Off to the Baltic

Little to no blogging over the weekend [what else is new? - ed] as I'm off for a weekend jaunt to Tallinn. Check back for pictures and such on Monday or Tuesday.



So I was reading some news analysis (no link, it was in the Action Ukraine report) about Putin's visit to Israel, and I read that Putin is set to assume the rotating Presidency of the G-8.

Can someone please explain to me my Russia is even IN the G-8, let alone about to lead it and host it's summit? The G-8 is a summit consisting of democracies that lead the world in economic output. Last I checked, Russia has an economy that ranks something like 86th in the world in terms of per capita GDP, putting it behind such luminaries as Mauritius, Malaysia, and Martinique. Last I checked, Russia had recently been downgraded by Freedom House to a "Not Free" rating in their annual comparative assessment of the state of political rights and civil liberties around the world. According to David Brooks in the NYTimes today, a 20-year-old Russian man in 2000 had only a 46 percent chance of reaching age 65. The HIV rate in Russia is more comprable to sub-Sahran Africa than it is to anywhere in the developed world.

Granted, Russia doesn't participate in the economic or financial discussions that are part of a G-8 meeting...but again, why are they even there? More importantly why are they hosting it and allowed to be even the titular head of such an event? Should developed western democracies be allowing this to happen? What kind of message does that send? Why is Putin hosting the G-8? If Russia wants to host some summit with like governments, host these guys. Invite Turkmenbashi. Talk about gold statues of yourself that revolve to face the sun. Have a blast. But the G-8?

More Revaluation

The currency revaluation continues to piss off a lot of people over here. Since people are concerned about local currency stability they tend to keep their savings at home, in a coffee tin, in Dollars...and their savings just got reduced overnight by about 3%. Comments like this from the Central Bank head can't be making people happy either:

"The Ukrainians haven't lost anything. They will simply pay 505 hryvnys instead of 530 for 100 dollars if they go abroad, it will be cheaper to travel. As to the domestic Ukrainian market, where exactly do you have to use dollars there?"

Right...and how many Ukrainians can afford to travel to the States? Better yet, how many Ukrainians actually get a visa to go to the States?

Look, when you have a fixed currency like they do here, readjustments are bound to happen every now and then. I don't think that the Central Bank arbitrarily revalued the currency. But it's really stupid to say things like that if you don't want to antagonize the people most affected by the revaluation.

Sidewalk Parking

Neeka had a post yesterday expressing her complete shock that the sidewalks of Kreshatik were being used for parking. Considering that I see scenes like this on my street every day, suprise isn't the word that comes to mind when I see cars on a Kiev sidewalk.


Victory Day

Victory Day is coming up over here. It's a holiday to commemorate the victory over facism and the end of WWII in Europe. It's a pretty big deal over here, there's always a parade for the veterans. This year is an especially big deal as it's the 60th anniversary of Victory Day. Every night on TV (Canal Inter, I think) they have information about specific battles and city sieges in Ukraine and you'll see items on the news about local preperations for the celebration. I had originally wanted to visit Moscow to see the celebrations there. But when I was talking to an acquaintance that lives there (whose father is a WWII veteran), he informed me that the only way you can get on Red Square to see the parades and such would be if you were specially invited. It's going to be quite a to-do there. The parade will be huge and there will be a ton of world leaders in attendance. So instead I'll be checking out the festivities in Kiev and I'll take a trip over May Day weekend instead of Victory Day (to Tallinn though, not Moscow...check for pictures next Monday or Tuesday).

