Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Excellent Commentary: Lessons of Germany's Grand Coalition for Ukrainian Process

If you get it, the most recent e-poshta (for May 31, 2006; you can join by writing to

this week has an excellent commentary on the lessons that the recent Grand Coalition building process in Germany has for Ukraine. Many commentators, including from Our Ukraine and Yushchenko, have been making this comparison.

The major points of the commentary were thus (which are points I and others have been making in the Ukrainain blogosphere, in our various ways):

On the German model, Our Ukraine must accept that they lost the right to name the PM within a reform-oriented, pro-democracy coalition and must accept Tymoshenko's demand for the PM post. Merkel demanded the SPD's acceptance of her as PM before beginning talks on a guiding government program/policy, and the SPD, which like Our Ukraine was stunned by its defeat, initially resisted but eventually gave in. Our Ukraine should accept Tymoshenko's premiership, THEN talk about a specific program.

Second, Tymoshenko and her cadre then must proceed to divide posts reflecting relative states of electoral preference, agree to respect the president and his party, and work hard to compromise on a specific program and, once that program is in place, they MUST stick to it.

Now the following is my point, though it was hinted at in the piece: Though I share some doubt over whether Tymoshenko is a principled politician and populist or people's politician--i.e., whether she is not just an overly ambitious and glamorous loudmouth and de facto crony capitalist--she must be given a chance to demonstrate her sincerity once again. She will, as I have said in many other places, have to check her ambition and her stubbornness and will have to give-in on a variety of matters. And there are those who would argue that she has indeed attempted to strike a much more conciliatory tone toward Ukraine's free-market liberals and even, to some extent, the oligarchs.

The final issue hinted at in the piece: what was not done in the German case and what can not be repeated in the Ukrainian one is creation of a government with more than one center of power. I still blame Yushchenko squarely for the failure of his first government because of this, and his pal Poroshenko next.

I could not cut and paste the e-poshta article, as I am writing from an internet club in Vienna and the computer here, for some reason, is not letting me cut and paste.

My cousin, born and raised in Germany and grandson of Lev Rebet, the social-democratic oriented ideologue of the OUN, is getting married here in a famous Uniate Cathedral that is symbolic, for Ukrainian Uniates, of Maria Theresa's patronage of things Ruthenian.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Video: The Mill and the Peasants

Watch the video

This is more footage from the town of Pidhajtsi in Western Ukraine, shot in August, 2005.

If a peasantry is a population bound to and dependent for survival upon the land through various means that grossly benefit local or not-so-local lords while keeping the individual farmer more or less locked in his/her place--such as via outright serfdom or through credit arrangements and dependency on local "lords" to pay out some cash—then the cash-crop and subsistence farmers of Western Ukraine qualify as a contemporary, postmodern peasantry of the latter sort.
In the previous two posts I have briefly discussed the plight of the people/farmers of the Western Ukrainian countryside. Here I continue: This is footage of men loading sacks of processed wheat flour into their wagons and tractors (see previous post for a comment about the persistence of wagons in the Ukrainian countryside).

There are three main cash-crops that people sell in Pidhajtsi and throughout the Western Ukrainian countryside; in order of economic relevance (i.e., in order of what is most lucrative for the peasant household), they are: sugar beet, wheat, and cow's milk. Each of these crops are harvested by the peasant household and brought elsewhere to be processed. Cow’s milk and wheat are brought to local processing plants where they are made, in the case of milk, into cheese, creams, pasteurized milk, etc., and into processed flour in case of the wheat. Sugar beets are brought to a burjakpunkt or drop-off point from whence they are hauled elsewhere to be processed into sugar. All of the sugar in Ukraine comes from sugar beets.

Each family has roughly 1.5 hectare of land in the fields. Nearly all of the work is done by hand using rudimentary, though time-honored, implements and little or no modern machinary. In addition to the aforementioned cash-crops (there are sometimes others, but those are the main ones) a typical household raises foodstuffs for home consumption: red beets, yellow beets (for feed), corn (for feed), potatoes and a variety of other vegetables and herbs. There is a common plumb-and-apple orchard and most homesteads have apple trees, while some have plumb and cherry trees and berry bushes. Plumbs, though certainly good for eating and commonly used in pastries, is also necessary for making the local samohonka or moonshine, which usually is not a vodka or horylka (the Ukrainian word for vodka), but a plumb-brandy called, in this part of Ukraine, slivjanka. (Note: plumb-brandy is called slivovitsa by other peoples of Eastern Europe, and sometimes rakija in the Balkans; to Hungarians, it is palinka). It is also important to note that just about every household has either one cow or a goat for milk from which creams and cheeses are made, and plenty of fowl (as shown in a previous post).

