Thursday, April 28, 2005

Inaugural Essay, Part I: About this Blog

Town of Pidhajtsi in the State of Ternopil in the heart of western Ukraine, or historical Halychyna

Last March, 2005, I returned from 8 months in Ukraine, where I spent most of my time in Pidhajtsi, a small town of about 7,000 people that is 70 km from the city of Ternopil in the state of Ternopil (states or administrative regions in Ukraine are named for their capital cities). I lived with relatives and learned to do things like bring in the fall harvest, speak better Ukrainian, and drink such amounts of horylka (Ukrainian for vodka) that I never would have imagined humanly possible, had I never gone to Ukraine. This was my first visit to my ancestral homeland, and I fell in love with it, in part because of the conditions in the country; but more on that later. I did quite a bit of wandering, and spent significant chunks of time in Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, some villages near Kosiv and Kolomija in the Carpathians, Zhytomyr, Poltava, and of course, Kyiv. In the mountains, I got to dance a real, traditional arkan at a Hutsul wedding (what you see big Ukrainian dance ensembles doing only vaguely resemble the real thing). And of course, I experienced the build up to the elections and the Orange Revolution (OR) itself. I was both an active participant in and witness to the events of the OR, not just in Kyiv but in various parts of the country. I feel that it is extremely important to emphasize to people who were not in Ukraine at the time that the OR did not happen in Kyiv alone, that there were demonstrations in cities, towns, and even villages all over the country. Thus in the course of those fateful 3 weeks, I wandered from city to town to village in many parts of Ukraine, taking photos and video, and wrote reports on what I saw and heard happening to a list-serve I established, as frequently as was possible.

This was all before I learned how easy it is to start one’s own blog. I have been writing a list-serve about my thoughts about and experiences in Ukraine in particular, and about conditions in post-communist “Eurasia” in general since June 26, 2004, my first day in Ukraine. This blog is a continuation of that list-serve project. You will be able to find here (eventually) everything that I wrote during my months in Ukraine, as well as new stuff. The Orange Revolution stuff is very interesting, but I encourage you to at least read what has turned out to be the most popular piece I wrote--a descriptive, pretty much ethnographic essay in which I tried to convey something about life in the town of Pidhajtsi.

As for what one can expect to see in the future on this blog, general themes I like to write about include:

Why did the OR happen? What was it all about it?

Stories about everyday life and travel in Ukraine. As for "travel," I am fascinated by the very different conceptions of both space and time that provincial or rural Ukrainians have compared to those of a (post)modern Westerner.

Stories from people about their experiences with corruption--how did the corruption of the government have a demoralization effect on the population at large in Ukraine? I will recount personal stories about local officials selling off machinery to enrich themselves, etc.

Ukraine's political structure and the ongoing issue of political reform.

The political or public personalities of leading politicians. Who is Yushchenko? Tymoshenko? Poroshenko? Etc.

The grassroots-history of PORA! and other organizations, such as Chysta Ukrajina, etc.

Role of the US in the OR. I am very critical of what I perceive to be a gross overestimation of the role played by the US in the course of the OR by people on both the left and right of the political spectrum in the West. The people of Ukraine made this revolution happen, not US NGOs nor the CIA, even if Ukrainians were assisted from abroad. On the other hand, I am also very interested in crtitiques of neocon policies of low-intensity agitation for regime change.

Comparisons between the OR and other pro-democracy movements and rebellions taking place in the world today.

Comparisons between life in Ukraine and in the US and EU (one of my favorite topics).

Critically investigate what the WTO, “market-status,” the EU, IMF/World Bank, "market-economy" and "European standards" and "European-readiness" mean in general and for Ukraine in particular.

The question of what kind of Ukraine contemporary Ukrainians imagine their country to be, and what they want it to become after the OR. I spent my last few weeks in Ukraine interviewing Ukrainians about precisely this theme, and keep talking to people about this via email. Is Ukraine a pluralistic, and multicultural and multilingual society, and should it be? Or is it a place just for Ukrainians that has suffered a tragic history of cultural genocide that needs to be reversed at all cost? And do Ukrainians want capitalism with an American face, or capitalism with a more European one?

This is not a complete list of themes, and stylistically the pieces posted here will sometimes be narrative accounts of daily life, sometimes newspaper articles (I have and continue to publish pieces about Ukraine, mostly in diaspora papers), sometimes rants, and often just thought-pieces. Very little of what will appear here will be “professional” or academic, with citations, etc. But I am working on a number of such essays as well, which will appear here eventually. And one other note: I do my best with grammar and spelling, but I won't always be thoroughly editing my posts.

