Sunday, October 23, 2005
Posted there will be more of my communiques from the OR, and stuff I wrote about my impressions of life in Ukraine during my first stay in the country, from June 2004 to March 2005. I wrote these pieces to a list-serve that I established then, not knowing at the time how easy it is to get your own blog going.
What I posted over there today is something that I think sheds light on the current anxiety over Yushchenko's willingness to compromise with the oligarchs.
I will be posting more things over there as the 1st anniversary of the OR approaches. . .
Saturday, October 22, 2005
The Vladimirets being weighed in at the burjakpunkt. The tractor and trailor are standing on top of a large scale. You weigh-in with the trailor full of beets, then you dump the beets, and then you weigh-in again. Thus you know how many beets you dropped off, and you will be paid in sacks of processed sugar accordingly, with the factory taking a cut of your sugar as payment for processing your beets.
Bringin' the Sugar Home
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
The area between the town of Halych and Pidhajtsi is quite desolate. Many of the villages between the village of Halych (or Pidhajtsi) and the town of Halych have a disproportionate population of old people, as many youngsters have left in search of work in bigger cities or abroad. This means that the roads and other infrastructure in this area are quite run down even by Western Ukrainian standards, because pensioners don't pay taxes.
Last summer, that of 2004, Oksana and I once had to hitchhike from the town of Halych to Pidhajtsi. We didn't think that we would make it, as traffic was practically nil. The desolation of the area made a strong imperssion on us. An old couple returning from work in the fields that evening told us we were crazy to be traveling by auto-stop (Uki for hitchhiking; i.e., avtostop) that late in that area, and they waited with us until a car came. In the meantime, they told us about their hardships and how depressing it was in their village with so few young people around. Their own children had worked abroad, and now are living in other parts of Ukraine.
Altogether these are the Halychyna heartlands, and to some extent they are becoming depopulated. In other words, this is rural decline Ukrainian style, and which is something that the West underwent for a period of generations. The processes of deruralization in the West and the ongoing one here in Ukraine may be different, but either way, in both places, deruralization is the effect of rural neglect and profiteering by powers beyond the contorl of rural populations.
(One great book about the process of "rural modernization" in the US is Wendell Berry's classic The Unsettling of America. Berry also is a fabulous poet and essayist.)
In this region in general the villages and most of the towns are built from the valley floor to mid-way up the hills, and usually on one side of the hill. On top of the hill and on the opposite slope usually are the fields. The above photo is another view of Sil'tse from the fields above Halych.
These fields were all part of collective farms, but now each family has about one and a half hectares (or about 3.7 acres). This is enough for subsistence and for a degree of produce to take to market. However, here is an important point: the fields surrounding Pidhajtsi could easily be worked by a few American farming families using all the contemporary agribusiness techniques; however, if you were to apply them here, you would displace hundreds of families and ruin their livelihoods. This has been a problem in some parts of Ukraine, and is one contributing factor to rural flight.
Here I appear for the first time ever on this blog. This is proof that I do actually work sometimes. The real reason I am posting it here is that I somehow managed not to get a picture of someone else picking the beets from the ground.
This year I was lucky. The Kolodnytskis all decided to pool some money and hire a guy with a tractor attachment that would dig the earth up from under the beets and turn it over, thus leaving the beets in loose soil near the surface. Last year, we picked each beet through the wet earth one by one. You can read an earlier post of mine here in which I talk about what is so important about wet earth at harvest time. In a nutshell, the Ks decided on this course of action this year as there has been no rain, and when the soil is dry, you can't pull the beets up from the earth. You have to dig each one from the ground. We tried waiting for rain before starting the work, but alas it got much too late to wait--we risked having to work in the rain, blowing winds, and the cold of the Pre-Carpathian autumn (as you can see from the photos, we are not far from the Carpathian Mountains).
