Ukrainian Bureaucratic Bullshit

Just read this post on Orange Ukraine about bureaucratic hoops that have to be jumped through for a Ukrainian national to leave the country for an extended period of time.

It's quite awsome in detailing the same type of crap I have to deal with over here on a daily basis to do any type of business. Remember the sewn together documents post? It's like that, but worse.


I’m Offended! Er…Offensive.

Well, It’s taken me a little more than a year to do it, but The “Bastard’s Blog” has finally managed to offend someone. What did it? Was it my questioning the rules of the world’s “beautiful game?” Was it my questioning Russia’s status and place in the international system? Was it my bashing Arab culture and television?


It was Eurovision!

Terry Wogan’s got nothing on me folks. “Peter” (who, judging from his defense of the Greek winner of Eurovision 2005, Elena Paparizou, must have a last name like Popolapadopolous) was so shocked and outraged at my live blogging of the Eurovision song contest, he felt a need to leave a comment letting me know how “offensive” he finds this site to be.

I’m all for open dialogue with readers, so let’s address his points one by one.

Just commenting to say how offensive your blog is.

I’m offensive? Are you kidding me? Go read Maddox, go read rotten, go read Tucker Max. Then come back here and tell me I’m offensive.

Fine the Eurovision Contest is corny and stuff, but that doesn't give you the right to insult almost every act in the show.

OK, but apparently and stuff you have the right and stuff to come to my blog and stuff and insult me and stuff?

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I accept that,

Good. I am of the opinion that you are an overly sensitive douche-bag with no sense of humor and an inability to detect or appreciate sarcasm.

but you look at Wig Wam and Granny and give your points to them?

Yes, I do. As explained in my posting I thought that Wig Wam’s obvious homage to 70s glam metal was campy and well done. Sitting through 20 or so clones singing Euro-Pop drivel surrounded by horrible back-up dancers made them stick out even more. They managed to be both derivative and original. No small feat in my opinion.

As for the Moldavian act, perhaps you didn’t understand that I was rooting for them so that Eurovision 2006 would have had to have been hosted in Chisinau, the capital of a country so poor that people sell their organs to survive. You probably also missed the joke about holding the competition in Tiraspol, the city that is the capital of Trans-Dniester, a break away region of Moldova that makes Minsk look like Paris.

I mean honestly are you abnormal or what.

I mean honestly and stuff, do you know what a question mark is?

The song that wins should be the song that can be listened to more than once.

Right, and when I think of songs that are replayable I think of the 1984 contest winner from Sweden, “Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley.” Really, who can forget that song? Twenty years later I still hear it all the time, everywhere I go in Europe, nay, the world. It’s timeless.

I find the Moldovian and Norweigan entries cheap trash with a low replayability.

I find that use of the verb “to be” can help sentences sound coherent.

I suggest if you bother LiveBlogging another event you try it with more mature attitude…

I suggest that you stop taking events like the Eurovision Song Contest so seriously.

...and consider perhaps that a well-rehearsed and perfect performance like that by Elena Paparizou (you didn't even spell THAT right)…

1) I didn’t realize that the cheesy dance numbers were part of the competition! I thought it was to judge the best song. Hence the name “Eurovision Song Contest” and not “Eurovision Song and Dance Contest.”

2) I’m sorry and stuff. I promise and stuff to never again misspell a name transliterated from one alphabet into another and stuff, especially by misinterpreting stressed vowel sounds and stuff. Obviously Peter, you are a giant among men in matters of English spelling and grammar. I am shamed that I have not met your high standards and stuff.

…is worth winning over a cheap unappealing grandma running around.

Personally, I find it offensive that you would refer to a poor Moldavian grandmother as “cheap” and “unappealing.” When I think cheap, I’m more likely to think of an over made-up Greek trollop wearing a shirt that says “Studd” than a Grandmother. When I think unappealing, I’m more likely to think of some Cypriot Michael Jackson wannabe than a poor Moldavian Grandmother.

In short Peter, I encourage you to stop bitching about a blog that is blazing new comedic ground by making fun of Eurovision. Instead, I suggest you go eat a Gyro and cry about getting your ass kicked by the Turks at Izmir.