I should make it clear that I write from a liberal—neh, left—point of view when it comes to issues of Ukraine’s integration into the global economy. I want Yushchenko and his administration to fight hard for high wage protections, environmental protections, high-quality universal healthcare and higher education, etc.; in short, to fight against World Bank/IMF “restructuring” programs and demands for "austerity measures," as they steer Ukraine into the world economy. I want to see the government of Ukraine join forces with the anti-Neo-Liberalism rebellion taking shape in the world today, as people and governments throughout the global south (and hopefully now the East) get organized to demand more equitable trade agreements with the West and North (and I think many Ukrainians will want their government to do so, too, as average Ukrainians become increasingly familiar with the globalized world order into which their country is becoming more integrated). In short, my thoughts are guided by the motto increasingly heard in the global south, which is one that I think Ukrainians will be quick to adopt, too, as their country becomes more integrated in the global economy: “Just any job is not always better than no job at all!” This is especially the case in countries, like Ukraine, where a large portion of the population can get by as subsistence farmers with occasional, part-time wage labor. The point is that people in Ukraine and many countries of the global East and South want the political conditions and standard of living in their countries to actually improve. They don't want just to replace a local oligarchy and low-income slavery to either the land or some job with few health-benefits, few opportunities for higher education, and an economy with total disregard to environmental conditions with a foreign oligarchy that will basically maintain their low-income slavery either to the land or some job, again with few health-benefits, few opportunities for higher education, and total disregard for environmental conditions. They want good-paying and not any just any job, universal healthcare and education, and a healthier, cleaner environment to work and live in: these were the leading principles and promises of Yushchenko's campaign, in addition to his promise to clean-up corruption. They also are what most Ukrainians I talked to more or less thought they were fighting for. To my mind, and to many once again in Ukraine, only a viable social democracy can guarantee such things, not the American system--a social democracy on the European Union model, or on the model being worked out in certain Latin American countries. But activists around the world know how much the IMF and World Bank are fans of such systems.

One more concluding remark: The countries of Eurasia, of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, are going to play an increasingly significant role in global geopolitics. These are nations with high unemployment rates and vast resources that are barely integrated into the global market economy. Standing in the way of their more complete integration is the fact that these are (or in the case of some, have been) nations with semi-authoritarian governments rife with corruption and oligarchs who have robbed Western investors and aid agencies left and right. Once these regimes are replaced, and the oligarchies and much of that corruption is curtailed, new boulevards will be thrown open for the legions and cannonballs of neoliberalism. Such regime change is eagerly anticipated by many in the West, especially in but not limited to neoconservative circles in the United States (see Zbigniew Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard that was widely read in Washington, D.C. policy circles, for an indication of the centrality of Eurasia to the future of American and global geopolitics). Regime change is also eagerly awaited by the popular masses of Eurasia, but most of them want social democracy and fair trade, not neoliberalism and free-trade, according to my own research in Ukraine and a political hunch that is derived from the notion already mentioned that for most, not any job is better than no job in a country in which it is still possible to survive as a subsistence farmer and part-time wage laborer.

However, this is a part of the world about which most people in the West are, in general, quite ignorant, especially when it comes to grassroots sentiment. This means that Westerners have difficulty navigating the web of roles being spun by people’s movements, NGOs and foreign powers in what looks promising like it will become a new Springtime of Nations. But even worse, many people in the West only know stereotypes when they do think at all about the region, which includes even educated Westerners, and even politically active ones to boot. Far too many in the West traffic in such stereotypical notions about Eastern Europeans and Central Asians as, "Aren't they all just rabidly anti-Semitic in Eastern Europe?" or "Aren't they all, more or less, nationalist zealots? or "Isn't everyone, even everyday people, just basically corrupt in Eastern Europe or Central Asia?" or "Isn't it dark and depressing there?" or "Isn't it true that they don't even know what a microwave is?" or "Weren't all the anti-Soviet Popular Fronts just CIA fronts?" etc. People also make a fetish and noble savage out of one figure of Eurasian life, the Gypsy, which has come to resemble little of its true self in the Western mind. But don't get me wrong--Romani culture fascinates me and I have had long arguments with certain people in Ukraine, waging war against their negative stereotypes about Gypsies (which are basically the same as American stereotypes about "Blacks"). In general, my experience in Ukraine taught me that there is much, much more to Eastern Europe and the East Slav world—and by extension and more “political hunches” Central Asia—than what the Western image even hints at. In short, the Western image of this fantastic region of the world resembles little of what the life and culture there really is like.

Of course, the average person in the West can not be blamed for this. Education and information in the West about this region is minimal and often distorted, even though more than hald of Europe was encompassed by the Cold-War definition of Eastern Europe. To focus on Eastern Europe alone (for Central Asia and Eastern Europe are sensibly thought of in unison as "Eurasia" only because they share a common Soviet past and today share a similar post-Soviet struggle), another striking statistic is that there are 256 million speakers of Slavic tongues, making Slavic the largest language family in Europe; and there are about 20 million people with Slavic roots in the US. I don't mean to focus only on the Slavic population of Eastern Europe and North America, however; one should note that the various peoples of and events in Eastern Europe have played a fundamental role in European history as a whole, and this means that European history courses should also focus on the history of Eastern Europe. However, what one usually learns from standard European history textbooks are only those portions of Eastern European history that matter to the telling of the story of Western Europe. What is more, there is a strong Russocentric bias among Western scholars and thinkers and policy-makers when it comes to thinking about the history of and contemporary situation in Eastern Europe, and this leads to all kinds of distortions in the popular mind as well (such as, "Isn't Kyiv a city in Russia?").