Just a few American families employing American agribusiness technology could farm the land around Pidhajtsi; instead, the land supports about 7-8,000 people, if you include the nearby villages as "suburbs” of Pidhajtsi (Ukrainians live clustered into towns and villages with the fields surrounding the settlements). Many analysts complain that Ukraine’s agricultural potential is massively underdeveloped.

When farmers take their foodstuffs to be processed, they are repaid by the factories not in cash but in barter: they receive a cut of the final processed goods made from their beets/wheat/milk. A portion of the processed goods go for home consumption; the rest is sold whenever the need for cash arises at a local, weekly market (every Thursday in Pidhajtsi). In this footage, the men are loading their share of the processed flour made from their wheat.

Sugar beets yield sacks of sugar, and milk yields pasteurized milk or other processed dairy products. With the wheat, people will bake their own bread at home and will use the sugar that was the fruit of their own labor. The processed, pasteurized dairy products often go to market, as most villagers use milk straight from the cow in their own diets.

I was universally told by people in Pidhajtsi that it is not worth it for anyone to bring milk to the dairy factory unless one has at least three or more cows. Thus, in the afternoon you can see Babas carrying bucket after bucket to and from home and factory a number of times.

Whether it is the dairy, beet, or wheat factory, everyone will tell you that the exchange rate is unfair and to the advantage of the processors.

Who owns and runs these factories?

I tried to get an answer to this question in the following ways:

1) I tried to get some interviews and to film inside some of the factories, but neither the mill nor the dairy plant was willing to oblige. At the dairy factory, I was told by the plant’s manager that the owner was not present, that he does not live in Pidhajtsi and that he is probably at another one of his plants. The manager also said that she already knew the owner would not be willing to be interviewed, and when I asked if I could interview her, she said she had no right to speak about the company and told the security guards present to escort me and my second-cousin off the factory grounds. And oh, one of the guards had already made sure that my videocamera was turned off.

It was more of the same at the mill; thus the footage here is shot not just across the street from the plant but from across the street and down the road a bit, as security had told me to move on.

At the burjakpunkt or beet pick-up site, I was allowed to film, though the people rather nervously allowed me to do so. I was hollered at anytime I turned my camera on any worker. The most violent response to my camera came from the man in the room where the local peasants came to collect their sacks of processed sugar. Some of that footage will appear later.

2) I tried to get some answers from local officials, but most of them were reticent, even after the Orange Revolution, to answer my questions about who owns what and how they came to own it.

However, I do know the following from the tales of locals: The mill and the dairy factory both were part of a Soviet-era conservatives factory that produced a range of foodstuffs (bread, pastries, jams, jarred salads, pickles, dairy products, etc.). It collapsed in the early 1990s, and most people say that the managers of the factory ran their business into the ground and sold off factory equipment for their own, short-term gain (others defend them saying that they could not adjust to market conditions so quickly after the end of the command economy). The mill and dairy factory were reopened years later as private businesses, but on much smaller scales.

Corruption and and lack of transparency in the agricultural sector and especially in the Ukrainian countryside are truly large-scale problems. Many in Pidhajtsi have come to feel that Yushchenko has neither the intention nor the will to truly take on rural problems, and sometimes complain that like all previous administrations, his is focused all-too-exclusively on industry (which also means on Eastern Ukraine). One major sign to many locals that Yushchenko is not concerned with their plight in the countryside was his memorandum with Yanukovych in which Yushchenko agreed to extend parlaimentary immunity from prosecution to local government officials. Another symptom of this lack of will for many is his close relationship with Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s so-called Chocolate King. Poroshenko owns a large chocolates-and-sweets factory in addition to other businesses, and is definitely a New Eastern European worth an estimated $350 million, according to Warsaw-based Gazeta Wyborcza. He is widely perceived by many as profiting from the unfair barter practices in the countryside—a cheap supply of sugar for his factory contributing to is considerable wealth.

