Friday, September 30, 2005
More later, gotta catch a bus back to Pidhajtsi. . .writing from Ternopil. . .
Monday, September 26, 2005
1) This is from Ukraine blogger Leopolis:
In Ukraine, Viktor (orange) and Viktor (blue) signed a pact that ushered in the approval of Yekhanurov and called for fair elections without administrative resources. It seems that Yushchenko has betrayed the Orange Revolution by suddenly making friends with evil Ya, right? Let's put it into perspective. 1) So far, Yu hasn't gone after election fraud perpetrators and it looks like he won't in the future. High school teachers in Donbass were just as responsible for election fraud as Kivalov was. Unfortunately, lustration failed to stick in this realm 2) After the Orange Revolution, Russia and everyone else expected that Ukraine would fracture into a deeper inter-regional blue-orange conflict; instead, former enemies are working peacefully in the Rada 3) Yushchenko is now more acceptable and legitimate for east Ukrainians thanks to this agreement potentially stealing votes from those who voted for Ya in 2004, or couldn't because of fraud 4) Yanukovych, without the direct patronage of Putin, can no longer seriously be the bogeyman in Ukrainian politics. This is demonstrated by a lack of opposition until Tymoshenko's pledge to form a counter force this month. Ya in 2004 does not equal Ya in 2006 5) Those who are most upset by the new pact , i.e. the "hardcore Ukrainian nationalists from west Ukraine" are going to vote for Tymoshenko anyway.
2) From Volodymyr Kish, writing to the the Toronto Ukrainian diaspora paper The New Pathway (Mr Kish is resident of Kyiv and a businessman with many years of experience in upper management and years of accumulated experience in and knowledge about doing business in Ukraine):
The View From There
By Walter Kish
A Deal with the Devil
The political events of this past week in Ukraine have left me both dumbfounded and more than a little disillusioned. Following a narrow failed vote to get his candidate Yuri Yekhanurov confirmed as interim Prime Minister, President Yushchenko did what many people here consider unthinkable – he made a deal with the devil in the person of his political archenemy Viktor Yanukovich.
The price Yushchenko paid was steep – an amnesty for all those accused of election fraud and vote-rigging, an end to “political persecution of the opposition” (read: the investigation and prosecution of any of the oligarchs, crooks and bandits who have pillaged Ukraine for the past decade), immunity from prosecution of any member of local, regional or oblast council, and granting the opposition political forces the chairmanship of a number of key Parliamentary committees including the committee for freedom of expression and information, and the committee for combating organized crime and corruption. The foxes have once again been granted the key to the chicken coop.
All those promises made during the Revolution about routing out corruption and bringing to justice those that have so abused the law and the people of Ukraine are now just empty words. As one political commentator here put it, you can now forget about those responsible for Gongadze’s murder or Yushchenko’s poisoning ever being prosecuted, all those oligarchs who got rich by stealing the country’s assets can now rest easy that their ill gotten gains are safe, and the business of politics in Ukraine can now revert back to being the cynical, corrupt, power game it has been since Ukraine became independent.
I find this turn of events almost incomprehensible. Why is it that Yushchenko was not able to find a compromise with the Tymoshenko bloc which shares virtually all his political and reformist ideals and principles, but was able to strike a deal with the very forces that cheated him of his election victory, were likely responsible for his poisoning, and whose policies and ideology are completely antagonistic to his own? Has his personal animosity for Yulia Tymoshenko so clouded his judgment that he prefers the company of Yanukovich, Kuchma and his gang? Was confirming a caretaker government for six months worth sacrificing all the most fundamental principles and ideals that brought all those hundreds of thousands of people to the Maidan last November and December? The irony of the situation is that most political experts say that Yushchenko could have gotten Yekhanurov confirmed as PM, albeit narrowly, without the support of Yanukovich and his Regions party.
It has become abundantly clear that whereas Yushchenko may have succeeded brilliantly in staging a revolution, he clearly lacks the skills that it takes to govern effectively and to manage the political processes in this country. To me, it is personally saddening, because I believe in his personal integrity and commitment. Nonetheless, he has fallen significantly short of being the leader everyone expected.
So now it seems to be business as usual in the running of the country, and neither I nor anyone in Ukraine should take comfort in that statement. The only winner in all that has transpired is Yulia Tymoshenko. Going into the Parliamentary elections next March she can effectively claim to be the only true inheritor of the orange revolutionary mantle. You can rest assured that she will campaign aggressively claiming that Yushchenko and his bloc have sold out the revolution and are no better than their predecessors. Whether she can win a majority remains to be seen.
The big losers of course, are all those millions of people who believed those inspiring ideals and promises that were so eloquently proclaimed on the Maidan.Who are they to believe and trust now?
Back to me: Kish's piece echoes what I have heard most people in Ukraine saying so far, on the street--and I have been in Odessa and Lviv, while talking with others in various parts (Poltava, Kyiv, and a small west-Ukrainian town). One can certainly bet that Tymoshenko will campaign on promises to continue reprivatization and prosecution/lustration--of higher ranking officials, not school teachers. (Lustration in the former Czechoslovakia, for example, targeted higher-ranking officials, not the run-of-the-mill apparatchyky or party grunts, on the theory that people in greater positions of power and authority bare greater responsibility. Ukraine does need some kind of Peace and Reconciliation process. . .Yushchenko seems to me to be too willing to give up on that process on the basis of a percieved threat of a too great instability )
3) Kuzio on the deal.
Neeka mentions that Tymoshenko was in Moscow over the weekend meeting with the Prosecutor-General, and possibly with Putin himself, and that all charges against her have now been dropped.
Any suspicious commentary/thoughts?
