Friday, December 14, 2007

What Should've Happened in 2005, Among the Gizzillions of Other Missed Opportunities

From RFE/RL newsline:
The December 11 "events in the Verkhovna Rada revealed the obvious lack of viability of a [BYUT/NUNS] coalition of 227 lawmakers," Yanukovych said. "Society should receive an answer to the question of whether a coalition of 227 is capable of taking responsibility for the country," he continued. "Either they take responsibility and realize their promises to voters...or they must admit that a coalition of 227 cannot work," he added.
Yanukovych shouldn't even be in politics in Ukraine anymore; he should have been permanently lustrated from politics by presidential decree on Jan. 24, 2005, the day after Yushchenko's inauguration.

Bandits will go to jail? It was all election-campaign BULLSHIT!

PS--For those concerned about so-called "democracy" in Ukraine--i.e., who would have considered such a decree to be grossly undemocratic--such a matter could have been brought up for consideration in the courts. That is, its legality could have been debated in court. Oh, but wait--the high courts needed to be screened and lustrated, too. Hmm. The revolutionary judgment of the multitude of Ukrainians (who stood in the streets and demanded not just a new election but a process of lustration/social justice) could have provided the legitimacy for the move. The majority of Ukrainians agreed at the time: Bandits should go to jail (i.e., be made accountable in some way).

Instead, the most corrupt players in Ukrainian politics (and top-level organizers of the fraud) either were allowed to escape prosecution and/or still sit in parliament; and many are reinstated in their former positions of power, in and out of parliament. There was a political will that was utterly squandered. In his constant hammering of this point, I really do appreciate Taras Kuzio's writing. And I noticed just before adding this post-script that he has written a similarly-minded piece here.

Such a process of lustration (social justice) would have gone far in consolidating the grassroots unity that emerged in the course of the OR. Ukraine, I do believe, would have become a much more united country than it has become, or remained, had the Yushchenko government moved forward in any of its election-campaign promises to be tough on "bandits." It also would have potentially led to a much stronger pro-democracy/anti-corruption camp in the parliament. That potential was also squandered. The yearly anniversary of the OR is becoming for me in part a pokhoron for what was squandered.

It is to my mind ridiculous that Yanukovych is in a place of power and is able to pull such shenanigans at the very time of the third annivesary of the OR! This for me is the ultimate symbol of the utter failure that is Yushchenko!!

No perfect society or political system would have come of a post-OR period of lustration/social justice, but would it not have been a far more superior start down the road of a so-called democracy than what one witnesses in Ukraine now?

But of course what the last few years since the OR have demonstrated is that Ukraine lacks the necessary number of politicians of high enough caliber in the highest offices of power to have pulled any of this off. The OR was a farcical tragedy (to reverse the Marxo-Hegelian observation I once made; for it was a farce from the start) organized on the highest levels, mostly by opportunists who connived to manipulate people's power, all with huge levels of foreign assistance. The tragedy of the OR of course is that so many people--myself included!-- were led to believe that something beyond an elite-power play was intended by those they championed into power.

But one will say: but the Ukrainian people discovered their power and rediscovered that their voice counts (i.e., for the liberal detractors of what I have written, this means that it is their vote that mostly counts as political power)! Oh really? In the era of virtual politics and manufactured (i.e., purchased and/or coerced) consensus, what a triumph!

The best way for that supposedly rediscovered, politically and socially constituent power by the Ukrainian multitude to be tested is not solely nor primarily at the polls but in the ability of people to organize locally. It is back to the grassroots again in Ukraine! That is, in the villages/countryside, how about people getting organized to fight for better prices at local beet and dairy and wheat processing plants? What about organizing among miners for better working conditions? What about working to channel all that rage into something productive and sustainable? What about trying to rebuild an umbrella organization for grassroots organizing for real change, devoid of the delusions of the OR period of activism (admittedly, this is a notion that needs to be spelled out more fully--PORA was great on activist method, but too vague when it came to an ideology of what should replace Kuchmism; and I found that PORA! activists, taken as a group, promoted very contradictory notions: many spoke of social justice and social programs on the one hand and of radical development of a free market/neoliberalization on the other, all in one radical and contradictory swoop. . .)? Etc.

