sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

March 27, 2015

The Remnant of Ukrainian Jewry

Filed under: politics, Ukraine — Tags: — edge of the sandbox @ 9:15 am

When last September “far right” Ukrainian groups swarmed Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city, and toppled the ginormous Lenin statue on central city square, Chabad reported that local Jews “watch and wait”.  Wait for what, an airlift?

In the 1880s the largest Jewish community in the world was in the Russian Empire’s Pale of Settlement with what is now Western Ukraine being the region with the highest density of Jewish population — up to 20%.  After more than a century of (and your Ukrainian nationalist friends will be able to fill you in on some of the detail) pogroms, segregation, breakdown of Jewish communal life and abolition of the Pale that followed the 1917 revolution, the Holocaust, official and unofficial Soviet anti-Semitism and the chaos that followed the USSR breakdown, Jewish communities in Ukraine are all but gone.  According to JDC 300,000-350,000 Jews were left in all of Ukraine as of February 2014, albeit the number is up for dispute because of the sky-high intermarriage rate.  The map of Ukrianian Jewish population looks very much like an ethno-linguistic map of the country.  Jews continued living in urban areas, primarily in the South-East, the capital of Kiev and, to much lesser extent, the city of Lviv.

The South-East is claimed for Novorossiya, so all Jewish communities there are potentially in the line of fire.  At the moment the hostilities between the Russian-led separatists and Ukrainian forces are down.  Yet both sides are said to be rearming and regrouping, so expect the next round of fighting to commence in… April?  The fighting might be a bit complicated this time around due to a feud between President Petro Poroshenko and the former Dnepropetrovsk governor Igor Kolomoisky — the latter “does not rule out” an anti-Kiev insurgency in his city.

Kiev, home to the largest Jewish community in Ukraine, is, like many other Ukrainian urban centers, going through reshuffling of police forces.  When on October 31, 2014 interior minister Arsen Avakov appointed Vadim Troyan the chief of regional police in the capital:

[t]he Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) has objected to Troyan’s appointment, describing him as a leading member of the Patriot of Ukraine organization, which some have described as neo-Nazi. Patriot of Ukraine is linked with the Social-National Assembly of Ukraine and has displayed symbols reminiscent of those used by the Nazis on its banners and other materials.

Troyan, who ran for parliament on the ticket of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front, is described on that party’s website as a member of the organization.

KHPG says Patriot of Ukraine espouses “xenophobic and neo-Nazi ideas” and engages in violence. It based its opposition to Troyan’s appointment on allegations by anti-Semitism researcher Viacheslav Likhachev, who is connected to the local Jewish community.

Both KHPG and Likhachev have admitted that there is no specific evidence pointing to anti-Semitic views on the part of Troyan, but both believe his links to the group make his holding such a sensitive position worrisome.

For some reason the last sentence is not very reassuring.

Tiny Jewish communities remain scattered through western Ukraine, the most numerous one is in Lviv.  Throughout the 1930’s Jews comprised over 30% of the city’s population, and after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the area was flooded with Polish Jews, many of whom were immediately deported by the Bolsheviks.  When the Soviet Army hastily retreated in 1941, about 10,000 managed to escape with them*, the rest were attacked in the pogroms, known as Petlura Days, that immediately followed the invasion, and perished in the Holocaust.  After the war some Soviet Jews returned to the city; a year ago 11,000 resided at this once important Jewish cultural center.

In happier times of Ukrainian neutrality unpleasant things were said about the city in mainstream media in the West.  For instance:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned a statement by the mayor of Lviv, Ukraine, in which he said that in his city “there has never been anti-Semitism and there will never be.”

Efraim Zuroff, Israel director for the Wiesenthal Center, told JTA on Monday that Mayor Andriy Sadovyi’s statement was “a hopeless attempt to cover up very strong manifestations of anti-Semitism.” Sadovyi made the statement Sunday at a news conference.

Zuroff noted a restaurant in Lviv that encourages patrons to dress up like haredi Orthodox Jews and haggle over prices. Another restaurant celebrates the legacy of the Ukrainian Nazi collaborators led by Stefan Bandera who participated in the murder of thousands of Jews in 1941.

The Lviv municipality on June 30 is set to award a prize named for Bandera to individuals who “helped develop Ukrainian statehood.” Many Ukrainians view Bandera and his troops as anti-Soviet freedom fighters.

Nowadays Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi scolds the French on anti-Semitism.  You see, France has a “larger” problem than Ukraine.  Not exactly a high bar, and not true to begin with.

The monument to Stepan Bandera in Lviv was erected on the anniversary of creation of Ukrainian Insurgent Army in 2007.  Appropriately brown in color, the sculpture is made in best traditions of socialist realism.  Tourists and residents of this eastern Galicia town can flock downtown to admire the romanticized Nazi of Stalinist proportions — the arches of the architectural ensemble reach 100 feet in the air.  As you can see, western Ukrainians know what to build in place of their Lenins.

Surely on Novorossiya “to topple” list: Stepan Bandera monument in Lviv city center

Ukrainian nationalists like to point out that so far there had been no verified anti-Jewish pogroms in their country, and that Jews serve in the current government.  Just who Ukrainian nationalists are is no secret.  For a source of anti-Semitic sentiment during the Miadan riots one can look at this entry at Gates of Vienna.  Maidan alumnus (he was the coordinator of “self-defense” units) and co-funder of what was once called Socialist-Nationalist Party of Ukraine Andrey Parubiy has an impressive “far right” resume that includes translating of Goebbels into Ukrainian.  He is now a Rada member on Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front ticket.  Either Parubiy is going “mainstream” or “mainstream” is going Parubiy.