And oh, I am disappearing into the selo (village) world for a while and so won't have chance to re-surface in cyberspace for a few days (I may venture to Ternopil from Pidhajtsi ina couple of days if the itch for internet and news and email gets too great). I will be visiting family, chatting about politics, and working in the fields, helping various family groups bring in the rest of the sugar beet harvest, and do whatever else remains. I will also be filming a lot, especially the fall harvest, all for the section of the doc I am working on in which I will try to convey a sense of what it means to work the land truly by hand, and what it means to be a subsistence farmer.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
I am also here to get a grip on how people feel in reaction to all the recent upheavals, and also to see the campaign season begin. Already, I have seen a lot of posters--for Our Ukraine, Tymoshenko Bloc/Fatherland Party, Green Party of Ukraine, the Socialists, and a new one (perhaps just to me) I will have to look into, the Republican Party of Ukraine.
But also, I have written in my journal some purely literary-descriptive pieces on Odessa that I will try to type up tomorrow. Odessa is, for me, the most fantastic city in Ukraine, I have decided. I repeat: Odes(s)a is simply fantastic. But expensive.
Anyhow, below is something I wrote in the comments section to a post on Neeka's Backlog about Yekhanurov being made PM. To follow it, you should know that Yushchenko had to make the following compromises in order to get the parliamentary majority he needed for Yekhanurov's approval: no prosecution of election commission workers involved in last year's election debacle; and no more reprivatization but for completing the Kryvorizhtal reprivat.
I too was quite disappointed with the promise to refuse further reprivatization and for no further efforts to prosecute anyone for the election violations. But I also expected these promises.
As for the latter, I have come around to thinking that this is Yushchenko' s very wise and compassionate, Buddha-and-Jesus-like side: let us just forgive and forget, make our peace, and move on into the future.
As for the former, Yekhanurov already stated sometime ago that there should be no more reprivat. And I think the above mentioned Buddha-and-Jesus thing is also what is behind Yushchenko's refusal of further reprivat (but this is generous--he is also being the tool of the international business community and investors who hate populist disturbances of any economy). Yushchenko et al seem so eager to move on into the future, and the best way is to make peace with the past, saying, "Ok, you guys got what you got through bogus means, but there will be no more bogus means. You can keep it, but you have to play with new, cleaner rules."
But the sincerity of this promise for newer, cleaner rules is rendered questionable as far as I am concerned by the fact that Yekhanurov has also has said, in relation to completing privatization, that the government should be allowed to hold meetings with members of the business community--Which one? Indigenous Ukrainian? Russian? International?--suggesting closed doors and deals struck just as before under an earlier round of privatizations before Yanukovych was PM. This, in a word, sucks.
What happened to transparency? Am I missing something here?
But once again, to be generous to Yushchenko and pals, perhaps they are weary over reprivat because of how the doors to further corruption (not perception) were opened. But that still remains to be demonstrated. One should keep in mind that the allegations of corruption against Tymoshenko are also, so far, just words. No doubt, the issue of reprivat has been very divisive, but where? In the government of Ukraine? In the opinion of the international community? Or among the Ukrainian people? I am back in Ukraine again, and have anyway been talking with lots of friends in both east and west. So OK. . .the pro-OR people, we will say, were about 55-60% of the population, and the pro-Yan were about 45-40-%. It seems to me that the break-down of people pleased/displeased with the lack of justice for the past is about the same. But that is my totally unscientific observation.
I asked my taxi driver today in Odesa what he thought about all this. He said, "I don't even want to talk about it. No justice, no fulfillment of promises. . .what are we to do with them all?"
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Well, the last two weeks have led to some major polarization, and many people have taken their sides on the matter: "He's wrong," "She's wrong," "They all are wrong." The last one is my own, but in a qualified sense: They all have been wrong, but some more than others. But I won't try to convince anyone--or myself, even--to either believe or disbelieve in these new corruption allegations against Tymoshenko. I feel exacerbated by it all, finally, much like Neeka.
But one comment: If Yushchenko does accept the offer (I rather doubt he will), he can not create another situation where there are two parallel governments, one legimate and the other one basically unconstitutional. The paralysis of the post-OR government that led to the failure to deliver on most OR promises was due in large part to the fact that Yushchenko (unconstitutionally, mind you, by endowing the post of National Security Secretary with extra powers) positioned people with different ideologies of reform in strategic (and parallel) offices to the point that they blocked each other and got nothing done. There can be only one boss of the government and one approach toward reform.
Here's two good articles on these developments, from RFE:
1) Jan Maksymiuk, the Ukraine desk editor at RFE, writes an interesting piece ("Orange Revolution Drowns Amid Mutual Recirminations) on what went wrong after the OR that ends on a totally non-objective note by giving a really biting condemnation of how the OR has failed and is, to his mind, completely over. . .I don't agree with the depth of his vindictiveness, but the article is an interesting read;
2) An article of thoughts on Yekhanurov being rejected and Tymoshenko's plea to Yushchenko form another government with her, and what the future may hold.
1) Info on Ukrainians in Latvia, excerpted from this, a publicly-run informational website about the EU:
Ukrainians mainly entered Latvia after World War II and especially after 1959 as part of the labour force used to carry out large construction projects or as part of the Soviet army. The number of Ukrainians rose from 0.1% (around 1,800 persons) of the total population in 1935 to 3.5% (around 92,100) of the total population in 1989. According to 2004 data from the Board for Citizenship and Migration Affairs approximately 59,400 Ukrainian persons (some 2.6% of the total population) currently live in Latvia.
According to provisional statistical figures from 2000, in Latvia about 17.000 Ukrainians (27% of the total number) declare Ukrainian to be their mother tongue. These people use Ukrainian on a daily basis. 4% of Ukrainians declare Latvian to be their mother tongue, and 68% declare Russian to be their mother tongue (whereas 96% has knowledge of Russian). On the one hand this high percentage is due to the “Russification” campaign during the Soviet period which contributed significantly to the reduction of mother tongue retention rates and loss of identity among Ukrainians. But on the other hand it needs to be stressed that the number of Ukrainians declaring Russian as their mother tongue (L1) in 1989 was ‘only’ 49.3% and has thus increased by more than 15% since Latvian independence. Although more qualitative research would need to be done in this field, this increase in Russian as a mother tongue could be linked to Ukrainians identifying themselves more overtly as Russians within the new Latvian state-political constellation. Since Ukrainians seem to adhere more to Russian than to their own language (which shows a high degree of mutual intelligibility with Russian and Belorussian) it comes as no surprise that intergenerational language transmission of Ukrainian is limited to a motivated cultural minority.