Anyway, the trip to Tallinn and the festivities for Victory Day got me thinking. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all have reason to celebrate Victory Day, but what do the Baltic countries think about it? All Victory Day meant for them was 45 odd years of direct Soviet occupation. How does Poland look at it? Sure, they were liberated from the fascists, but all that meant was Nazis were replaced with Communists. Great. So I looked it up last night, and Victory Day (May 9th) isn't a holiday in the Baltics. Instead (in Estonia anyway), they have TWO independence days (one for their original independence in 1919 and one for their Soviet independence in 1989. Plus a Victory Day to mark the battle they won to secure their independance in 1919. It also looks like this isn't a holiday in Poland or Hungary and in the Czech Republic the celebrate liberation on May 8th, since that's when Patton rolled into Western Bohemia and no longer mark the Soviet day of May 9th (The Slovaks seem to do the same thing).

So, after spending time looking at all this I was pleased to see an Anne Applebaum column on this very subject in today's Washington Post. It's interesting, go read it. She points out that the Moscow festivities will be attended by Bush 43. They'll apparently also be attended by other luminaries such as Belarussia's resident lunatic dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. I really hope that on May 10th I don't wake up to a photo of Bush and Lukashenko as embarrassing as this one of Bush with Prince Abdullah. Don't we have some sort of democracy spreading policy now? Sheesh.



Fans of other NFC East teams and I have been screaming about this for years. Please, rename them the New Jersey Giants. It would the highpoint of a season to see that stupid "Y" on their helmets replaced with a "J."

Willow Sunday

Yesterday was "Willow Sunday" in Kiev and, I would imagine, much of the Orthodox world. This meant that there were tons of people out on the street carrying a bunch of willow branches. Willow Sunday is the local equivalent of Palm Sunday. Orthodox Easter is next week. The substituion of willows for palms occurs because there are no palms available in this part of the world and Willows are one of the first plants to bloom. The day was also an occaison for people to make a buck, as there were people hawking bunches of willow branches in front of the active cathedrals in Kiev.

April Snow

This is what it looked like in Kiev this past Friday. Who needs Spring anyway?



Well this really sucks. My money now goes about 4% less far over here. Oh well. Suppose the central bank had to do it. The Hryvna is pegged to the dollar and the dollar has been taking a beating.

Unrelated topic. Can someone explain to me why Google news is listing the Donbass Voters Committee as a news source? Talk about a bias. That would be like having MoveOn.Org as a news source. Or new nazi sites as a news source. Oh wait, they've already done that.

Tymoshenko on Elle

Who's that I saw on the cover of the Ukrainian version of the fashion magazine Elle yesterday? Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko!

I guess she's backing off her earlier preference of magazine covers. According to the BBC article linked above, "nasha" Julia claimed that Playboy would be "the best choice [of magazine covers to appear on] for any real woman".

I can think of someone in the blogosphere that has to be especially perturbed by Julia's change of heart on this matter.


Language Difficulties

Secretary Rice has got one thing exactly right during her visit to Moscow. In a radio interview in Russia she's quoted as saying: "You understand it [speaking Russian] will be very difficult because I am out of practice, and in your language there are these awful cases!" she continued. "It's very difficult for us, and it is very difficult to talk without making mistakes."


What does a beer advertisement have to do with a David Ignatuius column I read in the Post today?

Well, in a column on the rise of nationalism around the globe he wrote the following:

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was driven in part by young street protesters from a group called Pora, or "It's Time." In response, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has encouraged a new movement called Nashi, or "Ours," that's designed to appeal to the nationalism of young Russians. Brzezinski fears it could degenerate into a dangerous, right-wing "Nashi-ism."

This got me thinking about the (over)use of the word "Nashi" over here. You see it everywhere in advertisements. Products are constantly labeled as being "our" whatever. The picture is for a local beer, Obolon, whose slogan is apparently "Our Beer," and you see it for other things too. "Our Airline" is Ukraine International, there's a tire company whose name escapes me that calls their tires "our tires." A commercial in Ukraine once had a Japanese guy killing himself when he learned that his Japanese produced television wasn't as good as a television that was "ours."

