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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Maidan 2.3: Yushchenko Reports for Duty, Calls for Opposition Unity

The third edition of this year’s Maidan became Yushchenko’s debut. The President came to talk to us about his faith in new elections.

With a sharper-toothed decree, which reschedules them and reinforces his case in the Constitutional Court, he projected optimism, if not confidence. The people who gathered at Yevropeiska Ploshcha, many of them from other towns, responded gladly. (Click here to watch the video.)

My batteries started dying on me, and I had to give them frequent rests to keep them alive. Yet, amid high attendance, that mishap didn’t affect my mood.

The President’s message to the opposition: Bury the hatchet. Build a single bloc. Don’t cannibalize each other’s ratings.

As the rally drew to a close, it started raining lightly. A group of opposition supporters headed for the Counter-Maidan and streamed past it unobstructed, with 0.0 casualties. Sorry, Mr. Yanukovych, no civil war. Just a civil walk.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Yushchenko Reschedules Elections, Reinforces Decree

In a surprise and concise address to the nation on Wednesday night, President Yushchenko announced his decision to hold the elections on June 24, not May 27 as his previous decree stated. He thereby rescinded his April 2 dissolution decree, replacing it with one that contains stronger constitutional language.

Filled with numerous citations, it comes as a smart move that offers the voters a better explanation of where both sides of the conflict stand. The punch line remains unchanged: The coalition has violated the choice made by the voters in the last election, and thus has violated their constitutional rights.

So, “it ain’t over till it’s over,” as the saying goes, meaning that the coalition has to do it over again. Only this time the Yanukovych lobby in the Constitutional Court will probably have a harder time derailing Yushchenko’s case.

As today’s session of the unruly Rada opened — on a day that marks the 21st anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster — the guys there didn’t look quite as happy as they did a few days ago. The luster and confidence they exuded has tarnished. The practice of licking one’s lips in front of the camera — peppering the audience with spoilers on how the pet Court will bomb Yushchenko into submission — has come to a hiatus.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Stanik’s Hubby Prefers to Change Subject in Interview on Wife’s Possessions

Vadym Dolganov, the local king of Big Brother reporting known as Dolganovism, ran state television during Kuchma's second term in a manner similar to that depicted in The Running Man, the action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dolganovism was a time when the media’s dystopian grip on Ukrainian society reached its apogee. But there’s more to this person than his career. Dolganov also happens to be the husband of Constitutional Court Justice Susanna Stanik, whose septuagenarian mother, Oksana Antoshko, has been found by the SBU to be in possession of real estate worth $12 mn.

In a live interview on Channel 5 Tuesday, Mr. Dolganov tried to seize the night by alluding that he has been approached by opposition leaders who sought a favorable court opinion from his wife and were willing to pay for it. However, he refused to specify his claims.
The ball was in his court when the host confronted him with documental proof — utility bills charged to Stanik’s mother seized as evidence from apartment mailboxes. From then on, Dolganov’s studio conduct became evasive, if not bizarre.

First, he emphatically denied any relationship whatsoever to the apartments under investigation. But then, as he grew irritated, he called the questioning an invasion of privacy, insisting that the host lacked the authority to ask such intrusive questions. Further efforts to extract comments from Mr. Dolganov failed.

Instead, Stanik’s hubby used the opportunity to polish his diversion technique. He started reading from a newspaper, highlighting events unrelated to the subject, such as celebrations of Hitler’s birthday by local neo-Nazis, whom he obviously tried to marry to the opposition. (On closer observation, however, many of these events turn out to have been organized by Russian supremacist cells operating on Ukrainian soil.

Well done, Mr. Dolganov. This is SO you.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Maidan 2.2: Still Going Strong; Slams Court’s Makeup, Cabinet’s Conduct
Against all meteorological odds — up until showtime, it rained cats and dogs — Maidan 2.2 mobilized itself on Friday, at Yevropeiska Ploshcha (European Square), our makeshift venue. One could look at it as the long-awaited service pack for the Mar. 31 edition. On that day, we had rekindled the spirit of Maidan, only to be followed by weeks of silence stemming from our leaders’ stay-at-home school of thought.