However, I will single out the activist community in the West for criticism, only because one should expect political activists to be better informed. Unfortunately, the political activist community in the West traditionally has barely paid any attention to issues and events in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, and have thus left it up to the mainstream media, or to pundits of both the right and the left who know nothing to little about the region, or who only know the Russocentric interpretation of events, to construct the representation of Events there; and the activist community has the tendency of picking up these representations as their own. Also plaguing the activist community is deep skepticism about the authenticity of people's movements in Eurasia--"I mean, come on," people say, "what the popular masses or the multitude of Eurasian countries are clamoring for is, in part, well, more capitalism, isn't it? And they did reject a worker’s state, didn't they?" The answers to these questions are anything but simple or obvious.

Thus, perhaps more so than anything, this blog is an effort to make a difference by presenting pieces that cut through this wall of ignorance, and is an effort to convey something REAL, rather than ideological and/or imaginary, about the fantastic land called Ukraine, and of the Eurasia of which it is part, whether one wants it to be or not. But don't get me wrong: I do think Ukraine is an European nation (this is not a contradiction), and I am a big supporter of Ukraine’s bid to join the EU; however, my support is highly qualified, which is something that will have to be explained in some future post. . .

Thus, in short the two major themes of this blog are:

1) Daily life in Ukraine as I experienced it.

2) Ukraine and Globalization (in which catergory I include the OR).

I hope that you will enjoy this site.

Us’oho najkrashchoho (All the Best),

Stefan Iwaskewycz

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Inaugural Essay, Part II: Why the Name Dykun

The Ukrainian word dykun means “savage,” and I have two main reasons for naming my blog thusly:

1) I was taking intermediate Ukrainian at the Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute when I asked my teacher (you know who you are, if you are reading!) what the phrase for "to go backpacking" as around Europe was in Ukrainian. He stopped, thought a moment, and then asked, "You mean with that thing on your back and sleeping wherever and eating whatever? Yeah, I know. . .podorozhuvaty jak dykun (to travel like a savage)." I don't know if he was serious, that such was the real phrase in Ukrainian, and although I am fairly sure he has traveled as such a savage himself, my Ukrainian family in Pidhajtsi had no idea what the heck I was talking about when I tried that turn of phrase out on them last summer. But then again, one probably should not expect them to have much of an idea of what I was talking about anyway, even if this was the right phrase in Ukrainian. You see, they were just mesmerized by my constant comings and goings from Pidhajtsi to some other part of Ukraine and back again. I know that I saw much more of Ukraine in one summer and fall than any of them had seen their entire lives, whether they had 23 or 75 years. This is a really big topic to discuss, but in short, one way to gauge the "Europeanness" or "Westernness" of a nation is to gauge how mobile the people of a country are, and to do that, all you have to do is look at the infrastructure for travelers and tourists, or ask people where they had been and how recently they had been there. Plenty of people do travel in Ukraine, but I would bet that far more do not travel much; and when they do, many only venture around their own or some nearby region, but perhaps for one or two big trips their entire lives (of course, this is changing and will continue to change, but at the moment seems to hold as true). I had been in Poltava 2xs already when a neighbor in Pidhajtsi excitedly proclaimed to me, "I was there once! No, really, I was! Let's see, it was back in 19, um 198. . .1982! For a couple of days!" I took my 23-yr-old second cousin Oksana to Kyiv on New Year's Eve 2005, and that was her first time there! I had already been there twice before she ever was. In fact, I had been to Kyiv long before many, many Ukrainians had ever been there for the first time themselves, which for many was during the Orange Revolution!

So I like the notion of backpacking being to travel "as a savage," and I also appreciate what is truly savage about the situation regarding travel in Ukraine for the average, rural Ukrainian: the centuries of authoritarian rule, and present and past poverty and a decayed infrastructure, that have kept people bound to their place. However, I also want to suggest here that perhaps there is something positive about being so tied to one's place. Perhaps we moderns and postmoderns are the sick ones, rootless and too shifty. Perhaps we confuse too much movement with freedom. This is not to suggest that the savage means by which people were historically bound to the land in Ukraine and elsewhere has anything positive about it, but perhaps there are positive reasons for being bound to the land nonetheless. One recent philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, who is often dubbed the nomad's philosopher, felt that the high mobility of modern society frequently prevented the kind of deep, inner, spiritual movements that true nomadism could provoke; one need not to travel too far from home to be a real nomad of the mind and spirit, and those who travel the greatest distances may be just running away.

Whatever be the case, one cannot truly ask this question--and many probably won't even be able to see reason to ask such questions--until one has actually experienced life in a place where people's sense of time and space, and travel therein, are much closer to pre- or early modern sensibilities than are ours, in the wanderlusting and high-speed West. Wich makes me want to ask, just what is the West running away from? Have we not left something important behind in out haste? .