It goes beyond advertising though, "ours" is really a part of the national psyche. The other day I went to the pharmacy to buy some Vitamin C. The pharmacist asked me "Do you want French vitamins, or ours?" Note here that she didn't say Ukrainian vitamins, she said ours.

Using ours, in lieu of nationality, applies to people as well. If someone here were talking about another Ukrainian person, they could very well refer to them not as Ukrainian, but as ours. This seems to apply to all people in the post Soviet space. Not only would a Russian be ours, but so would a Ukrainian, so would a Moldavian, and so would a Kyrgyz. Mrs. Connard, whose Russian is about 1000% better than mine and has been told that she looks Estonian, once surprised someone when they discovered she was American. How did they react? By saying "I thought you were ours!" I think this only extends to the former Soviet Union though. An East German would definitely not be ours, I doubt a Pole or a Slovak would either. (In a side-note, a Bulgarian might be. There's a Soviet expression I learned that translates as "A chicken isn't a real bird, and Bulgaria isn't overseas." Trust me, it sounds better in Russian.)

Not only are things ours, but I have also learned that things that things that are not ours are yours; again including people. Once while waiting in a line at airport customs an American a few places in front of me was making a commotion. "One of yours?" said a Russian that was traveling with me.

It's funny to think about being an American, because if there's any possessive pronouns that are overused in the States it's you and yours. Especially in advertising. Think about it, how often do you hear on the radio "What's your favorite station?" or "Who plays your favorite songs?" Channel 7, WJLA, in Washington DC, frequently uses the slogan "7 on your side." At sporting events, when the home team is introduced they're usually introduced with something along the lines of "Ladies and Gentleman, Your Washington Wizards!" Even the U.S. Army's advertising slogan now is singular: An Army of One.

But I digress. Taking all this into account, would it surprise me that there was a Russian nationalist organization that was called "Nashi?" Not at all. Would it surprise me if this movement actually resonated with people and attracted followers based on its name and the connotations that go with it? Even less so.


Benedict XVI

Why do I have the feeling that the new Pope didn't pick his name based on his fondness for this book?


Well Then...

I have only two things to say about this.

1) As if one needed it, looks to me like another reason not to drink coffee.

2) Have I mentioned lately how glad I am that living in downtown Kiev has eliminated my need to have to drive anywhere?



It's now officially spring in Kiev. How can you tell? People are going around painting all the trees white. Why? I have no idea. But everywhere you go now, this is what you see. Trees with a bright coat of white paint around the bottom of their trunks. If anyone can explain why this is done, please leave a comment and enlighten me.

Nats Win!


It's probably old news by now that Atlanta Falcons QB Mike "Don't Call me Michael" Vick was hit with a lawsuit for allegedly giving some woman herpes. The funniest part about the suit is that the woman alleges that Vick used the alias "Ron Mexico" to get tested and treated for herpes.

I guess the NFL doesn't see the humor in Ron Mexico though. They've shut down the sale of custom Atlanta Falcons number 7 jerseys with the "Mexico" name on the back.

They're still available on eBay though.


East Village Ukrainian Museum

The Times has a write-up on the reopening of the redesigned Ukrainian Musuem in the East Village. Looks neat.


Anarchist Ninjas Must Die!

For the record, when I went to Penn State, there was no Terrorist Anarchist Ninja Guy club that existed for me to join.


Like I said, Kolesnikov's arrest has been getting big local coverage. Every night on the news you can tune in and see which member of the old regime/new opposition is showing up to visit these new protestors. There's typically someone there from the SDPU(U) or some underling from the Ukrainian Regions Party. I got lucky today when I was checking out the whole scene near the Rada. My visit happened to conicide with that of Victor Fyodorvich Yanukovich himself. Look at the guy there, quite confident and forward looking; especially with that "Election 2004" flag flapping behind him.