Despite efforts of the Latvian government in stimulating activities that are meant to encourage Ukrainian/Latvian bilingualism the number of persons having knowledge of Latvian among the Ukrainians is only growing slowly. With the ethnic integration programme the Latvian government hopes to create favourable circumstances that will help people in maintaining their own ‘ethnic language’, and that will encourage them to learn Latvian instead of the process of “Russification” they have experienced hitherto. At present only a minority within the minority takes up the task to foster the minority language. It is questionable whether the limited use of Ukrainian on Latvian public radio (half an hour per week), its use in some cultural organisations and the very limited success of Ukrainian minority schools will help to revive the Ukrainian language. More coordinated efforts will have to be developed in the future in several societal niches to secure the situation of Ukrainian (in Latvia) in the future. A major obstacle to the revitalisation of Ukrainian is the existence of interest groups who are in favour of further “Russification” or the maintenance of Ukrainian culture without necessarily having to maintain the Ukrainian language. They tend to counter those who are interested in the revitalization of Ukrainian. This poses identity problems within the Ukrainian minority that urgently need to be studied from a qualitative point of view focusing on language attitudes and language awareness.
2) Conference announcement:
As it is in Ukrainian and I gotta run out, here are the basics in English:
International Conference on Ukrainians in the Baltics
Riga, December 9, 2005
Working Languages: Ukrainian and Latvian
Organizing Committee Contacts:
Konstjatyn Hupalo, President of Ukraine-Latvia Society
phone: +371 7598564
Venta Kocere, director of the Latvian Academic Library
phone:+371 710 6206
Send submissions of your text for the conference by November 20 via email to email@example.com or to either of the above; for submission questions you may also call +371 759 8564 or +371 7106240
Historical and political aspects and structures of the life of the Ukrainian diaspora in the Baltics, Baltic Studies in Ukraine, contemporary Ukrainian art in the Baltics, etc.
Міжнародна науково-практична конференція
Рига, 9 грудня 2005 року
Латвійська академічна бібліотека, український інформаційний центр Латвійської академічної бібліотеки, Товариство українців в Латвії, Українське культурно-просвітницьке товариство “Дніпро” в Латвії, Посольство України в Латвійській Республіці проводять 9 грудня 2005 року в м. Рига 2-гу Міжнародну науково-практичну конференцію “Українці в Балтії”
Конференція відбудеться в приміщенні Латвійської академічної бібліотеки, Латвія, Рига,
- Історичні і політичні аспекти життя української діаспори в Балтії
- Загальнобалтійська система української освіти
- Балтійська україністика і дослідження Балтії в Україні. Сучасне українське мистецтво в Балтії
- Український культурно- інформаційний простір Балтії
- Співпраця українських організацій з державними структурами та громадськими інституціями країн проживання, Посольствами України у Латвії, Литві, Естонії
надати до 10 листопада 2005 року
-інформацію про учасника: прізвище, ім’я, організація, посада, вчене звання, ступінь, телефон, факс, адреса електронної пошти, сайт
Оплата проїзду на конференцію, помешкання, харчування – за рахунок учасників конференції
До початку роботи конференції організатори планують опублікувати збірник тез доповідей учасників конференції “Українці в Балтії”
Учасники конференції повинні надати електронний варіант своїх тез – це є необхідною умовою їх публікації у збірнику. Електронний варіант надсилається е-поштою, або надається на дискеті 3,5 дюйма в оргкомітет конференції до 20 листопада 2005р.за адресою firstname.lastname@example.org, додаткова інформація телефонами +371 7598564, +371 7106240
Вимоги до тез для публікації у збірнику
- файл повинен містити назву доповіді, прізвище, ім’я автора (ів), повне найменування організації ( в дужках – скорочене), країна, місто; ім’я файлу тез становить прізвище автора чи першого співавтора
- тези для публікації надаються на одній з робочих мов конференції – українській або латвійській
- текст тез повинен відкриватися короткою анотацією (2-3 речення) англійською мовою
- максимальний обсяг інформації – не більше 2-х сторінок формату А-4 (3000-4000 символів)
- матеріали приймаються у форматі Mikrosoft Word 6.0 та вище, гарнітурою“Times Nev Roman”, 12 пунктів, без табуляторів. В тексті не використовувати набраними великими літери
Тези будуть опубліковані у авторському варіанті, без редакторської правки, при умові виконання нижчевикладених вимог:
- назва доповіді ( на новому рядку, симетрично по центру);
- на слідуючому рядку (симетрично по центру) – прізвище автора та ініціал;
- на слідуючому рядку (симетрично по центру) - повна назва організації, установи, країни - для приїжджих учасників
Співголова оркомітету конференції M.Sci.Soc. Вента Коцере – директор Латвійської академічної бібліотеки, тел. +371 7106206, e-mail: email@example.com
Співголова оркомітету конференції Костянтин Гупало - голова товариства “Україна-Латвія”, тел. +371 7598564, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, September 19, 2005
So much of the "narrative" on the situation in Ukraine since last Spring and on the current crisis has been so one-sidedly for Yushchenko and his team, and so one-sidedly critical of Tymoshenko (Aslund, Lavelle, some other Ukraine bloggers, etc.), that I am beginning to wonder whether or not a kind of postlapsarian (after the fall from Eden) narrative informs much of the thinking:
Tymoshenko the Eve (the passionate, the irrational, the populist) who is ruining the (male, liberal, temperate, rational, technocratic, instrumental, etc.) Garden of the Orange Revolution?