Foreign interventionists could help fund such efforts, instead of focusing solely on election campaigns and instruction in the techniques of manipulating people's power (with the purpose of orchestrating a "soft-power coup" in order to usher in a pro-Western, but still elitist and decidedly non-populist, government)!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reminder: Former UPA still without Veteran Status

From RFE/RL newsline:

LAST COMMANDER OF UKRAINIAN INSURGENT ARMY DIES. Vasyl Kuk died on September 9 at the age of 94, Ukrainian media reported. Kuk was the last commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in 1950-54. The UPA was a combat force created by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in western Ukraine during World War II to pursue the ideal of an independent Ukraine. It fought Soviet and Polish troops after the end of World War II. "He was struggling for Ukraine until his last breath and was a personification of Ukraine.... Ukraine's faithful son, Vasyl Kuk, will forever stay in our memory as a paragon of loyalty to the people and selfless service to our state," President Viktor Yushchenko reportedly said in a letter to Kuk's family and friends. Despite repeated attempts by UPA combatants, they have not been granted the status of war veterans that would make them equal with veterans of Soviet-led military formations. JM

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Victory against Ukrainian Chauvinism: Rusyns of Transcarpathia get Minority Recognition At Last!

though ukrainain politics in general is beyond the realm of the asburdly ridiculous, the article below (from arel's ukraine list) is about a very positive event; but first, a few comments of my own:

i have long been very interested in the rusyn question, for a variety of reasons, but most importantly: it is important for ukrainians to think twice about insisting on the national identity of another community (against the will of the majority of its members), lest ukrainians themselves would like to cede the right to define ukrainianness to others that are outside the community as well.

if you are ukrainian and think that you can insist on the ukrainian identity of the rusysns against the will of the majority of the rusyns, then you must be intellectually honest and admit that russian chauvinists have just as much right to insit on your little russianness.

AND given that lemkos traditionally have thought of themselves as rusyns (never as ukrainians) as well, ukrainians (and poles) should be careful when they label those deported and resettled in the akcija wisla as "ukrainians" (or "poles"). . .

(and btw, none of my heritage is rusyn--neither lemko, bojko, nor dolynjany. it is just that i can't stand nationalism-driven hypocrisy, ignorance, and chauvinism. . .)

this is a major victory for the rusyn movement indeed, one they should enjoy.

and. . .it feels good to blog again. . .

Rusyns Recognized as Indigenous Nationality of the Transcarpathian Oblast of Ukraine
Decision is a Milestone in Decades-Long Struggle of National Minority Group
Washington, D.C., May 31, 2007
[From the Minelres List, 5 June 2007]

A landmark decision of Ukraine's Transcarpathian Oblast Council on March 7, 2007, officially recognized the Rusyn people as an indigenous nationality of the region. The council members, representing the oblast's 1.2 million citizens, voted overwhelmingly to respond to the long-standing requests of local cultural and political organizations to acknowledge the existence of a distinct Rusyn nationality in the Transcarpathian (Zakarpatska) oblast. The 90-member council voted as follows: 71 for; 2 against; with 2 abstentions.

The decision to recognize Rusyns as distinct from Ukrainians means that the oblast must now provide funding for the needs of the Rusyn community in areas of language, culture, and education alongside funding for other nationalities in the region, such as Hungarians, Romanians, Slovaks, Roma, and Germans. The Transcarpathian Oblast of Ukraine, which borders Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, is home to over 100 nationalities and peoples.

Rusyns are an East Slavic people living primarily in the Carpathian Mountain region of Slovakia, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine. Sizeable Rusyn communities also exist in Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Canada, and the United States. Rusyns are officially recognized in all of those countries except for Ukraine.

The territory of Transcarpathia (historic Subcarpathian Rus') was a semi-autonomous province of Czechoslovakia until after World War II, when Stalin annexed the territory and outlawed the idea of a distinct Rusyn nationality. Rusyns were declared to be Ukrainians, a condition that has continued in independent Ukraine to the present. In spite of the fact that the 2001 Ukrainian census did not include Rusyn as a national category, 10,100 individuals identified themselves as Rusyn rather than Ukrainian. Today Rusyns comprise approximately 65% of the population of Transcarpathia, that is, 800,000-850,000 people.

Paul R. Magocsi, Chairman of the Slovakia-based World Council of Rusyns, remarked, "The decision of the Transcarpathian Oblast Council is a reflection of the success of the Rusyn movement and all those who have worked on behalf of the Rusyn nationality both inside and outside Ukraine." Magocsi's enthusiastic reaction was echoed by Rusyn organizations in other countries of central Europe.