2) On that note, a note about what could be called the "savage" conditions in Ukraine: Most Westerners I met in Ukraine were, to varying degrees, surprised, shocked, or just appalled by the conditions in Ukraine. I met very few who felt right at home, or who at least were willing to accept Ukraine on its own terms. This included a lot of diaspora I met while there. One really good way to get acquainted with not only the real conditions in Ukraine but also with the REAL people of Ukraine is to travel like the majority of Ukrainians do, when they do travel. Take the cheaper, Soviet-era buses, not the luxury ones, when you can. Take trains, and don't fly, and when taking the overnight train, go plastkart or on the cheapest rail ticket, which will place you in the common room wagons--unless you don't know the language well and are skittish about not knowing it well. That is, if you are smart, you ain't gonna get robbed; any big city in the US seems to me a more unsafe place than any part of Ukraine, and I met an American hippie-like guy who spoke neither Ukrainian nor Russian in Ukraine but who loved the common wagons. If you do travel in this way, you will come in contact with some of the real conditions in Ukraine, and I think this is a vital opportunity that every Westerner should embrace, rather than avoid and/or judge: in Ukraine, you have the chance to experience life much closer to the way that the vast majority of human beings on earth live it. And to any diaspora reading here: Face it, these are your Ukrainian people who live like this, and you will need to decide whether or not you are in fact more American than Ukrainian by virtue of your creature comforts. I also don't think that being partially or somehow Ukrainian means you have the right to complain the loudest of all Westerners about conditions while in Ukraine! And all visitors to Ukraine should also keep in mind that the conditions there are actually quite decent by global standards; that is, conditions for average Ukrainians are not what they are for average people in either India or the subsaharan Africa, so buck up, little campers!

Thus, travel in Ukraine can be, depending on one's orientation and openness, a relatively "savage" experience, but that's much too strong of a word, in my opinion--bear with me as I use it here for thematic continuity. It is better to say that travel in Ukraine might be, for some, a somewhat uncomfortable experience, but I in fact found the conditions in Ukraine enchanting and instructive, in the sense of taking a class in how NOT EVERYTHING in life NEEDS TO BE NICE, NEAT, CLEAN NOR BRAND NEW, as it is in North America. Thus, I advise taking the more DYKUN route, which is to me the more real route. But you can travel in the lap of luxury in Ukraine too, flying everywhere or taking the fancy buses, or riding in the fancy railcars, and sleeping in fancy hotels and eating at fancy restaurants, if you want. EVERYTHING that Westerners have is available in Ukraine; you just have to be able to afford it. But the fact of the matter is that the majority of Ukraine's and the MAJORITY OF PLANET EARTH'S people in general can not. . .

Perhaps it's best to advise that one try to see and experience all the sides of contemporary Ukrainian life. Ukraine has an enormous diverstiy of standards of living. One should try to exeperience it all, but since one can experience Western decadence at home, one should try to see what remains of a less Western world. . .and the logical thing for me to call it here will be "a more savage world," but I don't want to: I don't think it is savage at all, just different. In some ways, its more peaceful, and more human, than the hustle and bustle of the West. And so on that note, living in a village in Ternopilshchyna is an American who got married and has already lived in Ukraine for years, and who plans to grow old and die in Ukraine. He is rumored to have been a Peace Corps guy who stays because he says that the peace of mind he has found in rural Ukraine was impossible for him to find in the US. This should make us rethink what is "savage."

Us'oho najkrashchoho (All the Best),

Stefan Iwaskewycz

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Orange Revolution in Rural Ukraine: Part I, Berezhany

On the morning of November 22, I woke up early unable to stay asleep, as I was eager to listen for news about the previous day’s runoff election. Both my 23-year-old second cousin and I had been up quite late, listening to reports on Radio Era of widespread violations, of exit polls giving Yushchenko victory, and of the bizarre arithmetic of the Central Electoral Commission pointing towards a Yanukovych victory. Radio Era was more reliable than any of the major Ukrainian TV networks, and we didn’t have the satellite dish that one needs to get Channel 5. As I returned to my spot beside the radio, I found Oksana already there, sitting on the edge of her seat, listening pensively. The news was bad: It was indisputably clear that Ukrainian authorities had behaved the previous day even more shamelessly than they had on October 31.

It was Monday. I was in Pidhajtsi (pop. 7,000), a town in Ternopil oblast. The internet at the computer club in Pidhajtsi was down that day—as it frequently was—so I decided to head for the neighboring, larger town of Berezhany (pop. 25,000). I needed to get on the net and see what was happening elsewhere in the country, and to write emails home. As we boarded the bus that afternoon—my cousin came with me—we knew that the multitude gathered on Independence Square in Kyiv was already 200,000 and growing.

In Berezhany, we not only found an internet club, but a revolution starting. Walking to the center of town from the bus station, we saw something incredible. A car was driving around from which the passenger in the front seat was shouting through a megaphone, "Esteemed Berezhantsi, your country is being stolen from you! Do not take this lying down! Rise up, Ukraine! Come to the meeting at 3 PM on the Central Square!”