On the subject of Jews in Ukrainian governments, it’s worth remembering what happened during the pogroms in the 1918-1922 Civil War.  Back then Jews served in the very Ukrainian governments that were perpetrating and/or ignoring the pogroms and were more than ready to vouch for their comrades.

Some Eurointegrationist Jewish intelligentsia made an alliance with nationalists calculating that as long as the promise of the entry into EU is dangled as a carrot in front of Ukrainian people, everyone can get along.  But the European dream will remain a dream simply because a country as large, as desolate and as corrupt (and as Soviet mentality-wise) cannot be admitted into EU.  Then what?

The most prominent Ukrainian Jew who, until a few days ago was on the side of this current government, is the above-mentioned Igor Kolomoisky.  Ask the European Council of Jewish Communities what kind of Jew he is.  When in 2010 the oligarch decided to make himself the head of the organization, three members resigned calling his ascension “hostile takeover” eastern European style.

Kolomoisky is a populist demagogue, a proud self-proclaimed “Jidobandera”, who owns a of a large share of Ukraine’s mass media.  He is said to be one of the financiers of the Kiev riots and sugar daddy of Ukrainian National Guard as well as paramilitary units that until recently were patrolling the streets of Odessa.  He is widely believed to be behind Odessa massacre a year ago.  This former governor of one of Ukraine’s richest regions and helped keep the south-east in line since Maidan victory.  He is a chief benefactor of the IMF (umm, US taxpayer) Ukraine bailout, but was fired in a feud with Poroshenko over the ownership of a utility company.

A still from Kolomoisky’s “Turn in A Separatist [for A Bounty]” advert that went viral April last year. I first thought the video was an anti-Semitic fake, but no, it’s “Benya’s” sense of humor

With majority of Jews being Russian speakers who live in Party of Regions strongholds, one can find more than a fair share of prominent Party of Regions Jews.  For instance, in the last decade Kharkov was run by the Jewish governor and mayor Gennady Kernes and Mikhail Dobkin.  Last year Maidan-minded Kharkovites were circulating a video about Kernes’s criminality and corruption that was also oddly fixated on his ethnic origin.  On the issue of corruption the video didn’t exactly reflect the opinion of ordinary Kharkovites who agree that while Kernes is, like all other Ukrainian leaders, a thief, still, “he did so much for the city”.

A short survey of prominent Ukrainian Jews leaves an impression that perhaps Ukraine is left with the Jews it deserved. Or maybe it got the leadership it deserved, and as it always happens, upwardly mobile Jews are terribly conspicuous.  When the situation will become impossible they will walk into their private helicopters and head for Cyprus.  It is the ordinary Jews living in Vinnitsa and Odessa who are in danger of being turned into scapegoats for their country’s failings.

Right now the pro-Russian and nationalist sides in Ukraine are most concerned with fighting each other.  However, this will not last forever, and Slavic brothers will kiss and make up, like they always have.  In the meantime, the country is in a multi-party civil war vortex, just like 1918, and anti-Semitism is on the rise across the board.

If I were a Jew in Russia, I’d leave too.  Putin likes to sell himself as a protector of minorities, but I wouldn’t count too much on his protection.  Yes, he grew up among Leningrad intelligentsia, many of them Jewish, and is not an anti-Semite.  But he stays in power by pandering to anti-Semitets, most notably to those in the Russian Orthodox Church.  Russia will see some tough times in coming years, so things are not looking good.

—-

*My last entry was about the Soviet Jewish crooner Iosif Kobzon.  Kobzon’s biographers like to explain his loyalties by the fact that he was born in Russian-speaking Donetsk region of Ukraine.  Equally important, I think, is his lesser known his Lviv connection.  Kobzon’s parents moved to Lviv shortly before the war and managed to escape as soon as it started.  The singer narrowly cheated death at the hands of Wermacht and their Ukrainian henchmen.

March 19, 2015

Trials And Tribulations of Mr. Russian Frank Sinatra

Filed under: politics, Russia, Soviet Union, Ukraine — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 5:58 am

The West vowed sanctions for the Russian annexation of Crimea, but because we like to think of ourselves as nice people, ordinary Russians had to be spared.  Instead sanctions targeted a limited number of individuals deemed to be able to influence the Kremlin’s policy making.  Or maybe we just wanted the measures to be full of loopholes for our own insiders because if the goal was to punish those who support Putin’s policy, that would be two fifths of the population of the Russian Federation.

Since then Russian economy suffered from declining fossil fuel prices which many Russians attributed to the wicked ways of uncle Sam and stood by Putin as predicted.  If anything, the economic downturn accompanied by the sharp decline in relations with the West gave meaning to their suffering.  The way Russians see it, NATO wants them on their knees, and they are more than ready to tighten their belts for the glory of the Motherland.

From time to time the West finds it necessary to further expand punitive measures.  For instance, the US and Canada banned Alexander Zaldostanov, the leader of the Night Wolves biker gang who took part in operation Crimea.  Said individual, a Putin buddy and some kind of Russian Orthodox (hopefully he attends church more than once a year), welcomed the news:

I would very much like to thank [U.S. President Barack] Obama for recognizing my modest services to the motherland. And I promise that I will do all I can so that his concern for me only grows.