Valeriy Padiak, president of the Uzhhorod branch of the Aleksander Dukhnovych Society, a cultural organization of Rusyns, immediately praised the decision as a significant positive step forward. Rusyn organizations in Transcarpathia will now look for government support of Rusyn "Sunday schools," the establishment of a department of Rusyn language and culture at Uzhhorod National University, support for publications, conferences and celebrations of Rusyn traditional culture, Rusyn programs on television and radio, and the introduction of Rusyn language and history as elective subjects in public schools.

Local Rusyn leader and deputy to the Transcarpathian Oblast Council Ievhen Zhupan welcomed the recognition, stating that since 1992 the Oblast Council has requested the recognition of Rusyns as a distinct nationality in Ukraine four times, adding, "Unfortunately, today Ukraine is still the only country where Rusyns have no official status." He called attention to the fact that Rusyns and Rusyn organizations supported democratic change in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution. According to Zhupan, "Transcarpathians will continue to build up their region, support their country of Ukraine, love their native land, and live in peace with others, regardless of their ethnic background."

The Oblast Council has said that it will refer the matter of nationwide recognition of Rusyns in Ukraine to Ukraine's national parliament (Verkhovna Rada), requesting that the parliament take the final step in the matter and legally recognize the existence of the Rusyn people countrywide. Such nationwide recognition would demonstrate Ukraine's commitment to democratic principles and conformity with European norms.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Second Majdan of Viktor Yushchenko?

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

cf. this text

(even still, i favored the disbanding of parliament)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Concert of Authentic Ukrainian and Russian Folk Music in Riga

wedding songs and rituals:

i was surprised to find out that one of the best folklore ensembles from ukraine was coming to riga to do a concert! 

the bozhychi folklore ensemble from kyiv joined up with an excellent russian ensemble here in riga (excellent because they, like bozhychi, are uncomprimisingly dedicated to village-based authenticity) called il'inskaja pjatnytsa.  they performed together a show of russian and ukrainian wedding songs and rituals, with the structure of a ukrainian cossack marrying a russian bride.  in the footage, the people on the left of the stage are bozhychi and on the right are the il'inskaja members--but you can also tell them apart based on what language they sing in!  also, il'inskaja is made up of women, while bochychi has both men and women performers.       

one should be able to follow the mini-drama they presented easily.    presented are typical wedding songs and a re-enactment of negotiations for the marriage, which finally happens in the end. 

this is not a complete chronology of the show--i could only record snippets here and there on my digital photo camera.  i foolishly didn't bring along my DV camera, hence also the quality. 

a note authenticity:  to my mind, authenticity doesn't mean old; it refers to how people sing and dance in villages today as much as what we might imagine how they danced in the world of "back then."  it is a matter of style.  it is the sovietski bullshitski style (adding too much arrangement, too much choreography, too much ballet and too much classical technique, or in sum, too much refinement) v. village-based players (rawness).  to explain it with a reference to rock music, it is the style of a band like journey (disgusting to me!) v. that of velvet underground or the dead kennedys.  back to the ukrainian world, it is the difference between a group like the us-based cheres v. bozhychi.   cheres has reduced what they do to a stage-act, and the way they play is refined way beyond the style of an actual village-based ensemble.  and there are virtuoso players in the villages--but they don't sound like eastern european music academy graduates.  bozhychi are sincere folklorists--though many of them, too, have  quite a bit of training.  again, it is a matter of style.   it is a matter of choice, and i suppose of personal preference. 

as summarized on the il'inskaja site, in a not-so-great english translation from the site: "The word 'authentic' is possibility to distinguish the real tradition from its imitation. It is gigantic work, but it's our life."  one can choose to sing and dance in the village style, or to imitate it with too much flowery rendition, as in the sovietski bullshitski style. 

but if it is a matter of preference, it is crucial that there are those of us who prefer the authentic, lest it forever become confused with bourgeoisified (imitated) versions of authentic style (i.e., tradition).  

tradition is a style.  authenticity is a matter of style.  