In the long run, I have no idea how this will play out. During the election controversy, Kolesnikov was one of the Eastern politicians that was calling for autonomy/indepence for east. There's a fair amount of people camping there...but if the Orange revolution was the major leagues, this stuff barely passes as single A ball. Support for the protestors that I saw was limited to guys that obviously work for the new opposition parties showing up in their Lada station wagons to bring campers bread and such.

I have no idea if the charges that they got Kolesnikov on will stick. I read here that he'll be charged with extortion of property rights from the owner of a mall in Donetsk. Wouldn't surprise me if it was true, but can't say that he'll do time for it. The St. Petersburg Times is claiming that his role in three assasination attempts is also being investigated, if true, that's obviously pretty serious. Ukrayinska Pravda seems to think that this arrest could turn Kolesnikov into the Yanukovich block's Tymoshenko (who, incidentally, cancelled her upcoming trip to Moscow because the Russian government refuses to drop the criminal charges they have against her). I suppose that this is possible...but then again Tymoshenko is only Tymoshenko because enormous numbers of people took to the streets to back her position. All I've seen for Kolesnikov is a lot of bark and zero bite.

It'll be worth keeping an eye on this though, the way it shakes out for Kolesnikov could be indicative of how it's going to shake out for a lot of other members of the old government...especially the ones that have it coming.


All the campers looked to be from Russian-speaking, Yanukovich backing regions of Ukraine. Lots of Donbass, fair amount of Odessa, and even this group, that represented the Russian Block. Wonder who's interests they have in mind? Independent Ukraine's I'm sure.

Original Ideas

The arrest of Kolesnikov has driven the Yanukovich true believers absolutely ape-shit. Kolesnikov was a pretty big mover and shaker with the Donbass oligarch clans, and if he goes down (legitimately or not...exactly what he has been charged with hasn't been officially announced) then pretty much any of them are vulnerable. Kolesnikov has business interests common with other Donbass heavyweights and evidence brought out investigating him could quite easily affect other people that came out on the short end of the stick when Yushenko won.

So what original idea do the Yanukovich supporters come up with to demonstrate their displeasure with this arrest? Set up a tent city in Kiev!

Latest Crisis in Ukraine

Something that's gone largely unnoticed in western media is the recent arrest of former head of the Donetsk Oblast Council, Boris Kolesnikov (pictured on the right there). This hasn't gone unnoticed in Ukraine and the lastest news about it is the main story on all the newscasts.


Stepping Back?

Last week Publius noted that during Yushenko's visit to Washington, he and President Bush signed a declaration that they would promote democracy in Belarus and Cuba.

Well, it looks like the Cubans weren't too happy about that.

A [Cuban] government delegation that was in Kiev at the moment cut short its visit and Havana issued a protest to the Ukrainian Foreign ministry.

Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Eumelio Caballero Rodriguez said “it is incredible for us that the president of such a friendly country as Ukraine joined the strategy of the United States that has been for the last 40 years carrying out an aggression against our country through economic blockades and by staging over 600 terrorist acts against our country.”

As a side note, I saw this article while looking through the ITAR-TASS website. ITAR-TASS is, of course, the Russian State Central Information Agency. The headline ITAR wrote up for this piece was:

"Ukraine plays down scandal with Belarus, Cuba"

How exactly is it 1) a Scandal or 2) playing down said "Scandal" when the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry says things like:

“...we proceed from the notion that true friends can always frankly speak about existing problems...The development of democracy, respect and protection of basic freedoms and human rights are the cornerstone of the activities of the new Ukrainian authority in the domestic and foreign policy. We follow with interest the development of democratic processes in every state...”

I suppose that in this instance, I should consider the source.

Easy Now...

