Sunday, June 26, 2005

One of the signs that greets people entering Pidhajtsi. . .  Posted by Hello

June 25-26, 2004: Reflections on My First Ever Days in Ukraine

This has been an emotional weekend for me. One year ago, on June 25, 2004, I boarded a bus in Munich, Germany, which arrived the next day in L’viv where I was greeted by relatives I had never met, and from whence I was whipped away to my paternal grandparent’s hometown. Thus a year ago this weekend began my first pilgrimage to my ancestral homeland, and although the trip to the Ukrainian border took well over 24 hours (and it took an additional three hours to arrive in L’viv after clearing the border), I can basically say that I had entered Ukrainian space already the moment I got on the bus in Munich. I was the only one on the bus who did not hold a passport from a post-Soviet country. Russian and Ukrainian were spoken throughout the bus. All the movies were Hollywood flicks with voice-overs in Russian. An hour or so into the trip, people’s bags opened with food emerging, and the beer and vodka began flowing in a scene that I would see repeated over and over again on buses and trains throughout my stay and journeys in Ukraine. When the movies weren’t playing, we listened to the mixture of Ukrainian- and Russian-language and American pop that I became accustomed to and with which I fell in love while in Ukraine—i.e., I am not as intolerant of Russian pop nor of the Russian language as are many diaspora Ukrainians. I really like Russian pop, even if I do defer to and prefer Ukrainian language variants whenever possible, and would like to see the Ukrainian-language pop industry grow.

I was in heaven from the start. It was incredible to be absorbed into a world where everything was East Slavic, in which the smell of kovbasa was everywhere, and the humor was nothing other than, well. . .nash. I still don’t know how to describe to my non-Ukrainian friends the Ukrainian sense of humor. There is a lot of playful teasing of one another that is involved, among other things. I sat in a seat just in front of the row of three seats that always occupies the very back of modern luxury buses—so this was not my first trip on a truly “Ukrainian” bus, by which I mean the to me fantastic buses from the 1960s and 70s that still run from town to town within Ukraine—and listened to two guys, speaking in Ukrainian, tease each other and others with whom they had struck up conversation in an almost nonstop but jovial fashion. They clearly knew one another well and were traveling together.

My head really was swimming. And then the next biggest thing happened: we hit the Polish border, and even though Poland is now part of the EU, there still is a significant border check. It is not an open border, mostly since the EU has put a 7-year moratorium on the movement of laborers from the new member states to the western ones, while at the same time allowing Western businesses to go East and pay lower wages, and also allowing Western capital to flood Central European markets with products made by Western European companies and farmers that get higher subsidies than do Central European ones (thus a Spanish tomato was selling cheaper in Budapest than one made in Hungary last year). So the border is still militarized, even if it is a bit easier now for Poles to go West.

That was my first glimpse of the fact that even within the EU, the West and the East (or East-Central, or more simply Central, however you may like it) still do exist in separate spheres. In other words, I had that feeling, so often remarked upon by travel writers of the past three or four hundred years or more, of clearly leaving the West and entering the East. But as one sick to death of Western, corporate-globalization driven consumer society (although I do admire Western European culture a great deal), I was certainly marking this crossing not with Bram Stokerian horror but with jubilee, and no doubt my companions on the trip were helping with that.

As soon as we got into Poland, the superhighways (the autobahns) disappeared and we were on single lanes affairs that, in the US, would be called “county roads,” and that only occasionally widened into two lanes before shrinking again into one. These main highways often divided villages in two, and when they went into towns, they went right straight to the heart, just like the old highways of America did before the invention of the highway system. The architecture changed markedly, as well as did the condition of the buildings themselves. Things were older, and what was more, more decayed. It was incredibly enchanting to me, and it still is. The grass in most places was allowed to grow much more wildly. Everything seemed more natural, less plastic, less silicon, more coppery, more earthy. There were chickens all over the roads, and geese. And already I was feeling very much more at home with the appearance of things.

