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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Putin angers commies, vets in Ukraine

"Surgeon" helps Put foot in mouth

Vladimir Putin has once again angered Ukrainians, but this time around it’s not only the nationalists and euroatlantacists who’re upset.

The cocksure future president of Russia managed to rattle Ukraine’s communists and war veterans on Dec. 16 when he claimed that Russia didn’t need Ukraine’s help to win WW2.

(Russian language original. "Offending" Putin quote at 3:20)

Ukraine’s communists and war veterans – usually diehard proponents of closer ties (and in some cases union) with Russia –expressed indignation at Putin’s words as politicians called for Ukraine’s foreign ministry to respond to the Russian leader’s outrageous statement.

The Ukrainians have the leader of a Russian bike club to thank for exposing what Putin really thinks about Ukraine’s formidable contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Axis forces in the “The Great Patriotic War.”

Alexander Zaldostanov, president of the Night Wolves Motorcycle Club was in the audience for the live, televised Q+A session with Putin last Thursday, when the microphone lady gave him a chance to ask the Russian leader a question.

Zaldostanov and Putin had met before and rode their Harleys together in Crimea during the summer before last when Putin traveled to Sevastopol for one of his macho PR stunts. (And to gloat over Ukraine’s extension of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s lease in that port city.)

Speaking from the studio audience last Thursday, the leather-clad, bearded leader of the Night Wolves’ pack known by his handle “Khirurg” (Surgeon) reminded Putin of the rally of 5,000 bikers in the preface to his question that saw Putin put a foot in his mouth in a way that no spin doctors could help get out.

Sporting tattoos and a thick gold chain around his neck, Zaldostanov reminded Putin that the bike rally in Crimea was dedicated to the “65th anniversary of Victory” and “the idea that we probably would not have won the war if we [Russia and Ukraine] were separate states.”

Khirurg proceeded to paraphrase Putin, claiming the Russian leader once lamented “he who doesn’t want Ukraine and Russia to be together doesn’t have a heart but he who wants Ukraine and Russia together doesn’t have a mind.”

Speaking straight from his own heart and with hope in his eyes, Zaldostanov asked “Would you agree that the heart can sometimes replace the mind but that the mind can never replace the heart?”

“Sash,” Putin said, speaking to the biker like to a good buddy, “that’s a very deep question, one that I’m not sure I understand.”

First, Putin clarified the quote Zaldostanov attributed to him.

“I was talking about the demise of the Soviet Union... He who isn’t sorry that the Soviet Union fell apart has no heart, but he who wants to recreate the USSR, as it was, has no head.”

“Concerning our relations with Ukraine... I will allow myself to disagree with you when you say 'if we were divided, then we wouldn’t have won the war.'”

“We would have won either way,” Putin said in a lecturing tone.

Awkward pause. Scattered applause.

“That’s because we’re a country of winners,” Putin said in a victorious tone as the clapping continued.

He proceeded to back up his claim with “facts” such as 70 percent of the losses suffered by the Soviet Union were incurred by the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.

“That war was won – I do not want to offend anyone – but primarily on account of the resources, human and industrial resources of the Russian Federation. That’s a historical fact, it’s all in the documents,” Putin said.

The communists and war veterans of Ukraine reacted to the news of Putin’s statements with disbelief and indignation. But some, displaying the slave mentality that has been instilled in them by centuries of imperial domination, tried to make apologies for their masters in Moscow explaining Putin’s statements away as a mistake made in haste ahead of the 2012 presidential elections in Russia.

Communist MP Oleksandr Holub called Putin’s statement “very controversial” but speculated that the Russian may have uttered it “without appropriate preparation.” He said that “Putin’s concept helps the cause of Ukrainian nationalists who assert that Red Army soldier ‘fought for a foreign country.’”

“Germany waged war with the Soviet Union, not with Russia, Ukraine or other republics,” said Yuli Korotkin, chairman of the Committee of War Veterans. “I consider such thoughts and answers to be primitive. To divide our victory like a pie is sacrilege! It’s desecration of the memory of 27 million Soviet people who died in the GPW and 1.9 million veterans still alive from the Great Patriotic.”

A spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said it will not officially react to Putin’s words, adding that Ukraine’s position is that all the peoples of the former USSR can consider themselves winners of the Great Patriotic War.

At least Ukrainians now have further proof of what Putin, the man likely to be Russia’s next president, really thinks about their country(in addition to his claim that Ukraine “is not really a country.”) And we have the straight-shooting bikers of MC Night Wolves to thank for it.

Two presidents: Alexander Zaldostanov (taller, left), president of MC Night Wolves and Vladimir Putin, president-wannabe (2012-2017) in Moscow. (

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holodomor Wikileaks and Russia's Single Historical Space

The Holodomor won’t go away. This past weekend, we marked the sad anniversary of the terror-famine that occurred nearly eighty years ago. And just when the Kremlin thought it was over for another year, the Holodomor has surfaced in the wikileaked US embassy cables.

Ukraine is mentioned in eight of the 278 embassy cables leaked thus far, and it’s not just in connection with Muammar al-Qadhafi’s “voluptuous” Ukrainian nurse. 

(The US Embassy in Kyiv is not (yet?) among the embassies listed as sources for the cables.)

The Holodomor is referenced twice in cables from the past two years.

At the end of October 2008, the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Tatiana Gfoeller attended a lunch briefing in Bishkek with Prince Andrew of the British crown ahead of his royal highness’ meeting with the Kyrgyz government. Many issues were discussed, and the Prince “pounced” when the topic of Russia came up:

"[Prince Andrew] stated the following story related to him recently by Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev. Aliyev had received a letter from President Medvedev telling him that if Azerbaijan supported the designation of the Bolshevik artificial famine in Ukraine as 'genocide' at the United Nations, 'then you can forget about seeing Nagorno-Karabakh ever again.' Prince Andrew added that every single other regional President had told him of receiving similar 'directive' letters from Medvedev except for Bakiyev. He asked the Ambassador if Bakiyev had received something similar as well. The Ambassador answered that she was not aware of any such letter."
More recently, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov raised the Holodomor with Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman when the two met in Moscow at the beginning of June 2009, according to a US Moscow embassy cable:

"Lavrov raised Russian concern with ‘historical revisionism’ regarding the Soviet Era and Second World War, which, he said, was particularly acute in Eastern Europe but was also present in Israel. He cited Israel's official recognition of the Holodomor, the 1930s famine that occurred in Ukraine. Lieberman explained that by recognizing this tragedy, Israel had not said Russia was guilty of causing it, nor that it was an act of genocide."
Lieberman has probably not read Raphael Lemkin’s assessment of the Soviet genocide in Ukraine. Lemkin was a Jewish lawyer who lived in Poland near border with Soviet Ukraine during the years of Holodomor; he was also the man who is credited with coining the term genocide.

Then again, Israel is no longer all that interested in history. At least that’s the message Israel’s President Shimon Peres recently delivered in Ukraine when, during a public lecture on “political and economic challenges in the epoch of globalization,” he said:

“If I was asked what advice to give Ukraine, I’d say: forget history, history isn’t important... you won’t be able to avoid the mistakes of the past, you’ll simply repeat them,” according to the BBC.

Wow is right. Anyway, back to wikileaks and Holodomor: Why would the President of Russia threaten the leaders of former Soviet states with dire consequences if they recognize the Holodomor as genocide? Why would the Russian foreign minister raise the same issue with his Israeli counterpart?

Ukraine never blamed Russia as a state for anything; in fact a Ukrainian court established the guilt of seven organizers of the famine led by Josyf Stalin: two Russians, two Jews, a Georgian, Pole and Ukrainian.

So what exactly irked Russia about former President Yushchenko’s campaign surrounding the Holodomor?

Some would argue that reparations could be demanded from the Russian Federation, as the legal successor state of the USSR, if the international community recognizes genocide (kinda like the Germans paying for the Holocaust).