The crooner Iosif Kobzon, a native of Donetsk recently banned from entering EU for entertaining the pro-Russian forces in breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk, would very much like to travel to Europe. So much so that he suggested that Russia, in the old Soviet manner, should refuse exit to the continent to celebrities on the other end of political spectrum.  The cancer-stricken 77-year-old is banned in the US, too, but for a different reason.

Kobzon during the cringe-inducing performance of Donetsk People’s Republic’s anthem with DNR “Prime Minister” Alexander Zakharchenko. A few months later Zakharchenko’s statement that Ukraine is run by “miserable Jews” made headlines in the West

Kobzon is often billed as the Russian answer to Frank Sinatra, a rather odd comparison.  He is without a doubt an accomplished vocalist, and his style has a mid-century vibe to it, but he couldn’t make it swing if his life depended on it.  The classic Kobzon fare bellow called Журавли (Cranes), recorded in 1970 at a Militiaman Day celebration, is a quazi-religious memorialization of the fallen soldiers [of the Great Patriotic War or WW2]:

1970 Is a bit late for this kind of aesthetic, but Russia is typically slow to catch up; their riot grrrls made a splash in 2012, for instance.  Outdatedness was Kobzon’s blessing.  The singer was born a few years prior to WW2, but his chief admirers were people who lived their adult lives through it, his parents’ generation.  In the late Soviet days the younger audiences were craving the forbidden rock-n-roll.  Kobzon’s performances, void of any hint of a cutting edge aesthetic and in concert with the party line, were featured on state television so often, they came to represent the creative slump of the Brezhnev era.  Looking back at it, I can appreciate the subject matter of at least some of his songs, and I can see what moved my grandparents, but I feel no nostalgia.  I prefer the real Sinatra.

Where Kobzon is most like the icon of American cool is mafia connections, which is what got him banned from the US.  The crooner himself vehemently denies involvement in any illegal activity.  He admits h’d been friendly with the crime boss Vyacheslav Ivankov who was gunned down in 2009, but, as Kobzon explains:

“I have many gay friends. But does that mean that I am gay? I know many artists who know the same group of people,”

Speaking of which, Kobzon’s second wife, also a native of eastern Ukraine, was a Soviet diva Lyudmila Gurchenko (above) who, in the post-Soviet days, turned up as a darling of Russian gays

If the mafia myth makes Kobzon interesting, he has other things working for him in that department.  He is, without a doubt a brave man.  The singer toured frequently, making many stops in Soviet and Russian war zones.  He was the first Soviet celebrity to entertain soldiers performing nuclear clean up in Chernobyl.  He made a reputation for himself for standing up to anti-Semitism:

One of the most prominent Jews to succeed in the Soviet Union, he refused to join a state-sponsored Anti-Zionist Committee in the early 1980’s. When a rabid Russian nationalist, Gen. Albert Makashov, stood in Parliament and denounced ”the Zhids,” a derogatory term for Jews, Mr. Kobzon walked out.

Iosif Kobzon (middle) at the Wailing Wall

In Soviet times he played godfather to Moscow bohemians.  In the country where blat (or connections) were more important than money, with a few calls to friends in high places he took care of fellow actors.  In most cases it involved procuring apartments — not an easy task in the Soviet Union — but he took care of other needs as well, for instance, he helped to organize the funeral of underground singer songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky.

Kobzon was a Communist and is a Duma member and a friend of Putin’s.  AND he’s a known smooth operator who never turns down a call to resolve a crisis.  When in 2002 Chechen terrorists seized a Moscow theater, he, together with another politician, was able to negotiate release of a woman and three children.

Ready for something surreal?

(The unkempt figure in the audience that appears at about 5:20 marks looks oddly familiar.  I can’t quite place him, but I want to say he’s St. Petersburg rock scene fixture.)

Yes, that’s “My Way” translated into Russian as “My Journey”, not “My Choice”, sung before the sprawling map of the Russian Federation and by the man who launched his carrier by winning a Joseph Stalin competition.  Yes, he is accompanied by a Russian Army choir (in the old days Kobzon was frequently accompanied by the Soviet Army Choir).  This is not the Russian answer to Frank Sinatra; this is Russian answer to Sid Vicious.  The latter might sing “My Way” all he wants, but the only adequate response to his squealing is to schedule an intervention.

It’s not that Kobzon didn’t do it his way.  He didn’t have to stick up for Israel or his artist friends or the doomed soldiers, and if he parroted the party line, it’s probably because he believed it.  But here lies the difference between a citizen and a subject. If citizen is free to make his decisions and build his destiny, a subject gets his way by cozying up to the regime.  Kobzon owns his accomplishments to being friendly with the regime more than to his talents and hard work.  His admirers know his history, and when he performs the song, they think “What an admirable gentleman!”  Sinatra is different.  In Bono’s famous description:

You know his story ’cause it’s your story
Frank walks like America — cock-sure

For comparison’s sake, Kobzon was interviewed in 2002 by the NYT which observed:

Yet the 64-year-old crooner with the obvious dark wig and heavily tinted eyebrows knows nothing if not his place. Circumspection is second nature to anyone who survived the Soviet system, let alone thrived […]

Cock-sure.  Circumspection.  Case closed.

Russians took the Kobzon ban personally, starting an Je Suis Kobzon twitter campaign.  They too are circumspect, trying to carve out lives within the space made available by the power.  They also know that although Kobzon is a member of Putin’s inner circle, he, just like them, doesn’t make any key policy decisions.  He’d been banned from the US for nearly two decades, and he’s gone public with his dissatisfaction with Russian officials who, in his opinion, could do more for him.  Did anything change?  No.