Yevropeiska Ploshcha, our next best alternative, has its historical roots in events leading up to the Orange Revolution. We flocked to a place where, on Sep. 18, 2004, presidential candidate Yushchenko held his first rally since his yet unsolved Sep. 5 poisoning. A lot has changed since then. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, our heroes, overpromised and underdelivered. Moroz and Kinakh, our darlings, changed their views. And we, the mortals, merely allowed ourselves to swap venues. (Yanukovych, our only source of stability, too, overpromised and underdelivered, but he doesn’t seem to like the idea of power changing hands.)

These days, Yanukovych supporters hang out at Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), the geographic epicenter of the good old Maidan of ‘04/05. Ironically, it is there that they painstakingly try to recreate the spitting image of the very institution they’ve been slinging mud at all these years.

It rained intermittently throughout most of the day, and on my way to the metro I got soaked wet. As I braved the pouring rain, I couldn’t help but paint a dim picture. With the weight of the clouds heavy upon me, I steeped myself in a heart-wrenching calculus, as I expected attendance to be abysmal. All through my underground journey, I thought of what a sad sight Maidan must be. I visualized a lonely place, a murder scene.

These emotions grew ever more intense with scores of homebound Blue brothers moving down the escalator at Maidan Nezalezhnosti Station. But when I emerged at my point of destination, I witnessed a miracle! Not only did the sun come shining brightly, but so did the Orange crowd. I wasn’t the only one with the will to carry on.

My doubts dried up and my spirits soared. And then I almost wet myself. When studying the Blue Maidan from across the street, I heard — you’re gonna love this — Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” So here I am, at the height of my curiosity, caught off guard by Elvis’s crooning of his lovesong. (Click here to watch the video.) I couldn’t believe my ears. Hey, what about Panslavic solidarity?! It turned out Yanuk, Russia’s best friend, had left the stage minutes ago, and the DJs there were throwing a dance party, shamelessly experimenting with repertoire. Those pervs! You can’t leave them for a second. Once you leave them to their own devices, they burst into a NATO song.

This rare episode of latent love for Western civilization added a comic edge to the much-publicized rant by would-be First Lady’s Lyudmila Yanukovych, who alleged that Orange revolutionaries wore American-made valenki and consumed oranges syringed with mind-altering substances.
Worst of all, it evoked memories of the ubiquitous Yanukovych ‘04 campaign big board that read “Tomu shcho poslidovny.” (“For he is consistent”) Consistent with that immortal message, I wonder what was next on their playlist. Was it U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me?” Or was it Status Quo’s “You’re In The Army Now?” (From 1958 to 1960, Elvis Presley served at a U.S. military base in Germany.)

I decided I had more important things to do than to stay and find out. To prevent full contact, police cordoned off the two Maidans. Thankfully, they didn’t employ Draconian security measures. I made it safely through Checkpoint Charlie, or should I say Checkpoint Cherno, and joined my folks. It felt so good to be around folks like yourself, who kept flooding European Square. Given the misery of my rain experience earlier in the day, never in my wildest dreams had I imagined so much sunshine, so many flags, and so many friendly faces. (Click here to watch the video.)

After a bunch of Limp Bizkit-like bands warmed up the public, the incredible duet between Taras Petrynenko and Tetyana Horobets stole the show. (Click here to watch the video.) The late 80s-early 90s songs they customarily perform at Orange events, rich in melody and vocals, make up the theme of Ukraine’s struggle for independence during perestroika. Every time I listen to them, I get a flurry of flashbacks that make me feel some sixteen years younger. I remember Gorby and Bush Sr. singing in unison, trying to mend the pieces of a broken evil empire. I remember those August ’91 Rukh rallies, when I stood with my dad outside the Rada chanting well-rhymed and sharp-witted spoof slogans like “Hi zhyveh KaPaEsEs na Chornobylskiy AhEs!” (“Long live our CPSU, may Chernobyl be with you!”)