Two notes from Europe this morning, both of which my jingoistic American side is ashamed of even writing about.

1) A bunch of scousers were happy in Istanbul last night as Liverpool won the Champions League. Unlike the mysterious UEFA cup, I actually know what the Champions League is. Great game, with the Reds coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win. I do have to say (especially in light of the FA Cup final played last weekend) that this deciding soccer games based on penalty shoot-outs is absolutely retarded. If a basketball game was tied at the end of an overtime, would you decide your winner by shooting a best of 5 free throws? Would the Super Bowl be decided based on a Field Goal contest? No. You play the freaking game until someone wins.

I suppose there is Ukrainian angle to this, as Ukrainian super-star Andriy Shevchenko was on the losing side, AC Milan, and he had two potentially game winning shots stopped in the final minutes. It was also his missed penalty shot that sealed the win for Liverpool.

I can't honestly claim to be a Liverpool fan now, but I was when I lived in England back in the 80s (during the good old days of the Belgian soccer riots). So I was rooting for them last night. You'll never walk alone...or something.

When does the NFL start up again?

2) I couldn't help but be amused by reading this Financial Times article. It looks like the frogs are leaning towards voting down the new EU constitution in a referendum this weekend. And if they don't vote it down, the Dutch probably will shortly thereafter. So what's the EU's reaction? Well, obviously anyone voting against the EU got the wrong result, so they should have to vote again until they vote "correctly."

"The countries which have said No will have to ask themselves the question again." Said Jean-Claude Juncker, current EU president.

Obviously, the 349 page Constitution couldn't be flawed. Obviously, the people voting against it have no clue what they're talking about. People are voting "incorrectly" and they need to go back to the drawing board, not Brussels.

I wish I could say that this surprised me, but the EU has pulled this shit before. Didn't like the Danes voting down Maastricht? Make 'em keep voting until you get the result you want. Didn't like the Irish voting down Nice? Make 'em keep voting until you get the result you want. How meaningless is it to say that all structural changes in the EU are based on unanimous consent of all member countries, when you just make countries keep voting until they vote your way? Seeing crap like this makes me wonder how people over here (E. Europe especially) are able to take the EU seriously. Fundamentally, how is this different than only being able to vote for a Communist Party candidate in an election?



This is the kind of thing that maybe two people will find interesting, but it's my blog and I'm writing it anyway.

When I was in Slovakia last week, I noticed that on all their maps Austria was called "Rakusko." Austria was also called Rakusko in Czech. This is a bit odd, since in most other Slavic languages that I've been exposed to, Austria is just called "Avstria," or something close to that. Rakusko isn't close at all to what Austria is called in German (which is Osterreich, translated as Eastern Empire) so my interest was piqued.

Spent a bit of time looking into this whole Rakusko thing over the weekend. After a bit of time, I found my answer here. I'll extract the relevant portion below.

The Czech for Austria is Rakousko and an Austrian is a Rakušan. This actually comes from a medieval castle on the Austro-Czech border called Radgos, which is today known as Raabs. The Czechs used the name of the castle for the whole country and called it Rakuš or Rakus, which eventually became Rakousko.

So there you go. I thought it was neat anyway.

Eurovision Hangover

I think I'm finally recovered from the abuse that was Eurovision weekend. Things seem to have quieted down a bit, and the weather is definitely nicer, warmer, but not so humid. Not much going on now...but that's a good thing. Picture above is what they did to Palts Sportu for Eurovision. I'll give them a bit of credit. The building looks like typical Soviet-era crap, so instead of fixing the crap (which they couldn't have had the money to do), they just covered it up. It didn't look too bad at night all light up.

The really annoying thing about being in this neighborhood was that access to the site was completely blocked off by the city, unless you had a ticket or a pass. This included closing off the metro station that is located right accross the street from there.