Sanctions didn’t change anything either — other than to get a whole bunch of people angry.  The Russian opinion of the United States stands at the all-time low and popular anti-Americanism is nothing like I remember from the 1980’s.  As the Russian economy is slowly righting itself from unrelated damage, we are talking more about “targeted sanctions”.  Is there a there there in American foreign policy?

P.S. Curiously enough internationally renown soprano Anna Netrebko who donated money to Donetsk opera posing with the Novorossian flag and a separatist leader last December, managed to evade sanctions.  Makes me suspect that Kobzon’s real sins are aesthetic.

March 16, 2015

Crime Mysteries of Eastern Europe

Filed under: politics, Russia, Ukraine — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 2:23 pm

It’s not just who killed Nemtsov, which, as we all know, has to be Putin, but nobody can prove it.

1.  Where or where was the chief suspect?  Was he recuperating from the common cold?  Or bonding with his newborn son?  Such a sentimental sovereign…

Both death and palace coup scenarios were thrown around.  I heard some Ukrainian nationalists were already having second thoughts about wishing death of their nemesis — because who’s going to come in his place?

Another possibility is that the strongman wanted the world to note his absence:

He might be not quite Ivan the Terrible, but he is a master manipulator.  My guess is that he wanted the world to pay attention to the saber-rattling which he put on upon his reemergence.

2. Putin is believed to be annihilating his critics at the rate of about one man a year.  A reptilian in charge of a country with major baggage, Vlad knows he’s being watched; plus he doesn’t quite have the will to go full-on gullag.  Even before Stalin assumed the duties of General Secretary in 1922, he already had a great many massacres under his belt.  Putin has now been in charge for a full 15 years, and while he successfully thwarted whatever moves towards democracy Russia had made in previous decade, his reign pales in comparison to that of his Bolshevik predecessor’s.

But what about Ukraine?  Their SBU (Slavic acronym for Служба безопастноти Украины) is former KGB, and their oligarchs perfected the art of the hostile takeover.  In the last month and a half a suicide epidemic swept the former Party of Regions functionaries.  Three days ago BBC reported:

Oleksandr Peklushenko, former head of Zaporizhzhya, suffered a gunshot wound to the neck and authorities said initial inquiries pointed to suicide.

A member of Ukraine’s Party of the Regions, he was being investigated over the dispersal of protesters last year.

Five other officials also died in mysterious circumstances this year.

All of them supposedly took their own lives in the past six weeks

  • Stanislav Melnyk, 53, an ex-MP was found shot dead in his bathroom on 9 March
  • Mykhaylo Chechetov, former party deputy chairman, died after apparently jumping from a window in his 17th-floor flat on 28 February; he had been accused of abuse of office and fraud
  • Serhiy Valter, a mayor in the south-eastern city of Melitopol, was found hanged on 25 February; he too had been accused of abuse of office
  • Oleksandr Bordyuh, a former police deputy chief in Melitopol linked to Mr Valter, was found dead at his home on 26 February
  • Oleksiy Kolesnyk, ex-head of Kharkiv’s regional government was found hanged on 29 January

An interior ministry source told Interfax Ukraine news agency Mr Peklushenko, 60, had committed suicide in the village of Sonyachne, near Zaporizhzhya city.

However officials said other theories were being investigated including murder.

Since then an opposition party prosecutor in the Southern port city of Odessa jumped out of the window.  I suppose at some point the panic will set in and a great exodus of PoR officials to Russian Federation will commence.

Although this wave of suicides is a new phenomenon, in March last year, Sashko Bily, aka Alexander Muzychko, an Ukrainian militant with a Neo-Nazi background and experience fighting for Chechnya against Russia in the 1990’s, died under mysterious circumstances in the Western Ukrainian city of Rivne. Bily was an ardent Maidan activist who generated a great deal of unwanted attention immediately after his comrades’ victory in Kiev when videos of him threatening local Rivne officials were posted on youtube.  According to the official version, this veteran Ukrainian fighter shot himself.  Two or three times.  Ukrainian interior ministry closed the case, but Pravy Sektor demanded further investigation.

Then there is the case of Kharkov mayor Gennady Kernes who survived assassination attempt in May 2014.  Although, like much of the rest of Ukrainian political elite, Kernes shifted his loyalties multiple times throughout his carrier, he was a lifelong member of Yanukovish’s Party of Regions.  During the winter riots of 2013-2014 he is widely believed to had organized anti-Maidan activities and anti-Maidan street thugs.  After the overthrow he appeared to be sincerely outraged and believed that Russia will take eastern Ukraine under its wing.  After the assassination attempt he started signing a different tune.

Gennady Kernes (middle) speaking at a meeting shortly after the overthrow of Yanukovich.  Quite a few Ukrainians despise Putin for not sending in the tanks

I’m sure Ukrainian investigators have their hands full even without this suicide epidemic.  My parents recently wanted to send some money to friends in Kharkov, which seemed like a good deal with hryvnya, the Ukrainian currency going through the floor.  Turns out, this is not an easy task because money wired to Ukraine is known to not reach its destination.

3. Crimea referendum.  Putin recently admitted that the decision to annex Crimea was made in the Kremlin, not on the streets of Yalta or Simpheropol.  If the poll was conducted in a totally bogus manner, the results probably reflect the genuine sentiment of Crimeans.  A Gallup survey of Ukrainians conducted in April last year showed the population of the peninsula looking forward to being Russian.  British journalist Shaun Walker recently visited the region.  He  reports:

[A]ll memory of the region’s Ukrainian past is being erased, and a harsh crackdown on voices of dissent is under way.