Sunday, February 18, 2007

history hasn't ended

here's another response to an anonymous commentor to my last post. the commentator at some point asked why i had not become an anti-left turncoat after the failure of the ussr (which s/he seemed to interpret, as so many others, as the overall failure of leftism) and the arrival of the supposed end of history, and thus why i had not adopted the free-market dogma that is the faith of the contemporary global order and thus become yet another post-1991 fundamentalist:

a lengthy quote from tariq ali's latest:
the post-1989 disillusionment, cynicism, and an embittered view of the past affected every continent without exception. and those who now adopted the victors' view of history came from all social classes and political backgrounds: left social-democrats, eurocommunists, ex-trotskyists, pristine pure sectarians in their prime and now transferring the same vice to serve older causes, maoists once prone to street-violence, marxist theorists, staunch anti-imperialists who in their zeal had defended the ethiopian dergue and the disasterous soviet intervention in afghanistan, former anarchists--representatives of all these people could be found serving virtually every neoliberal government--in europe and north america, south africa and brazil, china and australia and the muslim world--or, where this was not possible, applauding wildly from the sidelines. they still believed in the class struggle, but had changed sides. they had not understood that the historical graph never rises consistently. it is a broken and contradictory line that can fall to zero and then rise again, suddenly and without warning.

politicians and academics, novelists and playwrights, filmmakers and journalists united to celebrate each new triumph of the wc [washington consensus]. nor should it be forgotten that in those heady post-1991 days news of victories came thick and fast. the more recent the convert, the stronger the ardour with which the new world order was defended. there was an intense longing to break decisively with the past and to demonstrate this as publicly as possible in self-righteous tones, without a blush of shame. what better way but to denounce the opponents of 'humanitarian wars' (the colonial whip that is one of the more savage and hypocritical heirlooms from previous centuries) as reactionary enemies of civilization and all anti-capitalist alternatives as paving the way to totalitarianism? having convinced themselves that no other roads were possible or desirable, they remodelled their lives and work to meet the requirements of the new order. a few even found themselves unable to condemn torture as long as it was being carried out in the interests of humanity and civilization. others discovered that old-fashioned colonialism was not such a bad things after all and defended imperial occupations of sovereign states and the creation of new western protectorates in the balkans or the hindu kush. and all the while they insisteted that they were the true voices of reason. yes, they had joined the ranks of the imperial armies as propagandists; yes, they had supported wars and occupations, but no other choice was on offer. were there other choices, then, when montaigne derided european racism, toussaint led a successful revolt against slavery, mark twain denounced the imperial occupation of the philippines, or marcel proust mocked the bibilical pretensions of zionism?

the left, the antiwar movement, the handful of tough-minded journalists still permitted a voice in the mainstream media, the 'idiots' who attended the festivals of the world social forum, the 'islamo-fascists' all derided the coarse cynicism of the neo-imperialist folk and their role as treacherous turncoats. thus described, rage injected venom into their opportunism. not a few soft-spoken, snivelling journalists and academics were transformed overnight ino warriors for the imperialist cause, desperate to please their new master and, as a result, often more boorish and belligerent than those they served. a similar constellation of characters had emerged after epochal defeats in previous centuries. . .in many cases, these by no means unintelligent people expended much of their energy in the primitive and petty task of self-justification, which meant that their most recent productions displayed no signs of intellectual hunger. in the new milieu in which they found themselves there were always more experienced and more consistent defenders of the status-quo. to make themselves heard they had to work harder than more traditional conformists: they had a past to expunge. some succeeded. were they all devious and insincere? i don't think so. the conversions, in most cases, were genuine enough, albeit a few continued to convince themselves that they remained 'on the democratic left' or were the 'only real left'. why this insistence? perhaps to admit a total break would mean placing their life's work on a funeral pyre. vanity forbade such excesses.

the bandwagon careerists who clambered aboard the 1990s war chariot had been hasty in assuming that because they were finished, everything else was too. the earth had been stolen, surveillance satellites littered the sky, but free thought and dissidence had not completely disappeared. illusions about the civilizing function of a bloody empire and the rancid rhetoric of wc [washington consensus] politicians were being destroyed on the battlefields of iraq and in the mountains of afghanistan and subsequently in lebanon. nowhere was this more the case than in the late president monroe's imperial backyard. the glimmer of an actual political alternative, however, was visible only in latin america [decidedly and unfortunately not in post-soviet eastern europe]. there, new social movements had thrown up new political leaders. they were insisting that, despite the fall of the soviet union, the world was still confronted with old choices. either a revamped global capitalism with new wars and new impoverishment, chaos, anarchy, or a rethought and revived socialism, democratic in character and capable of serving the needs of the poor. these leaders were determined to rescue the stranded ship 'utopia', to initiate more egalitarian, redistributive policies and to involve the poor in the political life of their countires. for proclaiming these modest goals they were traduced and vilified. their real crime is to challenge the certainties of the new order, to disregard the forbidden signs of the wc. an ally of that consensus can crush its opponents, torture or kill political prisoners, ban all rival parties, sell half a country's assets for private gain and still obtain the 'international community's' seal of approval. but if a government challenges the priorities of the global system in the name of an invigorated democracy and an ultra-democratic constitution and, worst of all, continues to be re-elected by its stubborn citizenry it will be vilified and attacked. for refusing to concur with the wc it is accused of 'totalitarianism' and the order goes out that it must be crushed politically, ideologically, and if necessary, by force of arms. this is the world in which we live today, a world described with telling scorn by harold pinter.