Others would argue that Russia is not afraid of paying, it’s more afraid of losing face.

Others would argue that Ukraine’s Holodomor narrative – and any historical narrative that’s independent of Russia’s – is unacceptable, because it will undermine Russia’s plans to re-establish hegemony.

Not only does Russia want Ukraine to be part of the Single Economic Space, it also wants all the Soviet republics to be part of the Single Historic Space. (The Single Religious Space and Patriarch Kiril’s Russian world Orthodox Church is part of that plan, too, but that’s another issue altogether).

There can be no room for Ukraine’s unique Holodomor in the common, shared experience of the Soviet Union. Collectivization can only be a common tragedy shared by all the people united by a Great Fatherland (as in Great Patriotic War instead of WWII).

Ask Education Minister Dmytri Tabachnyk: he can give you a copy of the new history text book he's writing for Ukrainian schoolchildren -- it'll all be in there.

Moscow just won’t have it any other way, as the wikileaks have shown. And that makes the Holodomor and other events from the past more than just far off history: it’s about the geopolitics of the very near future.

Friday, November 26, 2010

How many million will be enough?

In the presidential “Slovo” to the people of Ukraine on occasion of Holodomor Remembrance Day, President Victor Yanukovych’s slovo-writers take a sarcastic swipe at those people who claim that “three to five to seven million and even more” died from the tragedy.

Is the president really using the occasion of the Holodomor as an opportunity to criticize his political opponents?

More likely, this debate over the number of victims is allowing Yanukovych to avoid the real issue: that the 1932-33 Holodomor was part of the sustained Soviet genocide in Ukraine.

A similar swipe at Ukrainian Canadians was recently taken by a Canadian journalist in his blog. I left a comment earlier this week, but it has not appeared there. I don’t know why (or if) it’s being censored, so I’ll make the point here, because I feel it’s an important one, especially in the run up to the sad Holodomor anniversary.

By way of background, in his blog entry “Hyperbole has no place in national tragedies,” Peter O’Neil scolds Canada’s Prime Minister and Ukrainian Canadians for claiming that ten million people died in the Holodomor. *

O’Neil decided to take issue with the “ten million” figure after an academic from Australia wrote him that it was wrong. O’Neil did not report that this same academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, has claimed that the “famine was an accidental consequence of ill-conceived policies” and “ecological factors.”

O’Neil’s research let him to discover that other academics felt that the estimate of ten million deaths in 1932-33 is excessive and decided to make a story of it called “Harper accused of exaggerating Ukrainian genocide's death toll .”  (He also chose to make Harper’s visit to Lonsky Street Prison Museum in Lviv one-sided, but that’s another story.)

In focusing on the ten million, what O’Neil failed to realize that rather than an attempt to maliciously exaggerate the number of dead of the part of the PM and/or Ukrainian Canadians, something may have simply been lost in translation: Was it ten million in 1932 and 1933, or ten million in multiple famines in 1921 to 23, 1932 and 33 and 1946 and 47 combined? O’Neil failed to mention that there was more than one artificial famine during Ukraine’s Soviet experience.

I wrote, copied and pasted my comment, but it appears to be trashed by the censors. Working from memory, I wrote something along the following lines:
The monument in Kyiv where Stephen Harper honoured the victims of artificial famines is in memory of those innocents who died in the holodomors – plural.
The Soviets engineered the deaths of Ukrainians by starvation in 1921-23 and 1946-47 as well. The 1932-33 famine was but one episode in the three decades Lenin, Stalin and their bolsehvik henchmen spent killing Ukrainians through civil war, famine, execution, collectivization, forced labour and other means as they tried to replace the Ukrainian “ethnic material” with a new kind of person called homo sovieticus.
If you tally the number of Ukrainians killed by the communists between the 1920s and 50s, then saying that they killed ten million – or the equivalent of the population of Canada – would not be a stretch. It would be understatement.
But be wary of those trying to make this a debate about millions! That’s taking away from the bigger issue raised by PM Stephen Harper during his visit to Ukraine – and covered by the Ukrainian media – an issue that’s obfuscated by the debate over millions, namely that the crime of communism, and the communists themselves, have not had their Nuremberg.
Would the Holocaust not be genocide if only four million Jews were killed? Or (something an O’Neil might appreciate) would the Potato Famine be less of a tragedy if the population of Ireland fell by only fifteen percent?

Harper’s statements on communism not having its Nuremberg and genocide of Ukrainians were, in my opinion, more newsworthy than a rehash of the tired and old millions debate kept alive by O’Neil’s sources.*

But that news took a back seat to a chance to criticize Harper, Ukrainian “nationalists” and do some moral grandstanding. It’s just too bad that the memories of X million have to be dragged through the mud for the purposes of satisfying egos and avoiding the genocide charge.

As for Yanukovych, who wants "truth above all" in matter concerning the Holodomor, perhaps the truth about all the crimes of communism will come to see the light during his presidency. Perhaps this willl be accomplished by the communist he appointed to head the Institute of National Memory. For comparison's sake, that's like appointing a neo-Nazi to head Yad Vashem.

* Peter O’Neil’s favourite source when it comes to matters of Ukrainian history has been self-dubbed "anti-historian" John Paul Himka of the University of Alberta who wrote “How Many Perished in the Famine and Why Does It Matter?” in 2008.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Yanukovych's left foot

Yo Vic! Look Left!

Yanukovych better start looking both ways before crossing Ukraine’s political street. The “left” is increasingly joining the “right” in criticizing him; the union in parliament and cabinet between the communists and his Regions is being questioned by the believers of bolshevism.

Communist Party of Ukraine leader Petro Symonenko said that his reds are the “only political opposition” in Ukrainian society to the “governing oligarchic capital.” Speaking after local elections that saw his party clash with the Regions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea – areas that provide core support for both parties – Symonenko appeared on the defensive as he justified his party’s cooperation with the Regions in parliament as “tactics.” He said his communists joined the Regions in creating the governing coalition in parliament and cabinet for the sake of “stability” and the chance to better protect the rights of the working class.

Why is Symonenko now justifying his party’s cooperation with the government? He didn’t see the need to do so nine months ago, when his party essentially delivered Yanukovych the victory in the presidential elections.

Yanukovych won those elections by less than fifty percent of the vote. He beat Yulia Tymoshenko in the second round by 887,000 votes; Symonenko scored 872,000 votes two weeks earlier in the first round of elections before endorsing Yanukovych in round two.

Yanukovych thanked the communists with positions in government, including control of the Institute of National Memory (that’s supposed to deal with the crimes of communism) and the appointment of Dmitri “the false” Tabachnyk to head the education and sciences ministry.

Yanukovych and his party have remained true to some of the ideological tenets they share with the commies, including genocide-denial, no to NATO, hate for Halychyna, love for Russia and the Russian language.

But issues of history, language and geopolitics tend to take a back seat when hunger and basic social needs are driving peoples’ needs.

Yanukovych’s government is working closely and depending on the IMF for sustained bailout and pushing through some unpopular measures like raising natural gas prices for residential consumers (after promising lower prices as a result of prolonging Russia’s lease of its naval base in Crimea).

These measures, coupled with funny business at the ballot box that saw the Regions snatch some sure victories away from the commies, have some communists to start asking questions. One prominent communist leader, Leonid Grach of Crimea, demonstrably left the party caucus in protest over his party’s marriage of convenience. All of a sudden the communist leaders have some splaining to do to their rank-and-file rickies and lucies with coal on the soles of their shoes.