Of course, the work went faster this way--last year we worked almost a week and a half, while this year the work took just three days. The Ks also gathered together a small company of neighbors and family to help out. These folks all owed the K's some help in return for their help to them. The K's have a tractor, and Taras, who is Oksana's brother and who is, like Oksana, my second-cousin, has been helping these others haul their beets to the burjakpunkt (the Beet Point), where you go to drop off and weigh your load of beets. In return you get a certain number of sacks of processed sugar, while the factory also takes a cut of the sugar for its work in processing the beets into sugar. All the sugar in Ukraine comes from sugar beets. Sugar beet is the main cash crop in the subsistence farming regiment of most of rural Western Ukraine. Lesja K, Oksana's and Taras's mother, will go to the weekly bazaar through the winter to sell sugar as the need for money arises. She is pictured below, as are Taras and Oksana again, and most significantly, as is their beloved Vladimirets Tractor. (Which makes me think of the book A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, which is a decent read; you can go to Neeka's site for her review of the book.)
Lesja has not held a job since the early 90s. She used to work in a preservatives factory in Soviet and early Post-Soviet times, but the managers ran the business into the ground while enriching themselves wildly. When the business closed, they sold the equipment. 100 or so people were out of work. This also happened at a woodworking plant in Pidhajtsi that produced sheets of wood out of the forests surrounding this area. From the environmentalist's perspective, it is probably a good thing that the plant shut down. However, the shut-down occured in such manner that again some managers got rich by mismanaging their business and selling off the equipment (which citizens of the Ukrainian SSR paid for, mind you), and ultimately by destroying the livelihood of another 100 or so people. I have other family who worked in that plant.
Oksana and Taras now have jobs, but for years no one in their family, not even their father Hryts, had a job. I will be posting a piece I have been working on about Hryts later. Their family's main source of income came from money sent from my grandmother in Minneapolis (their grandmother is my baba's sister), these beets, Baba Sybul'ska's pension, and the money that Hrtys made while working in Germany some years ago.
Things are a bit better for them now, as Hryts has now become a high-ranking official in the county administration. This was in part a reward for all the hard work and effort he put into the Yushchenko campaign and in organizing the OR, but his appointment also was made possible due to his local reputation as one incorruptible man. Someone in Ukraine's overwhelmingly paternalistic, connection-based kleptocracy made it into government based on principles of a meritocracy! That is, he got his post based on his merit, and not on his connections! Perhaps this a small sign that the OR has succeed a little; however, it is true that kleptocrats and nepotism still run amok in rural Ukraine, and this is why Yushchenko's cooperation with a plan to grant immunity to local officials is absurd, is indeed a betrayal of OR goals, and is why so many people in the countryside are PISSED off and disappointed.
More on Hryts and all of this some other time. . .
One of the neighbors "obligated" to help out. It is not as bad as it sounds. People rather willingly help each other. Without this kind of exchange, labor for labor, the people of rural western Ukraine would not survive. There is a self-organizing specialization that happens here: this one guy knows how to fix clocks, this guy locks; that guy has a tractor, but that guy who used to have a tractor has certain combine attachments, etc.
The fellow pictured above lives in the house that is brightly illuminated in the first photo above, across the street from Baba Sybul'ska. I forgot his name, but he remembers my grandparents and recalls in vivid detail the day that they left Ukraine in 1944. By-the-way, my paternal grandparents (my mother's side is also from Ukraine) left their village on June 26, 1944. My first ever day in Ukraine and in Pidhajtsi was June 26, 2004. That I should arrive sixty years to the day that my paternal grandparents left was not a consciously planned event, as I discovered the relevant date only a few weeks before I returned to the states last February. The fellow who gave me this info was Ivan Kolodnyts'kyj, Taras and Oksana's grandfather, and husband to my baba's sister. I had asked him if he remembered the day that my grandparents left, and he said that he remembers it vividly, as he was quite fond of my grandfather. Ivan himself did not know what day I had arrived in Pidhajtsi, and after I told the date, his mouth opened in wonderment and his eyes welled with tears. Ivan is a passionate and gentle kind of man, and this is quite refreshing, given the stuffy air of machismo that far too many of the village youth try to put on and that makes me feel like I am beginning to suffocate after I have been in the village world for long enough.
Dealing with the stupid machismo is much, much worse for me than dealing with the sense of isolation one can get while in the village; or perhaps the machismo is the main source of the feeling of isolation I get when in the village world for long enough. Because of this, I generally prefer the company of women and of a few gentle fellows I know when there, and of Dido Ivan. However, I do like to go out for drinks once in a while, and the unmacho, but still real guys that I know are not drinkers (you know, if you ain't macho, you must be holobyj or some weirdo, or wait, the word that the kruti-macho guys like is a pedarast. . .). I don't much enjoy going out drinking with the macho men (the kruti) because, of course, drinking for them is a ritual of displaying extreme machismo by extreme drinking. I need to find some unmacho, but still cool, drinking buddies in Pidhajtsi. So far, such buddies have all been much older men. Anyway, I could perhaps someday write some pieces called "Tales of the Kruti". . .but nah, for they will just be scathing rants!