We made a stop at a very modern gas station and convenience store where I could buy some pierogi and boršč (I think, but maybe it was borszcz; I don’t know when Polish uses a haček or z). But in general, wherever you are in Europe, you can actually buy pre-made and ready-to-go, and still yet very high quality food at roadside stops, in contradistinction to the abundance of crap food that is available on the road in the US.

At this stop, we could buy booze, and the first really funny thing happened on this trip: the driver walked around asking if everyone had gotten back on the bus, and thinking that all were present, he pulled the bus out of the lot. I looked out the window and saw a fellow running desperately across the field that separated the gas station and highway in a path via which he hoped to intersect the bus, if he could run fast enough. Given the belly that was jiggling up and down in front of him as he ran, he is lucky that people noticed and shouted to the driver to stop. The guys sitting behind me laughed and said things like “He’s leaving behind his last 100g [of vodka]!” and, “I saw him talking to that dark-haired, blue-eyed Pol’ka [Polish woman]—he’s having to leave his heart back there.”

I still had not yet talked to anyone on the bus. I was too shy to open my mouth. Not because I am a shy person, but because I was embarrassed by my language skills. I am one of those diaspora Ukrainians who spoke Ukrainian as a child and who spent some early years at SUM camps and Uki school on Saturdays, but who then lost much fluency growing up. To some extent, I maintained an ability to understand what was being said to me in general, and never forgot how to say a good number of things—such as, “Daj meni khroshi [Give me some money]!” as my father likes to joke. Thus one of the biggest reason I went to Ukraine was to learn to speak and understand better (and speaking and understanding are, as far as I am concerned, vastly, vastly different faculties, with the latter being far easier than the former, and this is the opinion of someone with a working knowledge not just of Ukrainian, but also of Latvian, German, and Spanish). I needed to overcome the one thing that I felt guilty about in my life, and that I felt was the biggest thing holding me back from experiencing my life to its fullest capacity: that I could not speak Ukrainian that well. There are lots of very complicated reasons why I felt that way, but one can say that I am now overjoyed with the progress I made in the eight-month period that began that day on the bus.

Of course, the other reasons for going to Ukraine were just to see and hear and smell and taste and feel it. It was to meet relatives, and although I expected to meet people with whom I would feel I had some kind of karmic connection in the past, I was not prepared for the frequency of such encounters as I ended up having, or for the intensity of the feeling when it came. Going to Ukraine was a deeply spiritual experience for me—the most important of my life. I can be moved to tears when joyful, and my eyes welled up many times during my stay in Ukraine—probably as many time in eight months as throughout my entire life. I am a passionate person. This first trip to Ukraine was the greatest passion of my life, and I cannot wait to go back this summer. I fell in love with Ukraine just how she is. This is not to say that I don’t see the need for major improvements there. But I don’t want the baby to be tossed with the bathwater. You can read on and on here in this blog to get a sense of what I mean. In part I loved Ukraine because of how much so she is not a Western or “European” country (in the newfangled, postmodern or EU sense of “European”), but also in part for how much so she is. She is truly a borderland, and should never forget that—it is the essence of her incredible culture.

And of course, I knew of the pending presidential elections and was quite keen to be in Ukraine to observe things as they developed, even if my preoccupation at first were not at all on the elections. However as time went on, I was more and more preoccupied with it, and became swept up in the fervor with my family and friends, and was not content to be a mere observer. And like most Ukrainians, I think, I can say this about the Orange Revolution: I definitely did not expect it to happen, but certainly was not at all surprised when it did.

But back to the bus: I eventually did start talking to people. This was after I listened to the two guys behind me talk on and on about Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko, and then some more contemporary writers that I had become familiar with through my one summer at the Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute. I just had to turn and introduce myself to them; I was sitting in front of the first contemporary Ukrainian intelligentsia I had the chance to meet! (And by that I mean, intellectual fellows born and raised and still from Ukraine and not the diaspora)! We chatted, and they seemed to like me and were patient with my butchered Ukrainian, and I liked them. We shared beer and food off and on for the duration of the trip. One of the fellows was a journalist with his own blog, and both were from L’viv.