Be sure to read Kuzio in the next post below, if you have not already (Kuzio is among the most balanced, least postlapsarian thinkers on the situation. . .)
Part 2 of Kuzio's thoughts on crisis in Ukraine (from EDM).my emphases in bold-face. .
BEHIND UKRAINE'S POLITICAL CRISIS (PART 2)
By Taras Kuzio
Friday, September 16, 2005
The Orange Revolution and subsequent election of President Viktor Yushchenko showed that Ukrainian society wanted "change." But as the Economist (September 8) pointed out, the "Orange Revolution promised much but has so far delivered little."
Indeed, Ukrainians believe that, eight months into Yushchenko's presidency, there has been little genuine change from the prior regime of Leonid Kuchma. Indeed, crimes committed by the Kuchma regime have gone unpunished. As one
One reason there have been no charges against high-ranking Kuchma-era officials is that the prosecutor's office is headed by Sviatoslav Piskun. Piskun was prosecutor in 2002-2003, fired, then reinstated on
Was Piskun brought back to protect high-ranking Kuchma officials? To date, only low-and medium-level Kuchma officials have been charged with abuse of office, corruption, and election fraud.
Serhiy Kivalov, head of the Central Election Commission (CEC) in the 2004 elections, provides a telling example. The Yushchenko camp directly accused the CEC of open falsification in rounds one and two. But after the elections, Kivalov was allowed to return to his position as Dean of the
A commission is set to investigate the charges of corruption in Yushchenko's entourage leveled by former presidential administration chief Oleksandr Zinchenko (see EDM, September 8, 9). Guilty or not, the commission poses a no-win situation for Yushchenko.
If the commission exonerates the three accused officials, the public disillusionment that the new guard is little different from the old will likely deepen, increasing ousted prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's popularity in the 2006 elections. Already 51.3% of Kyivites, a city that staunchly backed Yushchenko in the Orange Revolution, believe the accusations made by Zinchenko (Zerkalo Tyzhnia/Nedeli, September 10-16).
Yushchenko has already been criticized for pre-judging the outcome of the investigation. While welcoming the creation of the commission, Yushchenko declared, "I am confident that these facts will not be found" (Zerkalo Tyzhnia/Nedeli, September 10-16). In post-Soviet states, officials may take such presidential comments as hints on the preferred verdict.
(And so why are most people so keen on accusing Tymoshenko of Kuchma-era tactics so one-sidedly?!)
If the commission does find evidence of corruption among Yushchenko's close allies, it would irrevocably damage his presidency. He would have to explain why he has tolerated corruption within his inner circle.
Another Yushchenko judgment error was the granting of additional power to the National Security and Defense Council (NRBO), headed by one of the accused, Petro Poroshenko. Not only was the move unconstitutional, it caused a paralysis of decision-making and in-fighting as Poroshenko turned the NRBO into a parallel government.
Disillusionment with Yushchenko is especially acute among young people, without whom the Orange Revolution would have been impossible. Younger generation politicians from the Reforms and Order Party (RiP), and young people more generally, are likely to gravitate towards Tymoshenko in the 2006 elections. RiP was Yushchenko's main political ally in the 1990s, and its defection to Tymoshenko is a potentially damaging outcome of the Zinchenko crisis.
Yushchenko's decision to remove the Tymoshenko government has four main consequences.
First, with constitutional reforms that transfer some of the executive's power to parliament due to go into effect in January 2006, Yushchenko must secure a parliamentary majority after the 2006 elections, as the legislature elects the government.
Yushchenko had intended to ask the
It would be politically disastrous if constitutional reforms left Yushchenko a figurehead facing a hostile parliamentary majority and government. This scenario would return
Second, Yushchenko's People's
Third, after breaking with Yushchenko, Tymoshenko will now draw votes away from the hard-line opposition currently grouped in Regions of Ukraine (RU), the Social Democratic Party-United (SDPUo), and the Communists (KPU). All three are led by uncharismatic, unpopular leaders. In contrast, Tymoshenko has great media appeal, skill as a fiery orator, and popularity that matches Yushchenko's.
Fourth, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko are now expected to publicly duel over who has the right to claim to represent the "true ideals" of the Orange Revolution. Tymoshenko's bloc will campaign to separate business and politics, one of the main goals of the Revolution (Ukrayinska pravda, September 8).
Yushchenko still surrounds himself with businessmen who supported his Our Ukraine bloc in the 2002 parliamentary elections and his presidential campaign. Their ties will be strengthened further if, as expected, the commission exonerates his close allies of corruption.
As the 2006 ballot approaches, the Tymoshenko camp will campaign on a platform asserting that the Orange Revolution is "unfinished."
The 2004 presidential election was a struggle between the Kuchma regime's last prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, and the
Sunday, September 18, 2005
This momument was built in 1935, during Latvia's interwar period of independence. The inscription on the monument reads, "For Fatherland and Freedom," a phrase that was adopted as a name by one of Latvia's most important post-Soviet political parties. The woman-figure at the top of the monument is often refered to affectionately as Milda by Latvians, something like a Mother Latvia. Someone also once told me that they think of her as Laime--the name of the Latvian pagan Goddess of Good Fortune and the Future, and also a common woman's name. The three stars originally represented the three predominantly-Latvian provinces that were wrestled from the Russian Empire to create the first independent state of Latvia (declared in 1918, recognized internationally in 1921; see Latvian History Wikipedia). Since the territory of Latvia was organized into 4 provinces after Soviet independence, some people today say the stars represent the three Baltic states. In Soviet times, the woman at the top of the statue was supposed to represent the Motherland--either the Soviet Union or Mother Russia--supporting the three Baltic states.
