Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Article on Ukrainian president paints realistic portrait

This article in the Toronto Star paints a very good, IMO, picture of Ukraine's president. It depicts Yushchenko as the statesman that he is, and reminds readers that if he hasn't been as strong as some would have liked him to be, he had a legitimate reason. He was poisoned, and physically weakened as a result.

A pragmatist, Yushchenko is clearly a tortoise to Yulia's hare (pardon the pun). He has no illusions of being able to create, much less any intention of trying to deliver, a utopia disguised as democracy to the Ukrainian people. This assuming all his rivals are sincere and merely trying misguidedly to deliver that grand vision to the Ukrainian people. And you have to admit that is a highly unlikely probability.

The author of the article also pins down a political situation in Canada that no doubt has the thugs at the helm of whatever the old KGB has morphed into gnashing their teeth. In which case, I am happy for their dentists.

Yushchenko has very nice things to say about Canada and the Ukrainian community here. Hopefully, despite the dashed hopes of the Orange Revolution, his visit and kind words will energize the community and give it a renewed focus. He really is a statesman. Perhaps that explains the endless standing ovation in Parliament (recorded here) by Canadian politicians.

Read the article here.


Taras said...

If a politician makes a major promise and does not deliver, what do you make of that politician? Will you trust him or her again?

Does Ukrainians’ hunger for a more livable social contract make them less deserving in the eyes of the Ukrainian Canadian community than Ukraine's poisoned President? Does the promisor’s breach of that social contract constitute utopia on the part of the promisees?

Ukraine needs a strong and committed leader plus an active and knowledgeable citizenry. I’m proud of voting for Yushchenko in 2004 and helping him get the job. But I given Yushchenko’s performance, I will not trust the job to him again. And neither will the vast majority of my fellow Maidaners.

“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” as the Chinese proverb says.

Pawlina said...

What you describe, Taras, is democracy in action. And it scares the H#$% out of ruling elites. Vote 'em in and if you don't like what they do, kick 'em out in 4 (or whatever) years.

Unfortunately, such a short time span doesn't allow for much serious progress. So politicians make promises they have no intention of delivering on, just to buy votes.

That's what's going on in Canada. Some people are criticizing the government's settling of the Ukrainian internment redress as well as recognizing the Holodomor as genocide as "pandering" to get the "Ukrainian vote." Quite a ludicrous idea given the perception of the Ukrainian community in Ottawa (i.e., nearly non-existent).

The government's critics are grasping at straws, but there is probably some element of truth there. My dad once told that when he was growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, bigwigs from Ottawa would come to talk with Gido. We're talking exalted folk such as Paul Martin (he was just a little gaffer at the time, came along with his dad, Paul Sr.), along with C.D. Howe and who knows who else.

To which I replied, "Sure, Dad, whatever." I mean, we were nobodies from nowhere, on a dirt-poor farm (literally... the land was terrible) in the middle of nowhere where nothing exciting ever happened.

My mom corroborated his story, tho, so I know it is true. :-)

But that was then, and this is now. More recently, the ethnic votes being courted are the "visible minorities" because of their numbers, and the Ukrainian community has been getting the shaft for some time now at the govt trough.

So now another regime is in and is building its empire. From my perspective deep in the diaspora, these recent breakthroughs for the Ukrainians may mean this is a smarter bunch than the previous ones. :-)

As for Yushchenko, his statesmanship has made us all proud of our ancestral country, how far it's come in such a short time despite all the obstacles and political shenanigans (which really embarrasses us diasporans).

The point is, Taras, that little has changed. Politicians in a functioning democracy always have, and always will, over-promise and under-deliver... from someone's perspective.

It's been said that democracy is a terrible form of government, but it's better than any others tried so far. I agree. And I believe that the trick to making a democracy function better is for an informed and active citizenry to work with politicians. That means holding them and each other accountable... something we're struggling with in Canada at the moment (esp. the "each other" part).

Democracy is not utopia ... but even Canadians have a hard time accepting that.

Taras said...

You mean, the future PM of Canada visited your tato's farm? Wow:)!

When I was 11, I shook hands with astronaut-evangelist Charlie Duke, who landed in our neighborhood while touring our fledgling nation.

With the Soviet animal farm now history for almost 17 years, we’ve landed on a planet stuck in a time warp, ruled by a bunch of oligarchs who pocket the lion's share of our GDP. We’ve had a net demographic loss of almost 7 million people. And we have a president whose once-promising leadership now makes him part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

We live in a weak democracy, one overshadowed by a strong kleptocracy. It’s this dystopian existence that needs to be changed. We can’t afford another 17 years of it.

Pawlina said...

Yeah, he did. Dad said he (PM Jr) was about 8 at the time. I was quite amazed as he never mentioned anything of the sort when I was a kid growing up ... or maybe he did and I just wasn't interested at the time. (Paul who?)

As for your concern about your president and your dystopian society, welcome to the world of democracy. Everyone in a democracy agonizes over their leaders, whose clay feet become more obvious once they are in office.

Of course your worries about the kleptocracy next door are certainly legitimate, and we in the diaspora share them. And, it would seem, so do many western governments.

That's why it's so important for Ukraine to revisit the OR mantra of разом нас багато.

Because while Yulia deserves Victor's support, Victor also deserves Yulia's. And neither one will get what they want unless they put aside their differences and find a way to work together to their mutual benefit, and Ukraine's.

It is my strong feeling that, if the Ukrainian people manage to deliver that message effectively, and the two of them are savvy enough to respond accordingly, the kleptocracy will cease to be a major worry.

I think Victor got that message on his trip here. Now, can someone please pass it on to Yulia?

Anonymous said...

Yushchenko! Go home!

Please clean up the mess you have created.
Its a political three ring circus in Kyiv.

Pawlina said...

Anonymous, I sympathize with your frustration. But remember, Rome wasn't built in a day, and it's unrealistic to expect Ukraine to be rebuilt overnight.

Yushchenko's trip to Canada is actually very helpful in "cleaning up the mess at home" ... which he wasn't alone in creating, btw.

The paucity of Ukrainian media coverage of his visit to Canada not only underscores both points, but also illustrates that powerful forces in (and outside of) Ukraine recognize it all too well.

Vasyl said...

Taras, I too was on Maidan for a number of different reasons even as a Canadian, but what we must recognize as Pawlina said, is that "Rome was not built in a day!"

The undoing of many things that underly the problems in Ukraine are not simple, and they range from cronyism, nepotism and a true inferiority complex in many Ukrianians living in Ukraine, that they had instilled in them by Moscow for many centuries.

Taras, I will have to agree with you that there has been a great lack of trust not only in Yuschenko, but many of the others who were on the stage on Maidan. Though that time in Ukraine's history has change society to a certain extent.

When I have had friends and relative of mine since my first visits to Ukraine from 1990 through 1998 and since I have been here on ground since 1999 about what is democracy like in Canada? It has often gone from something that as meant to be a short answer to a lengthly discussion of what it meant to be involved politically in the two countries.

In 1988 during Canadian Federal Elections I nearly lost my first semester of my third degree as I was heavily involved working for a candidate in our riding. A man who had retired as an Engineer in his mid-50s to serve his community. He had a long history in his family of community service. This included his grandfather starting the Montreal Institute for the Blind, which later developed into the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

While he was originally a Liberal, he didn't like the idea that the party was going to parachute a candidate into our riding in 1984 when he was first elected, so he became a Conservative as he knew he could get the support of his community, both of Conservatives and the population in general.

He became a Junior-Minister in the Mulroney Cabinet, not because he was a croney but because as an engineer he knew something about Engergy and Mines. To date in Ukraine there has only been one professional minsterial appointment. Hrycentko's.

That man was Bob Layton, and I didn't work on his political campaign for money, but nearly lost a semester. I worked for him due to his values. I had the good fortune to have known such an individual and was invited to his retirement party along with many different guests, including former Prime Ministers, Brian Mulroney, Jean Cretien as well as many provincial politicians and people who were active in their communities that had great respect for Bob.

Ever since then I have had a phrase I always use in Ukraine. Стараюся нормально жити але вибори перешкаджають. This phrase found its way on to the walls of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine where I have many close friends, many who have used it even though it is because of elections that they survive.

While I have digressed, I think it will help you understand a point which is lacking in Ukrainian politics, and to some extent been destroyed by the so called party lists. Elected representatives must represent their constituents. This no longer exists in the Ukrainian form of democracy! Unfortunately!

Secondly, how many Ukrainian politicians do you know that have contributed to their communities? This too is part of a working democracy. It is only now that those who stole from the people are putting on big public displays of how good they are by setting up foundations...Where were they ten years ago.. busy robbing the country.

And finally, one must remember, that democracies are not only elections! It is what happens during the inter-election period. Much of that depends on the elected officials, who should be interested in the well being of the citizens they represent, rather than thier own self interests or those of their parties. True they all want to stay in power, but with out a properly functioning judicial system and the proper checks and balances of a truly functioning democracy, it will take many more years for Ukraine to be what most Ukrainians and those who embrace democratic values would like to see it be.

Vasyl said...

Regarding the article itself, I had a chance to meet the author while he was here in Kyiv a couple of weeks ago. It was good meeting him as I was supposed to do some fixing and interpreting nearly two years ago, but was busy with a photojournalist from Paris Match in Crimea the days he was in Kyiv.