This got the attention of the young woman sitting with her mother in the chairs across the aisle from me. I had been trying really hard not to look at her during the trip, for she phenomenally beautiful and I did not want to be lecherous. After I chatted with the fellows a bit, she turned and said to me in German (I guess she had heard me say to the fellows that I spoke some German, or maybe she thought I was diaspora Ukrainian from Germany), “It is good that you are coming back to your grandparent’s country to learn their language. Where will you be going?” I told her to Pidhajtsi, and she smiled and said that she had lived in Ternopil (70km from Pidhajtsi) as a college student, but was originally from Buczacz, a town even closer to Pidhajtsi. We chatted more, and I asked her for her number, but she said that she now lives in Poland where she is studying psychology and preparing to go to the US for a masters degree, was on her way home for a summertime visit and would be very busy. It was a polite hint—I guess I could not hide my excitement and attraction.

This gives me, however, the opportunity to comment on how this was, already, my first exposure to how contemporary Ukrainians in general think about diaspora Ukrainians. For Ana—the young woman on the bus—Ukraine is “my grandparent’s country,” and Ukrainian is “their language,” even though by now my grandparent’s have lived much more of their lives in the US than in Ukraine. What was important to Ana was that they were born and lived there for their formative years; I was not. And I would agree: Ukraine is by far more of my grandparent’s country than mine; but also, I am rather insistent on the fact that the US has become more of my grandparent’s country than Ukraine is, too. I know this is heresy for many diaspora Ukrainians, but I will state position here again (as I have elsewhere on this blog): Ukraine belongs to the people who live and make their lives happen there. For the rest of us, it is a spiritual land, not a real place of everyday existence and struggle, even if a big part of our everyday existence and struggle here in the US is geared toward her well-being (as was my grandfather’s, and my relatives’ in Germany who worked at the Ukraine desk at Radio Free Europe, or my aunt who now is the librarian at the Ukrainian Free University in Munich, or my other aunt who was the courier to have carried out of Ukraine on microfiche the crucial essay entitled, “Internationalism or Russification?” during the late 1960s).

But definitely don’t get me wrong: Ukraine as a kind of spiritual homeland is extremely, extremely important and of very, very value; we are not simply Americans and my grandparents did not simply become Americans. We are Ukrainian-Americans, which is a third identity all unto itself, different from American and certainly different from what it means today to be Ukrainian (i.e., to be someone born and raised and still living in Ukraine), and we NEED Ukraine as a spiritual homeland. But we also NEED to learn how Ukrainians themselves feel about us, and my feeling is that until we in the diaspora learn to appreciate the difference between a real place where you continue to sweat and bleed, and a spiritual one, you will never be able to understand Ukrainians’ attitude toward the diaspora, and the building of bridges between our communities with Ukraine will continue to be difficult.

So with that, I can say that what finally motivated me to take my first trip to Ukraine was the legacy of grandfather’s everyday struggle for the betterment of Ukraine. That is, my grandfather had been one of the main funders for the construction of new Catholic Church in Pidhajtsi that was being christened on June 27 (which turned out to be my first full day in Ukraine). My grandfather had passed away 1 ½ years previously, and the consensus in my family was that I should be the one to go and represent him and the rest of us at the ceremony. I had been stating for almost three years that I was preparing to go to Ukraine, but one thing or another stopped me from going. I was listening to my heart. I knew this was going to be an important trip for me, and I was intent on going only when my heart said the time was ripe. When my aunt called from Germany and talked to my father and the two of them agreed to ask me to go to the ceremony, I knew the time had come. Pora! Because I waited for the right moment, I ended up arriving in Ukraine exactly 60 years to the very day that my grandparents had left their village (I learned only one week before leaving Ukraine that my father’s parents left the Pidhajtsi area on June 26, 1944), and also in time to experience the great post-Soviet awakening of the country called the Orange Revolution.