Leonid Kuchma was once confronted by an opposition that transcended left and right, but he made sure it remained fragmented and divided by skilfully making concessions to the right and the left as required. Yanukovych could borrow a page from Kuchma’s playbook, but will firing Tabachnykoff, for example, be enough when students come out to protest Russian as a second-language and higher tuition fees?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lonsky Street Blues

Lonsky Street Prison: Nice piece of real estate in Lviv's city center (

When I look at what happened to Ruslan Zabily last week, I can’t help but think that could have been me. You see, I was offered the job of director of the Lonsky Street Prison Museum by Lviv city officials back in 2009. And I was going to take it, but there was no stopping Zabily in his pursuit of the position. I just finished a museum project on Ukrainians in Auschwitz and a book of translated documents from the 1932-33 Holodomor, so I welcomed the break from the miseries of history: the Lonsky Street Prison would’ve just added to the nightmares. Let him have it, I thought, if he wants it so badly.

A year and a half later, Zabily is detained in Kyiv by the State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), questioned for fourteen and a half hours, his notebook and hard discs confiscated and a criminal investigation opened against him. The charge: Zabily was going to reveal state secrets.

Domestic and international human rights watchdogs were quick to condemn the SBU’s reversion to KGB tactics. The speculations about the reasons for intimidating Zabily are many. Some think the SBU of President Victor Yanukovych is trying too hard to please the Kremlin and demonstrably persecuting historians who do not subscribe to the Soviet historical narrative. Others consider the Zabily affair to be a warning to former SBU chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, who has spent the better part of the year organizing a civic movement called “Renewal of the Country.” Nalyvaichenko, the SBU chief under President Victor Yushchenko when the spy agency declassified all the pre-1991 documents on Soviet repressions, has been vocal in his criticism of the Yanukovych regime. The Yanukovych regime has halted the declassification process started under Yushchenko.

I would add another reason to the list of speculations concerning the SBU’s hard-handed tactics, based on my experience with the Lonsky Street Prison Museum. It is much more mundane and although not as sexy as the KGB-Kremlin theory it’s just as worrisome. It goes back to the history of the prison and its location, location, location.

The prison is actually a complex of buildings constructed at different times. The building on the corner of Copernicus and Bandera streets was originally built as a barracks for Austro-Hungarian soldiers. It was used a prison by the Poles, Soviets, Nazis and Soviets again during the 20th century. The USSR liked the location so much they expanded the prison complex to include an administrative building and built a three-story prison in the courtyard.

The prison was closed in the mid 1990s and title to the land was transferred to the SBU. The KGB agents who once fought capitalism quickly embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and decided to start playing the real estate game and erecting an apartment high-rise in the courtyard. Workers said they discovered human remains soon after they broke ground, but the masters told the slaves to keep digging away. They laid the foundation and started work on the first story before a public outcry forced a halt to the construction. The human remains showed the prison complex was not only used to incarcerate enemies of the state, but to kill and bury them as well. The Nazis forced the local Jews to carry the corpses of those killed by the Soviets out of the Lonsky Street Prison in July 1941, but those bodies were identified and re-buried over half a century ago. So whose bones were these?

If I was the director of the Lonsky Street Prison Museum, the first order of business would have been the careful and respectful exhumation of the human remains found in the prisons’ courtyard. Instead, people became more concerned with who was going to get title to the land and which firm would get the contract to build the memorial complex on the location. I came away with a feeling of disgust for the whole process. The Soviet system killed human decency in these people. They had grown accustomed to having human remains lying beneath their feet and didn’t mind building condos on top of them. These are the kind of people who would much rather have their own person running the museum instead of Zabily. These are the kind of people who see mercantile advantages, take them using force and intimidation, and flourish in Yanukovych’s Ukraine. They care not about national memory or historical justice or ideology. They want to sell you a house built atop killing fields.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

President misses lessons

“Ukraine for the people”: The president’s portrait and party program greeted the children of School #134 in Dnipropetrovsk on Sept. 1. (UNIAN)

Yanukovych is a homo: Homo sovieticus. Yanukovych and his entourage think they’re living in the USSR.

For example: when Ukrainian children went back to school on Sept. 1 they found “Yanukovych corners” in their classrooms where “Lenin (Stalin, Brezhnev) corners” once stood. These corners serve to inform children about the Great Plans their Great Leader has made for at least the next five years.

The danger of this throwback to Soviet times was not lost to Ukraine’s first president Leonid Kravchuk. “You shouldn’t force children in school to sing praises to the government. They shouldn’t have to learn about the president’s program, but about what the president is doing,” Kravchuk told the Argumenty i Fakty v Ukraini newspaper on Sept. 7. “I don’t want to live to see the day when some idiot hands my great granddaughter a portrait of some president and forces her to sing dithyrambs [hymns of glorification] to him.”

Kravchuk will see another example of “throw back” when the Party of the Regions holds its Annual Meeting on Sept. 11. The “party in power” proceedings are scheduled to be televised live on State TV Channel One. No other party enjoys such access to the airwaves ahead of the October local government elections.

The further Yanukovych goes back in time, the shorter his term will be. Yanukovych, it seems, could benefit from going back to school himself and re-reading the chapter on “cult of personality,” if it’s still in the textbooks.

Kravchuk’s warnings to Yanukovych (Ukrainian):

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Media most trusted check on Yanukovych government: poll

No way to treat the media:
Presidential bodyguard tackles cameraman, June 15, 2010

Ukrainians trust the church and media the most, while they trust the banks and courts the least, according to a June poll.*

After 100 days in office, a little over half of Ukrainians gave President Victor Yanukovych a passing grade and a +22 percent trust balance, third place after the church (+52) and media (+36).

More than 50 percent combined gave a “totally positive” and “mostly positive” assessment to the improved relations with Russia that have occurred since Yanukovych came to power, including the gas-for-fleet deal. More than half approved of the creation of a majority in the country’s parliament.

Yet expectations remain high, as only 25 percent feel the economy has improved since Yanukovych took power after a slim victory in February. Most feel the economic situation has yet to change one way or another; around 10 percent said the economy has deteriorated in the first 100 days of Yanukovych’s rule.

Most Ukrainians think that the Yanukovych government is doing a good job in ensuring wages and pensions are paid on time, allowing access to objective information and maintaining law and order. But the new government has yet to address the challenges of combating corruption, lowering inflation and stimulating economic growth.

Seventy-five percent of poll respondents said that corruption in Ukraine is “very high” or “high.” Thirty percent said they have personally encountered corruption since Yanukovych came into power.

Issues of geopolitics, democracy and language are nowhere near the list of priorities Ukrainians think the government should be addressing. Priority issues are: overcoming economic crisis and economic growth (74 percent), combating corruption (52 percent), reforming the health system (46 percent), welfare for the needy (36 percent), pension reform (32 percent) and cancellation of parliament members’ immunity to criminal prosecution (27 percent).

Elected for a five year term, Yanukovych has plenty of time to address these issues. And his +21 approval rating after 100 days is not the worst ever.

Victor Yushchenko’s approval rating after 100 days in office was nearly +40, while Leonid Kuchma’s was only +8. Yushchenko was out after five years, while Kuchma ruled the country for ten. That’s the thing about expectations: the lower they are the easier it is to meet them.

The list of priority issues Ukrainians want to see resolved hasn’t changed dramatically in the two decades since Independence. What has changed significantly is the public’s perception of and trust in the media. In June, 2004, the national media’s trust balance was minus 3 percent among Ukrainians. Six years later, the media is second only to church, which has traditionally has had a positive trust balance in the post-Soviet space. Ukrainians trust the media more than they do political parties, NGOs, parliament, cabinet and president.

Only 16 percent supported the actions of the political opposition in early June 2010. That makes the media the most-trusted “check” on Yanukovych’s government. If he wants to make a go of it, then he better treat the press better than his goon bodyguards have recently. And it’s up to the media to rise to the occasion of heightened expectations too.

* The nationwide poll of 1,611 adult respondents was conducted from June 5-10, 2010 by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Sociological service of the Oleksandr Razumkov Centre. The face-to-face interviews were conducted in 113 population centers (65 urban, 48 rural). Sample error (without design effect) does not exceed 2.5% (0.95 probability).

Yanukovych bodyguard tackles cameraman, June 15, 2010. The president was reportedly 300 meters away.