Eurovision LiveBlog

Earlier today I spent about an hour downtown, checking out all the Eurovision happenings. For my American readers, who probably have no idea even what Eurovision is, go here. While I normally don’t have a big problem with crowds, today I just couldn’t deal with it. Too many touts, too many streets blocked off, weather was just a touch too humid. This Ukraine-based blog failed in its unstated mission to provide you, the valued reader, with a first hand account of happenings in Ukraine

However, in order to make this up to you, my loyal readers; I shall instead undertake a task that I assume to be unprecedented and perhaps Herculean in content. I shall live-blog the telecast of the 50th Annual Eurovision song contest.

Refresh regularly for updates. New content will appear at the end of the post.

God help us all.

9:45 PM – I’m gathering provisions to get me through this undertaking, and in the spirit of the occasion, they’re Ukrainian in nature. Three 1 liter bottles of Chernigiev Beer, three bags of sukariki (I don’t know if the jellied meat and horseradish flavor was a good call here though), and I’ve downloaded Ruslana’s “Dance with the Wolves” ringtone to my Kievstar mobile phone. If I don’t hear that song enough tonight, I’ll get my fix this way.

9:57 PM – The show hasn’t even started yet and I think Kanal 1 has shown their official Eurovision Station ID 9 times in the past 10 minutes. I’m already sick of it. This isn’t a good sign.

10:03 PM – Only Ruslana could pull off wearing a costume that consists of both sequins and goat hair.

10:07 PM – Seven minutes in and I’m already sick of the overdubbing…this doesn’t bode well for the rest of the evening.

10:13 PM – After watching some bald guys do a lord of the dance routine during the Hungarian entrant’s performance, I’m now watching some Brit perform a number to an Arabic beat. Her lyrics actually include the line “Can you feel the heat?” and there are no references to “Boogie Nights.” I am thoroughly confused, on multiple levels.

10:17 PM – If the expression is “It ain’t over ‘till the fat lady sings,” why is the Maltese entrant third in the line-up?

10:28 PM – I have my favorite contestant. Norwegian entry “Wig-Wam.” The reference to The Sweet alone is enough for me. If we’re going to going to quibble about Norwegian metal acts, TurboNegro makes these guys look like the pussies that they are, but Wig-Wam is beating The Darkness at their own game.

10:33 PM – Then again, I can root for these Moldavian guys to win, just so they have to hold Eurovision in Chisinau, or better yet, Tiraspol, next year. Plus I love how the lead singer manages to combine what I assume to be elements of Moldavian folk costume with Adidas track pants.

10:42 PM – The jellied meat and horseradish flavored sukariki – not bad. The contestants from CyprusGod Awful.

10:48 PM – Israel!!?? Israel is allowed to participate in EUROvision? Does this competition have a sense of geography? Maybe this chick has an ace in the hole…the Kiev Synagogue is across the street from Palats Sportu. This chick’s name is Shiri. I knew an Israeli chick in college named Shira. One time she got drunk and started talking about how hot all the IDF guys looked carrying their Uzis. I think we got two and a half years of jokes out of that episode.

10:53 PM – The Serbia and Montenegro entrant came out with a KFOR escort and then the Montenegrin members of the group left to start their own band. I kid, I kid.

I think I’m seeing a pattern here though; your entry has to have either live drumming happening on stage or an opening that contains a pan flute.

Commercial break. Thank God. I need another beer.

11:02 PM – Well, if I ever want a pinstriped navy blazer with pink piping, I guess I need to go to Copenhagen.

11:05 PM – The Swedish entry is a song called “Las Vegas.” I guess that sounds more musically appealing than “Göteburg.”

11:11 PM – You know, I actually like “Razom Nas Bagato.” I’ll always remember kids dancing to this in front of Tsum when no one really knew if the militsia were going to start shooting people or not.

I do have to say though that “Greenjolly” has to be one of the most ill-considered band names of all times.

And what kind of idiot wears a T-Shirt with Che Guevera on it when he’s singing a song about freedom?

11:16 PM – The German entrant is really freaking boring. Seriously. The song is so unmemorable I can’t even snarkily comment on it.

11:20 PM – Is it a coincidence that dogs started howling in my dvor after the Croatian entrant’s song was over? I think not.

There is someone else out there that has decided to liveblog this.