I will have to finish this sometime later. . .

So the bus finally arrived at the Polish-Ukrainian border. . .

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Tymoshenko's Tribulations III: The US as Glass Box

This is supposed to be a blog about Ukraine, and it still is, but how this piece fits in with a Ukraine blog will emerge only at the end of this piece.

Every time that I leave and come back to the United States I feel like I am re-entering a glass box that is mirrored on the inside and see-thru from the outside. “Americans” stand in the middle, and while looking around within the box, and while actually trying to look outside this box, all they see, for the most part, are their own reflections everywhere. (And I am not gonna comment on how far too many Americans travel abroad and shop at American chains, eat at McDonalds, and seek out American hotels; and I also won’t comment on the expats—whether they belong to diasporas or not—who think the country they’ve adopted is only truly worthwhile and respectable if it is trying hard to become more American, or more Western in general. . .). Add to this already intense difficulty to see (and think) outside this mirrored box the complication of a powerful media machine that projects (mostly false) images of what the rest of the world and the US itself really is like onto the mirrored walls, and that many people looking at those images on the walls adopt them for their own, not knowing any better.

But the rest of the world is able to look into the US. The image of what is seen from the outside sure enough can be tinted and thus distorted as through mirrored sunglasses, but at least America can be seen from the rest of the world, while the US can’t see the world hardly at all.

The first time this image popped into my head was upon re-entering the US from Canada a week and half after the invasion of Iraq had begun. I had left for Canada the very day it began, not because I was fleeing, for I had had plans to go to Toronto before anyone knew when the invasion would begin; but I gotta say that I really enjoyed the notion of getting the hell out of here on that day! Being in Canada was like a huge breath of fresh air: the Canadian press is more of a real press with more truly intellectual and muckraking pieces available than in the US press (which is not a comment on the greatness of the Canadian press—its not that great—but on the very severe deficiencies of the press in the US). It was refreshing to be nestled in world, and not merely Canadian, opinion during those opening days of Shock and Awe (ask a so-called terrorist what s/he wants to do, and s/he may as well as tell you, “I want to put my enemy into a state of shock and awe!”) that lead to thousands of innocent people dieing in a matter of days (who holds a monopoly on terrorism? only non-State actors???). It was crushing to re-enter the world of deafening war drums and narrow-minded patriotism and, what is the worst, of worship of executive power. I felt the glass lid close as I crossed the border, where, by-the-way, I was searched for the first time ever crossing the US-Canadian border.

But what got me going on all of this again just now? Well, the image of the US as this glass box usually pops into my head when I come into contact with people who think that outside the West, the world is populated by barbarous, uncivilized nations (or once again, when I talk to people for whom the nations of the world are only worthwhile places so long as they are seeking to join the Western clubs). More frequently, however, it comes up when I talk to people who think that the media in the US is governed by a liberal, if not outright left-wing, conspiracy. It also comes up when I talk to people who think that Anne Coulture has a point. On that note, it also comes up in my mind while talking with people who conflate social democracy or populism or Keynesianism or FDRism with socialism (which is nearly axiomatic for, or has become far too typical of, political discourse in the US). I already wrote about the ridiculousness of conflating the two in my last piece, and repeat here that conflating social democracy with socialism is like saying, hyperbolically, that Bush is a Nazi, and really meaning it (or that George Soros is a Communist, and really meaning it). Or here’s another simile: it is like saying that President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela—who is a democratically elected populist, or FDR liberal, or Welfare-statist, or social democrat—is the equivalent of Fidel Castro, who is a dictator with a policy of intolerance (especially toward gays) and a megalomaniac.