June 2010 poll results (in Ukrainian)

June 2004 poll results (in Ukrainian, ZIP)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toast to Yanukovych

Bearcats Threaten Ukraine

The Arctictis binturong is neither bear nor cat. The nocturnal Asian mammal is making life difficult for some businesses in Ukraine, according to that country's president. (

Ukraine’s newest president has been described as pro-Russian, but Victor Yanukovych primarily employs US consultants to win elections, whitewash his image and investigate political opponents. If the Americans really want to help Yanukovych’s international image (and make a buck while doing so) they should start with something far simpler: proper English.

As one example, take the June 18 news item on Yanukovych’s initiative to combat corruption found on the English language pages of the presidential website:“We plan to reduce the number of permits and licenses, which has been complicating life of small and medium business, by at least 50%. Thus we will make doing business in Ukraine easier and minimize influence of bearcats on it”, said President Yanukovych.

Bearcats. Bill Gates’ spellchecker won’t say it’s wrong, but an American consultant could probably tell you that rare Asian mammals aren’t Ukraine’s greatest problem. The website contains many such errors: spelling mistake, grammatical no-no’s and obsolete usage. Of course, Yanukovych has more important things to worry about than getting the English language right. He must, first and foremost, create stability, even if that means bulldozing democracy and Rule of Law under the asphalt.

This reminds me of a true story related by a close family friend who was in Ukraine in the early 90's working for an international NGO. It’s about language and a toast worth raising to Yanukovych, his government and their US consultants.

The setting is a dinner in Kyiv with officials from Ukraine and Western diplomats seated around a table. As is customary at Ukrainian meals, vodka is consumed with the many-course meal, but only when it's preceded by longwinded toasts.

Respectful of his guest, the Ukrainian delivered his toast in English. Well, it wasn’t exactly English, but the weird variety of the English dubbed “Ukrenglish,” where words are translated from English into Ukrainian and back again, most often with hilarious consequences. (The book and film Everything is Illuminated capitalize on this phenomenon). The kind of English you’ll find on the presidential website.

The Ukrainian official spent several minutes promising a bright bilateral future while extolling the benefits of cooperation. In conclusion of his toast, and to show that he is savvy in the finer points of English, the Ukrainian said “Up your bottoms!” (The Ukrenglish version of “Bottoms up!”)

Bursts of laughter were successfully suppressed, but a few chuckles disguised as coughs could be heard as smiles crept upon the faces seated on the Western side of the table.

Not to be outdone, the highest ranking Western diplomat responded with a toast when the guests’ turn came around. He too spoke about mutual goals and common interests and the future. Wishing his Ukrainian counterparts only the best, the diplomat finished his toast with the words “Up yours too!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Medvedev's Stalin lesson for Yanukovych

Presidents of Russia (left) and Ukraine honor Holodomor victims in Kyiv on May 17. (

The coniferous attack on Ukraine’s president was not the main highlight of Dmitri Medvedev’s most recent visit to Kyiv. Sure, it was funny, and Victor Yanukovych’s administration made things worse by trying to ban footage of President vs. Wreath on television. Yanukovych’s macho ego was due for a little deflating, but far more significant events did transpire.

One example: the two presidents’ homage to the victims of the Holodomor. They may not agree that the artificial famine designed by the Kremlin and implemented by Stalin’s Soviets to kill Ukrainians was genocide, yet they honoured its victims. Actions speak louder than words. That they even went to the memorial is amazing and deserves as much discussion as the incident by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Flashback to the early 1980s, when Ukrainians outside the USSR embarked on a campaign to let the world know that artificial famines were instruments of Soviet policy that took millions of lives in Ukraine and other parts of the Soviet Union. Twenty-five years ago, the Soviet propaganda machine and its cogs in Western academia* dismissed the accusations that the Bolshevik-run state had organized the death of millions by famine. Either the fact of famine was denied or excuses like drought or poor harvest were provided. The “myth” of famine was dismissed as a fraudulent figment of “fascist” imagination.

Twenty-five years later, the truth of the matter has been revealed in such a way that not even the Kremlin dares deny the Holodomor. Twenty-five years ago, the Soviet apparatchiks were in denial mode. Today, the chiefs of post-Soviet states are lighting candles to honour the memories of victims of Soviet crimes. Now that, in the bigger scheme of things, is progress.

Presidents of Belarus(left) and Ukraine honor Holodomor victims in Kyiv in November, 2009.(

Yanukovych is the first Ukrainian president to deny that genocide took place. His three predecessors are very clear on the issue, as are the heads of all the Orthodox churches in Ukraine, including Metropolitan Volodymyr of the so-called Moscow patriarchate. The nation’s first president, Leonid Kravchuk, detailed how he was ordered to counter the Holodomor campaign of the 1980s in his capacity as communist party ideologue. Today, he is unequivocal in his assessment: it was genocide.

In Brussels, Yanukovych singlehandedly dismissed the genocide claim for the sake of better relations with Russia. In Yanukovych’s Ukraine, monuments to the Holodomor’s head honcho Stalin are erected. Meanwhile, when Russia’s president came to Kyiv, he makes a point of honouring the Holodomor’s victims. What’s going on?

Ukraine’s president looks silly, while Russia’s president looks progressive, like a senior statesman and real leader. Medvedev’s condemnation of Stalin in early May and his honouring of Stalin’s victims in Kyiv are consistent. Yanukovych is sending mixed messages. He does not know what he wants. It’s another argument for letting Moscow run and re-establish primacy over the region. The underlying messages from the Kremlin: a) if they are left on their own, states like Ukraine will fail, and b) the world needs Russia to keep order in the former Soviet space, otherwise you’ll have to deal with yahoos that build Stalin monuments.

The Kremlin has learned that denial and cover-up can only go so far and that sooner or later truths of matters tend to surface, be they radioactive clouds emanating from Chornobyl or archival documents showing how Stalin and his henchmen planned and executed the murder of millions within the boundaries of Soviet Ukraine. (The Kremlin has also learned how to trivialize those truths or make them serve its own interests, but that’s another topic altogether.)

Ukraine’s new leadership has not learned the decades-old lessons of glasnost: cover-ups and denials don’t work. The incident with the falling wreath is but one example.

Perhaps Ukraine’s new leaders do not want to learn and are content with letting Moscow do all of their thinking for them. Otherwise, they would have handled the Holodomor a little differently. For example, Yanukovych could have told Brussels: "Holodomor was genocide. We are not saying that Ukrainians were the only ones targeted and systematically murdered by the Bolsheviks. We know that Stalin committed genocide against other peoples as well. Ukrainians are talking about what happened within the borders of Soviet Ukraine. Ukraine has declassified all of its Soviet archives pertaining to this period and the proof is undeniable: the murder of millions within the confines of Soviet Ukraine was planned by the state. We encourage other former Soviet republics to declassify their documents and do the same. Tell the world about the other Soviet genocides."

That would be the best way to honour all of Stalin’s victims, be they in Ukraine, or Russia.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Russia's European security roadshow in Ukraine

Victor Yanukovych (taller) and Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow on May 8. The Russian president is coming to Kyiv (he calls it Kiev) on May 17. This will be the sixth time the presidents will have met since Yanukovych came to power three months ago. (

Russia’s president is coming to Kyiv to sign a slew of bilateral documents with his Ukrainian counterpart early next week. Some surprises are in store in the realm of European security, according to a Saturday newspaper report. Meanwhile, a Kyiv court has banned protests in the nation’s capital while Dmitri Medvedev is in town.