Anyway, at about 7 pm, our heroes mounted the stage: Tymoshenko of BYuT, Kyrylenko of NSNU, and Lutsenko of Narodna Samo’oborona. All present and accounted for, they took turns in delivering a progress report on the current crisis.
Tymo focused on the Constitutional Court’s political breakdown. According to her scan, of the eighteen Justices, we could count on only five. (Click here to watch the video.) She didn’t fail to mention Kuchma’s rising fortunes. Aside from producing yet another masterpiece, “After Maidan,” the former president got his pension perks back a few days ago — a good supplement to his memoir-writing business. (One of Yushchenko’s first decisions was to trim Kuchma’s overblown retirement package.) At the same time, Kuchma’s son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, got his NZF plant back thanks to the High Court’s recent reversal of its own decision.

Kyrylenko and Lutsenko told us how, by self-canceling their parliamentary mandates, BYuT and NSNU have burned bridges and thus have ensured the “survivability” of new elections. They blasted the Cabinet’s sabotage of the dissolution decree and urged supporters to stand their ground, adding that the only acceptable compromise would be to have the elections rescheduled. One could hardly discover anything new in those messages, but the meeting itself was an important communication that helped the people connect with their leaders.

Now that the case is pending in the limbo of a possibly corrupt Constitutional Court, there is no reason to be ecstatic. The issue of legitimacy, propelled by the Stanik Affair, gives rise to a high degree of uncertainty as to whether the Court’s decision will be accepted by both sides.
Some consider an out-of-court settlement to be the most viable, win-win solution in the battle of two Viktors. However, in the betrayal-ridden culture of Ukrainian negotiations, the line between a settlement and self-delusion is very thin.

As always, the meeting closed with Taras Petrynenko’s “Ukraina,” our country’s unofficial anthem. And as its final chords fell on Yevropeiska Ploshcha, people walked away into Friday night with that “show must go on” feeling.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Police Use Force to Secure Entrance to Constitutional Court

A fracas occurred Wednesday morning as opposition supporters tried to barricade the Constitutional Court Building, Ukrainska Pravda reports.

To gain entry, police forcibly removed protesters, including several Orange MPs. Local prosecution authorities have threatened criminal proceedings.

Former BYuT campaign manager Mykhailo Brodsky accused Tymoshenko of an attempt to bribe Justices.

Good news for soccer fans: Ukraine and Poland won the right to host the Euro 2012, leaving Italy, the top candidate, deeply surprised.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


As the court battle of two Viktors opens this Tuesday, the SBU went public with the results of its background checks on Justice Susanna Stanik, according to which her mother has recently become the proud owner of $12 mn worth of real estate.

Bribery, the lifeblood of Ukrainian institutions, has long been manifest in luxurious suburban mansions that have mushroomed grossly out of proportion to their dwellers' salaries. When legalizing their trophies, bribe takers often put relatives on registration forms to mask their true identity.

In this regard, the Stanik Affair appears to be an attempt to challenge the credentials of a Justice tasked with preparing the briefs on the case. Stanik, who denies the allegations, has promised legal action against the SBU. The Office of the Prosecutor General, a Yanukovych-friendly organization, sided with Stanik, citing a lack of evidence. The SBU, a Yushchenko-friendly organization, should be ready to deliver on that account.

It all began when Realna Politika came up with the alleged transcript of a 2004 conversation between Susanna Stanik and Olena Lukash, the front woman on Yanukovych’s legal panel. In that dialogue, the two appear to be engaged in an important discussion of the Orange Revolution’s outcome.