The above fellow's wife. Check out the hilliness of the terrain.
Taras, Oksana, and Lesja K tossing beets into the trailor of the Vladimirets. That's not a jug of moonshine (samohonka), but of water. The moonshine will appear in a photo below.
At the end of the work, we sat for a bite to eat, and to drink and be jovial. This is the moment that makes all the work SOOOO valuable, the sitting, resting, chatting, eating, and singing in the fields. This, in so many ways, is what life in rural Ukraine is really all about. Below is a photo of the third, or fourth, or wait, was it the fifth, toast? Well, if it was the fifth, that means there was a sixth, for God loves all things in threes.
The Vladimirets parked safely back on Sunny Street (vulytsja sonjachna) in front of the K's home in Pidhajtsi, in front of another few tractors, at the end of the day after the stop at burjakpunkt.
A few moments later, Oksana and I were all cleaned up and quickly headed to the local Cultural Center (Dim Kultury) for what turned out to be a rather entertaining concert in honor of the day--this was last Friday, Oct. 14, the traditional UPA day in Western Ukraine. They are trying to make it an all Ukrainian holiday, but because of the lingering effects of Soviet ideology, this holiday remains controversial in Ukraine. Check out Neeka's blog (see my links list) for some of her commentary one what took place in Kyiv (communists and others brawled with UPA veterans and celebrants on Independence Square).
As you can see, the rain started to fall just as Taras and I were heading back from the burjakpunkt in the Vladimirets. We are lucky that we got the work done, because it has been very cold and raining ever since then, including here in L'viv from whence I right.
Us'oho najkraschoho (All the Best),
But this is not why I am writing. In the coming weeks I will be posting photos and some pieces about my stay in Pidhajtsi. Pidhajtsi is a really interesting place in the sense that, being in the heart of the Ternopil region, it is in the heart of Halychyna, and is perhaps one of the most representative towns of what "Halychyna" is all about. It seems that every other person here has stories about family member who were active members or supporters of the OUN/UPA. In 1991, the Ternopil region had the highest voter turnout and most votes for independence. When Kuchma facecd off against UCP leader Petro Symenenko in a runoff, Pidhajtsi had (ironically, if you don't what was then at stake) the most votes for Kuchma (who had compaigned on the most pro-Ukrainian platfrom at that point in post-Soviet history). And last year, Pidhajtsi had the highest voter turnout and the most votes for Yushchenko in all of Ukraine in all three rounds of last year's election fiasco. The county of Pidhajtsi is also one of Ukraine's most impoverished with very little industry that is not related to agriculture, and it is an agricultural economy geared almost entirely to regional markets, which is to say, to neither of the more lucrative national nor export markets. It also has among the highest rates of unemployment in Ukraine, and therefore a huge number of people from here are working abroad.
I have often ruminated on the irony that this town and county of Pidhajtsi, in the heart of Halychyna and so typically Galician and thus this most fiercely patriotic of places, would have so many of its people leaving to work abroad. The pop superstar Skrjabyn (who is from Lviv but who openly and unapologetically supported Yanukovych, and who has since the OR excused himself by saying he owed his loyalty to those who helped him become such a pop star) sang a song that was kind of an anthem of sorts for a while in Ukraine; I forget the title, but he was singing to those Ukrainians living and working abroad, telling them that they should plan to return to their homeland and not forget that they are Ukrainians. It is a great song. The majority of those working abroad do hail from Western Ukraine. The fiercest supporters of the OR came from western Ukraine. Hm. Is there irony or contradiction in all this? One does sometimes hear criticism of of Western Ukrainians as pseudo-nationalists or patriots, and relatedly, one hears that they really are not patriotic but materialistic. Hm. But as I have already mentioned, Western Ukraine is much poorer than the other regions of Ukraine, and the infrastructure in Western Ukraine is in much worse condition than in the east in general. The point is, there is no irony or contradiction in any of this at all. And so here's the question: is it, willy-nilly, super nationalism that has always made Western Ukrainians so uppity, or is it the fact that they have long been the most neglected part of Ukraine? Galicia was among the most backwards, isolated, and impoverished parts of Europe in the late nineteenth century. Large numbers of Galicians left for a better life because of this, forming the first wave of Ukrainian (back then, Ruthenian) immigration to North America. The situation has hardly changed. West Ukrainian nationalism is a symptom of deeper concern. These are the folks who have suffered most from the corruption and neglect, and thus who have always fought for and needed a change in the country the most.