President Victor Yanukovych continues to bulldoze his version of democracy over Ukraine. Another layer of asphalt will be laid on May 17 and 18 when president Dmitri Medvedev comes to Kyiv. What will his visit bring to Russian-Ukrainian relations? According to Ukraine’s first vice premier Andriy Kluyev, the intergovernmental group is currently working on “ten to twelve” bilateral “documents,” five of which are expected to be signed next week by the two heads of state. The five agreements Kluyev told the Ukrainian parliament about last week concern:

a) the demarcation of the UA-RU border (a prerequisite for UA’s EU membership – like that’s going to happen any time soon)

b) use and development of GLONASS (the Soviet equivalent of GPS)

c) interbank cooperation between Ukreximbank and Vneshtorgbank (UA and RU state banks that handle foreign economic activity)

d) immediate measures for RU-UA scientific and educational cooperation for 2010-2012 (rewriting of Ukrainian history textbooks)

e) program of cooperation between RU-UA ministries of culture 2010-2014 (protection of Russian language that is facing extinction in Ukraine)

But a report in Saturday’s edition of the influential Dzerkalo Tyzhnia cites unnamed sources who claim three additional agreements may be signed by Yanukovych and Medvedev. All three declarations concern regional security in Europe and have not been discussed or debated, let alone disclosed to the public:

f) On European security

g) On Black Sea security

h) On the self-proclaimed breakaway republic of Trans-Dnister

Talk about timing! As the world watches Bangkok, while Brussels’ attention is focused on Athens and Lisbon and Washington stares blankly at Tehran, Moscow convinces Kyiv to dump the Euroatlantic adjective in favour of Eurasian.

Yanukovych is keeping Ukraine’s energy assets off the table for now, according to the report, and the Russians won’t gain control of Ukraine’s oil, gas, nuclear and aviation industries this week. Yanukovych is supposeldy protecting the interests of the oligarchs who backed and continue to back him. Oligarch - not national - interests.

Naturally, official Kyiv wants to make it look like everyone in Ukraine approves of the neo-Soviet lovefest that started with Sevastopol and has secured a court order banning any protests in the nation’s capital while the Kremlin’s chief resident is visiting. Ironically, the Kyiv court cited the Law On Ukraine’s National Security in its written motivation for the protest ban, according to a report on Ukrainska Pravda.

Yanukovych and Medvedev to sign three unannounced joint documents (Dzerkalo Tyzhnia)

Court bans protests during Medvedev’s visit (Ukrainska Pravda)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ukraine Needs More Victory Days

Winning the “Great Patriotic War” wasn’t Ukraine’s only or greatest victory

Typical May 9 breakfast in Ukraine would include bread (

Much ado about reconciliation

The same debate hits Ukrainian airwaves every year around May 9. That’s the day the Soviet Union decided would be Victory Day and parades should mark the end of the Great Patriotic War (called the Second World War in the rest of the world). In Ukraine, however, the war did not end in 1945. It lasted well into the 1950s as Moscow sought to establish its rule over the parts of Ukraine where Bolshevik rule was not welcome. The Soviet Union had the Red Army and the NKVD. Liberation-minded Ukrainians had the UPA guerrilla army and support of the local population. Veterans of all these formations live side-by-side in independent Ukraine today. And every year around this time, the question is asked: Is their reconciliation possible?

In the late 1990s, I had the privilege of appearing as a guest on a television talk show that had veterans of the Red Army and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) gather in the same studio to talk about the prospects of reconciliation. In very simple terms, the veterans had different views on victory and defeat. For the Red Army vets, victory meant the defeat of fascism in 1945. For the UPA vets, victory also included Ukrainian Independence following the downfall (defeat) of the USSR in 1991.

The discussion was heated, but much more civil than you will find on Internet forums today. Even ten years ago, there were only a handful of genuine war veterans in the studio. Most of the speakers were “children of the war”, historians, “experts” and politicians. The latter typically exploited the discussion to promote divisions within Ukrainian society, score cheap rhetorical points and thus escalate the tension.

As a “backbencher,” the air was charged by the time my turn to peak came around. I was told by host Anna Bezulyk to keep it short. I made two points: a) the people in the Red Army and UPA (not NKVD) all essentially fought to defend their own villages against foreign invaders, and b) the divisions of fifty years past are being used to continue to divide the country today by the NKVD’s successors. I concluded with a “why can’t we all just get along” appeal which came out more naive than intended.

After the taping, a Red Army veteran stopped and told me (in Russian) that I was both right and wrong. I was right that the vets fought for their own villages and that the war of the past is dividing Ukraine today. But as far as reconciliation was concerned, don’t expect us veterans to make peace, he said. That’s up to your generation, he said.

A few years later, I was in Lviv carrying the coffin of a 1st Ukrainian Division soldier to his final resting place in Lychakiv cemetery. After his division was routed by the Soviets in the 1944 Battle of Brody, Lev fled west, eventually settling in the USA, where he raised a family. In numerous conversations, the machine gunner bore witness to the truth of the “Galizien” division’s history: yes, they wore German uniforms but with Ukrainian insignias and colours; no, they did not swear allegiance to Hitler and no, they did not kill Jews, gypsies and homosexuals. His reasons for enlisting were pro-Ukrainian and anti-Bolshevik – the bloody terror underwent from 1939 to 1941 in Western Ukraine was enough to get many a young man to volunteer in the fight against the Soviets.

Victory came for Lev in 1991 with Ukraine’s declared independence. His family ended up moving back to the homeland where his western “halychanyn” son wed a “slobozhanka” from the east. She, a daughter of Red Army veterans, bore him three grand children. The war veterans shared many cups and raised toasts at weddings, baptisms and holidays never letting the past get in the way of the present or future. When health took a turn for the worse, Lev was admitted to the Red Army veteran hospital in Kyiv. The doctors and nurses saw an aging veteran who required medical attention. They tended to him and extended his time on this earth, never asking “And what side did YOU fight for?”

Fast forward to May 9, 2007. I had worked on the “Ukrainians in Auschwitz” exhibit opened by the president on Victory Day and thus had VIP access when Victor Yushchenko delivered his remarks on the occasion of the defeat of Nazi Germany. Sitting beside me was Bohdan – a member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and an Auschwitz survivor. We listened as the president called for reconciliation between Red Army and UPA veterans – for Ukraine’s sake – and we both cringed when the president was booed. I saw Red Army veterans also cringe and look around in disgust at the booers – a handful of yahoos waving Soviet flags who’d most likely never seen a day of combat. They stood right beside the pool of cameras, so the boos on TV sounded much louder and numerous than they did in “real life.”

After the formalities, Bohdan joined the other vets for a bowl of kasha from the recreated field kitchens. An Auschwitz survivor and Ukrainian nationalist – he was certainly glad that Nazi Germany had been defeated. But he did not mourn the demise of the Soviet Union like those who claim it was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the last century. He was very glad the USSR fell and that he was able to mark the defeat of the Nazis in a free and democratic Kyiv.

After lunch, Bohdan was walking through Kyiv’s Park Slavy when two little girls – sisters, around 10 years old – ran up. “Z praznikom, dyadechka! Spasiba!” they said handing flowers and hugging him. Bohdan’s eyes swelled with tears. The Ukrainian nationalist didn’t care that the girls spoke in Russian. The girls and their parents did not ask him if he fought in UPA or in the Red Army. They saw a war veteran who needed a hug.

Historian Yaroslav Hrytsak once remarked that “victory days” are celebrated by people and states that are still at war. Nations that have successfully dealt with the past, including reconciliation where necessary, mark “memorial” or “remembrance” days to honour the memories of all the victims of war, be they soldiers, civilians, winners, losers.

WWII continues in Ukraine to this day, fuelled not by the veterans, but by politicians and demagogues who are transforming the myths of the “Great Patriotic War” into a new transnational civic religion for the former Soviet space. They are the ones preventing veterans’ grandchildren from turning the page. They are most interested in keeping Ukraine divided and thus more easily ruled from without.