The square and monument became the locale of numerous anti-Soviet, pro-Independence demonstrations that took place throughout the glasnost period. It is often said that the anti-Soviet movement in Latvia went public and above-ground on June 17, 1987, the day when the Latvian human rights group Helsinki-86 held a ceremony during which participants laid flowers at the base of the monument. The ceremony was held in commemoration of June 17, 1941, or the day on which the Soviet government deported 14,000 Latvians as it began its occupation of Latvia. Many Latvians living in the USSR maintained a private tradition of commemorating this day at home, while those in the diaspora held yearly, public events. Needless to say, it was a powerful moment for many when this day was marked in public for the first time in Latvia.
Though much happened in the interim, one of the most dramatic--and certainly the most deadly of--events in the course of the independence struggle took place on January 20, 1991.
Above is a foto of what once was a moat that was part of Riga's medieval and early modern fortifications. Today it is a canal upon which one can paddle 2-person boats or along the shores of which one can enjoy a beer (or two or three or four).
But to return to the history lesson here, the January 20, 1991 massacre took place along its banks.
Latvia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in May of 1990. For months following the declaration, a tense series of negotiations between Latvian and Soviet authorities took place. Throughout the long negotation period, various pro-Independence demonstrations took place throughout the country. Then, in January of 1991, someone--it has yet to be determined who ordered the crackdown--within the Soviet authority decided the time had come to do something about the breakaway Baltic Republics (both Lithuania and Estonia had made similar moves toward independence as Latvia). The crackdown began in Vilnius on January 11 (read here for starters), the day on which Soviet troops began to seize control of various buildings and strategic locations throughout Lithuania. On January 13, 14 people were killed and 700 hundred were injured as Soviet paratroopers tried to seize control of the TV Tower in Vilnius, which had come under the control of pro-Independence forces.
These events in Vilnius triggered people in Latvia to build barricades around their strategically important buildings and locations as well, including in Riga the parliament building, the TV tower, and the Ministry of the Interior. Each of these buildings were occupied by pro-Independence cadre and were defended by thousands of people who kept watch, night and day, at barricades erected before them. People waited in fear of a repeat in Riga of events in Vilnius.
And the repeat took place on January 20.
Across the street from the canal and not far from the Freedom Monument pictured above is the building of what was then and still is the Ministry of the Interior.
Today, directly across the street from it is the US embassy.
On January 20, 1991, Soviet Black Berets opened fire on the building, firing live rounds over the heads of those staffing the barricades. However, no attempt was made to take the building.
You can see in the photo above the marks made by bullets striking the building--they have been left as a monument to what happened on that day.
The Soviet troops also opened fire on the crowd that had gathered directly across the street.
In the park across the street were more barricades and demonstrators upon which the Soviet troops opened fire. 5 people were killed, more or less on the spot. The number varies as to how many were wounded, but it seems that the consensus is hundreds. Today rocks mark the spots where those who were killed fell, with each rock baring the victim's name and occupation.
One of those killed was Andris Slapiņš, a dissident filmmaker who for years had been actively documenting the fall of the Soviet Union. It seems that he was singled out by sniper fire. Slapiņš and his camera operator/friend were filming the events taking place when he was shot. They had positioned themselves on the side of the bridge pictured above, on the side opposite of the Ministry of the Interior, where they could have a wide view of what was taking place. It is said that as he laid on the ground, quickly bleeding to death, Slapiņš shouted to his friend, "Film me! Film me! They got me right in the heart!"
Throughout the year people put flowers and candles on these stones that mark the spots where people like Slapiņš fell, but they especially do so every year on January 20.
I would like to mention something here about the process of the Soviet collapse that I think the grassroots history that lead to events like January 20 and the eventual independence of Latvia suggests:
The Sovietological and nearly hegemonic story of a top-down collapse of the USSR is, to my mind and that of others (see, for example, this book) far too limiting in its explanation of what was a much more complicated reality, especially as it is far too dismissive of the role played by grassroots pressure that first bubbled then boiled from the bottom-up. Grassroots pressures and everyday forms of resistance to Soviet rule and Soviet society in general were a significant, if not leading cause that made the system buckle and eventually fall--and it was bottom-up pressures that bubbled up most forcefully in the east-central European satellite states and from Western Ukraine and the Baltic States that played a most significant role in igniting the process of change that then spun out of control and resulted in collapse.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Unfortunately it is always the poor who have to suffer and die the most before members of governments and society in general wake up to disasterous levels of incompetence.
(And oh, an edit: I forgot to complete this thought: the poor, in the US and all around the world, will also be the first to pay dearly for nature's revenge against gluttonous overconsumption, for which they are the least responsible. . .)
Two things here:
1) Lengthy segments from one of the best comments on the Katrina Governmental Disaster I have yet read;
2) A brief recounting of recent presidents and their responses to hurricanes (in comparison, GW deserves an F, which reflects how well he did as a Yale student in comparison to these other presidents as well. . .)
1) The article (emphasis again my own):
A Democracy Disaster – Time to File Criminal Charges
BY JOEL S. HIRSCHHORN - Teddy Roosevelt said many incisive things, including this: "To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day."
Nearly a century later – o-n-e h-u-n-d-r-e-d years, this unholy alliance is alive and well, and hurricane Katrina showed that it gets in the way of providing the most essential services that Americans have every right to expect from their government when natural forces lash out, especially when lives are at stake.
The 2005 Katrina catastrophe should go down in American history as a wakeup call about our government’s deterioration. . .