--pp. 23-25 from pirates of the carribean: axis of hope.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Orange Revolution: Spirit and Struggle

Spirit and the Struggle:

The most basic principle of materialist philosophy in all its variants is the notion that things do not happen in the world because of spirit. History and events do not take place as part of a process of spirit realizing itself; it is through things happening that some thing we might call "spirit" is constituted and that some process we might call "progress" happens (though there always also is regression). Since Marx stood Hegel on his head, progressives have been aware of this: the world is constituted in praxis, i.e., struggle. "Before Being, there is politics" (cf. deleuze/guattari). It is through struggles (becomings) of all sorts that our Being-in-the-world is produced and reproduced. The human world is produced in the multitude of class or economic struggles, political struggles, cultural struggles, reproductive struggles (the struggle for liberal reproductive rights, or control over one's own body, especially by women), sexuality struggles, academic and intellectual struggles, etc.

The key word in all of this is not spirit, but struggle. Better than the birth of spirit, the Orange Revolution is thought of as a significant moment in Ukrainians' post-Soviet struggle to change their country, a struggle that is far from accomplished and that still requires grassroots action and organization--which was, at the time of the Orange Revolution, still only at a rudimentary level, appearances to the contrary aside. (An active NGO sector is neither a replacement for nor a necessary indication of a nation-wide, consolidated and deeply-rooted grassroots movement for change.) The Orange Revolution was still just a beginning, not a culmination. Yushchenko's inauguration day proclamation of the end of Ukraine' s post-Soviet history was premature (unless the nature of elections and relative freedom of press are the sole issues defining the boundary between post-Soviet and post-post-Soviet), and what is more, was an indication of the degree to which Yushchenko and gang considered the need for real struggle already over. This in turn indicated that Yushchenko and gang would soon capitulate to Ukraine's oligarchic or elite-driven political system and capitalism instead of leading a genuine, progressive struggle against oligrachic control. (Their capitulation to their oligarchic adversaries and betrayal of their Orange Revolution promises is an event that is marked on the pages of the ill-considered, so-called "Memorandum of Understanding," signed by Yushchenko and Yanukovych in the autumn of 2005.)

Like Kuchma and gang, though not to the same degree, Yushchenko and gang in the last two years have pursued a high level of compromise with their oligarchic adversaries (it was right to point out that many in Yushchenko's gang are oligarchs--business tycoons with political clout--and to claim that the Orange Revolution was in part the opportunistic rebellion of certain millionaires against Ukraine's billionaires and their cronies), instead of using the full strength of the will they had backing them after the Orange Revolution. In so doing, and though they promised to struggle for deKuchmization, they have betrayed those who really made the Orange Revolution happen, and are complicit in the (re-) creation of a Kuchma-lite system that is now taking hold in Ukraine, one in which only some (perhaps none!) of the extremes of Kuchmism are eliminated. They have shown that they are preoccupied with inter-elite struggles for their own sake and that they are nearly as removed from everyday people as are those they once called bandits and criminals. As Kuzio put it (here), Yushchenko has failed, as much as his predecessors, to be a listening president. In Yushchenko's case--in an effort to bring about the important disenchantment of the Yushchenko myth so widely spun in the heady OR days--it is important to recognize that one does not become a politician of the multitude of Ukrainians simply by virtue of having roots in a village one left behind long ago and by having a (bourgeois) passion for (collecting) folk art and (the leisurely study and promotion of) Ukrainian history. Yushchenko was only but ever a reluctant revolutionary (here), and has with almost total consistency refused any warrior path. The Orange Revolution was a remarkable exception in his technocrat's life. He prefers what he frequently called "clean politics," or to be what he fancies a proper, European gentleman-politician, indeed, an elite--real struggle is too messy, especially for the investors and governments abroad and for the interests of captial at home whose desires the president sought to fulfill more than those of the people whose struggle he claimed to champion. In this context, the manner in which the president chose to mark the second anniversary of the Orange Revolution, with an elite gathering far removed from "the maidan" and its people, is no surprise (here).

nd so the necessity of (an anti-oligarchy, anti-Kuchmism) struggle remains.