11:24 PM – “You’re a fire/My desire/When I kiss your lips/It makes me higher.” Wow. I had heard lots of talk about how Greece was the favorite in this. If there was a contest for insipid lyrics…maybe.

11:31 PM – I think Russia really just needs to keep entering T.A.T.U. every year. I mean seriously; how, as a nation, are they ever going to top that? Instead of talking about creating a “Common European Space” with the EU, they need to talk about this. Someone call Jose Barraso.

11:33 PM – The Bosnian entrant is a girl-group called “Feminem.” Get it? Oh those wacky Bosnians.

11:36 PM – OK, the Swiss entrant is a German produced, all girl, Estonian band called “Vanilla Ninja.” I’m confused again.

11:41 PM – Gary Cherone, if you’re ever feeling depressed about the whole Van Halen thing, just know that at least Extreme had a huge impact on two kids from Latvia.

11:46 PM – And we end the performance section with the French…too many jokes…head hurts…writing…like Shatner…speaks.

11:55 PM – Shockingly enough, the Ukrainian phone network seems to be overloaded and unable to process my vote for Wig Wam. I get another beer in an act of personal protest.

12:02 AM – Instead of showing all these little video clips of tourist attractions in Kiev, hohols in folk costumes, the Carpathian Mountains, and Ukrainian industry in the East and kids dancing ballet they need to have video clips showing the REAL Ukraine. You know, people waiting in line at some government office to get a pchat on some spravka, some drunk sovok stinking up a subway car, someone selling bootleg firme at a market, a group of kids drinking in a random podyezd when it’s -15 out, oligarchs trying to throw an election, or militsia pulling your car over and hitting you up for a bribe.

12:07 AM – My god, voting is going to take forever. We’re gonna have to sit through over thirty countries reading their top 12 vote getters.

12:17 AM – If I ever get a call and hear someone say on the other end “Good evening Mike, this is Minsk calling” I’m hanging up the phone.

12:25 AM – Finland just bumped their Scandanavian neighbors into the top 5. I don’t think I’m pioneering any new ground in Eurovision commentary here, but there seems to be a definite pattern in neighborhood voting. This does make me wonder how Israel is in the top 5.

12:31 AM – The Irish just thoroughly confused DJ Pasha by speaking a small amount of Gaelic. They also thoroughly confused me by giving all of their votes to the Latvian Extreme rip-offs. These guys are now in the lead.

12:35 AM – Wow. Did I just catch a Bucks Fizz reference from the limey broad? They also gave the Greek chick 12 points. Brits should have better musical taste than that.

12:49 AM – The top two vote getting acts were probably the two most banal in the entire competition. I dare some Euro to try to lecture me about how Americans have no taste. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought that the German act was boring. They’re currently in last place.

12:51 AM – The Spanish chick reading off her country’s votes has a gap in her front teeth that would make Alfred E. Newman jealous.

12:59 AM – The most unintentionally funny part about this whole voting thing is when the presenter comes on from each country and prefaces their statement by saying how great of a job Ukraine did hosting Eurovision this year. It almost always comes across as a backhanded compliment like “Wow, congratulations, you guys didn’t fuck it up!”

1:02 AM – Never mind. The Ukrainian presenter fucked up reading Ukraine’s votes. Twice. The Greek chick with the insipid lyrics is starting to run away with it. She’s in first place and has a 40 some point lead. My boys from Wig Wam are fading, but still in the top 10. My dreams of a Chisinau hosted Eurovision also seem unlikely of coming true.

1:10 AM – Russia gave two points to Ukraine. I guess that’s payback for the Orange Revolution. They also gave their twelve to the large Maltese chick, who’s creeping up in second. It’s a shame I already made my fat lady singing joke.

1:26 AM – Now Viktor Yushenko has come out on stage to give a special prize (that resembles some odd alien artifact) to the insipid Greek chick that just won the contest. It’s some weird looking metal thing that fits in his hand that he says is a gift from “the people of Ukraine.”

Can someone explain to me what a head of state is doing involving himself in this crap?

I can't believe I’ve stayed up this freaking late to watch the boring Greek chick win. Her name (and could it be more steroypically Greek?) is Helena Poparizou. Her completely boring song is called “The One.”