I guess this explains why it has suddenly become more difficult to find bootleg movies in Kiev. Ukraine has decided to start enforcing copyright law, to help out their WTO bid. Of course, the movies aren't impossible to find, I was still able to pick some up bootleg wares at Petrovka recently, so I guess the enforcement is limited to pirates visiable to the average foreigner walking around town. But all the guys that used to sell stuff downtown on Kreshatik and Tolstovo Ploshad have packed up and moved on to greener pastures. I just hope they don't shut down Petrovka anytime soon. Man that would suck, it's almost impossible to find English language entertainment over here. Everything not Slavic on TV is dubbed, not subtitled, and there's about 1 English language movie per week that is shown in theaters...and that's just started up recently.

DC Shevchenko Statue - In Depth

DCist has a idetailed post up regarding Taras Shevchenko and the oft-discussed (on this blog anyway) statue of him that graces 22nd and P NW in the District. No mention of plans for it's demolishment.


In a recent session of language tutoring, I learned that the Russian word for marriage is Брак (Brak, for you non-Cyrillic types). To paraphrase Gregg Easterbrook, I have the feeling that this is the kind of hidden indicator that is essential to an insider's understanding of marriage, unfortunately I have no idea what it means.


Rich Man/Poor Man

Had the iPod on shuffle this morning when The Communards 1986 cover of "Don't Leave Me This Way" came on. About a minute and a half into it, I realized that Sarah Jane Morris is really just a poor man's Alf Moyet.

This led me to wonder if Jimmy Somerville is really just a poor man's Vince Clarke.

Yes, these are the inane things I think about when I should be working.


The one end-product I did notice being sold was honey. Tons of people were out selling that. This was raw stuff too, quite good. What I found interesting was HOW it was being sold. That is, you could select your honey based on the plant that bees used to produce it. You could get walnut tree, lime tree, acacia tree, wildflower, and a couple of other types of honey. I recently read that eating locally produced honey can help alleviate one's pollen allergies. I don't know if it's true or not, but it makes sense to me. So I bought some липи tree honey, as those trees are all over Kiev. I've been enjoying it in my morning tea, good stuff.

Farmer's Market

This weekend there was a farmer's market down the street from our house. We went there to check it out. What we found was that (at this time of the year anyway) this wasn't a farmer's market in the modern American sense, rather it seemed to be more of a market for people that actually farm. Lots of people selling seeds, seedlings, plants and such, gardening tools, things for greenhouses, and things like that. Business was quite brisk though. I suppose a lot of locals are starting to get things ready for their dachas.


Yushenko Visits Congress

Just watched Yushenko address congress through a C-SPAN internet feed. They acutally televised it here live, but left out the translation part. The thing that amazed me was that there's already a write up here in the New York Times. It wasn't that earth shattering an address. But it was nice to see him come to Congress and tell the moron congressmen from Chicago there waving orange scarves around exactly what they can to do help out Ukraine after the revolution.

Disjointed thoughts:

Glad to see that the plea to get rid of Jackson-Vanik got lots of applause.

I'm wondering how the new visa regime for Americans is going to affect me. I hope it doesn't mean I have to take trips to Poland every 90 days. Then again...I hope it does mean that I have to take trips to Poland every 90 days. Thought it was kind of funny how there was no response given to Yushenkos request to make it easier for Ukrainian students, politicians, and businessmen to visit.

A girl in my office was happy to hear him ask for more Ukrainian student-exchange programs.

Do you think anyone in that room even has any idea that there is a statue of Shevchenko in Washington?

Man, Richard Lugar had a shit eating grin on his face every time they cut to him.

Mildly surprised to hear Gongadze get directly mentioned. But that's a good thing. I hope people from the old regime get called to the carpet for that one.

Was it just me or did it seem like his discussion of CTR programs seemed like an afterthought at the end of the speech?


Has this question jumped the shark yet?

This past Sunday, The New York Times asked "Is Newly Liberated Kiev the Next Prague?" (hat-tip- Neeka)

I think I can take a stab at answering that question.


Why not?

Do European Budget Airlines like RyanAir, Easyjet, etc... fly here? No.

Can you get in the country without having to obtain a visa? Not yet.

Can you get Western quality food here at reasonable prices? No.