Spirit can always be lost. If the world is not the product of a spirit that is inevitably heading toward a telos (goal)--i.e., Freedom--but is created as the result of a wide variety of everyday becomings or struggles, then gains can be lost. "Freedom" is potentially gained (and lost) in struggle. If one doesn't like Marxist talk, perhaps one can appreciate terms borrowed from Zen Buddism: The Buddha was never content to relax. The Buddha had to renew his efforts everyday, lest he fall from his Enlightenment. If the Buddha can slip from Enlightenment without daily struggle and effort, Ukraine can loose the spirit of the Orange Revolution that hasn't yet been fully realized. Like any person after a flash of realization, Ukraine as a nation can become stuck in a semi-realized state and can succumb to old and new illusions, despite the Orange Revolution.

The Orange Revolution was a collective kensho, a momentary glimpse of Enlightenment, or a glimpse of the Enlightened world Ukrainians could live in and build. Realizing it will take ongoing effort, or struggle.

This is not to say that there is no positive or progressive accumulation of successes from previous struggles--that is, gains of the oppressed vis-a-vis the powers-that-be are in a certain sense permanent (cf. the life work of Antonio Negri, in particular this, this, this and this). There is a positive/progressive accumulation of the gains made in struggle that parallels the (negative, repressive) accumulations of capital and power. This is not a contradiction of the principle that there can always be a reversal to oppression and a loss of spirit after a progressive victory. Because of the positive accumulation of struggles, the political and capitalist powers-that-be are forced to innovate in their techniques of control and exploitation. This very thing is happening in Ukraine right now, and most of Yushchenko's oranges are reduced today to a scramble, not to stop this innovation, but to hold on to a meager share of the power they so quickly and unwittingly ceded to their oligarchic adversaries out of the blindness of their beliefs/interests and/or the hubris of their personalities.

Thus, after a victory of the oppressed, the powers-that-be can no longer rely solely on previous techniques, but there always-already are new techniques of control and exploitation to be invented and combined with older ones. Many critics have pointed out that two central limitations of Marx's thought were a) his failure to foresee the flexibility of capital and capitalist forms of rule in overcoming economic and political crises and, relatedly, b) his conviction that crises would necessarily lead to capitalism's collapse. For all their talk about needing stability in the market, capitalist powers have over and again demonstrated they can strive in times of crises, for it is in the resolution of crises that they can reassert their power and control, often with greater depth than before (cf. Negri, again). This process of reassertion is taking place in Ukraine right now, and Yushchenko and gang have enfeebled themselves to such an extent that they are not able to stop it (and it is likely that some among them benefit from and support the Kuchmism-lite system). Thus two similar criticisms of Yushchenko and gang and their apologists can be made:

a) They overestimated their societal level of support and gravely underestimated (due to their ideology? or meak personalities? or their own vested interests?) and therefore failed to appreciate the flexibility of their oligarchic adversaries;

b) They foolishly believed that their oligarchic adversaries would eventually capitulate--because of reasoned orange arguments and proclamations without any real orange stick--to full cooperation with an orange power, and become a kind of consolidated-on-orange-terms "national bourgeoisie." This latter bit was more an element of faith--not of some kind of level-headed pragmatism--that entered into their beliefs, willy-nilly. And so once again, religious leaders have failed to deliver to Ukrainians that for which they so long have prayed.

Thus, though positive change has happened in Ukraine--the minimum that was possible after the Orange Revolution--one should not prematurely think the struggle is over, nor that the Spirit of the Orange Revolution will live on without ongoing efforts. Ukraine after the Orange Revolution is stuck in a semi-realized state and is stuck with a plethora of top-level politicians who leave much to be desired (including Tymoshenko). This situation requires that the people who dreamed of much more and who felt the spirit two years ago renew their efforts in building a real movement for change in their country. I fear that no political force in Ukraine today is capable of delivering what the multitude of Ukrainians dreamed of or glimpsed in Nov-Dec. 2004. That force is still waiting to be made. Thus the most basic but important work of organizing and solidifying a real grassroots movement against corruption and elite intrigue is still of the upmost importance in Ukraine--and this is the reason why the ruination of Pora! as the embryo of a real, all-Ukrainian grassroots movement by the hubris of one man and the pretension of becoming a political party was one of the greatest tragedies of the post-OR days. But it is not a tragedy that can not be overcome.