I write this because I am a bit tired of disparaging comments about "West Ukrainian nationalism" one encounters here and there, in the blogosphere and elsewhere. . .
Look for photos and some writing in the coming days. . .
Monday, October 10, 2005
I of course appreciate the rebuttal by Kuzio. . .
Sorry, no time to edit in the paragraph breaks (for some reason when I cut and paste to blogger, the paragraph breaks get lost. . .)
One other thing: a recent poll published in the newspaper Express (from Lviv) stated that if the parliamentary elections were held today, Regions of Ukraine (Yanukovych's party) and BJUT (the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc) would basically tie at around 23%, while People's Union Our Ukraine (the party of Yushchenko, Poroshenko, et al) would garner about 8 or 9%. As for the rest of the major players, I forget the stats. . . (Sorry, I got these figures slightly wrong--Regions and BJUT have around 20% while People's Union Our Ukraine has 13%; edit Oct. 11)
Ukraine's Orange Revolution Can Still Succeed
by Anders AslundFinancial Times, 26 September 2005
The writer is director of the Russian and Eurasian programme at theCarnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), Washington, D.C.
Ukraine's parliament last week confirmed Yuriy Yekhanurov as the country'snew prime minister by an overwhelming majority. Mr Yekhanurov replacesYulia Tymoshenko, the colourful heroine of the Orange Revolution.The move closed a chapter in Ukraine's history but the accomplishments of that "revolution" remain palpable. Ukraine has become a real democracy withfree and lively media, and its foreign policy has become western-oriented.For the past eight months, however, Ukraine's economic policy has beennothing short of disastrous. Economic growth has plummeted from an annual12 per cent last year to 2.8 per cent so far this year, driven by a fallin investment.The blame for this startling deterioration must lie with the government'seconomic policies. By agitating for widespread nationalisation and renewedsales of privatised companies, the government undermined property rights.In addition, it raised the tax burden sharply to finance huge increases inwelfare spending and public wages.Very publicly, Ms Tymoshenko interfered in pricing and property disputes,criticising individual businessmen. Chaos and uncertainty prevailed. Thispopulist policy had little in common with the electoral promises of ViktorYushchenko, the president, about liberal market reforms.Therefore, it was a great relief for the business community and economiststo see the revolutionary firebrands leave the government.Simultaneously, Mr Yushchenko dismissed several big businessmen fromofficial posts who were accused of having confused high government officewith their private business.It was a welcome sign that the newly born Ukrainian democracy was strongenough to be able to oust them after only seven months. Ukraine could nolonger afford their extravagant public quarrels.Today, Ukraine needs a competent government that can pursue a sensibleeconomic policy. For this task, Mr Yekhanurov appears almost ideal.He is one of Ukraine's most experienced economic politicians, having carriedout an earlier programme of mass privatisation and served as then primeminister Yushchenko's first deputy from 1999 to 2001.He has a clean reputation and few enemies and is known as an effectiveadministrator. He keeps a low public profile but that is exactly whatpost-revolutionary Ukraine needs. Mr Yushchenko appears to have kept thisloyal man in reserve.The composition of the new government will be announced any day now butits contours are already clear. About one-third of the incumbents will stay;one-third of the ministers will be able and untainted technocrats from theprevious Kuchma regime; and one- third will be newcomer professionals. Asthis government is supported by nine of the parliament's 14 party factions,it has a sound majority.Thus there are hopes the new government will be quite productive, althoughit will serve for only half a year until parliamentary elections next March.Its first task will be to stop the destabilising re-privatisation campaign,which is likely to lead to only one or two re-privatisations, and declare abig amnesty for other privatisations.A long-promised major deregulation, eliminating thousands of harmful legalacts, will finally be promulgated. The last laws needed for Ukraine'saccession to the World Trade Organisation can now be swiftly adopted. Thebudget for next year, which contains some tax cuts, needs to be enacted.The crucial political battle, however, is the elections next March. Theconfirmation vote for Mr Yekhanurov suggests a new dividing line inUkrainian politics. Most of the rightwing and centrist party factionssupported Mr Yekhanurov, while Ms Tymoshenko's bloc, the communists,and two oligarchic parties opposed him.From now on, the big antagonists in Ukrainian politics are likely to be MrYushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko. Their individual popularity remains roughlyequal. A consolidation around these two figures is possible, especially asthe next elections will be proportional.Ideally, a US-type Republican party could be formed around Mr Yushchenkoand a more leftwing, populist Democratic party around Ms Tymoshenko, butit is also possible that the old fragmentation will persist.Each side has "orange revolutionaries" as well as oligarchs from the Kuchmaperiod. The big question is whether Ms Tymoshenko's revolutionary fire hasburnt out or whether Mr Yushchenko's bold attempt at post-revolutionary
stabilisation is premature.