Are any of the older buildings in this city as well maintained or attractive as the ones in Prague? No.

For that matter, is there anything in Kiev that even approximates old-town Prague? No.

Is it easy to find people here that speak English? Not even close.

Are locals willing to offer foreigners fair prices and not gouge them just because they might have money and they want to make a quick buck? Not that I've seen.

Are bus-loads of drunk English punters planning on flocking here for bachelor parties? Nope.

Don't get me wrong here, I like Kiev. I think it's a neat city with a lot of potential. But is it the "next Prague?" Not remotely.

And can we PLEASE stop throwing that moniker on any European city with an airport that's east of Vienna? Please? How many freaking new Prauges are there? Budapest was not the new Prague. Bratislava was not the new Prague. Krakow was not the new Prague. Sofia was not the new Prague. Kiev? C'mon. I think at the rate we're going I'm going to be reading earnest articles in the Washington Post travel section in 2015 insisting that Omsk is the new Prague. Enough already.



Remeber that post I had a couple of weeks ago about the construction monkeys fixing cranes by climbing up them?

Well, it gets worse (or better, depending on your perspective).

These same monkeys had a rooftop crane collapse yesterday. Took out scaffolding on top of the building as well as a protective walkway that was built underneath the building. The crane on the other side remains intact and in place. If you look closely at the bottom of the picture in the trees there on the right you'll see the crane laying there in the dirt, 11 guys tried to get it out yesterday, they couldn't move it.

Luckily no one was hurt in the fall, but I don't think I'll be walking over that way, well, ever.


You know what's disturbing? Looking at your site meter referral statistics, and seeing that someone from the Czech Republic visited your page after doing a search for "child porn picture."

That'll teach me to blog about the Boy Scouts!

Orange DC

With the death of the pope and the Nats actually playing a real game, it may be going unnoticed (or undernoticed) at home, but President Yushenko was in Washington yesterday. So a far a few interesting things have been announced, none of them really suprising; cooperation against fighting AIDS, weapons proliferation prevention, more Chernobyl work, (overdue) elimination of Jackson-Vanik, and elimination of visa requirements for Americans (with reduced fees for Ukrainians). So far so good.

What absolutely killed me was reading a transcript of the joint press conference held by Bush and Yushenko. The American press has an opportunity here to ask questions of a man who led a globally known, successful, peaceful, and democratic revolution, a man who helped to change the geo-political landscape of the post-Soviet space, a man who emerged from an assination attempt to become a democratically elected President in a country that didn't even exit 15 years ago, and let's see what they can come up with:

Ukraine and Italy and other allies will withdraw their forces from Iraq. Why should the United States continue to pay most of the cost and suffer most of the casualties when our allies are leaving? - Terry Hunt

Mr. President, did you hear a clear position of Ukraine concerning its participation in NATO? And is America ready to support Ukraine in joining the Membership Action Plan this year? Thank you. - UNK

Thank you. How do you think this Pope has affected America's spiritual and political life? And how much weight did you give to his opposition to the Iraq war? -Steve Holland

I have a question for both Presidents, but primarily for Mr. Yushchenko. What will be the American-Ukrainian cooperation in Iraq after the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops? And could you please give some details? -UNK

Are you kidding me? Four Questions total. Three of them are about Iraq. One manages to be about the Pope AND Iraq and has nothing at all to do with Ukraine. ONE question was about US-Ukrainian relations. NO questions were posed about issues like, oh, the recently revealed sale of nuclear-capable cruise missiles from Ukraine to China and Iran, possible prosecution of the Gongadze incident (guess the western media isn't interested in the ACTUAL execution of journalists, just baseless accusations of it), potential prosecution of the Yanukovich-Kuchma axis for election fraud, or revisiting of past privatization efforts undertaken in Ukraine.

Shame on you, White House press corps.

UPDATE: Bloggledygook has similar thoughts.