However, Ukrainians at the local level do have this problem: they barely self-organize to take on the power of rural agricultural corporations and officials. Western Ukraine is not Latin America and certainly not Chiapas, where there are local movements developing at the most grassroots of levels to take on or refuse the power of middlemen (coyotes) and corrupt politicians in the agricultural sector. Though the Orange Revolution showed an unprecedented level of civic activism and self-organization in Ukraine, and though such activism remains higher than it was in pre-OR times, people in general seem to have once again put all of their hope in the state and in politicians to make a difference. This is too bad. One recent speaker ruminated on whether Ukrainians have truly broken from what he called the following, centuries-old and unhappy tradition in Ukraine: apathy and disillusionment with political and civil-society processes creating a cycle of inaction only occasionally interupted by periods of revolutionary upheaval. He was not sure that Ukrainians are now solidly discovering the middlepath in which everyday actions by an active citizenry truly makes a difference, though many have proclaimed such is the result of the Orange Revolution.

This is what makes the apparent disappearance of the NGOs of the election campaign and Orange Revolution period so sad, and why it was so lamentable that the main (largest and best organized) activist group Pora! was more or less hijacked by those who wanted to make of it a political party. What Ukraine badly needs today is not more political parties but ongoing grassroots organizing efforts; and what Ukrainians should take as a contemporary model are the collectivist, self-organizing efforts of people on the ground in various parts of Latin America--or examples from their own history. A Zapatista, or even better yet, a Makhnovist (but without the guns) or OUN inspired model for regional self-organization could work well in agricultural Western Ukraine. This time, the fight would not be with foreign invaders but with locals, and the goal an effort to ensure a better rate of exchange. A Ukrainian Cesar Chavez?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Officially-Unofficial Talks Soon to End and Officially-Official Talks Soon to Begin

The officially-unofficial talks on a parliamentary coalition will officially end with the start of the next parliament, after which officially-official talks will begin with a presumably unofficially-official clean slate; or that is so according to this blurb from RFE newsline:


Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said in an interview with the May 24 issue of the Kyiv-based daily "Ekonomicheskie izvestia" that an "official negotiation process" regarding the creation of a new ruling coalition will begin only after the inauguration of the newly elected Verkhovna Rada. "For the time being, it's just a warming-up, a preparatory work -- there is an exchange of opinions [and] ascertaining of positions of the sides under way," Yekhanurov added. The Ukrainian parliament elected on March 26 gathers for its inaugural session on May 25. President Viktor Yushchenko is expected to attend the session and make a speech. Under the amended Ukrainian Constitution that took effect on January 1, 2006, the president has the right to dissolve parliament if it fails to form a majority within 30 days after its first sitting or to form a new cabinet within 60 days after the dismissal or resignation of the previous one. JM

Monday, May 22, 2006

Video: Fall Harvest in Western Ukraine I

Watch the video

This is footage taken in late September, 2005 in the town of Pidhajtsi (pop approx. 4,000) in the state of Ternopil in western Ukraine.

These people are gathering the remaining corn stalks in their fields after having had completed the fall harvest. They will use the stalks as windbreaks, i.e., as protection against the strong, bitterly cold winds of the Pre-Carpathian winters (Pidhajtsi is in the foothills that climb up to the Carpathians of southwestern Ukraine). They will place the stalks either directly alongside the outside face of the walls of their home, or will line the fences around their home with them.

Note that they are using a horse and wagon; for the most part, those who use a horse and wagon for fieldwork and hauling can not afford a small tractor, though there are those who still prefer the old way to the modern. The modern and premodern live side-by-side much more in Ukraine than in the West, which means that the line between culture and nature, city and countryside is nowhere near as distinct in Ukraine as it is in the West.

Others who choose not to use the stalks for wind-breaks merely burn the stalks in the fields. Throughout the harvest season, the hillsides are dotted with small fires burning--quite a sight at night.

Heating and insulation are a major issue in Ukraine today; the traditonal, mud-and-clay walled homes of the East Slavs were much better insulated than the more modern homes built in the region since the turn of the 20th century or just before. Ukrainians have among the highest per capita consumption of natural gas in the world. Their winters are bitterly cold, but their more moderny homes are very poorly insulated. The Soviet government found it easier to build cheap homes and to burn lots of energy to heat them; this is the legacy still badly effecting all of Ukraine today.