Emergency response failures were also evident, including: No city plans to evacuate some 125,000 mostly poor and African American residents who were known to lack the ability to leave on their own, to quickly evacuate the many hospitals in the city, to evacuate tourists, to maintain law and order, to use a school bus fleet to evacuate residents, and to pre-position necessary supplies and provide security in the city’s evacuation centers. The governor failed to move National Guard units into the city when it became clear a very strong hurricane would devastate the city. The Corps of Engineers did not even have a plan ready to implement when levees failed. There was no communications backup critical to emergency responders despite the predictable failure of land and cellular phone systems in such a situation. As the Washington Post editorialized: “Given the known risks, the response of government – local, state and federal – to the approaching storm was inadequate, uncoordinated and inept. …
Decades of politicians did not take the necessary steps to protect the below-sea-level city from inevitable flooding caused by a major hurricane. They did not serve the public interest; they failed to protect public health and safety, a prime government responsibility. Fittingly, in 2001 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said that a hurricane striking
Nevertheless, President George W. Bush said this a few days after the calamity and awful government response was evident to the world: “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” Anybody? Was this an intentional untruth or was Bush’s staff ignorant of what every knowledgeable person knew?. . .The head of the National Hurricane Center has said that he notified local, state, and federal officials 32 hours before landfall that Katrina would be catastrophic with flooding virtually certain. Moreover, John Breaux, the former Democratic Louisiana senator and close Bush ally, said he talked to Bush about failure of the city’s levees last year.
Despite all the clear evidence of what was inevitable and required, there was a drastic cut in funding for the
Despite the facts, soon after the Katrina disaster hit White House spokesperson Scott McClellan claimed that “flood control has been a priority of this administration from day one.” This lie matched the Bush lie for chutzpah and disrespect for the public’s intelligence. The framing of the event by the Bush administration was that it was the nation’s largest and worst natural disaster, designed to excuse the administration’s neglect and incompetence. Better framing is: Hurricane Katrina did not destroy
Only on Internet blogs was a connection made between the Katrina disaster and the failure of elected representatives in American democracy to serve the public interest; here are two examples:
Democracy is a bit of a crude instrument. Public officials have strong incentives to direct funds away from dull-but-worthy endeavors and toward well-financed interest groups. …Unless voters and the press demand the heads of officials who screw up, future screw-ups are guaranteed.
The destruction of
Katrina should become a metaphor for
Joel S. Hirshhorn is a Contributing Writer to Newtopia. His current book is Sprawl Kills – How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money. Email him through www.sprawlkills.com.
Originally published in Newtopia Magazine,
Full article here.
All text and images © Joel S. Hirschhorn unless otherwise noted. SOME RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License. To view a copy of this license, click here.
2) Recent Presidents and their responses to hurricanes in recent US history:
Category 5 Hurricane
*Camille* (August 1969)
Area: About the same area as that affected by Katrina
Response: Nixon prepared the National Guard in
advance, ordering rescue ships from Tampa, FL and
Houston, TX to stand waiting along with over a
thousand regular military, 24+ helicopters to assist
the Coast Guard and National Guard about as soon as
the hurricane passed.
President: Bush (the Elder)
Category 5 Hurricane *Andrew* (August 1992)
Response: In the middle of a re-election campaign,
Bush ceased campaigning the day before the hurricane,
went to Washington, and assembled one of the largest
military forces ever mustered on U.S. soil. 7,000
National Guard and 22,000 regular military were sent
in with the necessary equipment shortly after the
hurricane passed through.
Category 3 Hurricane *Floyd*
Area: Virginia and Carolinas
Response: Meeting with China's president Jiang in New
Zealand, Clinton immediately declared the
hurricane-affected areas as federal disasters,
allowing the military and National Guard to move in
before the hurricane hit, to help coordinate the
President: Bush (the Lesser)
Category 5 Hurricane *Katrina* (August 2005)
Response: National Guard troops are down about 8,000
members because they are in
needed rescue equipment. Bush was on vacation, riding
his bike for two hours the day before the hurricane landed.
On that day, Bush attended a birthday party for John McCain.
The levees began to crack. While emergency 1.5-ton
sandbags were ready to be placed to strengthen the levee
and exclude water, there were insufficient helicopters and
pilots to set them before the levees broke. New Orleans
Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded for federal-level assistance and got
none. Bush went to
singer and ended his vacation early -- but not until the next
day, because he had tickets to a San Diego Padres game.
Friday, September 16, 2005
I was out last night with Zinta, my daughter's mother, for a walk in Vecriga (Old Riga), the part of town that was more or less built in Medieval times. Old Riga has undergone some dramatic changes in the past 14 or 15 years of Latvian independence of course, just as it has in many other periods of its history, of course. We chatted about that last night. I turned to Zinta and said, while we emerged from a narrow street that no car could have driven down onto a wider one, something like, "Imagine what all of this looked like without all the neon signs in the Middle Ages." She cleverly responded, "You don't have to go back to the Middle Ages to see what Old Riga looked like without signs, you just need to go back to Soviet times." Of course she was right, duh, but then I thought more and said, "Well, not really, because I imagine that in the Middle Ages, there would have at least been signs hanging on rods jutting out from the buildings, just not neon ones; and there probably were many more shops than in Soviet times." Zinta then said, "Yeah, most of these stores were empty but for a few, and when you went in, the shelves were bare but for the 7 or 8 items that you could get everywhere else, depending on the type of store. There was no advertising. You couldn't even see in through the windows into most shops. You were not supposed to want to buy anything. You were supposed to only have needs to be fulfilled." To want was decadent and capitalist, I suppose; or that was the case, ideologically speaking, since the best communists had the right to entertain wants like no one else could. . .
Riga is much--incomparably--more vibrant than that now, of course; but I am merely adding all of this here for the sake of any reader of my site who may think that, given my clear left wing politics, I am nostalgic for Soviet times or am a willy-nilly anti-capitalist. Not at all. But it is also stupid to assume, willy-nilly, that because the Soviet system collapsed, the system that was its dialectical other is the best and only way. Capitalism is a wild beast that, untamed, will devour the majority of human beings while producing a great deal of wealth for just a few. A deregulated market is just an ideological way of talking about a market regulated for top-up accumulation, while the notion of a trickle-down effect that off-sets that accumulation is just a way of adding a salve to smooth over the bad conscience one gets (or should get) from telling the less wealthy, and especially the poor, "Screw it, y'all are on your own!" Capitalism, tamed and humanized, or in some way socialized, is a powerful tool for producing a decent life. What matters is what one considers to be a decent standard of living. The American one is, to my mind, beyond excessive. For example, feet and public transit for everyone, not cars for all. . .