But at the same time, Russia’s police, judicial and civil servant corpus on the peninsula is almost entirely made up of those who used to serve Ukraine.

[…]

“Perhaps a few dozen top leaders have come in, but everywhere else, the structures which were Ukrainian before simply became Russian,” said Ilmi Umerov, who was the head of Bakhchisarai region before resigning in September because he did not want to work with the Russian authorities.

“In my region about 80% of the Ukrainian soldiers joined the Russian army, about 90% of the prosecutors’ office have gone over, and 100% of the SBU [security services] and police. I don’t know a single case of anyone from the SBU not going over to the FSB.”

Walker concludes that the ease with which Russia assumed control of the peninsula points to a lack of resistance and is perhaps indicative of loyalties of the Crimean population.

Crackdown on dissent in Ukraine is not going so smoothly.  Looks like the revolutionaries will have to break some eggs.

February 18, 2015

An Idea for A Portlandia Episode

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 6:28 pm

While you were worrying about amnesty and ISIS, the state of Oregon reached an important human rights milestone.  Kate Brown, the nation’s first openly bi governor, ascended to her position when John Kitzhaber (D) resigned amids corruption allegations:

Brown, who was the first in line to succeed Kitzhaber, was the nation’s first openly bisexual-identifying statewide officeholder. She is married to husband Dan Little [can we fact check to make sure Mr. Little is not really a wife? — eots] and has discussed her sexuality in past campaigns for public office.

Something as quirky as bisexuality is doubtlessly a selling point in the Pacific north-west.  What I deduce has happened, is that in the early 90’s she was “outed” by a local paper after which she had some ‘splaining to do, including:

  • Coming out to my gay friends – who called me half-queer.
  • Coming out to my straight friends – who never thought I could make up my mind about anything anyway.

So, basically, Brown, who married a few years later had a few flings… but what really matters is that she identifies as bi.  RS McCain posted An Infinite Rainbow of Oppression, a freak show of “queer” identity portraits complete with descriptions like Trans Femme Genderqueer” and “Plus Sized Polyamorous Pansexual”.  Interestingly, one of the ladies in the project identified simply as “bisexual”.  Maybe she just wanted to have her picture taken.  We women are pretty straight forward this way.

Anyhow, with Kate Brown being from Oregon it’s time to remember the 90’s, the decade about nothing:

Meantime in Debaltseve…

UPDATE: Many thanks to Citizen Tom for linking.

February 13, 2015

Malinovka

Filed under: politics, Ukraine — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 5:41 pm

The US is considering lethal defensive aid to Kiev, and I seriously doubt this will lead to World War 3.  It’s not clear that Ukraine will last long enough for that to happen.  I’m just a mom, but I read both Russian and Ukrainian, and deciphering Russian strategy is not that hard if one reads their media.  Russia is doing a Kutuzov in Ukraine, bleeding their opponent dry of resources, and by that I don’t mean the gas supply to Ukraine’s frosty cities.  Or even the fact that the Ukrianian economy is in free-fall – the decline is exasperated by Russia’s own economic crisis.

It’s said that Putin’s inner circle consists of people who supported the outright annexation of south-east Ukraine and those who prefer a “frozen war” to eventually gobble up the region.  Apparently they had Putin’s ear.  I first expected to see Russian tanks in my birth city — because the city’s leadership wanted them there and because the tanks were posed in Belgorod, a stone’s throw away.  I was wrong.

Since the beginning of the war Russian-lead East Ukrainian rebels were playing cat and mouse with the Ukrainian military in the structure formerly known as Sergei Prokofiev* Airport in Donetsk.  Why the airport?  Nobody knows; I’m reading that it has no strategic value, but I guess it was big of the parties involved to select its cement terminals for their shoot-outs, as opposed to a high-rises populated with civilians, as they did elsewhere.

For a month or so Ukraine held the second or third floor, then the rebels took over, then Ukraine again, and so on.  The Ukrainian media, hungry for legends of martial grandeur concocted the story of a cyborg army.  Some in western media, not knowing whom or what to trust, picked up on that.  In reality, poorly trained Ukrainians, some militant Maidan veterans, some pros and some hapless conscripts, were facing a Russian-led levy patiently wasting Ukraine’s resources.  When the bombed out airport finally fell, the Ukrainian media christened it “our Stalingrad”.

Ukrainian magazine Novoe Vremya decries the lost battle as “Our Stalingrad”. What does that mean, exactly?

It fell in late January when separatists went on the offensive, swept up the airport killing more than 400 Ukrainian men on Russian live TV (banned in Ukraine, but everyone watches it online anyway).  Then the rebels boasted of surrounding 6-10K Ukrainian soldiers in Debaltsevo.  Russian TV filmed the superstar separatist commander Givi forcing Ukrainian captives to eat their badges and an amateur video showed another group of captives coerced into singing the Soviet anthem, which, turns out, they all knew.

Would you like to be one of these men?  Neither do Ukrainians.  After the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine mobilized its reservists.  Back then I noted that they’d have a tough time with that, and now at the fourth troop rotation their troubles multiplied.  Russians are estimating that upwards of 1 million men between 20 and 40 are hiding from the draft on the territory of the belligerent, and in light of that Putin promised to extend the length of visa-free stay to this segment of Ukrainians.  Poland, on the other hand, stopped issuing work visas to men of military age.