The Ukraine of today is riddled with losses and losers, bad news and few success stories. Ukraine needs more victories (less Viktors, especially of the Yanukovych kind). For the Soviets, the “great patriotic” was the last war they won, so the nostalgia is somewhat understandable. And thank God the Nazis were defeated. But Ukraine will have arrived as a mature nation state once the country’s 1991 independence from the Soviets is commemorated as a victory just as great and joyful as the defeat of Hitler in 1945. In 1991, that was something all Ukrainians could agree upon. And they did. Victory was secured at the ballot box, not the battlefield, when more than 90% said “yes” to freedom in a referendum. But democracy is not as “sexy” as war... When was the last time you saw a movie about an election?

"We beat one enemy, we'll beat the other enemy too!" Courtesy of Serhiy Pantiuk's blog on Ukrayinska Pravda (

Monday, May 3, 2010

EU key to Putin’s pipedream


Item: Russian PM Vladimir Putin proposes the merger of RAO Gazprom and Ukraine’s natural gas monopoly NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy

Background: In the 50 days since his election, Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovych has made improved relations with Russia his top priority. (Relations between the two countries were poor for the past five years because Russia did not like the previous Ukrainian president.) Yanukovych and his government have met with their Russian counterparts 7 times in the past 6 weeks and have made a series of important deals, most notably the gas-for-fleet deal whereby Russia will sell natural gas to Ukraine at significant discounts in exchange for the prolongation of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s port lease in Crimea until 2042.

This deal was rammed through Ukraine’s parliament, causing the much publicized chaos last week. On the heels of the chaos, Russian PM Vladimir Putin proposed the merger of RAO Gazprom and NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy. The state-owned Ukrainian company operate the country’s International Gas Transit System (IGTS)* that currently transports most of Gazprom’s natural gas deliveries to Europe.

Analysis: The chances of Ukraine agreeing to the full merger proposal are slim, unless the European Union agrees. Although official Kyiv has made many concessions to Moscow in recent weeks, Yanukovych said that Ukraine has no intention of giving up the IGTS. Following Putin’s merger proposal, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s presidential administration said that the proposal came as a surprise and has not been formally discussed. But Ukraine’s system is in desperate need of modernization to the tune of an estimated $2 bln per year. And much ado is being made about alternative transit routes that would bypass Ukraine to European consumers. **

With Putin’s merger statements, Moscow is trying to secure an upper hand and better bargaining position in the Russia-Ukraine-EU triangle of talks on the management of Ukraine’s IGTS. The model that previously enjoyed support in Kyiv and Brussels was the creation of an international consortium that would manage the IGTS on a concession basis. The consortium would be made up of the supplier (Russia), storage and transit (Ukraine) and the consumer (EU countries).

Putin’s suggestions of a merger may prove to be nothing more than a pipedream with a purpose: by loudly staking a claim today, Putin hopes to secure a better position in the future consortium. Gazprom is also trying to gain access to Ukraine’s domestic gas market and secure the rights to deliver and collect for natural gas deliveries to households. Moscow may “ease up” on its IGTS designs in exchange for other concessions to Gazprom.

All that said, the Russia-Ukraine merger would only be possible if the EU’s government and energy companies accede to such a plan. Today (May 3), a spokesperson for EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger reacted to the media reports on the possible merger. Marlene Holzner said that it is an “internal matter which concerns the two governments,” Interfax-Ukraine reported. “It is important for us as the European Union that Ukraine should continue reforms on the modernization of its domestic gas market to make it more transparent,” Holzner said. Only if the EU leaves it up to Moscow and Kyiv to ensure transparency, then Putin’s proposal may turn a pipedream into reality. Some Ukrainian media outlets are already spinning the EU Energy Commissioner’s reaction as tacit consent to the proposed merger. (The notion that Western Europe has sold out to Gazprom is oft-repeated in Ukraine.)

* Ukraine’s IGTS infrastructure includes 37,800 km of high pressure natural gas pipelines, 73 compressor stations (5,400 MW ) and 211,000 km in distribution networks, 13 underground gas storage facilities (30 bcm ). IGTS output capacity is 179 bcm (142 bcm to Europe). Current Ukrainian law forbids the privatization of the IGTS or its constituent parts.

** Alternative East-West Gas Pipelines to Europe
South Stream –63 bcm capacity, due 2015 (Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria)

Nabucco – 31 bcm per annum, due 2015 (Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria)

Nord Stream – 51 bcm, due 2012 (Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany)

Ukraine’s IGTS –179 bcm, already in place (Russia, [Belarus], Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yanuslavia Scenario

Back to the UkrSSR: The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic's coat-of-arms (

So what exactly does Viktor Fyodorovych hope to accomplish? In 50 short days he’s managed to roll back nearly all the advances made in desovietization in the five years following the Orange Revolution. In 2004 Yanukovych saw the presidency slip from his grasp... he obviously took the charges of election rigging very personally. But the indications so far are that 2004 isn’t far back enough for Yanukovych. It looks like he wants to roll Ukraine all the way back to the USSR of the 1930s.

Eighty years ago, the Ukraine we know today was split among Poland and the Soviet Union. Today, Yanukovych’s words and actions are dividing the country along similar lines. He couldn’t care less for the western oblasts. His appointments to the “governor” posts in the western part of Ukraine are jokes. Yanukovych and his handlers knew full well the reaction Dmytro Tabachnyk’s ministerial appointment would elicit in the western regions. (Tabachnyk has repeatedly claimed that “galicians” are not even Ukrainian.) He is just one example. In terms of a range of humanitarian issues from language to history to media access, the big bully Yanukovych is repeatedly slapping western Ukrainian faces. And like the true coward a bully really is, he’s doing do so from afar. He has yet to visit the western part of Ukraine since his election. He has been to Russia twice.

Yanukovych was not elected president by a clear majority of Ukraine’s 36 million voters last February. He beat Yulia Tymoshenko by fewer than a million votes. Yet he is ruling in complete disregard to the regions of the country that did not support him. He has failed to become president of the entire country.

It seems that Yanukovych is borrowing a page from Vladimir Putin’s playbook on Ukraine. Recall Putin’s words to George Bush when the two were presidents: “You don't understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state. What is Ukraine? Part of its territories is Eastern Europe, but the greater part is a gift from us.” Yanukovych’s presidential policies in his first 50 days suggest that he subscribes to Putin’s view of Ukraine that corresponds to the way Ukraine was divided by the Soviets and Poles in the 1930s. Heck, Yanukovych thinks the idea of building a Stalin monument should be put to a referendum!

The 1920’s saw a period of ukrainization and economic boom in the Soviet half of the country while the Poles persecuted Ukrainians in the West. Lenin’s nationality and economic policies initially allowed Ukraine to flourish until Stalin took the helm to take his “great leap forward.” By the 1930s, Ukrainians were dying by design and non-Ukrainians were “resettled” from Russia and Belarus to populate the depopulated areas with more pliable ethnographic material.

Of course the likes of Yanukovych – the son of immigrants from Belarus and Russia – will deny that Holodomor was genocide! Otherwise, they would be admitting that their ancestors came to Ukraine as a result of Stalin’s evil plan. It causes them psychological discomfort to acknowledge that the Soviet Union did anything wrong.

In the 1930s the mass murder of Ukrainians was accompanied by the killing of the country’s “spirit” in its priesthood and “mind” in its intelligentsia. That defined the “Soviet genocide in Ukraine” according to Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term genocide and the father of the United Nations’ convention on genocide.

In 2010, Yanukovych only supports and enjoys the support of the Kremlin-loyal Russian Orthodox Church while snubbing the Ukrainian churches. In terms of the pro-Ukrainian intelligentsia, Yanukovych won’t let them anywhere near the reigns of political power. The intelligentsia writes open letters of protest that fall on deaf ears... its members might as well be dead.

Yanukovych is doing everything possible to appease the Kremlin in its efforts to recreate the USSR, but he is only creating instability in Ukraine. With Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the Soviet dream has been dying a slow death for nearly two decades. It’s taking that long because change was doled out in evolutionary, peaceful doses. Yanukovych’s presidency is a frantic final stab at making the Soviet dream a reality. "If he is stopped now, Sovdepiya will die in a couple of years!"