Lukash, now Deputy Minister of Justice, outlined her business proposition to Stanik, a Kuchma appointee, on a first-name basis. She asked Stanik to endorse Yanukovych publicly and to pull a few strings for him using her connections in the High Court.

(Do not confuse the High Court, which had jurisdiction over the election fraud case, with the Constitutional Court, which handles the dissolution case. These are two separate courts, as Ukraine does not have a single supreme court.)

The story clearly falls into the kompromat, or political blackmail, category. Remember, we a wiretapped nation. For better or worse, our politicians have a passion for spying on each other. Ukraine has a rich kompromat culture in which highly sensitive intelligence leaks were used for the purpose of persuasion/dissuasion.

The cold shower Yanukovych took at the Council of Europe hearings could be compared with the cold shoulder treatment accorded to Yushchenko by the European Commission’s hands-off policy of ‘stability and democracy,’ as framed by President José Barroso.

Meanwhile, the opposition has urged Yushchenko to recall his appointees on concerns of the Court's pro-Yanukovych bias and corruption. To be continued.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Just Another Mismaidan

What happened yesterday can best be summed up in the words of a popular Ukrainian folk tune, which I took the liberty of translating into English:

Ya pryishov, tebe nemah (Я прийшов, тебе нема)
Pidmanula, pidvela (Підманула, підвела)

I was there, but you were not
Fooled my soul and broke my heart

Earth to ‘mom,’ earth to ‘mom,’ your communication strategy needs a rethink. No, wait, I got it, you’re moonlighting at the Counter-Maidan. They didn’t show up either

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Maidan 2.1 Still on Standby, Counter-Maidan Still Sucks

Wednesday turned out to be quieter than most Kyivites had imagined. The Orange Maidan, now situated at European Square, continues hibernating, without much mobilization since the March 31 reunion. Tymo, AWOL, seems to be preoccupied with the elections.

The Blue Maidan, sighted at daytime Independence Square, continues hallucinating, without quite reaching the heights it claimed it will. 'Smart camera' flyovers used in live broadcasts on state television controlled by Yanukovych make it look bigger than it really is. Stripped of this fake bakery, the Counter-Maidan has a more modest, part-time look.

Attendance patterns and population density vary substantially. The pictures if you keep an eye on them throughout the day speak for themselves:

In retrospect, one could argue jokingly that while in 2004/05 we Maidaners expected T-84s to run over our dead bodies, in 2007 we could run those T-84s without hurting a fly.

Of course, it’s a bad joke. The tanks are the hallmark of Moroz’s apocalyptic imagery, which he maladaptively spoonfeeds to the public on an almost hourly basis.

In fact, as of today, a clear vision is nowhere to be found. Confusion surrounds the Constitutional Court and the Central Election Commission. A cadre of five Justices, all of them presidential appointees, has reportedly abstained from participating in the hearings, citing pressure from Yanukovych. Meanwhile, Communist and Socialist appointees to the Central Election Commission remain on a ‘sick leave,’ effectively killing the quorum.

Hardly an hour passes without a cycle of recriminations, as each side attempts to cover its bases by blowing the whistle on the other.
The Orange ones, especially the stay-at-home mom of Ukrainian democracy, should do a better job of keeping in touch with their voters. Come out of your shell, will ya?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Moroz Indahouse, Unready to Let Go
Ukraine’s Ghost Parliament Vows to End Party Shopping as Constitutional Court Prepares to Rule on Issue

In a bid to put the pressure on the President, the disbanded Verkhovna Rada, which refuses to comply and still meets in session presided by Speaker Oleksander Moroz, has made a concession.