Specifically, what got me thinking about this today is a snippet I just read in a new book I just picked up. I was at my non-favorite bookstore Barnes and Nobles perusing all the right-wing books, which I do often. One should always read one’s opposition, and I also spend lots of time listening to right-wing talk radio and talking with right-wingers, some of whom are friends and family. So at Barnes, I sometimes buy the books, but usually will just sit for an hour or two at the store reading. The book that caught my attention today had this title: The Right Nation. I thought to myself, once again, “Damn them and their ancestors for having had historically (and thus accidentally) landed on the right-hand side of the hall of the French parliament!” since I am getting sick to my stomach from the overabundance these days of dim-witted comments about being “on the right side,” etc. But when I peered into the book, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was written by two British and left-wing authors (John Micklewhait and Adrian Woolridge) who are peering into the US from the other side of the glass. I opened randomly to p. 359 and read the following passage, which in general is about how narrow (and to the right) the political spectrum is in the US:

“The man who got left-wing America on the march [for the 2004 election] held views on all sorts of subjects that would have disqualified him from left-of-center politics in Europe. He was by European standards a firm supporter of Israel. He opposed the Kyoto Protocol. He supported the intervention in Liberia, and he mocked Bush for not being tough enough on Saudi Arabia. Indeed, [Howard] Dean said that thirty years ago, he would have been an Eisenhower Republican. ‘It’s kind of a sad commentary that I’m the most progressive candidate running, our here talking about a balanced budget and a health care system run by the private sector,’ he told the New York Times. ‘I was a triangulator before Clinton was a triangulator. In my soul, I’m a moderate.’ A young Swedish Deaniac who worked for Dean in Iowa protested that, back home in Sweden, his candidate would be regarded as a ‘middle-of-the-road conservative.’”

This is a great quote for pointing out two things: First, that the status quo in the US is already to the right (only a nation with an already right-wing status quo can have people complaining that the kind of media that the US has is the result of left-wing control; what these people really want is a farther-right status quo and an end to pluralism); but the glass-box effect makes this really hard for many in the US to see. Second, this is a great quote for warning the Left of its own problems with the glass-box effect: Dean might have been a rallying point, but he was far—quite, in my opinion—from perfect, and was and remains far from embodying a truly humane politics. Not to say that one should not have rallied behind him (I eventually did): we do need to try hard to level the playing field once again.

But one other thing: Dean did get something quite wrong in the quotes from him above. There were more progressive people in the running for the Democratic ticket, people who tried and who continue to try to re-ignite the old, populist, radical farmer-laborer flame of the DFL. The Clinton revolution within the DFL—the conversion of the Democratic Party into a cheap copy of the Republicans—needs to be reversed.

And to conclude with Ukraine: populism is still much more alive in Ukraine than in the US, and I hope that the Baby (i.e., represented by Julia Tymoshenko and her government) does not get tossed out with the dirty bathwater (i.e., the oligarchy) in what would then turn out to be a NeoLiberal Orange Revolution (which if Tymoshenko—or Yushchenko—listens to her Western and Kyiv Post critics, it will turn out to be). I hope that Tymoshenko figures out what kind of populism works for Ukraine, and successfully sorts through and gets rid of what is just unnecessary bureaucracy, for I assert here again that it is far too simplistic to say that social democracy and a suffocating bureaucracy are intimately, irreversibly connected. If Tymoshenko’s government doesn’t get it right, the blind ideologues of the unregulated free-market system will fry them, and this will bode very, very poorly for the future of Eurasia. There is much more pressure on her government than one would think.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

More on Tymoshenko’s Tribulations and the Issue of so-called Populism

In the talk of globalization and development, populism has become as dirty a word as liberalism has in the United States, and the pundits working to convince others they are dirty words are the same: either the Thomas Friedman liberals or right-wing theorists of globalization. What is the matter with populism? It ain’t socialism, people. . .

