Sunday, August 2, 2015

Your Sunday Squirrel

This is my last squirrel for a month, so I might as well make it a good one.  Enjoy!

Sorry Ukraine, Maybe Next Time

I’m off to Turkey for a month tomorrow.  Usually I start out in Ukraine, visit some relatives, see a few sights and move on.  That’s not happening this time around.  I know that there are a few relatives and acquaintances from the home village of Peremilov that are Facebook friends, so maybe a little clarification is in order.  OK, it’s not that I don’t care about you; it’s just that there’s this war you’ve got going on with Russia.  Never mind this business about “separatists.” You’re fighting Russia.  Ever since I started visiting Ukraine in 1993, everybody’s been telling me that there was going to be a war like this.  I thought you guys were being delusional.  As the American, I felt it was my job to be the optimist.  I thought that talking positively about the future would make things seem less grim.  I feel a bit foolish about that now, given what’s happened over the last year and a half.  

But let’s back up a bit.  Ever since my first visit, it’s been tough to ignore that Ukraine has been poorly governed.  Elected and appointed officials methodically loot the treasury without the least thought to the people they’re supposed to be representing or serving.  The rule of law doesn’t apply and the economy is a ruin.  The thing about the corruption is that it continues even when it’s exposed.  Politicians seem to be proud to be corrupt, just as so many Ukrainians are proud alcoholics.  What’s the supreme mystery here is that the corruption is never-ending because the people expect it.  Yeah, just look at the last guy they elected as their president, Viktor Yanukovych.  Despite poisoning his opponent and committing widespread election fraud, he eventually became president of the country (after a revolution and a very disappointing term by the guy he almost killed).  Everybody knew he’d be a disaster, but they made him president anyway.  There was something of a popular rebellion against him and he was eventually kicked out of office last year.  That’s when Russia moved in and all this crazy stuff started up in earnest.  So it’s not just about Russian aggression; that’s a part of this whole mess, but basically, it’s about how Ukrainians allow crappy government to happen.  It’s about the almost unimaginable selfishness of the ruling apparatus.  It’s about how nothing works.  Back in the Soviet times, they could curse the faceless bureaucracy and the lunacy of Leninism and appreciate the stability of a system that seemingly could preserve itself forever.  They were powerless to do much about it, but at least most everybody was in the same boat.  Everyone was poor, everything was broken and there was nothing worth buying.  Fast forward to now and they’re theoretically living in a parliamentary democracy with representatives who are supposed to represent their interests, but they still act like there’s a Soviet Union.  People don’t vote and they don’t hold their government accountable until it gets so intolerable that they have to rise in rebellion.  That, folks, is no way to run a country.  I can no longer be the optimist with my relatives, nor can I sit there and listen to why they’re not planning on voting in elections.  I love my relatives, but I simply don’t have the vocabulary to tell them all these things.  Sure, they’re a blast to drink, talk and sing with, but I can’t listen to their national plight, because it’s all their fault.  Gah, it’s totally frustrating.

OK, so on the one hand, I feel like a complete dumbass for being the pollyanna.  On the other hand, this is the kind of thing that happens when you allow bad government to operate for decades.  Of course, having a large neighbor wanting to revive its empire is a problem, too, but it’s a component that highlights the larger problem.  So tomorrow I head off to Turkey, a country that’s actually fun to visit and full of friendly people.  I will go to Ukraine again once the war is over.  Until then, I say to you: Я думаю о вас каждый день, и я молюсь за ваше будущее.  Дай Боже, родственники.  And there you have it.

(Cross-posted over on Facebook, obviously)