On Friday, the Coalition of National ImpUnity adopted a rule that could have saved its ass during last-ditch negotiations with Yushchenko. It should be noted that, according to polls, Moroz and his Socialist Party (SPU) stand little chance of re-election. The prospect of early retirement keeps him in high gear, fighting till the bitter end

But now it appears to be too late. The train has left the station. For Yushchenko to change his mind would be akin to political suicide. He would effectively derail and disembowel whatever is left of his credentials. This condition would in turn invite the Coalition to reverse its decision at its convenience some time later. Mr. President, if you want to buy a ticket to your political funeral, go ahead. The vultures are waiting.

The Counter-Maidan has experienced incremental growth, but still falls far behind Maidan 2004/05 numbers. Neither the show they have staged there nor the showdown itself offers a perfect historical parallel.
People come to Kyiv for both ideological and financial reasons, the latter arguably being more prevalent. It’s no secret that the Regionalists have to use hired labor to compensate for the deficit of true-Blue supporters.

In a country with a per capita GDP of about 8K (PPP), participating in political tourism, on a daily allowance of ten bucks, can be a good way to spend one’s spring break and to chase one’s small-town blues away. But it can hardly put the spark back into the lives of those students who, upon graduation, will not find a job that corresponds to their education.

The good thing is, Kyiv is a place where urban legends meet reality. After spending a few days here, many Donetskites discover, much to their surprise, that no one gives them a dirty look when they speak Russian. During the Orange Revolution, the media in eastern Ukraine painted Kyiv as a hornet’s nest of nationalism where Russian speakers risked having their throats slit.

In the largely Orange Kyiv, public sentiment toward the Blue brothers vacillates between indifference and curiosity. Angry outbursts have not been reported.

There remains a high degree of uncertainty as to what the Constitutional Court has in store. Even more so, there seems to be no win-win solution in what the Coalition has to offer.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Buildup Continues, Not Critical

Pravda reports an estimated ten thousand PRU-SPU-CPU supporters at Maidan. Traffic has been blocked.

If we take into account the empty nest in Maryinsky Park, that number will give us Yanukovych’s “net working capital.” OK, let them blow off some steam, but let’s not fall asleep at the switch. We should be ready to get our own show on the road.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Constitutional Court Has Dissolution Case on Its Docket

The Court has agreed to rule on the issue, without specifying a time frame.

Tymo Urges Supporters to Stay at Home?

Amid today’s controversial reports, one is somewhat disturbing. Tymo has called on Maidaners to stay out of Maidan, which, by the way, is not being reconvened yet, as previously reported.

As a few hundred Yanukovych supporters cruise around Maidan, Tymo tells us to prepare for new elections, saying the “job is done.” Well, is it? Shouldn’t we be on guard against creative countermeasures?

Holovaty, Go to Hell!

Turncoats Inc has a new playmate: Serhiy Holovaty, a former BYuT and NSNU member, a star constitutional lawyer affiliated with the Council of Europe, and a three-time Justice Minister.

Yushchenko’s “unconstitutional” behavior obviously found him in the midst of assuming his fourth ministership — at the Yanukovych Cabinet. Speaking before the Rada on Tuesday, he couched his neverending disgruntlement in Biblical terms, equating current events with the work of the Devil.

(Mr, Holovaty, the Coalition of National ImpUnity has hired you as a legal eagle — or perhaps it’s better to say as an Easter bunny — to take its case to the Council of Europe, is that correct? Well, don’t forget to mention how badly your guardian angels wanted those 300 seats in Ukraine’s legislature! And if you still want them, come and get them. You’re free to do that. That’s what elections are for.)

Meanwhile, the stage at Maidan (Independence Square) is being reassembled. Small numbers of Yanukovych supporters have been trying to secure the area. Maidan 2 reconvenes shortly.

“Stability” Strikes Back
Parliament, Half-Dead/Half-Alive, Throws Poison Pills at Yushchenko

As a creative countermeasure to Yushchenko’s decision, the Coalition of National ImpUnity squatting in the Verkhovna Rada has voted to re-impanel the Central Election Commission whom the High Court of Ukraine had found guilty of massive election fraud that had sparked the Orange Revolution in winter 2004/05. Tells a whole lot about the value proposition of "stability," doesn’t it?