There is far too much hyperbole, too much exaggeration, going on. Socialism was a very specific thing. The Kyiv Post has published some really outrageous op-eds about the so-called populism of Tymoshenko’s government that follow along the same lines as Anders Asland’s now infamous Washington Post piece, each of which are full of this kind of sophistic hyperbole and conflation of two things that are not alike (however, I do want to note here that I often very much so agree with Kyiv Post editorials, and find the Post an excellent, excellent source of critical commentary on contemporary Ukraine: they at the Post are doing in Ukraine what real news media should be doing everywhere, i.e., voicing conscience and dissent, and the US media could learn a lot from them). Price-controls on oil do not take Ukraine straight back to socialism. Socialism was a specific thing, involving state ownership and regulation of just about everything. Ukraine is far from those days. In the course of a recent argument with a far right-winger, I was told that George Soros is a communist. That is absurd. Communists were very specific people, with specific principles, and Soros is far from holding any of them. I am not saying that Soros’s position is the same as Tymoshenko’s, but am making this parallel: Tymoshenko is no more leading Ukraine down a road back to Soviet-era socialism than Soros is a communist (thus the Kyiv Post publisher’s piece entitled “A Revolution? We’re still waiting. . .” is quite extreme in this case). All of these statements are just as absurd as when someone on the left waxes that Bush is the equal of Hitler, and that the presently neo-conservative dominated Republican Party is the new Nazi Party. Those statements too are gross exaggerations (although a comparison between the neo-conservative controlled Republican Party of today to the beliefs of Mussolini’s Fascist Party is of a correct order of comparison, to my mind). Amnesty International’s (AI) statement that GITMO is the “gulag of our time,” I must admit, also was hyperbole (exaggeration)—but one MUST note that the statement “of our times” indicates that they did not mean to say that GITMO is precisely like the gulag. The rhetoric “of our times” leaves open the possibility that the two are not quite the same, and if one goes on to read the report, one will see that the people of AI are not that stupid: thus those on the right who are trying to make them say that GITMO and the gulag were exactly the same are engaging in their own sophism (more below). The people of AI were just trying to grab attention with that obviously rhetorical comment. Such rhetorical phrases usually are all about GRABBING OUR ATTENTION. You have to read to see what an author really means by such a hyperbolic statement as that. But is that what the Kyiv Post and Anders Asland and my right-wing interlocutor were all simply trying to do with their exaggerations?

No. I do think that the Post 's publisher and Asland are convinced that populism is just a road back to socialism (and the person with whom I was arguing refused to back down on his statement that Soros is a commie; and oh, Michael Moore, too, is a commie according to this fellow. . .). All of these commentators are Americans, and America’s political culture is acutely driven by black and white worldviews and black and white solutions.

In this connection, read this quote from an excellent piece posted on (there is a link below to the whole piece, which is a MUST read):

"Tymoshenko’s greatest 'crime', for which she is now being castigated by economic hit men, is that she sees no crime in retaining control and therefore profits from lucrative state enterprises to benefit common Ukrainian people instead of private buyers who care nothing whatsoever for Ukraine or Ukrainians. Aslund counters with name-calling: 'state capitalism', 'populist', and worst of all at least in US vernacular, 'socialist.' 'Socialist' is a bad word in US politics, but not so bad in Europe – where Ukraine is heading, not to the US. He used those words in a US publication knowing very well the nasty impact they would have. This, in a country where at least one in six people live in poverty, and probably closer to one in four – if honest poverty statistics ever come to the fore."

The US system and media-driven propaganda machine completely eliminates any real or complex representation of the true diversity of political ideas, opinions, etc., and right wingers and left wingers are all equally as guilty for making polarizing and hyperbolic statements and judgments. You are populist? You Commie! You believe in Welfare? You're a Socialist! You support the war in Iraq? You Nazi! And on and on. . .