I had goose bumps all over. I turned to my cousin and said, "Maybe it really is starting." She said, “I hope so.” The night before, as she went to bed, she had said, "Something has to happen tomorrow." Oksana is now a schoolteacher in Pidhajtsi, where she was born and raised.

In the center of town, 1,000 people were assembling in front of the local offices of one of the political parties that are part of the Our Ukraine bloc. A television was set up outside, turned to the opposition Channel 5, which was re-broadcasting the speech Yushchenko made earlier that day in Kyiv, telling people: It’s time to fight! Come to the maidan! Demonstrate! It was the first time that I heard this speech that should go down as one of the most important moments of contemporary Ukrainian history, as the statement that began a revolution whose aim continues to be, putting an end to Ukraine’s post-Soviet era. By evening, reports were of 350,000 or more in Kyiv, and of a tent camp already established.

After the speech finished airing, speakers addressed the crowd in Berezhany. Then a call was made to march to the county administration buildings, where people wanted to demand an explanation from local officials of their role in the falsified vote.

We arrived at the county administration building shouting "Shame! Shame!" By now, the multitude had grown to at least 4,000. Person after person spoke of various reports of violations from around the country. Someone mentioned that observers from Berezhany had not been allowed to leave their hotel by the local police somewhere in eastern Ukraine. One man raged, "Did they [authorities] think that they didn't even have to try and hide their deeds? Fellow Ukrainians, maybe we have been asleep for too long. Today, we must say ‘Enough!’ Shame! Shame!" and the multitude joined in shouting that word. Their voices were angry, fierce. This was no joke, no game, what was happening here—a future of either slipping further back into an even more Soviet-like past, or one with a healthier and more equitable economy and more democracy, was being decided.

I zipped to and fro, taking photos and video. Many people looked directly into my camera lens and smiled; some held up a fist or what in Ukraine is a victory, not peace, sign. I noticed some 10- year-old boys holding eggs in their hands. They were standing near the entrance to the building, and were waiting for the head of the county administration to come out! Some people in the building opened windows and waved to the multitude, which responded with a large roar of approval. After more speeches, the call came out: Everyone! Return tomorrow morning by 7:30 AM and continue the blockade! We then sang the national anthem, and headed home. While singing, I noticed an old man who had tears streaming down his cheeks. This same fellow earlier had said to me, “Finally, you young people are doing something for our country, like we did when I was young. I am proud today.” He had been a partisan, a member of the OUN.

The Orange Revolution thus began in Berezhany, where the picket of county buildings continued for weeks. Similar things happened in towns and villages of all sizes. Kyiv was not the only place that the Orange Revolution occurred, nor was it the only place in which people took serious risks of personal safety when they chose to picket and demonstrate. The fate of the country was determined by millions of people at pickets and demos throughout Ukraine.

Before catching the last bus back to Pidhajtsi that evening—which had also had a demonstration of 1,000 people that day, and which also had ongoing demos for three weeks—we headed off to the computer club at the university. As I sat writing a report home (which can read here via the OR links), I listened to people talking. Plans were being made to head to Kyiv. One guy said that a good friend of his, who had spent two years picking oranges in Portugal, had left him a message saying, “I am now in Kyiv. You have to come. Kyiv is harvesting oranges today.”

See the photos below from Berezhany. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I will be including photos interspersed with text instead of as a seperate post!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Photo: Orange Revolution in Berezhany I

Photo: Orange Revolution in Berezhany II

About four thousand people demonstrated in front of the county administration buildings in Berezhany on Day 1 (November 22, 2004) of the Revolution, in a scene that was repeated in cities, towns and villages throughout much of Ukraine--the Orange Revolution did not take place only in Kyiv. For the next few weeks, the demonstration here turned into a permanent picket. People each day shouted "Shame! Shame!" and expected to hear from officials an explanation of their part in the falsification of the election. In the above picture (OR in Berezhany I), take note of the boys standing on the stairs near to the entrance--they were all holding eggs in their hands, waiting for thechief of the county administration, one Shynyshyn (I forgot his first name), to come out!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Photo: Tent-Camp Road Sign

"Our Ukrainian People are Making a Euro-Renovation of the Government: Sorry for the Inconvenience."

Friday, April 15, 2005

Links to Important Reading

Posted here are links to reading I think is well worth your while. . .

Kuzio Corner:
1) Two old Kuzio articles (May, 27, 2003 and June 14, 2004) clarifying the situation wih Pavlo Lazarenko and Yulia Tymoshenko's links to him, including a discussion of the validity of the claims of corruption made against her.

Other Writers:
1) This originally appeared on the Radio Free Europe Site around 6-16-05: Government Attempts to Get Grip on Corruption

more COMING SOON. . .

The Cynic's Corner: Refuting the Cynic's Take on the OR

Below are links to articles and to my critiques of those articles that have attempted to paint the OR in a negative light.

Negative stereotypes about the OR that abound in the press, particularly in the left-wing press (to my, as a left-winger, own great chagrin) are:

  • It was not spontaneous in any way, but totally planned.
  • The US planned and organized the whole thing.
  • It was not in anyway populist.
  • It was mostly a revolt of millionaires against billionaires.
  • The whole thing was run by Ukrainian ultranationalists (i.e., neo-Nazis and anti-Semites).
  • Yushchenko is an ultranationalist.
  • The post-OR leadership is just a junta of oligarchs; there is no difference between them and what came before.
  • Etc.

I have been struggling against these stereotypes in the course of many a conversation about the OR as well as in the presentations I did while back in the US. I have been wanting to carry this struggle to my blog for sometime, but have not had the time until now. For another Ukraine blogger's efforts at struggling against these negative stereotypes, check out the following link to Dan McMinn.

For my criticism on the cynics' critiques of the OR, check these links to their articles and to my responses:

1) Is Yushchenko Too Chummy with Old Power? Link to a Kyiv Post Editorial and my comments here.

The Politics of Language in Ukraine and Eurasia

The following are two older articles from Taras Kuzio dealing with language issues inUkraine and Post-Soviet Eurasia in general that I have cut and pasted here since the articles are available only as PDFs off Kuzio's site. Below these will be links to more articles dealing with the language issue and Ukraine, and some of my own thoughts as I get around to writing them.

One statement to begin with: The political leadership of Russia is clearly refusing to facilitate and encourage a process of decolonization of the Russian collective mentality, refusing to allow happen in Russia a process of decolonization similar to what took place in Great Britain and France as those former imperial centers lost their empires. In fact, the Russian leadership is heading in the opposite direction, whipping up chauvanist fervor by manipulating the nostalgia for imperial greatness (be it in Soviet or Monarchical form) felt by an all-too significant number of Russians as a technology of its rule, and it does so in effort to consolidate its power domestically and to (re-)extend it internationally. On the international front, this technology of rule involves, as a primary technique, the manipulation of Russian diasporas and the politicization of issues of culture and especially language, the Russian language. The Putin government and its pundits have repeatedly attempted to politicize matters of language in order to destabilize the situation and therefore to gain leverage in a number of countries in what certain Russians like to call Russia's "near-abroad." Russian pundits and politicos and their stooges of different backgrounds tell people in Russia that their brethren abroad are being persecuted, and at the same time send messages to the Russian diaspora of various post-Soviet nations that they stand to loose their language/culture/identity altogether as Russians due to supposedly extremist policies of nationalist governments hostile toward minority rights in a number of post-Soviet states. This attack has been launched, most perniciously, in Russia's dealings with Ukraine and Latvia. Ukraine has the largest Russian diaspora numerically of any former Soviet republic, while Latvia has the highest ratio of Russian to the number of the main ethnic group per capita; i.e. it has the greatest ratio of Russian to non-Russian majority (to Latvian). Ethnic Russians constitute nearly half the population of Latvia today, but in 1941 Latvia was nearly 95% Latvian. Latvia has just about the toughest post-Soviet era laws, when it comes to the matter of language, governing how one can become a citizen: In order to obtain Latvian citizenship, one must prove fluency in Latvian. Hence, the majority of Russians in Latvia are not citizens of any nation, neither of Latvia nor Russia, and are thus are left with three options: 1) Learn Latvian; 2) Remain as a permanent resident of Latvia, but without the vote; 3) Emigrate to Russia (which few want to do, as Latvia has a much higher standard of living). This has led one Russian official (rather hysterically, I may add) to call Latvia Russia's "enemy #1."

These are tough issues. However, there would be much less polarization on the matter and much more clarity if the Russian government would back off of its manipulations through its various mechanisms and contacts with the diaspora. People have been living together in a bilingual or multilingual world within each of these countries for a long time; it always takes politicians and other powerful people with agendas that are way beyond the concerns of everyday people to stir things up. Latvia, a country in which MANY Russians understand and speak Latvian quite well (while nearly every Latvian can speak and understand Russian), would be a much calmer place without the rhetoric eminating from the eastern neighbor that supports the rhetoric of ultranationalist Russian zealots in Latvia (the local equivalents of Russia's Vladimir Zhironovski) to the point in which their extremism begins to seem normal and un-extreme. For an extreme comparison, this is part of the explanation for what happened in Bosnia: local Serb ultranationalist zealots got support from neighboring Serbia (in that country, not just ideologically, but militarily), a significant enough of people started to accept the ultranationalist rhetoric as normal, and things went bizerk. And back to Ukraine: the Russian government and it's agents in Ukraine tried to convince Ukrainians that Yushchenko was an Ukrainian ultranationalist who would shut down Russian language schools (a blatant lie, which has not come to pass in a Ukraine with Yushchenko as president). In the end the majority of Ukrainians (in the civic sense), whether they spoke Ukrainian or Russian, saw through the rhetoric. They saw how the oligarchs and their stooges, and their supporters in the Russian government and press, were merely trying to distract the Ukrainian people by encouraging them to think in terms of khlib' (Ukrainian for bread) or khleb' (Russian for bread), as they--the oligarchs--were preparing to steal the dough.