Women from Ivano-Frankovsk to Kherson rally against the draft.  In Kharkov reservists don’t open their doors to persons serving military writs, so the men will now be served at work; in Lwow it’s the job of the traffic cops.  Surprisingly the highest levels of draft-dodging are among the fiercest nationalists in Western Ukraine.  In Ivano-Frankovsk 67% of those served their notices do not report to recruitment centers, and in Chernovtsi 17% left the country in the wake of mobilization.  The ones who do report often seek exemptions.

What’s going on with Ukraine’s “elite” National Guard is another matter.  Late January hundreds of fighters of Aidar battalion (one of many semi-independent fighting units) left their positions and turned to the capital where they surrendered to the Defense Ministry an act that Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov defined as treason.  This is not the first time something like this is happening.

Ukraine’s combative “battalions” were the destination of Maidan radicals who after the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovich found themselves unable to return to everyday life (or what’s left of it).  Ordinary Ukrainians, on the other hand, have a different mentality; what they want most is to be left alone.  They are a pacific, hospitable people and a practical people.  Half of them sought expanded ties with the European Union, true, but at what cost?  Nobody expects another Holodomor, but the loss of a male breadwinner is felt sharply.

The current situation in Ukraine reminds of an 1960s Soviet musical comedy “Wedding in Malinovka”.  Set in a bucolic Ukrainian village at the time of the civil war that unfolded after the Bolshevik revolution, it shows Ukraine ravaged by multiple warring parties.  As governance changes, villagers try to live their lives — until the Reds come and the beautiful bride gets to marry her beloved. I suppose the insights of the film transcend the Soviet clichés.  Recall, all previous attempts at Ukrainian independence ended in bloodshed and chaos leading to the strong hand from the east imposing order.

Eternal Ukraine: The rug-tag cast of Wedding in Malinovka

Eternal Ukraine: The rug-tag cast of Wedding in Malinovka

When Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement in Minsk, IMF pledged $17.5 billion to Ukraine, which will keep it on life support a little longer, which may give the US enough time to arm and train some kind of native fighting force.  It’s hard to follow our president’s very public thought process on this matter, but many parties are eager to drop a billion dollars on this, apparently, so it might just happen.  Next thing you know another infusion of money will come due.  After that we’ll have to station NATO troops in this unfortunate country… supply it with gas.  Actually, we are not going to get to there because at this point, even if Ukraine is still around, the US is blinking, blinking, blinking.

—-

*The great Russian composer was born in Donetsk region.

January 30, 2015

Where Putin Doesn’t Go (And More About WW2 Ukraine)

When the Cold War was coming to a close, it became customary for both the West and the Eastern block to note how similar we are — we wear blue jeans, fall in love with attractive people, our youths are charmingly decadent — and so on.  Too bad we no longer feel this kinship because similarities still abound.  For instance, the Presidents of our two countries didn’t show up for both the Paris Unity March following Charlie Hebdo terror attack and the ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Unlike our own Leader of the Free World, Putin, who had been run out of Europe, now avoids uncomfortable situations like that G20 summit in Brisbane.  So he sent foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to the Paris Unity March, and Lavrov was put in a back row, while jovial Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko marched in the front.  I guess Poroshenko is now an indispensable in our war against Islamism.

At some point, probably around the time of Pussy Riot affair, Russians decided that a state’s proper functions extend to the protection of subjects’ religious feelings, no matter how shallow they run.  According to a recently released poll, while only a small minority of Russians justifies the terrorists, a majority blame either the cartoonists themselves for provoking the attack or the government for allowing freedom of expression.  So when he ditched the March, Putin didn’t exactly let his countrymen down.

I don’t think he let them down when he skipped the Auschwitz ceremony either.  The Soviet Army liberated the camp seventy years ago, but Putin, who was not personally invited by the Poles, the nation entrusted with preserving the memory of the Holocaust for reasons of geography.  The Russian strongman opted for a Holocaust Remembrance Day in Moscow.  As a descendant of people who worked and fought for the World War Two victory on the Soviet side, I’d rather see him swallow his pride and go to Poland, but I have a feeling that most Russians support their leadership in their decision to stay put, and had those who died liberating the camp been alive, they’d get Putin’s position too.

In the week before the observance Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna produced another triumph of Western diplomacy:

In a radio interview Wednesday, Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna was challenged over what the journalist called the “pettiness” of not inviting Putin, given that he is the inheritor of the Soviet Union and that the Red Army freed Auschwitz.

Schetyna replied that “maybe it’s better to say … that the First Ukrainian Front and Ukrainians liberated (Auschwitz), because Ukrainian soldiers were there, on that January day, and they opened the gates of the camp and they liberated the camp.”

Which gave Mr. Lavrov an opening to lecture the world about Soviet internationalism:

“It’s common knowledge that Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army, in which all nationalities heroically served,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We believe that the mockery of history needs to be stopped.”

The group of forces involved in the liberation of Auschwitz was called the First Ukrainian Front after it pushed the Nazis back across the territory of then-Soviet Ukraine before moving into Poland.

It should be noted, that the war was more or less a stalemate until Soviets pushed back into Ukraine and began conscripting men from the newly liberated lands.  This, however, is Soviet Ukrainian history, the one that New Ukraine turned its back on last year.  In fact Ukraine now celebrates Defender of Fatherland Day once known as Soviet Army Day, on the anniversary of establishment by the Nazi Organization of Ukrainian Nationalist of Ukrainian Insurgent Army.  As I’ve said before, Ukraine has some soul-searching to do, and they have to come up with something better than unfolding of the Ukrainian flag at Auschwitz. Was it in honor of the victims or the guards, by the way?