Instability in Ukraine can result in protracted chaos or swift regime change. The worst-case scenario would make the break-up of the former Yugoslavia look like a schoolyard spat. God forbid. A bad-case scenario would see the Ukraine reorganize itself into a federation (another one of Tabachnyk’s dreams), with its constituent parts in the east and Crimea legally joining Moscow’s orbit (via Russia’s 2001 law on accepting new member states – or parts thereof - into the Russian Federation*). The best case scenario would be the quick and painless toppling of the Yanukovych regime before things get out of hand. And, like Orange in 2004, may it be more Gandhi than Guevara.

But those with an ear to the ground are hearing different songs in response to Yanukovych’s rendition of the Beatles’Back to the USSR” and it isn’t “Give peace a chance” any longer. This time around the prelude is the distinct chords of The Who’sWe won’t get fooled again”...

Gandhi or Guevara? Victor Yanukovych hasn’t been president for 100 days and the opposition is already calling for his ouster. Does the opposition have staying power, or will it fizzle out? Will the protests stay non-violent in the spirit of Gandhi? The next major one is scheduled for May 11.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Black Sea Fleet vote: Know thy heroes

Smile of betrayal. Valeriy Pysarenko, 30, one of 9 Tymoshenko MPs who voted to support extending Russian's Black Sea Fleet lease until 2042. The vote would not have passed if it weren't for turncoats like Pysarenko.(

Eggs, smoke bombs, sirens and fisticuffs were not enough to stop Ukraine’s parliament from making a mockery of the democratic process on April 27. Without any debate or discussion, the legislature ratified an agreement that will allow Russian military maintain a presence in Ukraine until 2042 and adopted the state budget for 2010. Video footage of the Rada circus was carried by media worldwide as the Kremlin scored yet another victory in Ukraine in the 50 days since Victor Yanukovych became president.

In his first weeks in office Yanukovych was praised for the speedy consolidation of power. When he quickly formed a cabinet of ministers and cobbled together a majority in parliament using le$$ than constitutional means, most observers looked the other way. They reasoned that anything was better than the chaos that resulted from the standoff between president and prime ministered that characterized Yushchenko’s presidency. They looked the other way when Yanukovych secured a constitutional court ruling using le$$ than constitutional means. All three branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial – were brought under the control of a single political party (like the good old days of the Soviet Union - Back to the U$$R!).

So it should have come as no surprise that Yanukovych found 234 votes in the 450-seat parliament to vote for extending the Russian Black Sea Fleet lease. But in Soviet times, the party members would actually show up to vote, even if the results were fixed beforehand. In post-Soviet Ukraine, MPs do not have to be physically present in parliament to vote: it’s enough for their “voting cards” to be in the right hands under the dome on Hrushevsky Street. For example, where was Regions MP Serhiy Holovaty when he voted to ratify the Black Sea Fleet agreement? In Strasbourg, France. Ukrainian democracy allows for elected officials to perform their duties virtually.

Ask a Ukrainian who represents their community in parliament and they won’t know, because the current Rada was elected according to a proportional, closed list system. There is no direct representation. All a voter saw on the ballot when he/she voted in 2007 were the first ten names of every party of electoral bloc. Ukrainians not only do not know who represents them, they don’t even know who they voted for. As a result, a bunch of no names responsible to nobody except their party boss, who bought their way onto their party list are in parliament. This is the worst Rada ever, making some of the worst decisions – ever.

But Ukrainians did not give any one party the carte blanche to rule the country in the last presidential or parliamentary elections. In fact, Ukrainians cast their votes for political forces who would never trade Crimea for lower natural gas prices or adopt a state budget without any debate. They voted for pro-Western forces such as the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine Peoples’ Self-Defense. But wouldn’t you know it? MPs from these parties were instrumental in making sure Yanukovych’s Kremlin-appeasing initiatives were successful in Parliament: 9 MPs from Byut and 7 MPs from OUPSD. Their combined 16 votes pushed the necessary number over the minimum 226 mark. They joined forces with Yanukovych's Party of Regions, the Communists and the Rada Speaker's Lytvyn Bloc, who did not have enough votes on their own.

Their names are: Valentyn Zubov (Валентин Зубов), Volodymyr Ivanenko (Володимир Іваненко), Petro Kuzmenko (Петро Кузьменко), Oleh Malich (Олег Маліч), Sviatoslav Olynyk (Святослав Олійник), Valeriy Pysarenko (Валерій Писаренко), Ihor Savchenko (Ігор Савченко), Ivan Sidelnyk (Іван Сідельник) and Oleh Cherpitsky (Олег Черпіцький) from Byut and from OUPSD Yuri Boot (Юрій Бут), Serhiy Vasylenko (Сергій Василенко), Stanislav Dovhy (Станіслав Довгий), David Zhvania (Давид Жванія), Oleksandr Omelchenko (Олександр Омельченко), Ihor Palytsia (Ігор Палиця) and Volodymyr Poliachenko (Володимир Поляченко).

These are the names of people who betrayed the people who voted for their party. Voters can’t recall them even if they know their names. They can’t be replaced by their parties. They are immune from criminal prosecution. They don’t even have to be in the Rada to vote. Their terms in office won’t expire until 2012. They answer to nobody. Except to Yanukovych. And he answers to nobody. Except Putin.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Katyn: more than a movie

As Moscow continues to score victory after victory in the geopolitical space it considers its own (Kyrgyzstan, Crimea to name two) it is not surprising to see how easy the Kremlin was let off the hook in the wake of the recent Katyn commemorations and ensuing plane crash. No, I’m not saying the KGB-FSB actually took out the Polish president’s twenty-year-old Tupolev. That would be way too much and overtop.... even for Putin.

But for what did the media praise Russia in the wake of the 21st century Katyn disaster? Transparency? Speedy investigation? No. For broadcasting a movie about the 20th century Katyn massacre on Russian State TV. And not just once. Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda’s film “Katyn” was aired twice after Lech Kaczynski and 95 others perished. Wow. How utterly humane. By broadcasting the film twice in prime time, Russia has somehow atoned for the massacre seventy years ago and made everything wrong right again.

I recall the Ukrainian premier of Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyn in Kyiv in 2008. It was a year of breakthroughs in Ukraine. The country was only beginning to come to terms with the darkest pages of its Soviet past, including the Holodomor that took X million lives in 1932-33. After the screening of Katyn, I was surprised to see what a profound impact it had on the post-Soviet viewer, who either a) knew nothing about the Katyn massacre, or b) believed the Soviet propaganda line that the Nazis executed thousands of Polish officers in Katyn. (And Kharkiv too. For the massacre of 22,000+ Polish officers was not limited to the forest outside of Smolensk.)

Growing up in Toronto in the 1970s, I recall my father taking me to the Katyn memorial at the foot of Roncessvales Avenue overlooking Lake Ontario where Ukrainian Canadians joined our fellow Canadians of Polish descent in honouring the memories of victims of Communist war crimes. At the time, the Soviet Union maintained that the Poles were massacred by the Nazis.

In Canada, we knew the truth decades ago. It’s only coming out now in the former Soviet Union and it’s like pulling teeth. It takes crashing planes and dying presidents. But it’s is going to take a lot more than showing a movie on Russian State TV.

I remember coming away from Wajda’s “Katyn” feeling like I had seen the film somewhere before. The execution scenes evoked a response similar to Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” when Jesus of Nazareth is lashed forty times. Forty means forty, but Gibson’s forty were a little too much for some people. So too during Wajda’s film you may feel like screaming “Okay!!! I get the point!!!” as the executions go on and on and on... but that is perhaps the “victims’ right” in the artistic portrayal of horrendous injustice and mass murder – the survivors and descendants decide when enough is enough. There will never be too many films about the Holocaust. And they can never be shown often enough in Germany, Nazi or not.