More sample lyrics:

You’re my lover/under cover/You’re my sacred passion/I have no other.

Thanks Europe! Have fun in Athens next year.


Parting Shot

Parting shot from Trencin. I see statues like this all the time when traveling through former Hapsburg lands. Always wondered what they were. Looked it up when I got back last night...it turns out they're monuments to a Plague outbreak from the beginning of the 1700s.

Trencin from Above

A shot of Trencin from a hill overlooking the square, but still below the castle. On the right is a Baroque church of some sort. To the left of that a (now abandoned) synagoge. To the left of that is a tower that sits at one end of the square. In the background, the beginning of the Tatra mountains.

Pod Hradom

The hotel I was put up in was called the Pod Hradom "under the castle." That's it on the right there, that pink building. Great location in the center on these really old streets.

To go off an a mild tangent, when I checked in, the hotel desk clerk made a big deal about getting me a seperate remote for their satellite TV. Fair enough, I'm easily impressed by technology. I get bored late one night since the whole freaking town shuts down at about nine and start flipping around. I had no idea why this was, but it's safe to say that at least half of the 250 channels the satellite received were arab in origin. And my god, arabic television has to be the absolute worst freaking thing I have ever seen in my life.

Every channel could be broken down in one of three ways, and I'm not being hyperbolic about this at all.

1) Some guy singing the worst pop song (in arabic) you could possibly imagine; typically he'd be out in the desert somewhere, maybe around ruins.

2) A panel of guys sitting around a table discussing something very seriously with horrible background designs projected behind them on a bluescreen.

3) The lowest of low rent porn out there. Even worse than it's exceptional trashiness was that over top of the porn would be projected about 10 different phone numbers with flags of various middle-eastern countries next to them with and written underneath each of them it says "Live Arab Sex Chat!"

All I know is that after about 15-20 minutes of flipping through that crap I felt like finding a Quran I could flush down a toilet.

Class Picture

For some reason, whenever I find myself in the Czech Republic or Slovakia it's allmost always in May. And no, I'm not complaining about that. Anyway, I've noticed this uniquely Czech/Slovak thing when I'm there this time of year. All the store fronts in town will display pictures of what I assume is the Czech/Slovak equivalent of a homeroom class that is graduating. All the pictures I'd seen before in Prague, Brno, and Bratislava were pretty standard. But the pictures up in Trencin were pretty creatively done. Like this group that put all their photos up on building blocks. There was another class I saw that made all their photos look like mugshots. Stuff like that.


Trencin is best known for its castle. It supposedly dates back to the 11th century. Here it is looming above the town square.

Trees on a Pole

I saw this or something similar to it all over the place in Slovakia. We'd just be driving (or walking) along and all of a sudden there'd be this fir tree completely covered in ribbons and sitting on top of a really long pole. When I initially asked my local hosts what those things were, they didn't know what I was talking about. Five minutes later we saw one on the road and they were able to explain to me that it's related to May Day celebrations somehow. You stick the poles either in front of local government buildings or by the house of a single woman. The connection between the two was not elaborated.



OK, back from Slovakia and in Eurovision-hell...errrrr...Kiev. I put up a photo set from Trencin here. Was pretty busy with work and didn't have much time to wonder around and take pics outside of the main square area around my hotel. Then again, in a city of about 60,000 known for being the "textile center of Slovakia" there wasn't much to see outside of the main square area. More blogging and photo specific stuff tomorrow.


Light Blogging

Light Blogging through Thursday.

Something unexpected came up with work and I am currently kicking it in some Slovakian town that I hadn't heard of before Sunday called Trencin.




Originally uploaded by MConnor.

Absoultely beautiful in Kiev now and this past weekend. It finally stopped raining, the skies are blue, temps are consistently in the high 60s, and all the flora is in full bloom. The Chestut trees all look like they are covered in candles.

With the weather being so nice for once, I was out quite a bit this weekend, but forgot my camera for a lot of it. Especially the Saturday activities.