Notice the little girl in the footage. She was fabulous!

For more info about the people of Western Ukraine, especially vis-a-vis poverty, subsistence farming, low wages and unemployment, see comments to last post.

Video: A Baba Feeds the Fowl in Western Ukraine

I now have a vlog (video blog) site through which I can cross-post footage to this, my Ukraineblog. This is the first entry on that site; the text and foto below appear here according to vlogger's cross-posting format that uses a still-foto I selected from and text I wrote about the footage.

Many more entries are soon to come to that site, which you can go to
here; here on DYKUN, I will cross-post only Ukraine-related stuff. Enjoy.

Watch the video
This is footage that was shot in the town of Pidhajtsi (pop approx. 4,000), state of Ternopil, in western Ukraine in September, 2005. The people of the small towns and villages in this region--the Pidhajetskyj rajon (county of Pidhajtsi), which is among the poorest regions in Ukraine--survive as subsistence farmers with some degree of waged labor. The official unemployment figure for the county, according to pre-Orange Revolution stats, is 10-15%; a number of county officials told me that the actual figure is between 35-45%. Average wages/pensions are about $60/month. Nearly every household in the town of Pidhajtsi (Ukrainian counties are named for their seat of government) has three generations present whose members usually survive $2/day or less ($2/day being the true poverty line for people of the northern hemisphere, due to heating cost). The people of this region in general can not survive without raising and growing their own food. The scene in this clip: Nearly every household keeps chickens, geese, and ducks, while some also have turkeys. Baba Feeds the Fowl.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tired of Our Ukraine Shenanigans

Why is this putz still in a position to make any such
comments at all? From RFE newsline:

ORANGE-REVOLUTION ALLIES. Roman Zvarych of Our Ukraine
journalists in Kyiv on May 16 that his bloc has
suspended talks on
the creation of a ruling coalition
with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc
and the Socialist Party,
Ukrainian media reported. Zvarych explained
that the
move was taken in response to Yuliya Tymoshenko's
public statements that her bloc will get the
post of prime minister
and the Socialists that of
parliamentary speaker. He stressed that
Our Ukraine
will not accept an "ultimatum." Zvarych also said
Our Ukraine wants the three 2004 Orange
Revolution allies to request
that President Viktor
Yushchenko hold a meeting with them. "[We want
request that] the president receive leaders of these
forces in order to find a joint way out of
this situation," Zvarych
added. Yushchenko is Our
Ukraine's founder and honorary chairman.
Oleksandr Turchynov of the Tymoshenko Bloc told

journalists on May 17 that the talks between the
three forces were to
be restarted later the same day,
UNIAN reported. JM

Translation: Our Ukraine is still dragging its feet, pissing people
off, and this time engaging in some BS about gentlemanliness:
"We want to talk to you, but only if you are nice."

And only if you don't make demands that reflect how
Orange voters

Kuzio got it right here (Kyiv Post editorial).

[Update: I forgot that the Post has started making its older op-eds
available only for money, true to their mission of making Ukraine
over in the image of Western-capitalist paradiso. In short, Kuzio said that
the West should change its image of Tymoshenko, as she appears as
the only political leader left in Ukraine--beside Moroz?--serious
about taking on corruption.

Though I am not 100% confident of her sincerity, I want t
to see have another go at it: see what I wrote here.]

And Bob has been right all along about

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I've Reappeared In. . .

Riga Train Station

(More on the way. . .)

Skandinieki-Mother of Latvian Folk Choirs
(Zinta, Julija's mama, is the one on the far left)

At the WWII Memorial a couple of days ago

VE Day in Latvia is celebrated primarily by ethnic Russians. Most Latvians look at May 9 as commemorating those inglorious days in which one dictator was defeated and another took over, bringing more mass deportations, executions/purges, and an attempt at cultural genocide. They are not being bad sports for not celebrating this day as Western Europeans and many Russians do, or as folks nostalgic for the Soviet past do; those who think so minimize their suffering and the importance of their collective memory/experience of the history of the WWII period.

To my mind, it is important to commemorate Hitler's end; but in those countries where it matters, the day should indded also be a commemoration of what happened in the wake of that defeat--another devastating defeat.

Daughter Julija

Julija's First Teeth