But as for the attack on populism, these American commentators, as well as the worldwide class of stooges of neoliberal (free-market driven) development completely forget that the US and the nations of the EU have only arrived at their present state of prosperity through lengthy periods of Keynesian social-democratic, State-interventionist economic policies, or what I would call populism. Such policies are neither/nor: neither complete neoliberal or laissez-faire capitalism nor State socialism, but a third way, a compromise in-between that Europe used to have before it began to dismantle it's third way between capitalism and socialism, only to keep up with the US-and-neoliberal driven globalization and definitions of what is efficient: as far as I am concerned, the American and neoliberal notion of efficiency boils down to everyone giving up their good lives and vacation time to spend anywhere from 60-80 hours a week working and only two weeks on vacation a year, while giving up all public spaces and most of civil society, especially the media, to privatization in the hands of big corporations. But I will write a more detailed piece critiquing the notion that the US is “efficient” in the future. . .(the US maybe efficient from a numbers and economic viewpoint, but it certainly is not from a human or humanist one, let alone ecological one. . .)

Populism or social democracy increasingly is the demand being put forth by the people or multitude of the non-Western world, and Ukraine is part of that world. People in nations across the globe who live with high poverty and unemployment, often with deplorable work and environmental conditions, low wages, no benefits such as adequate healthcare and access to higher education, etc., are all demanding populist, New Deal type policies to get them out of their depression (both economic as well as pyschological, I would add). For they know that trickle-down, laissez-faire economics does not work: they have experienced decades of post-colonial development (what we today call neoliberalism), and have mostly witnessed the gap between the rich and the poor getting wider and wider. That is what is “progressive” about the neoliberal economy: rising poverty. The stage is set for a showdown on a global scale between capital and labor of the likes that Europe and the US went through in the late 19th to early 20th century.

A populist (i.e., New Deal) government (not State socialist) is precisely what Ukraine needs right now, and is what most Ukrainians seem to want.

Here is some stuff I wrote a couple weeks ago, but never posted, along these same lines:

What’s up with Yushchenko’s critique and partial retraction of his critique of PM Tymoshenko? Are these two just playing good cop-bad cop? And how can one deny that there is a Russian oil cartel controlling prices in Ukraine? When 80% of the industry is controlled by Russian conglomerates, how can one say that market forces set prices; see this article by Vladimir Socor at Eurasian Daily Monitor:

"Kyiv Takes Emergency Steps to Deal with Fuel Crisis"

Tymoshenko took artificial measures to combat an artificial “market” price. Tymoshenko may have gotten more than she bargained for by setting prices the way she did, but only in the sense that, well. . .did she really not expect some kind of Russian retaliation such as a cut-back in production? But then this makes me wonder, are Ukrainians really willing to do what it will take to pull their country out of a sphere of Russian domination? Or is this necessary? Can Ukrainians afford to take on this problem in the typically radical way of Tymoshenko?

Energy has always been independent Ukraine’s major Achilles heal vis-à-vis Russia. Tymoshenko herself knows this; she in the past has said that one of the major eye-opening events of her life was when she entered the government and realized how deep the corruption in the energy sector really was, and how the problems of the energy sector were really compromising Ukraine’s sovereignty vis-à-vis Russia. She certainly for a while was part of the problem—which she doesn’t ever admit, of course—but if you read between the lines of what she says about going to the opposition once she entered the government, it seems she’s admitting that she had a change of fate, and I don’t think that there is any reason not to believe her. She went after her job of cleaning up corruption in the energy sector as deputy PM to Yushchenko with gusto, for which she is hated/appreciated by the Russian government, actually (to see what I mean, read below: I will reproduce at the bottom of this a piece I did some months ago on my list-serve about who I think Tymoshenko really is and was. . .)

So, the problem of Ukraine’s energy dependence on Russia is obvious. But perhaps there need be another, less militant approach. Perhaps all of this is just a repeat of what happened during the course of the Orange Revolution, with Tymoshenko once again being the attack dog who gets us all fired up, while Yushchenko is once again being the handler urging some restraint. He did prove a very shrewd negotiator in this regard during the OR, and perhaps that is the game being played again: Tymoshenko is very good at putting fear in the hearts of opponents, and then Yushchenko steps in to take advantage of their fear at the negotiating table?