Then I remembered where I had seen Wajda’s “Katyn” before. Or at least something so similar that it can’t be a coincidence. Did Wajda purposefully copy the execution scene? Then again, there are only so many ways to shoot thousands of people with conveyor belt efficiency.

The movie is a little-known film by fairly well-known Russian director Aleksandr Rogozhkin. He’s the director who made the popular “Peculiarities of National Hunt” and “Peculiarities of National Fishing” vodkafests in ’95 and ‘98. The hilarity of those films stands in stark contrast to Rogozhkin’s 1992 film “Chekist” that shows how the Bolsheviks actually established rule in Russia. As in “Katyn,” Soviet justice in “Chekist” is meted out summarily by pistols. Over and over and over again.

So the Kremlin does not have to turn to foreign films to tell true tales. But you won’t see “Chekist” shown on Russian State TV during prime time. That’s too bad, because Russian won’t change until “Chekist” is aired like “Katyn.” And both are shown over and over and over again...

"Chekist" (1992) - 2 minute preview

"Chekist" (1992) - 8 minute preview

Friday, April 16, 2010

New Guinea Anti-Tobacco Appeal

Letter to a Prime Minister

“Chauvinist, No-filter.” Anti-Tabachnik spoof cigarette pack reads “Tabachnik is dangerous to the moral health of Ukrainian citizens.” Education minister Tabachnik’s surname means “tobacconist” in Russian.

To: The Right Honourable Grand Chief
Sir Michael Somare
Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
Pot Mosbi, Tok Pisin
New Guinea

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Kindly disregard the racist reference to the Papuan people made on April 15 by the current Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, Mr. Dmitri Tabachnik.*

His supremacist views are not shared by the Ukrainian people. In fact, Mr. Tabachnik, whose name stems from the Russian word for tobacco, is more Homo Sovieticus than anything. His derogatory views of aboriginals are based on a Soviet imperialist mindset, one that he propagates in Ukraine today.

Unfortunately, Mr. Tabachnik promotes discriminatory policies against indigenous peoples. In Ukraine he actively denigrates the native population by portraying the native language, culture and history as second rate while introducing apartheid-like policies that favour the language, culture and historical narrative of the former imperial power and nomenklatura class whose bloody rule took the lives of millions of our fellow countrymen last century.

For example, Mr. Tabachnik is undertaking the rewriting of history textbooks to replace the term “Second World War” with the Soviet-only phrase “Great Patriotic War.” In this way, he seeks not only to downplay the contribution countries like Canada made in the defeat of Nazi Germany, but the sacrifices the brave warriors of New Guinea and Papua made to defeat Japanese fascism. (Hold on a second, were the Japanese “fascists” too?). An “anti-tobacco” campaign has been launched in Ukraine to prevent this revisionism to the detriment of our and your people, but its success can only be ensured through our coordinated and consolidated efforts.

Declaring Mr. Tabachnik persona non grata in New Guinea will not do much as his travel is limited mostly to Moscow. Should he decide to come, please don’t be fooled by his claim of having a Ph. D. as purchasing one in Ukraine is easy as 1-2-3 without actually having to know your a-b-cs. You should also ensure extra protection for all your archives because Mr. Tabachnik has been known to have sticky fingers when he covets rare historical documents.

Mr. Prime Minister! Mr. Tabachnik and his ilk will not be in power forever in Ukraine. But if he decides to flee to your country please take note of his antipapuanism and xenophobia. They have no place in free and democratic countries!

Please be assured that the freedom-loving Ukrainian people support the freedom-loving Papuan people in all your efforts! We hope you will support the Anti-Tobacco movement in Ukraine!

Glory to Papua New Guinea! Glory to Your Heroes!

Steve Andreyowitz

Cc: US State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

* In an interview with the UNIAN news agency on April 15, Tabachnik said that Ukraine is a “Papuan country” because 28 “central organs” of executive government have higher educational institutions in Ukraine. See A quick survey of Internet information on the education system of Papua New Guinea showed that there is nothing terribly wrong with that country's system.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Donetsk court fails to ruin Easter

Lawyer Vladimir "Putin" Olentsevych:
What country is he working for?
Hint: The flag in the background is not an Aquafresh ad

Another letter to the same president

To: Viktor Yanukovych
President of Ukraine
Street of Bank, 11
Kyiv, Ukraina

Highly Esteemed Viktor Fyodorovych!

I never knew you had kangaroos in Donetsk. I learned that about your courts on April 2. We were on the way to church for Holy Great Friday Vespers when the telegram arrived stating “Your grandfather is no longer Hero of Ukraine.”

“Ha-ha!” I thought, “this April Fool’s joke is a day late,” and went to church where I reflected on the way Pontius Pilate washed his hands and thought of you. I remembered your promise to the Kremlin to strip Hero status from my grandfather before Stalin’s Victory Day on May 9. And then I understood that like Pilate you weren’t actually going to repeal the Hero title yourself. You would have a court do your dirty work.

Honestly, I didn’t think you were going to go through with it, because that would make a mockery of the Ukrainian judicial system. You see, we’ve been down this legal road before. Last year, the Donetsk Administrative Court ruled on a case filed by lawyer Vladimir Olentsevych who challenged the Hero of Ukraine title bestowed on UPA Commander-in-Chief Roman Shukhevych.

Olentsevych claimed that his rights as a citizen were violated because Roman Shukhevych was never a citizen of Ukraine. According to law, only citizens of Ukraine can be awarded “Hero of Ukraine.” Olentsevych argued that: a) Ukraine came into being in 1991 and b) Shukhevych was killed in 1951, ergo he was not a citizen of Ukraine. On Feb. 12, 2009, the Donetsk Administrative Court ruled against Olentsevych: Shukhevych’s Hero of Ukraine award did not contravene Ukrainian law. Case closed.

Fast forward one year. Same court, same plaintiff, same claim as in the Shukhevych case, except the target is Bandera. This time around, however, Donetsk Administrative Court Judge Karine Eskenderivna Abdukadirova ruled that Bandera cannot be a “Hero of Ukraine” because he was never its citizen. So what changed in the last year? The law is the same, a legal precedent exists. What’s different this time around? It’s you Mr. President. A new president is in office.

In functioning democracies where Rule of Law has been more or less established, judges are typically not influenced by or dependent upon those holding executive branch office. Even those people who absolutely despise Bandera and would like to see him stripped of Hero status have cause for concern. Ukraine’s court system is subject to the whims of whoever holds political power. The judiciary is a dependent joke.

Following the logic of the Donetsk court ruling, you will have to “de-heroize” at least 15 Heroes who died before 1991, including poets Vasyl Stus and Volodymyr Ivasiuk. Then there are the brave men who died fighting the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 1986. And the Red Army heroes who liberated Auschwitz, accepted the capitulation of the Japanese and raised the Soviet flag atop the Reichstag in Berlin to mark the end of the Great Patriotic War. They, like Bandera, died before 1991.

Sixty three days! That’s how long Stepan Bandera lasted as Hero of Ukraine... Tell me, Mr. President, what is he now: Enemy of Ukraine? Anti-Hero of Ukraine? Regular guy of Ukraine?

O Great Yanukovych! I will abide by whatever you decide in your infinite wisdom. But I accepted the Hero of Ukraine award on behalf of our family from the hands of a president, and I will only give it back into the hands of a president. No crowds. Mono e mono. For my part, I promise: No eggs.

Mr. President! You tried to ruin Easter for our family, but you failed. For the same day your court in Donetsk ruled to strip Bandera of his Hero title, God bestowed the best gift possible to our family: the birth of Stepan Bandera’s fifth great grandchild. The KGB succeeded in killing his great grandfather. But try as you might, you will never stop the Banderas: Coming soon to a gene pool near you!

Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Her Children!

In prostration,
S.A. Bandera
Grandson of Hero of Ukraine

PS: I heard your spokeswoman Hanna Herman called me a “bad grandson.” That may be so. Because if I was a “good son” then I most certainly would have a job in the government like her son Mykola who was magically appointed the Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations.