Sunday, 1 December 2013

Keep watching Ukraine...

As predicted, the situation is Ukraine is unfolding dynamically, with protests in towns and cities across the country, even in the Russified east. (To make it easier for Brits to understand Ukraine, I liken it to Wales rotated anti-clockwise through 90 degrees. North Wales is like western Ukraine, where people are more nationalist in outlook and speak the national language. South Wales is like eastern Ukraine, where the coal mines and steel mills were planted there in the 19th Century by the big neighbour to the east. Eastern Ukraine is as Russified as South Wales is Anglicised. A difference is that the capital of Wales is in the southern heartland, while Ukraine's capital lies midway from east to west.)

The Ukrainian people are realising that their dreams of rapid economic and civilisational development are being dashed by a kleptocratic ruler and his immediate coterie; the hard times they've had over the past two decades are going to continue indefinitely unless events change course. It is the difference between driving a battered old Lada on a bumpy dirt track and a new Peugeot 208 along a new expressway.

Poland has taken the course of modernity and its GDP has soared since economic transformation; Ukraine is mired in corruption (ranking 144th out of 175 countries surveyed by Transparency International in its 2013 global Corruption Perception Index). With the exception of a rent-seeking class of tax inspectors and senior government officials, plus oligarchs close to the Yanukovich clan, the average Ukrainian cannot see a future for themselves and their children in their own country.

When I was in Lviv in 2005, I asked our Ukrainian guide about a black Audi Q7 SUV with blackened rear - and front windows and indeed windscreen, on which was an official-looking pass (p'yerepustka). "Government, business or mafia?" "All three," he replied.

For Ukrainians, the European Union is a wonderful dream - and bad as things are in Portugal or Greece (or even Bulgaria) - the prospect of one day in the distant future joining it is a vision of hope.

What should the West do now to help? For one, to block travel to the European Economic Area and North America to Yanukovich and his cronies. And freeze their foreign bank accounts. That would hit them where it hurts.

Interestingly, watching events unfold across Ukraine, the most-thorough English-language coverage comes from Russia Today ( I was surprised at the change in tone since Friday night's clashes at Kiev's Independence Square. Today, I see an intriguingly nuanced view in which the militia violence is being condemned and the people responsible for storming government buildings described as 'provocateurs' rather than as 'pro-EU hooligans'. Does this suggest that the Kremlin is ready to throw Yanukovich to the wolves?

This time three years ago:
Jeziorki, dawn, winter

This time six years ago:
Koyaanisqatsi lokomotywa
(little play on words there!)


Sigismundo said...

A somewhat scaled-up Wales - but an interesting analogy! The 2012 population is nearly 45 million, more than Poland but falling rapidly (down from 48 million in 2001). I seem to recall 50+ million not that long ago. Alarming.

Ukraine an EU associate, potentially on course to join the EU?

Has someone actually sat down and thought this through? The sort of problems you see near Katowice are more or less the norm in Ukraine.

Bob said...

Well written as usual, Michal.

I don't believe the russkie media is taking the side of the protestors vis a vis the milicja type approach of the government. I think they are taking a 'holier than thou' position because they can throw rocks while their fatherland actually having been the root cause with Yanko and his band of thieves. I am sure they are reveling in this opportunity.

By the way - greetings from sunny Arizona

Alexander said...

L'viv is a city a lot of Polish people were proud of. It used to be Poland before WW 2.

And look how the Russians behaved after the communist revolution. Just mass murder !

Regards, Alexander