Is the Russian government really interested in individual human rights? Is Putin really crusading on the behalf of down-trodden brethren whose rights as minorities are facing annihilation by ultranationalist governments? Or is there another agenda behind the rhetoric and posturing?


By Taras Kuzio

In the second round of Ukraine's July 1994 presidential elections, the incumbent, Leonid Kravchuk, won the majority of votes west of the River Dnipro and his main challenger, Leonid Kuchma, the majority east of that river. The larger urban and industrial centers of eastern Ukraine gave Kuchma a modest lead over Kravchuk. Since those elections, the prevailing view among many scholars and policymakers in the West has been that Ukraine is clearly divided into two linguistic halves: "nationalist, pro-European, and Ukrainophone" western Ukraine and "Russophile, pro-Eurasian and Russophone" eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, this framework for understanding post- Soviet Ukraine has failed when it has been applied to the Kuchma. When elected in 1994, Kuchma was an eastern Ukrainian Russophone, and it was predicted that he would return Ukraine to Eurasia. Instead, Ukrainian foreign policy has remained consistent throughout the 1990s, regardless of the language spoken by the president or his support base. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs defined this policy in 1996 as "Integration into Europe, Cooperation with the CIS," which continues to rule out Ukraine's participation in the military and political structures of the CIS. Under Kuchma, Ukrainian foreign policy has shifted westward more decisively, especially with regard to NATO. Ukraine has also been instrumental in preventing Russian regional hegemony through its membership in the pro-Western GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) regional group, which in effect split the CIS into two groups of an equal number of states. Using language as the sole or main criterion by which to analyze post-soviet Ukrainian developments has proved to be flawed for two reasons. First, it assumed that Ukrainians belonged to either one or the other linguistic camp-- Ukrainophones or Russophones. Most observers argued that language data in the 1989 Soviet census were flawed and that the actual number of Ukrainophones was far smaller than the number of Russophones in Ukraine. Moreover, a large proportion of Ukrainians, perhaps even the majority, are bilingual and therefore cannot be characterized as either purely Ukrainophone or Russophone. Kuchma himself, for example, uses Ukrainian in public but has a Russian wife and almost certainly speaks Russian in the private sphere. Which of the two linguistic groups does he belong to? Data from an Intermedia National Survey in late 1999 conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology asked "In which language is it easier for you to talk?" Of the respondents, 44.2 percent said in Ukrainian and only 38.7 percent said in Russian. In response to the question "which language do you speak at home?" 47.8 percent said Ukrainian, 36.3 percent Russian, and 14.4 percent both. Second, there has been no evidence of the mobilization of Russophones as a group or lobby. Indeed, there is strong evidence that Russophones in Crimea, Odesa, the Donbas, Kyiv and western Ukraine have very distinct separate identities and have developed different attitudes toward the Ukrainian language, nation-building, and foreign policy. A recent study found that Russophones in Odesa and the Donbas exhibit "language retention," while in Kyiv and Lviv they favor assimilation or "language integration." A large number of Kyivites, for example, continue to use Russian as their main language but have not opposed sending their children to Ukrainian language schools, which now account for 80 percent of all schools in the city. A recent poll conducted in Kyiv by the National Democratic Initiatives Center among a representative sample of Kyivites was aimed at gauging the attitudes of Russian speakers and demonstrated this lack of uniformity among Russophones. Five main results emerged from the poll. First, 53 percent of Kyivites speak Russian always or most of the time. Of these respondents, 70 percent were brought up in a Russian-language environment. Second, half of these Russophones believe that the "Ukrainian language is an attribute of Ukrainian statehood." They feel that its usage in all spheres in the capital city does not reflect its state status and that there is still a need to raise its prestige. Moreover, according to these Russophones, state officials should take exams in the Ukrainian language to prove their proficiency. Only 30 percent of Russophones in Kyiv disagreed with these views. Three, two-thirds of Russophones in Kyiv feel that their rights as Russian speakers are not infringed on within a Ukrainian language information space. Four, 70 percent of Russophones in Kyiv believe that Ukrainian citizens should know the Ukrainian language well and 44 percent believe that they personally should improve their Ukrainian because it is important for them to do so. And five, only 43 percent of Russophones in Kyiv agreed raising the status of Russian to second state language. The organizers of the poll concluded that only up to one-third of Russophones in Kyiv are opponents of Ukrainianization. Meanwhile, 50-55 percent use Russian but remain positively disposed toward increased use of the Ukrainian language and do not see such a development as in any way harming their national dignity. Contemporary Ukrainian studies await further research into the myth of Russophone unity in Ukraine. Clearly the situation in Ukraine is far more complicated than a simplistic division of the country into two linguistic groups , one oriented toward Europe (Ukrainophones) and the other toward Eurasia (Russophones). If Ukraine's elites wish to maintain an independent state, they have no alternative but to continue with a policy of "Integration into Europe, Cooperation with the CIS."