Spirit is nothing without struggle; spirit will perish if concrete struggle does not continue.

For this reason, those who continue to occupy tent camps and to protest in Kyiv and across Ukraine, and who picketed outside of Yushchenko's elite gathering for the OR's anniversary, and who otherwise refuse to make any apologies for the way in which Yushchenko and team have betrayed "the people of the maidan," are in my opinion doing the right thing.

Of course, in the end, one should give credit where credit is due: the press is a degree freer, elections cleaner, civic activism a degree higher, and some moderate success has been gained in Ukraine's culture wars (Yushchenko's success on one front of the culture war--i.e., recognition of the holodomyr as genocide--is respectable). And the oligarchy-elite remain as firmly entrenched and in power as ever.

*All but the last five fotos, which were taken in Kyiv, are still-fotos captured from digital video that I took in various locations in Western Ukraine during the OR.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Latvia: Commemorating in 2007 the Barricades of 1991

This is footage of members of the folk choir Skandinieki singing this past weekend at a rock that marks one of the spots in Riga where 5 people were killed during a Soviet crackdown on January 20, 1991.

In the course of its terminal year segments within the Soviet government made two bungled attempts to keep things from falling apart. The second of these is better known--i.e., the August Coup. However, that long and tense year began right away with a display of the Soviet authority's anxiety--a crackdown was launched in the breakaway Baltic States. In the Spring of 1990 each of the Baltic States had made moves toward independence from the USSR. On January 13, 1991 in Vilnius and on January 20, 1991 in Riga, blood was spilled as the Soviet government tried, unsuccessfully, to reassert control after months of failed negotiations by which the Soviet government had hoped to persuade the Baltic States to sign Gorbachev's new Union Treaty. To read more about what happened in Riga, you can go to this post on my blog. Scroll down to the middle of the post where the red letters read "About the Massacre."

5 people were killed and hundreds were injured in a park in the center of Riga in 1991. On the places where the dead fell are large rocks bearing the victims' names. Throughout the year in Riga people place flowers and candles on or near these rocks, and they especially do so each year on January 20, which is an official day of commemoration. I went with some fellow members of the folklore ensemble Skandinieki to sing at each of the rocks in honor of the day.

January 20 was the culmination of a week long series of events during which, in 1991, people built and staffed, night and day, barricades throughout Riga in expectation of a Soviet crackdown. Thus each year on January 20 folks come out to rebuild a small portion of the barricades, light campfires, eat soup and sing, much as they did in 1991. 

The experience of people standing at the barricades, sharing food, singing, and risking their lives together was a foundational moment for the renewal of Latvian statehood and of Latvian society in general, one that remains meaningful for many people in the country today. For others, in the context of Latvia's current woes (the lowest wages in the EU, high unemployment, labor leakage/brain drain to Western Europe and the US, continuing corruption, and heightened tensions between Latvia's largest ethnic communities), January 1991 is a fading memory or is viewed as a moment of an all-too-delusional hope. It is just as likely that one in either camp--the camp of those for whom January 1991 remains a vivid memory or of those for whom it is a fading experience--could bemoan the current situation in the country with statements like, "Remember what we stood for in '91?" or, "Too bad things couldn't be more like they were in '91." or, "When did things start to go so wrong?"

In either case, memory of the day is still conjured in a way that endows it with a powerful role in the making of this nation.

January 20 is an important part of the country's yearly cycle and a pillar in the formation of its post-Soviet national identity.

Note, however, that though the number of those who do come out on January 20 each year is often small--as it was this past Saturday--many people in this country will attest to the importance of the day.  Thus it is important that a subcultural or small group actively makes the event that helps keep the memory alive; and it is no surprise that members of the folk choir Skandinieki--many of whom together as members of the group and seperately played important roles in the anti-Soviet resistance--would take an active role in commemorating events on January 20. 

And perhaps one can comment here that if a critical enough mass of people could have--after the deluge that was the Soviet collapse--eventually become as active again in the political and cultural life of the country as they had been in the days of the barricades, and as member of the ensemble continued to be, many of the woes mentioned above might not have come to pass.  

And this speaks volumes to Ukraine's ongoing experience of the Orange Revolution.  Spirit will perish without struggle and the efforts of, at the very least, a very determined minority.  Thankfully a sizable enough mass exists to keep the spirit of the OR quite alive in Ukraine; but how about the larger, political-economic picture?  Much struggle is still needed. . .