Thursday, September 15, 2005
I like the article as the writer does an excellent job of pointing out just how disingenuous the quite one-sided attack on Tymoshenko is that is coming from much of the Western press and from Yushchenko himself. Also, she does a good job of making, in her own way, the statement that many others are making: The current crisis, far from signaling the end of the OR and of a regression of the short-lived growth of Ukrainian democracy, actually shows how much has indeed changed in a positive direction. The best statement on this latter matter can be read here; it's an article entitled, "Democracy is Alive in Ukraine," by political science professor Alexander Motyl, whose writing on Ukraine I always find crisp and poignant.
It's a long article, but a MUST read; the added emphases are mine, of course. . .
The Orange Revolution: Round Two
by Tammy Lynch
Behind the Breaking News
A Briefing from the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy
14 September 2005
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko opened the parliamentary election campaign by firing Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, sparking debate as to whether this action would instigate open war between the two or whether the former Orange Revolution partners would find a way to coexist peacefully. Signals suggest that war will be the mode of operation until the parliamentary elections in March. The war scenario could provide new life to those who appeared so discredited just eight months ago, while disillusioning a citizenry that had just begun to believe in a government "for the people."
However, this scenario should concern Western officials. Yushchenko should be made to understand that strong actions, not just words, are necessary to demonstrate his commitment to honest, fair, accountable government. At the moment, a perception is developing-true or not-that this commitment may be wavering. This perception has grown in part, because Yushchenko has chosen to attack his former prime minister in lieu of aggressively examining corruption allegations leveled at his closest aides.
On Tuesday, Yushchenko lashed out at Tymoshenko, suggesting that she had attempted to use her position to eliminate $1.5 billion in debts that he said had been incurred by a company she owned in the 1990s. (1) The company, United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UES), made
Tymoshenko one of the richest people in the country-although some observers suggest Tymoshenko walked the edge of the law to gather much of that money.
UES was broken up by government officials during the Kuchma era after Tymoshenko began an opposition movement against the then-president. Both Russian and Kuchma-controlled Ukrainian law enforcement bodies attempted to jail Tymoshenko at that time, based on events surrounding, among other things, the debts of UES. While he was in parliament, Yushchenko fought these efforts. Tymoshenko claimed strenuously that all charges against her were politically motivated, and despite years of investigation, neither Russian nor Kuchma officials publicly produced any credible evidence to the contrary. For his part, Viktor Yushchenko stated his support for Tymoshenko–until now.
Tymoshenko quickly responded to Yushchenko's charge, saying that her company had no debts to forgive. She suggested that Yushchenko was "picking up [former President Leonid] Kuchma's baton and trying to get rid of me in the same way." (2) Her statement is given some added, if possibly coincidental, credibility by a recent meeting between Acting Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and former President Leonid Kuchma in
The financial questions about Tymoshenko and UES may or may not be true, and should be independently investigated. It is worth noting, however, that Yushchenko's claim appeared on the same day that Tymoshenko suggested she will run against him for president in 2009 and contradicts Yushchenko's earlier statements that he had wanted Tymoshenko to remain in his government. It therefore could be perceived as persecution against an opponent rather than an honest attempt to root out corruption.
With these recriminations against Tymoshenko, it is easy to forget that the political crisis that ended in her dismissal began not with corruption charges against her, but with corruption charges against the president's closest aides.
On 3 September, Yushchenko's Chief of Staff and former Campaign Manager Oleksandr Zinchenko resigned, charging that the president's closest aides were corrupt. In particular, Zinchenko singled out National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko, presidential aide Oleksandr Tretyakov, and the head of Yushchenko's political party, Mykola Martynenko.
Zinchenko's statement has not been distributed extensively throughout the mainstream Western press. Below is a rather long but illustrative passage:
"A small group of adventurists is trying to take advantage of the achievements of last autumn, of the wishes and desires of the entire people, or the heroic efforts of the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian patriots. They have set up their own clan, they have orchestrated an information blockade of the president and pushed him into a virtual, unreal world, they have cynically twisted the real situation, neglecting the hopes of their compatriots. Step by step they are implementing their plan to use power for their own enrichment, to privatize and grab everything they can (while forcefully opposing reprivatizations. . .Stefan). They want a monopoly, they want to take over instruments of power as soon as they can. I will name just a few. The secretary of the NationalSecurity and Defense Council Petro Poroshenko, first presidential aide Tretyakov, and some of their partners, such as Martynenko, are cynically implementing their scenario of using power for their own purposes. This scenario has the following main points: property, judiciary, law-enforcement agencies, personnel policy, media and power. It was Poroshenko who insisted on, and finally managed to illegally subordinate the judiciary to the National Security and Defense Council, even though it is by definition independent.
"I asked the president several times to stop Poroshenko. At [my] last meetings with Yushchenko, removing Poroshenko and his team from their posts was the condition of my further work in the president's team. Why didn’t I speak about this earlier? Under the circumstances, I tried to preserve the unity of the team. But everyone has a choice. One can put up with this and share the profits. I cannot and do not want to put up with this shameful violation of the law. I made my choice at
Zinchenko's charges were unsurprising to many observers of Yushchenko's administration. For months, some Western officials privately complained of the growing influence of Poroshenko and Tretyakov, at the expense of the prime minister's office, and have been concerned about persistent signs, although unproven, that Poroshenko was mixing politics with business. However, they had expressed the hope that the situation could be dealt with quietly, without damaging the fragile trust given to Yushchenko and Tymoshenko by the voters of
Charges by Zinchenko and others against Poroshenko included that he and/or his allies had pressured judges for verdicts in his or his friends’ favor, had circumvented customs regulations to receive favorable conditions for his business products, and had brokered a deal for the sale of a television station to an ally by using threats of legal persecution. Poroshenko strenuously denied all of these charges, but the damage was done.