The author is a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University. 07-07-00


By Taras Kuzio

A battle is raging over language in the post-Soviet space. Soviet nationality policies left a legacy of 25 million Russians and many more "compatriots," that is, Russian speakers, in countries of the former USSR excluding Russia. Moscow sees the continued use of the Russian language in former Soviet states with large numbers of Russophones as ensuring its continued influence over these countries. Russia has therefore praised Belarus and Kyrgyzstan for elevating Russian to second state language and official language respectively, and Kazakhstan's President Nazarbaev for proposing a CIS Fund to Promote the Russian Language. In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that if Moldova raised Russian to a second state language, Moscow would cease supporting the separatist Transdniester. And last month Russia released its new foreign policy concept, which seeks to "obtain guarantees for the rights and freedoms of compatriots" and "to develop comprehensive ties with them and their organizations." Currently, the State Duma is drafting a bill on the status of the Russian language in the CIS. By contrast, states such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine are downgrading the status of Russian. In Ukraine, the language question has been the source of heated exchanges with Russia since last December, when the Constitutional Court ruled that all state officials should know and use Ukrainian and suggested how the constitutional provision for Ukrainian as the sole state language could be enforced. Deputy Prime Minister for the Humanities Mykola Zhulynskyi drew up a program for expanding use of the Ukrainian language, and a draft law was placed before the parliament that replaced Russian with Ukrainian as the "language for inter-communication" in Ukraine. In fact, Ukraine's policies on enhancing the Ukrainian language are similar to those advanced by President Putin, who in January established a Council on the Russian Language that aims to enhance the use of Russian both at home and abroad. One of the council's first moves was to order the Ministry of Education to fine Russian officials who have a poor command of Russian. This summer, Russia and Ukraine began to trade accusations after nationalist demonstrations in Lviv followed the death of Ihor Bilozir, a popular singer who was killed by two Russophones after he refused to stop singing Ukrainian songs. The Lviv Oblast Council responded by limiting the use of Russian in public places, including popular music in cafes, and in business circles. Radical nationalist parties formed volunteer squads to monitor the application of these new rules. On 7 June, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the "anti-Russian hysteria" sweeping western Ukraine, and 10 days later, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Ivan Aboimov complained about the alleged official encouragement of the Russophobic campaign against the Russian language. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry rejected these allegations and the right of Russia to speak on behalf of Russians and "compatriots." The Russian State Duma, for its part, provoked further tensions by accusing Ukraine of having violated the provisions on national minorities in the May 1997 Russian-Ukrainian treaty. It went on to demand that Putin adopt the necessary measures to halt the alleged discrimination. The Ukrainian parliament rejected all the Duma's accusations as a "manifestation of interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state." The increased use of Ukrainian in education throughout the 1990s has inevitably led to a commensurate decline in the use of Russian. The Ukrainian parliament sees this as "the Ukrainian authorities' intention to secure the inalienable and natural right of Ukrainian citizens to use their mother tongue," and it has rejected accusations that this is in any way "racially discriminatory." Within the CIS, according to the Ukrainian lawmakers, Kyiv's nationality policies are "balanced and far-sighted," leading to "interethnic accord and peace." In claiming that Ukraine had violated the 1997 treaty, the State Duma pointed to Article 12, which outlines the obligation of both states to ensure the ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious identity of national minorities in each country. The status of Ukrainians in Russia and Russians in Ukraine was the subject of a visit to the two countries by OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Max van der Stoel, last month. However, it is Russia--not Ukraine--that has breached Article 12. Although the 4.5 million-strong Ukrainian community constitutes the second-largest national minority in the Russian Federation (after Tatars), they do not have a single Ukrainian school, theater, or newspaper. Parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarch have been forcibly abolished. In Ukraine, where Russians are the largest minority, constituting 22 percent of the population, 33 percent of pupils and students are enrolled in Russian- language schools and universities. And also in Ukraine, 1,193 newspapers are published in Russian, compared with 1,394 in Ukrainian. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarch continues to boast the largest number of parishes. While the Lviv Oblast Council resolutions detailing language requirements in the private sector are excessive, the region remains more tolerant than either the Donbas or Crimea. A Sotsis-Gallup opinion poll on ethnic tolerance found Crimea to be the most intolerant among Ukraine's regions. Although Ukrainians make up a quarter of the Crimean population, only four of 582 Crimean schools (0.69 percent) are Ukrainian, and only one out of 392 publications on the peninsula is in Ukrainian. In the Donbas, where Ukrainians constitute 50 percent of the population, the proportion of pupils in Ukrainian language schools is still only 10 percent.

The author is honorary research fellow, Stasiuk Program on Contemporary Ukraine at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta.


3) Another Kuzio article; summary: Ukraine's population is decreasing, but use of Ukrainian is increasing as well as number of population who consider themselves Ukrainian.