First I went to Petrovka to get some software...only to find that all the guys selling bootleg goods were gone! This meant about half the freaking market was closed up. I'm hoping that this is just to make a nice showing for all the Eurovision officials and things turn back to normal in June. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday was also "Europe Day" in Kiev. Which basically translated to all the EU countries setting up booths on Kreshatik and giving away crappy little flags and mobile phone providers setting up booths next to them giving away even crappier cardboard hats. I hung out there for a bit with a friend whose wife works for an anti-human traffiking NGO. They got kicked out of their booth eventually by someother NGO and then we moved on to enjoy some beers outside. Europe Day also included an evening concert by "European" artists. I guess "European" meant, in this instance, the Finnish dynamos "BoomFunk MCs." What, Estonia's "Vanilla Ninja" wasn't available? Shockingly enough I didn't stick around for that. I also noticed that Europe Day is going to be held in Donetsk. I can't imagine that's gonna go over well. The European Commission tent will probably get a Molotov cocktail tossed into it by some overzealous Russian Block member.

All in all, Europe Days seemed like a microcosim of what this place is probably going to be like next weekend when Eurovision is going on. This city is actually going to be innundated with tourists. Lots of them. Not to mention all the crappy Eurotrash singers. I'm envisioning a cross between Star Search, American Idol, and some horrible 2 day rave. I'll either not be leaving my house or out in the thick of it, mocking it all. And if Eurovision permanently costs me Petrovka, woe betide you Ruslana...



The last time this happened in Central Asia, the results were a government collapsing. We should be keeping our collective eyes open on this one.



Posting has been light this week not because of anything going on, but because of the lack of anything going on. I got nothing. I've been kind of amused by all of this Yalta back and forth, but really don't have anything original to add to the discussion. Except for that fact that this summer I'd like to actually go check out Yalta (and the rest of Crimea for that matter). Oh, and I agree with the "Roosevelt sold-out Central/Eastern Europe" camp. ESPECIALLY in the case of E. Germany and the Czechoslovakia. He could have put boots on the ground there before the end of the war but elected not to.

On a lighter note, can someone explain to me why has the "Whizzinator" is showing up so much in the news lately? Is the news cycle so slow that everyone's resorting to dick jokes?


Kasha Tents

A closer inspection of the scene in front of the Rodina Mat, quite a scene really. Every other time I've been there, the crowds have been sparse to say the least. All those tents were dishing out kasha and most of those people were absolutely pickled drunk.

Part II

After the Kreshatik parade, the whole thing moved south to the Rodina Mat (big statue on the right there) where all the veterans were served traditional kasha and a band played. The eternal flame of victory at the Rodina Mat (basin on the left there) was actually lit for the occasion. Most of the year it isn't lit.

Commies on Parade

Plenty of communists were marching too. But I'm not sure if they were part of the official parade or not, as they all came at the end. Lots of pictures of Stalin were on display. I guess the marchers forgot the couple million of Ukrainians he starved to death during collectivization in the 30s.

More Victory Day

Who's that marching in the Victory Day Parde? President Victor Yushenko. I think there's some obvious puns in there somewhere, but I'll stay away from them. Tymoshenko was marching too, I wasn't quick enough to get a picture of her.


Victory Day

Just got back from walking around what seemed like half of Kiev for most of the day checking out Victory Day happenings. It basically entailed a lot of the above, plus Communists, and people getting absolutely plastered on the holiday. Still really neat to see though. I've got a little bit of real work to do, and I'm really freaking hungry, but I'll try to blog more and put up a flickr set this evening.

UPDATE: Flickr photoset here. I'm too beat to blog individual photos tonight though. More of that tomorrow.



Siberian Light has a post regarding some antics in Moscow during a UEFA cup game between цска Moscow and Parma. This leads me to ask another question, this time of my soccer watching Euro readers.

Can someone please explain to me what the hell the UEFA cup is? I've finally figured out how all the different national leages work (which is really lame...no playoffs? C'mon, what's up with that?).

I've basically figured out how the Champions League works: take the best teams of all the Euro national leagues, have them play each other and see who wins...but even that's lame in how the teams are selected. How exactly is it determined how many teams from each national league make it? Why do four British Premier League teams make it into the competition, but I didn't see the Albanian league champs?