He is a very astute journalist, and we spent some time discussing the problems which exist in Ukraine as well as discussing the chances for Canada in the World Junior Hockey Championships. We know that outcome... The jury is still out on Ukraine's problems.

Taras said...

You made a good point by mentioning former Defense Minister Hrytsenko. He’s the Westpoint-educated guy who was used and abused by…Yushchenko, right?

You also made a good point that few, if any, Ukrainian politicians have selflessly contributed to their communities. Touché! I see no servant leaders in Ukrainian politics; it’s always about choosing the lesser evil.

I also agree that it takes time and effort to change this country at the grassroots level. What I don’t agree with is the idea that the guy at the top who botched his job of changing this country should be given a second chance. We don’t have a second life to give him that second chance.

We’re a highly educated country. Our problem comes from our slave mentality and skewed income distribution, or the Yushchenko-Yanukovych stabilnist, if you will.

If we grin and bear it, nothing good will happen to us.

Pawlina said...

Vasyl, thanks for your wonderfully illuminating post. Another example of the grass looking greener on the other side of the fence.

As you point out, Canadian democracy is no utopia either. There are many people here who also struggle to make a living and find themselves shut out of opportunities by cronies or hitting glass ceilings.

So Taras, I'm sorry, but this is as good as democracy gets. If anyone wants to make it better, it's up to them (individually and collectively) to work either with, or around, their elected officials.

It is time for Ukrainians everywhere to ditch the lingering slave mentality. Such a talented and educated people should be able to figure out a way to do it.

I have often railed at the diaspora community for sitting around wringing their hands in despair instead of rolling up their sleeves and picking up some of the many tools now available to us and putting them to good use.

I have also come to the realization that that very railing is me doing some hand-wringing of my own.

That's when I remind myself to stop complaining about what someone else isn't doing, and get back to the work of filling that glass of mine...

I have a full belly, a roof over my head, and clothes on my back. (And an internet connection!)

Anything more than that is up to me.

It's pretty much the same for you, too, my young friend. :-)

Taras said...

I wish that knowledgeable Ukrainians, young and mature, could enjoy some of the opportunities that people in developed and fresh EU-member countries enjoy.

In present-day Ukraine, many people with no connections face a choice that your ancestors faced: Should I go or should I stay?

We have Western prices and sub-Western incomes.

Much of this disconnect comes from corrupt governance and income distribution, which forces us to spend most of our incomes on food and shelter. Our billionaires did not build the businesses they now proudly own. They simply grabitized them using their Soviet and post-Soviet connections. We have no post-industrial Google and Microsoft-type businesses in our economy. As a result, we work for the economy, but the economy does not work for us.

A young person who lives in Kyiv and wants to raise a family in a middle-class environment should have the purchasing power of a mature upper middle-class Canadian. That’s the reality we live in.

If things keep going this way, Ukraine’s population will continue to dwindle. I don’t want to be part of this trend. I want Ukraine to live and I want to live in Ukraine.

Pawlina said...

The point I've been trying to make, Taras, is that your democracy is more functional than you give it credit for.

What you don't seem to want to believe is that the streets of "developed" democracies are not paved with gold. Or that it is impossible to create a world where everyone shares the wealth equally.

Those are expectations (delusions) cultivated by Marxist utopians. They are very dangerous to hold, for they ensure you will never be happy, nor recognize opportunities waiting to be seized.

The best anyone can realistically expect from a democracy is equal opportunity, or a reasonable facsimile. If we can strive for that, we'll get as close as is humanly possible to "heaven on earth."

The problem is that there are forces, in your world and mine, that are working diligently to ensure there is no equal opportunity. It's just that in your world, they're a little more obvious about it.

It's a bitter pill to swallow, my idealistic young friend. But once it's absorbed into your system, at least you will be able to recognize opportunities the greedy power-mongers are powerless to block from you. (Let's call it "agile subversion.")

You will also learn how to be happy. I hope you will do that while you are still young, Taras. You won't be forever.

Vasyl said...


You got that right about the Western prices and sub-Western incomes. Particulary of late.

Regarding Ukraine's billionaires, you are absolutely right, they did not build their businesses from nothing the took advantage of the turmiol in the newly developing democracy in order to grab all they could.

My business partner and I have a theory, that the fact that these people and those in power at different levels simply can't think out side of the box... A perfect example of this is what is going on with Euro 2012 preparation. We spent over a year working on something, which ran afoul due to civil servants who only know about kickbacks, and have no vision of what they want for their cities, and their constituants.

To understand what I'm talking about Taras take a look at the following articles and you will understand why I know about the cronism of officials here:

Повідомлення прес-служби Андрія Садового - маніпуляція

Великий єврокомбінатор