The man who opened the gates of the concentration camp is said to be major Anatoliy Shapiro.  Goosebumps.  He was a Jew born in a town near Poltava in the Russian Empire’s Pale of Settlement, now Ukraine.  Shapiro, who died in 2005 in Long Island, New York, didn’t learn about the Holocaust until he immigrated to the United States in 1992.  Shortly before his death Shapiro recalled Auschwitz liberation in an interview to Jerusalem Post:

“When I saw the people, it was skin and bones. They had no shoes, and it was freezing. They couldn’t even turn their heads, they stood like dead people.

“I told them, ‘The Russian army liberates you!’ They couldn’t understand. A few who could touched our arms and said, ‘Is it true? Is it real?'”

As a commanding officer, his task was to direct his men. Half his battalion, originally 900 men, had died in battle. But nothing they had endured had prepared them for what they found inside Auschwitz.

His men pleaded with him to let them leave.

“The general told me, ‘Have the soldiers go from barrack to barrack. Let them see what happened to the people,'” he says.

Although this is not how he tells the story, I would expect him to have said “the Soviet Army liberates you”. Anyhow, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk out-clowned himself proclaiming that Ukrainian soldiers from western cities of Lvov and Zhitomir liberated Auschwitz.  Looking on the positive side, Russians and Ukrainians actually talk about the Holocaust in the post-Soviet days.

Everyone is wrong about everything.  The monument on the grave of Anatoliy Shapiro's lists his multiple honors, including the title of Hero of Ukraine.  On top is the title of his book, Sinister marathon, written in Russian

Everyone is wrong about everything. The monument on the grave of Anatoliy Shapiro’s lists his multiple honors, including Hero of Ukraine. On top is the Russian title of his book, Sinister marathon

The kind of gal I am, I’d rather have the West remember the Holocaust as the ultimate evil and stand strong against Islamic expansion.  Russia is an autocracy, no question about it, and yet it’s also our natural ally against Islamism.  Unified pro-Western democratic Ukraine is a pipe dream, but if Russia crumbles, which appears to be our goal as far as I can decipher, Islamists are certain to make gains in Central Asia, the Caucuses and arguably Crimea.

Incidentally, the First Ukrainian Front, composed primarily of ethnic Russians, was marched to Prague after the fall of Berlin.  My high school math teacher, a Jew, was a part of that operation, but that’s a whole other story.

Update: many thanks to Mad Jewess for linking.  Read her timely update on escalation of the conflict between NATO and Russia.

January 27, 2015

Ukrainian History Revision Circa 2014

Filed under: politics, Soviet Union, Ukraine — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:44 am

One of the key functions of Ukrainian Prime Minister is to travel the world asking for money.  And so on January 8 Arseniy Yatsenyuk found himself in Germany, giving an interview to the German channel ARD in which he said:

We all remember the USSR invasion of Germany and Ukraine. We must not allow this [again]. And no one has the right to rewrite the results of the Second World War, and that is what Russian president trying to do.

That must explain Babi Yar.  RT columnist Bryan McDonald thinks Yatsenyuk’s comments reflect his West Ukrainian heritage:

I’ve heard similar remarks before and the location was Western Ukraine, where the PM is from. Yatsenyuk hails from Chernivsti, widely regarded as the region’s second cultural capital, after Lvov, which is viewed by many as the nationalist stronghold.

[…]

West Ukrainians believe that they lost the war. Their side was defeated. Put simply, Yatsenyuk is merely a product of his environment. However, this time he expressed publicly a view that was probably previously restricted to private discourse. It’s possible that he felt a German audience might have been sympathetic to his position. If so, that was a huge misread of the German people.

Maybe, although my guess is that Yatsen’s comment reflects the view of the world from inside the Kiev radical bubble (incidentally, the bubble is set to burst within a month or two).  You see, Yatsenyuk, who came to power in march last year and looks like a hare is mad as a hatter.  I don’t think Ukrie Prime Minister knows where he stands on anything; instead he channels various opinions heard around the capital.  Prior to the revolution, this member of the more western-oriented “orange” parties made deals with the pro-Russian Party of Regions and a recently surfaced video shows a slightly younger Yatsen speaking admirably about Putin:

“Putin saved Russia,” reasoned Yatsenyuk. “I don’t know what I would do in his place […] when you have a great ungovernable country.”  He then discussed his countrymen’s love for a strong hand.  What, you never heard that thesis?

This wild card was hand-picked by State Department’s Victoria Nuland, who, in her defense, didn’t have much to work with — Ukrainian politics being a sad sad scene.

That Yatsenyuk, who claimed that he misspoke never apologized is not surprising because Russians and Ukrainians are not big on apologies.  But even if he misspoke, if he really meant to say that after the Nazi occupation Ukraine was under Soviet occupation, he’s still dealing in revisionism.

Yatsenyuk’s statement is two-fold: he claimed that Russia was the aggressor and Ukraine an innocent victim of Soviet occupation.  Lets start with the second part.  USSR annexed eastern Galicia, the westernmost Ukrainian region, in 1939 following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.  In that region, the followers of Ukrainian Nazi Stepan Bandera fought a bitter guerrilla war against the Soviets long after the war was over.  But this is just Galicia.