It soon became clear that Poroshenko would need to resign. He did so, but only when the cabinet also was dismissed–a decision that shifted the focus away from him.
When announcing the cabinet's dismissal, Yushchenko cited a need to end the public turf battles that had developed between Tymoshenko and Poroshenko, and accused the government (which was interpreted to mean Tymoshenko) of lacking "team spirit." He suggested that Tymoshenko's policies had led to a drop in economic growth, and that she had bungled the reprivatization of enterprises that previously were sold illegally. At the same time, he announced Poroshenko's resignation and Tretyakov's suspension, but noted that he believed the charges against them were "groundless." (6)
Yushchenko's comments also made clear that it was not corruption or economic concerns, but politics, that eventually led to Tymoshenko's dismissal. He lamented that, following three days of intensive negotiations, he had made an agreement with Tymoshenko that would have kept her in the prime minister's chair. But at the last minute, he said, she had pulled out. "Yesterday, I spent all day and night trying to produce the best possible answer-if the team spirit does exist, we should remain together. Such an agreement was reached. Unfortunately, things changed overnight. But it was not I who changed them, he said. (7)
Individuals close to the negotiations suggest Yushchenko's team was concerned that the government balance of power would shift to Tymoshenko if Poroshenko resigned. Therefore, they insisted on a signed guarantee that she would support Yushchenko in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections before announcing Poroshenko's resignation. This contention seems to be supported by Yushchenko's new Chief of Staff Oleksandr Rybachuk. "A formula of political cooperation with quotas, agreements and guarantees for the forthcoming parliamentary elections, which gives a clear outlook for the next five years" was developed, he said, but not signed by Tymoshenko. Therefore, "Yushchenko had no choice, but to accept the Cabinet's resignation." (8)
Tymoshenko in turn complained that she could not sign an agreement in which Yushchenko could veto anyone's inclusion on the electoral list, even her closest allies, for a campaign in which Poroshenko may continue to play a pivotal role. (9)
She also suggested that Yushchenko was frustrated that she would neither publicly denounce Zinchenko nor express confidence in those he had accused. "The first condition is that I have to extend my hand not to the president but to his team-Poroshenko, Martynenko, Tretyakov, Bezsmertnyy-that I should give them my hand," she said. "But how could I extend my hand to them if their hands are constantly busy stealing something?" (10)
She emphasized that she did not believe the president himself was corrupt, and has gone out of her way in public statements to separate him from "his environment." Regardless, the details of these negotiations suggest that economic concerns and corruption charges against Tymoshenko were not foremost in anyone's mind as her fate was being decided.
By replacing the strong-willed prime minister with an unquestioning, close ally, Yushchenko will likely reach his goal to create a more unified public government face. But what of the corruption allegations against his aides?
If Yushchenko fired Tymoshenko because she was corrupt, why was his first choice for her to remain in his government? Why did he wait more than four days to mention this particular concern? Why, when discussing this alleged corruption, does he not also refer to the allegations against his aides?
And most importantly, why was it necessary to replace the cabinet now, weeks before the deadline for completion of negotiations for entrance into the World Trade Organization, and days before the 2006 budget must be submitted to parliament?
Some commentators and analysts have simply sighed with relief that the public battles between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko will now be over. But was it necessary to dismiss the entire cabinet to end these battles? Could Yushchenko have better defined the duties of his team, asserted his authority, dealt with corruption within his own administration and preserved the unity of the governing coalition?
Other commentators have cheered that Tymoshenko's "populist" politics will end. Clearly, Tymoshenko deserves some criticism-particularly for her often rash handling of the "reprivatization" issue. However, it is important to note that many economic policies now criticized by Yushchenko were originally supported, either partially or wholly, by him. (11) While Tymoshenko certainly made mistakes and enemies, she did not make all of them alone. And it is unfair to suggest that everything she did was incorrect or that every negative event should be attributable solely to her.
Regardless of Tymoshenko's negatives or positives, the Ukrainian president must remember that the crisis that ended with her dismissal began with corruption allegations against others. Yushchenko should ensure an independent investigation of the charges against Tymoshenko, and if evidence is found to support the charges, she should be prosecuted. If no evidence is found, she should not. He must do the same for the charges against his aides. Each individual, whether friend or opponent, should have equal access to findings of both guilt and innocence. Selective prosecution or non-prosecution must be a thing of the past. So far, the president's efforts have raised some concerns.
Yushchenko said he will personally oversee the investigation into all corruption claims-even apparently those involving Poroshenko, who is a long-time friend and the godfather to one of his children. The president has ordered a quickly formed "state commission" to present its findings on "who in this country is involved in corruption" in ten days. (12) The Security Service will reportedly announce "first conclusions" this week. Oversight of a corruption investigation by the president, in a country with a history of political interference in law enforcement, sends a dubious and perhaps unintended signal. This is especially true when the president has already given his personal assessment of the claims.
The corruption crisis has the potential to undermine Western trust. But more important, it has the potential to disillusion the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who stood in the cold for weeks listening to Yushchenko promise an end to lawlessness. In a new democracy, disillusionment, apathy, and anger are destructive.
In the months following the Orange Revolution,
It is this progress that, ironically, allowed the current crisis to develop. A corruption scandal could never have toppled anyone last year in
(1) Associated Press,
(2) Associated Press,
(3) Financial Times,
(4) Ibid, and TV 5 Kanal,
(5) TV Kanal! 5,
(6) TV 5 Kanal,
(9) Ukrayinska Pravda,
(11) For comments by Yushchenko on the government's economic policies, including oil and meat pricing, and social spending, see Ukrayina Moloda,
(12) Interfax-Ukraine News Agency, 1550 CET,
Monitoring, via ProQuest.