But I have no idea what the hell the UEFA Cup is. Is it kind of like the NIT of Euro Soccer? Good, but not great? How does a team qualify?

Oh, here's another one, what is the European Cup Winners Cup? That one just sounds asinine.

God help me for even asking these questions, but every freaking day on the BBC I have to listen to this crap, and after six months I've reached my limit and I need to know exactly what it is these people are talking about.

How long is it until the NFL starts up again?



I posted the above picture of the entrance to the Estonian Museum of Occupation, as it appears that my earlier musings concerning Baltic observation of Victory Day this Monday weren't just the random thoughts of some ex-pat in Kiev, but that they are growing into a larger international issue. Turns out that the Presidents of Estonia and Lithuania have refused invitations to attend Victory Day celebrations in Moscow on Monday. They don't view it as victory for their countries, but as the beginning of their occupation. The President of Latvia will be attending, but will be using the occasion to highlight Soviet Occupation.

What absolutely kills me is this story that showed up in the Washington Post this morning. The basic summary is that the Russian Government expressed it's extreme displeasure over a letter sent by President Bush to Latvian President Freiberga in which he acknowledges that Victory Day also marks the start of unwanted Soviet occupation for the Baltic countries.

How is this controversial? During the entire Cold War the U.S. NEVER recognized Soviet annexation of the Baltic states.

And for Russia to deny that it occupied these countries is borderline farcical. Perhaps someone needs to send the Russian Embassies in Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius copies of the "secret" sections of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

"One cannot use the term 'occupation' to describe those historical events, at that time, the troop deployment took place on an agreed basis and with the clearly expressed agreement of the existing authorities in the Baltic republics." Says Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Russian Ambassador to the EU.

I'll cut out the bullshit of that statement and not go out on too far of a limb to think that what he means is: "She was asking for it, your honor."

UPDATE: More here from the BBC, which had pretty good coverage of all this last night. And for anyone reading this from Western Ukraine or other places in Central Europe, I will reprint verbatim a note that appeared in an article on this subject in the Action Ukraine Report.

The end of the war also did not bring freedom for Ukraine and many other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Ultima Thule has some great thoughts on this, just go there and start scrolling. She also brings up something I completely forgot to post about that is absolutely ridiculous. The Russian Ambassador to Ukraine, Victor Chernomyrdin, recently stated that Russia couldn't be held responsible for crimes against humanity that took place in the Soviet Union, including the Ukrainian famine. If any country was responsible for the Ukrainian famine, he said it was Georgia; after all, Stalin was Georgian.

Look, I'm not bashing Soviet efforts during the war here. The country, people, and Army took an absolute beating during those four years that's really incomprehensible to people today. You read accounts about how awful Fallujah was...well the Russian front in WWII was worse, and it wasn't just one town, it ran from Karelia to Volgograd. Prisoners weren't "abused", they were just executed. So were civilians, en masse. The whole country suffered. Casualties were in the millions.

What I am bashing is the revisionism and the blatant attempt to have it both ways that seems to be going on in Russia right now. As Aussiegirl says, the Russian Govt. seems to be taking this upcoming anniversary as an attempt to lay a Russian claim on the victory and sacrifice of the Second World War while at the same time refusing to acknowledge anything bad that came out of their victory. There's no acknowledgement, let alone discussion of the forcible annexation of the Baltics, Western Ukraine, and Moldova. There's no mention of all the Red Army POWs that, upon liberation from German camps, were immediately sent to the Gulags..."obvious" traitors to the Motherland.

History is written by the victors, but freedom, democracy, and the West was also a victor in May of 1945. While we should rightly honor the sacrifices, contributions, and ultimate victory of Red Army veterans and Soviet people, we cannot let the current, and increasingly undemocratic, Russian government and their selective historical memory use elements of that victory to advance their own current, nationalistic, needs.