Early Soviet history in Ukraine was, to put it mildly, checkered: first they promoted Ukrainian culture through korenization, next they starved 3 million peasants.  And yet, less than 10 years after Holodomor, 4.5 million ethnic Ukrainians fought in the Soviet Army.  So when we talk of WW2 subplots, such as the German women “Russians” following the fall of Berlin, keep in mind that some of the rapists surely were Ukrainian.

This iconic WW2 photograph shows a Soviet officer leading his men into battle. The offecer is believed to be an ethnic Ukrainian Alexei Yeryomenko

After the conclusion of WW2, when in Russophone cities Holodomor was at most a faint memory, Ukrainians enjoyed a kind of honorary Russian status.  Ukraine was a recipient of Kremlin’s territorial “gifts”, most notably Crimea and Galicia. The Soviet Union was heavily economically invested in Ukraine, particularly the eastern part.  Year after year newsreels hailed a record Ukrainian harvest and record Ukrainian industrial production and historical programs on TV glorified the miners of Donbass.  (In the years of independence Donbass became a run-down region of a failed state, which goes a long way to explain the mess it’s in now).

The percentage of Ukrainian Communists was relatively high and Politburo members were drafted from the “republic”because, as Conservapedia explains:

Other reasons explained the relatively high percentage of party membership among the Belorussians and Ukrainians. These two East Slavic nationalities are culturally close to the Russians. In addition, the central party apparatus has sought to demonstrate that political opportunities for Belorussians and Ukrainians equal those for Russians.

Despite the fact that it was not an independent nation, Ukraine was awarded its own seat in United Nations General Assembly.  Marriages between a Russian and a Ukrainian were not considered intermarriages, and when the ambitious Russo-Ukrainian offspring talked about which “nationality” to chose for their Soviet passports, it was often said that the Ukrainian one is preferable because with Soviet affirmative action Ukrainians had easier time being admitted to Moscow Institute of International Relations.  I don’t know why that would matter at all — one would need serious connections to get into that school anyway.

My point is not that it was such a privilege to live in the Soviet Union, but that Ukrainians were a Soviet people.  In fact, it took two decades to slowly turn parts of Ukraine away from communism and Russia.

In 2009 “Orange” politician Yulia Tymoshenko laid a bouquet of red roses wrapped in St. George’s ribbon on the tomb of the unknown soldier to commemorate 65 years of victory in WW2. Until a year ago, general consensus among Ukrainians was that the Nazi menace was worth fighting.

Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had brief periods of independence during first, the Khmelnitsky uprising and then the civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution.  They were set free in 1991 and are yet to complete their 40 years in the wilderness because… the first part of Yatsen’s comment.

After the victory of “Euro”maidan, on the recommendation of revisionist historian Volodimyr Viatrovych, the head of Ukraine’s Institute of national Memory, the country abandoned the annual May 9th festivities commemorating victory in what was previously known as Great Patriotic War.  It opted for May 8 observation, as customary in the West, but, unlike in the West, under the slogan “Never again” and the symbol of red poppy.

The red poppy, as in Memorial Day, supplanted Soviet and Russian St. George’s ribbon that stands for the masculine valor of WW2 victors. In early 2014 the ribbon became associated with anti-Maidan, and Ukrainian nationalist had no problem ceding the symbol. They began to refer to the pro-Russian side, with their orange and black striped badges, as “colorado bugs”

Last year ordinary Ukrainians no longer felt comfortable wearing St. George’s ribbons and only those with hard core communist and separatist tendencies joined VE Day parades.  During one such festivity in the southern city of Kherson, the Kiev-appointed governor opined that Hitler liberated Ukraine.  A local newspaper reported the event under the headline “Communist Wrestled Microphone from [governor] Odarchenko And Broke It”.

Screenshot of Khersonskie Vesti with above-referenced headline. Ukrainian publications previously disappeared their articles after I linked to them.  Free discourse, ya know

Ukrainian nationalist say that since Soviet history was fictitious, their rewriting holds the truth. Does it?  A family friend of ours regularly posts nationalist entries on his social media.  One of them was about Jews allegedly serving in the UPA, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in WW2 comprised of Stepan Bandera followers, which proves that those were not anti-Semites or Nazis but a national-liberation movement.  So I looked up the little Putinist mouthpiece called Defending History, and surprise: UPA was running concentration camps for Jewish professionals.  Again, the man who posted the fable about the UPA Jews is a friend of the family who stayed with us in California.  He harbors no prejudice against Jews; he’s simply misinformed and confused.

Or take the following freshly pressed tweet:

 

A resident of Galician town of Ivano-Frankivsk, using some sort of amalgam of Russian and Ukrainian, denied Ukrainian responsibility for the 1941 pogrom in Lviv: “In 41 there was Soviet Union, then the fascists, that’s basically the same”.  The pogrom was the work of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists who were eager to demonstrate to their anti-Semitism to German masters.  Ukrainian internet is swarming with examples like this one.

It’s true that Ukraine is not the only European country with a neo-Nazi problem and that Russia itself has a serious Nazi issue.  But Russia is not trying to join the EU, and if Ukraine is to enter the organization, it would enter it not despite the problem but thanks to it.

On second thought, Ukraine will not enter the EU, and it has nothing to do with Nazis.  Germany is unable to absorb the Ukrainian economy, and that’s all there is to it.  It would be nice if somewhere along the way Merkel could lecture them on Holocaust revisionism.

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