In spring 2005, chairman Serhiy Kivalov and his henchmen walkedthanks to an overgenerous pardon policy that cost Yushchenko dearly. From then on, in the eyes of his supporters, President Yushchenko walked with a limp, a condition from which he has started to recover only yesterday.

The Yanukovych Cabinet is doing its own share of stonewalling. It has declared Yushchenko’s decision unconstitutional and has publicly refused to allocate funding for new elections, scheduled for May 27.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Breaking News: Yushchenko Dissolves Parliament ¡Adios Amigos!

He did it! The Coalition of National ImpUnity has met in emergency session and is expected to pull a meditative allnighter.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Maidan 2: Better Than Expected, to Be Continued

The spring sequel to the Orange Revolution came out clean and drew an audience that approached the early days of the winter 2004-05 protests. The mode was different: no sit-ins or tents — just the people and the stage. And yet the mood was very much the same: we came together again and we were as one.

Only this time, we Kyivites made it our mission to be there right from the start. We supplied the lion’s share of the audience. It was our way of saying hello to ChernoCo — the City Hall's pluto-kleptocratic practices — definitely a key mobilizing factor in Maidan 2. A mayor who challenges freedom of assembly in court is a mayor who fears his own people. Do we need that kind of mayor?

Main characters on stage: Tymoshenko of BYuT, Kyrylenko of NSNU, and Lutsenko of Narodna Samo’oborona.

Message to the people: “Yes, we’ve made mistakes and we don’t deserve your praise. But if we are to get this country back on the right track, we should act together.”

Message to the President: “Just do it!”

By that time, Yushchenko had already issued an ultimatum to the Coalition of National ImpUnity: “Stop party-shopping, give back what’s not yours or face disbandment.” (Technically speaking, this means that the so-called imperative mandate must be extended to the Verkhovna Rada on a retroactive basis.)

The Counter-Maidan, just a block away, was mostly attended by people shuttled in from eastern Ukraine. They broke camp in Maryinsky Park in front of the Cabinet building, where they plan to stay for two weeks.

Police behaved blamelessly and exhibited a hilarious sense of humor. Specifically, the MoI gives the following rally attendance estimates: Maidan 2, from 25 to 27 thousand; Counter-Maidan, from 30 to 35 thousand. Quite frankly, that’s one of the best April 1 jokes I’ve ever heard! Less humorous and more objective observers would have to admit that, at the very least, “we” outnumbered “them” 3 to 1.

The Coalition has promised to take their case to the Constitutional Court in the event the President disbands parliament. (It might also attempt procrastination techniques aimed at probing the staying power of Maidan 2, along with efforts to augment the Counter-Maidan.)

Despite no known incidents of violence or vandalism, “blood” is one of the most frequently used words in the VIP vocabulary of the Counter-Maidan. The message that decorates the stage reads: “A United Ukraine Is Our Future.” This may look a little bizarre considering the typical punch line in the speeches delivered there.
And here’s how it usually happens. A speaker mounts the stage, he or she starts talking stability, and, all of a sudden, there’s blood all over the place — “blood this” and “blood that.”

Dear Coalitionists of National ImpUnity, don’t you “blood” us! If blood is all you got on your mind, get on the plane and get out of the country. Take your scaremongering fantasy with you. We want none of your blood business.

The situation will clear up in the next 72 hours. But even before it does, it’s already clear that settling on the imperative mandate as a compromise measure is a surefire road to disaster. By giving Yanukovych and his con artists another chance, Yushchenko will compromise this country’s future and will automatically qualify for No. 1 target of Maidan 3.

Insofar as he grasps these extreme possibilities, the odds are in our favor. President Yushchenko and NSNU have a unique opportunity to win back some of the support they’ve pissed away since Maidan 1. Maidan 2 reconvenes on Monday.