I sure hope so.

But then on to the Op-Eds by Anders Aslund and by Kyiv Post’s publisher blasting Tymoshenko’s populism:

First the articles:

Washington Post:

"Betraying a Revolution"

Kyiv Post:

“Has the Orange Revolution Gone Red?”

“A Revolution? We’re Still Waiting. . .”

“Ukraine doesn’t need its own Khodorkovsky”

It seems to me that many average Ukrainians, many of whom can get by as subsistence farmers with occasional wage labor, are not all that concerned about growth rates for Western investors. They want to see social programs started up to help them out of poverty. They want the infrastructure improved. They want to see some of the wealth ferried away by the oligarchs returned and invested into Ukraine—i.e., reprivatization. They’ve got the wealth internally to see to it that these things will happen—the wealth just needs to be redistributed. So is Ukraine’s post-OR economy all about attracting foreign investors and/or making them comfy in the course of reprivatizations, or is it about popular demands? Tymoshenko’s populist agenda has widespread support in Ukraine. Of course, the emphasis should be neither—there needs be balance. But these articles place the emphasis only on making a comfortable situation for foreign investment, as though neoliberal economics works in the end to improve the daily lives of people because of that magical (but ultimately mythical) trickle-down effect, for trickle-down economics is just a rich man’s religion designed to soothe the wealthier from feeling the the guilt of an economy really engineered (i.e., deregulated) for the sake of top-up accumulation. Of course American thinkers on economics in general are going to whine that populist policies hurt the economy, and that Ukrainians should just forget about such expensive endeavors and get on with making Ukraine a safe place for investment—well, they are working on that, too; but it is at least that Tymoshenko is no fan of “austerity measures” and “restructuring,” having had once stated that, “I am not a free-market ideologue,” which means she does not intend to lead a government that works hard to improve the country’s means of production without also giving her nation’s people guarantees for better wages, living and working conditions, healthcare, etc., all of the things that the IMF and World Bank consider to be too much “fat.” So what if investors still feel a little jittery about Ukraine right now? There is no way they are going to just turn a complete blind eye on Ukraine or any part of Eurasia: there is still too much potential there for them. They will wait. In the meantime, re-privatize! Keep the social democratic promises of the OR!

But also work on reducing the bureaucracy, which is very much at the chore of curtailing the corruption: close the bureaucratic loopholes leading toward corruption, and the Western critics need to keep in mind that social welfare states do not necessarily produce systems with redundant and inefficient and corrupt bureaucracies: the EU and Scandinavian and certain South American nations are doing a fine job with a streamlined Welfare State without the USSR’s inefficiency. Oh yeah, we’re back to the point made above, that social democracy is NOT THE SAME AS STATE SOCIALISM!!!!

Yushchenko is working on keeping investors calm, while Tymoshenko is working on helping her people. They will strike a balance, I hope—if Yushchenko doesn’t fire her (which I don’t think is likely). What I am wondering now is whether this is an indication of how the US machinery is going to in the future deal with Eurasian post-revolution populists and social democrats that the US has helped bring to power in its power struggle with Russia (over Central Asian energy and labor reserves)? Discredit them and work to have them removed in favor of those with more neoliberal policies?

Here’s a link to a great article that made similar points to mine above and defended Yulia’s track record against the Posts’ articles; it is a MUST READ:

Then for two perhaps more balanced accounts than mine and the one above, see:

from Taras Kuzio:
I’ll post it soon as I find the link. . .

And then here is some evidence that much good is happening:

In conclusion, we should no longer be talking about pure liberal capitalism versus socialism. Has the lesson not yet been learned that markets are never value nor rule-free, but rather, that they can be regulated for one or the other purpose; that that magical-mythical hand can serve either top-up accumulation or more equitable redistribution?