks in it. What if a major earthquake intervenes? We do have earthquakes here once in a while. Well, in that case, accession to the EU may become a moot question, due to bilateral destruction of subject matter.

The red flags do not end there. According to some sources, Holtec, the US company that won the tender to build a repository, boasts a trail of negative publicity at home. They argue that Holtec containers do not meet local safety standards. If that information happens to be factual, President Yushchenko should make no mistake. He should give the green light only if he succeeds in convincing Holtec to move its headquarters to Chernobyl, spouses and children included. Otherwise, a more reliable contractor should selected. Whatever the projected savings, Chernobyl’s proximity to Kyiv and the rest of the continent make it the wrong place for a commercial repository. Until man masters Mars and the state of technology makes uranium as manageable as a matchbox, the risk of 1986 repeating itself remains very real. President Yushchenko raised the specter of Chernobyl before he knew it. He should have given it more thought.

The Chernobyl scandal climaxed when David Sampson, US Deputy Secretary of Commerce visited Kyiv where, among other things, he discussed nuclear energy issues. Ne Tak, the trigger-happy B-class anti-orange taskforce, seized the moment to test its watchdog skills. Tymoshenko joined the show to parade her green streak. Meeting in a political jam session, this band broke the news. They claimed to have intercepted memos that outlined Uncle Sam’s master plan: dump nuclear waste in Chernobyl. If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! That’s what democracy is all about — a system of checks and balances.

The Winner Takes It All?
A new chapter in Ukraine’s “crony capitalism” saga has been written. Word came out that Youth Affairs Minister Yuriy Pavlenko and NSC chief Anatoliy Kinakh had reinforced the Olympics delegation with their wife and daughter, respectively. When questioned by journalists about their relatives’ assigned roles, these top orange officials cited staff functions — interpreter and coordinator, respectively. Wow! No mission is impossible when hubby and daddy are big bosses at your beck and call. Why bother casting? Why outsource? Let’s keep it simple and stupid. Let’s keep it in the family.

That’s not the whole story. No sooner had the Olympics scandal subsided, than another one broke out., the premier orange blog, published some interesting speculations about the Kinakh family. According to the article, female members of the Kinakh family own the firm that has embarked on a trojan privatization scheme to take control of the Boryspil international airport, a major cash cow. Of course, Mr. Kinakh, a Nasha Ukraina running mate, refuted the charge. So what happened? Another false charge to clip NU’s wings in the election? Or a well-documented throwback to the “good old” times — “The Winner Takes It All” times? Hey, don’t you remember that beautiful song by the Swedish quartet ABBA, so often played at winter Olympics figure skating?

Kiss the Dust or Touch Base
In a brilliant act of one-upwomanship, Tymoshenko crafted an open-letter style coalition agreement, which she signed in full view of the media. For those interested in coming on board, her requirements: (1) back out of the gas accord with Russia, (2) swear not to collaborate with the Regions Party. The latter may be a good point. The former is pure propaganda. That’s the reason why she had trouble recruiting co-pilots.

With all the negative publicity accumulated, RosUkrEnergo has been a ball and chain for the Yekhanurov government. So far, attempts to get rid of RosUkrEnergo and do business with Gazprom directly have failed.

Pora-PRP has laid the blame of the coalition’s miscarriage at Tymoshenko’s door. “GI Julia” keeps the heat on Yushchenko’s inner circle while damning him with faint praise. After all, it was Yushchenko who had lavished accolades on her Cabinet days before giving her the axe.

Things will change in the sobering post-election reality. Once the Regionalist juggernaut rolls into the Rada, cross-orange cat-and-dog fighting will be out of fashion. The orange ones will kiss the dust. Or touch base.