Yushenko's First 100 Days

Lengthy Post on Publius regarding the conclusion of Yushenko's first 100 days in office. I wish they would have referenced this editorial from the Kyiv Post a bit more in their posting though. On the ground here it does seem like there's been a lot of talk and not much in the way of action. It's all well and good (and true) to say that you can't expect lasting reforms and changes to be made overnight. However, there are basic things that can be done quite easily by Executive Decree (like lifting visa requirements for travel) that just aren't being done. Visa requirements were able to be lifted temporarily for EU passport holders coming to Ukraine for Eurovision...why can't that simply be made permanent? Another thing the Publius poster forgets to mention is that part of the deal Yushenko made prior to his innaguration was that many of the powers held by the Ukrainian President would be transferred to the Ukrainian Rada (Parliament) in September of this year. Once that happens, it'll be even harder to push through reforms. And if those powers aren't transferred it'll just make the Orange Revolution look like a pure power grab to the people in the east he still needs to win over. Clock's ticking...


One of the photos I had from Tallinn generated some flickr commentary. I posted the above photo with a typically snarky comment about how nonsensical it seemed to put up signs in the tourist center of a city that contained an abbreviation that no tourists would understand. Well, apparently some Estonian took umbrage with that, commenting that NB! is latin and means Nota Bene translated as "mark this" or "notice" and everyone knows that. Now obviously the sign is warning about pickpockets, purse thieves, etc...but I have never seen the NB! abbreviation anywhere before. I travel relatively frequently, but it's entirely possible in this instance (as it is with most things) that I'm an idiot. Have either of the two blog readers I have seen "NB!" used on signs anywhere else in the world besides Estonia?


Old Town

The Old Town of Tallinn is quite nice and filled with medieval looking streets such as this one. It's all very well preserved and maintained and is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Definitely worth the weekend trip to see.

I posted a full photo set here on flickr, with descriptions for 90% of the photos. Check it out if interested.

Orthodox Easter in Tallinn

It was Orthodox Easter while I was in Tallinn, so the Nevski Cathedral (pictured above) was a hub of activity most of the time I was there. I poked my head in a couple of times and Orthodox Easter services seemed to be nothing like the Roman Catholic ones I was used to. There were lots of different things going on at once, it was quite a commotion. Traditional Russian easter cakes were being sold out front (to be blessed inside) for about two bucks a piece, we didn't buy any.

There's quite a few Russians in Estonia, they're something like 28% of the population of the country on the whole and 40% of Tallinn in particular. The ethnic Russians seem to have second class status within the country. Russians were the taxi drivers, Russians were cleaning the hotel, Russians were working in all the souvenier stores on the holiday. Mrs. Connard was quite surprised to see Russians in this position, as it's typically the other way around. All I could say is that payback's a bitch.

When it came to Estonians and their opinions concerning Communisim, Russians, and particularly occupation they weren't exactly warm. I recalled stories from the mid nineties where ethnic Russians in Estonia weren't given Estonian cistizenship. But I assume that was all corrected as a requirement for EU membership. I do wonder though, if Russians in Estonia have to use Estonian as the language of education and government. I'd imagine they do. Estonian seemed to be a really difficult language. It's Finno-Urgic, not Indo-European. There's something like 14 different cases that it uses. I didn't even try to speak it when up there. But that didn't matter, as the whole country seemed to be tri-ligual. Everyone knew Russian, English, and Estonian. That alone was quite amazing, as the three languages really aren't related at all.

Tallinn, It's the new Prague!

Back from Tallinn. Picture above is the upper portion of the Old Town there, known locally as "Toompea." The old town of Tallinn was pretty nice. Everything outside of the old town looked like a mix of Soviet and Scandinavian; which, I suppose, is quite appropriate considering the location. I had read lots of things before hand about how the Estonian people are quite stand-offish, cold, and slow. I didn't find that to be the case at all, except for the staff of Estonian Airlines.

It's not entirely inaccurate to say that Estonia is the new Prague either. Having already overrun Prague with their loutishness, Tallinn seems to be in the opening stages of being overrun by groups of drunken British stag party punters. Seriously, the next time I have to listen to someone bloviate about how classless Americans are when they travel overseas, I'm going to have to ask them if they've ever seen these idiots in action. Were I British, I'd be embarrassed.