The Rift that Wrecked Ukraine's Revolution
Letter to the EditorFinancial Times, 29 September 2005
From Prof. Taras Kuzio.
Sir, Ukraine's Orange Revolution, like all revolutions, has a growing a number of myths surrounding it. One, according to Anders Aslund ("Ukraine's Orange Revolution can still end in success", September 26), was that Viktor Yushchenko's election programme supported "liberal market reforms". Yet any careful reading of his election programme shows it was highly populist in the economic and social domains.Mr Yushchenko's election programme became in essence that of the Yulia Tymoshenko government. Mr Yushchenko supported the inclusion of Socialists in the Tymoshenko government, including the head of the State Property Fund.Mr Yushchenko said Ms Tymoshenko led a "young, enthusiastic and self-confident government [that] has demonstrated both macroeconomic culture and increase in social standards".Throughout this year the president has only intervened after crises reached boiling point. Whereas his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, was a micro-manager, Mr Yushchenko has a distant, hands-off style. His lack of direction was made worse by his attempt at balancing Ms Tymoshenko with his business ally, Petro Poroshenko, as secretary of the National Security Council, in effect creating two competing governments.While concurring with Mr Aslund that some of the Tymoshenko government policies were damaging for Ukraine's economy, we should lay the blame fairly on both Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko.
Taras Kuzio,Visiting Professor,George Washington University,Washington, DC 20052, US
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Still no beet-harvesting with my family in Pidhajtsi. But I have done a ton of filming and inteviewing. Based on my observations from L'viv, some locales in the Carpathians, Pidhajtsi in the Galician heartlands, Ternopil, Kyiv, Odessa, and Poltava, it seems the following is the case with all of those who supported the OR:
By and large, average people are either now completely against all of them (Yushchenko, Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, et al) and still have no idea who to vote for next Spring, or if they are still for someone, they are overwhelmingly pro-Tymoshenko. .
I guess this is an obvious observation. But even among those who have been critical of them all, people seem to hold the least against Tymoshenko; whether this will be for better or worse, we will have to see.
I will be in Kharkiv and elsewhere in the east in a week or two to see what is up there.
Now on to the US:
I just read that Bush is giving his first press conference since May. Does this mean that he didn't once speak directly to the nation of which he is the nominal leader during the immediate days of the hurricane crisis? What, he can't defend himself to the people? I am tired of this aloof and executive-power drunk administration and the damned congress that tolerates it. Can the congress altogether say, "Bah! Bah! Bah!" Bush is not the God-appointed good Shepherd he took himself to be after 911 (don't forget he proclaimed that he felt he was meant to be president in this supposedly new time of terror). He's given the least press conferences of any president for a long time, while at the same time his administration and his justice-department wonks are doing everything they can to eliminate or limit transparency in government and business based on the excuse of terrorism. He's becoming ever more aloof and out of touch, while at the same time demanding the upmost respect for the post of presidency. Amreicans are being slowly convinced to accept a kind of king again. This is hyperbole, of course, but the point is: The US system under the Bush administration and under the Patriot Acts and under a president who looks as ridiculous and aloof as Kuchma used to at his press conferences has become far too tipped toward executive power.
I hope no heir to Bush is elected--or steals the election--next time around and that the Patriot Acts will be in every way revoked.