Monday, January 08, 2007

Warsaw Workshop on Post Socialism and the EU

I will be at a workshop in Warsaw this weekend; a selection of the most relevant posts on my site to the subject matter of the conference:

On the Road to a Documentary, Part II: Neglect (text and photos)

On the Road to Documentary, Part III: Tradition (text and photos)

On the Road to a Documentary, Part IV: Decay, Ruin, Neglect, Immiseration (text and photos)

Fall Harvest in Western Ukraine, Part I (text and video)

The Mill and the Peasants (text and video)

A Baba Feeds the Fowl in Western Ukraine (text and video)

Boloto ne Zoloto (text)

Tales from the Village, Part I: Beet Harvest in Pictures (text and photos)

Remembering the Fall Harvest in Ukraine

Not related to conference topics, per se, but here is some film footage that a social science-oriented visitor to this site may find interesting:

A Hutsul Wedding, Part I

A Hutsul Wedding, Part II

A Hutsul Wedding, Part III

A Wedding Procession in Pidhajtsi

New Year's Eve 2005 in Kyiv

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year's Eve 2005 in Kyiv, Ukraine


this is a long, 20 minute clip from new year's eve 2005 in kyiv. the orange revolution demonstrations and the third round of elections (that yushchenko won) had just concluded. on this day, people were anxiously awaiting the inauguration of yushchenko and the start of a truly new year.

i post this as reminder of the optimism about the potential and, what is more, of the strong will for change that existed at the time in ukraine. my point is not to feel pessimistic about all that hasn't happened in ukraine since, but rather, to provide a reminder of what is yet to be done.

most of this was filmed on a tiny, hand-held jvc, dv-camera without the use of a monopod, tripod, or proper microphone, so the quality is pretty shabby. the quality greatly improves about half way into the clip, for the simple reasons that i was no longer standing smooshed between people and therefore had more control over my movements than in the huge mass, and i wasn't using digital zoom to film things too far off in the distance anymore.

i did not provide subtitles, so here are some notes:

the first speaker is mikheil saakashvili, the current president of georgia who rose to power via similar events as the orange revolution. saakashvili was once a university student in kyiv during soviet times, and brilliantly addressed the multitude of new year's revelers that night on independence square mostly in ukrainian.

the next person to appear is yushchenko--he made that night a claim that has become a rather famous for him; in sum, he says that for the last 14 years before the orange revolution, ukraine has been independent but not free, but after the orange revolution, ukraine has become not only independent but also free at last.

following yushchenko, julija tymoshenko then oleksandr moroz give some new year's greetings. moroz's comments were cut short by the arrival of the new year, something that today seems rather appropriate--i.e., that his comments would be cut short.

after the holiday greetings follows some music:

first, oleksandr ponomarov sings the national anthem of ukraine. 

then the band Green Jolly makes an appearance.  they first played their hit song that was an anthem of the orange revolution, razom nas bahato, nas ne podalaty (together we are many, we won't be overcome).  their next song, dobryj vechir (good evening) is, to my mind, a beautiful one, and the moment at that time on independence square when they sang it was really great, filled as it was by a song that seemed so heartfelt. in the song, the narrator is singing good evening to his/her mother and friends, wishing them good fortune, good health, etc.

following next is footage of the super star group tartak. i included footage of them singing their two hits, veselo (happy)! and hoolihan (hooligan). i quite dig this group.

after them comes someone singing a more traditional ukrainian pop song--i forget the singer's name, ale, ras, dva, try, bud'mo--hej hej hej, anyway! there is nice footage of people dancing around and of a contemporary zaporozhets (not of a car, but of a fellow sporting a cossack hair-do).

this would not be a clip edited by yours truly without what comes next: folk musicians and people dancing on the street.

next is a bit of footage from january 1: the tent camp on khreshchatyk (the main boulevard through heart of kyiv that was the epicenter of the orange revolution), followed by one of my favorites of all my clips: a really great shot of a spetsnas (special forces) soldier guarding the presidential administration building and unwrapping some candy or gum. the shot is reminiscent of vladimir putin's refusal of the big baby viktor yanukovych's offer of candy during a parade that took place in kyiv, just before the start of the election debacle that led to the orange revolution.

after that come two more clips of dancing and of new year's reveling. these two clips--one of folks dancing on independence square to a guy playing accordion, and another of a baba busting some fantastic moves to the musicians playing in the entrance to the teatralna stanstija (theater metro station)--are the best bits of this entire little 20 minute film. (most especially the baba dancing!!)


us'oho najkrashchoho,

i veselykh svjat!