I really enjoyed Savik Shuster's show this past Friday, but couldn't find enough time to write about it (and about the gas dispute). Amazing how a TV program - just like a person - can emigrate and become successful (or not) in a new country: it used to be interesting to watch Shuster's Svoboda Slova ('Freedom of Speech') on the Russian NTV channel, but then they chased the show off the air, and it moved to Ukraine, and now it's very interesting to watch its reincarnation here and realize, among other things, just how different Ukraine and Russia are. (My other entry about Svoboda Slova is here.)
Anyway, while Yushchenko's boring conversation (pre-recorded, I guess) with three Ukrainian journalists from three leading TV channels was being broadcast on those channels Friday evening, Shuster had Andrei Illarionov speaking live from Moscow. Illarionov had resigned as Putin's economic adviser just a few days before, the immediate reason for his resignation being the Russian-Ukrainian gas scandal. Somehow, what he had to say seemed way more urgent and significant than Yushchenko's message. In particular, Illarionov compared the current hysteria in Russia and in the Russian media to a similar hysteria in Germany, in 1938, over Sudetenland: "Then [as Ukraine now], they were seriously considering this issue in Czechoslovakia: how should we respond to such demands? We know what was done then, and we know the consequences."
(I'd really like to translate more, a lot more, because it's worth it, but I have neither time, nor energy right now... The complete transcript of the Friday's Svoboda Slova is here (in Russian and Ukrainian).)
Another highlight was Vladimir Zhirinovsky, also live from Moscow. This man may seem like he's just a crazy schmuck, but more often than not the bullshit he's spitting out is actually the bullshit that's in many people's heads. So first he announced that by 2010, Ukraine and all the rest would be paying up to $1,000 for 1,000 cubic meters of the Russian gas (and as much for the Turkmen gas, because "Turkmenistan used to part of the Russian Empire, not Ukrainian"). He then promised to teach us all the Russian language, and history ("There's never been a Ukrainian state in European history. Today's name of your state is a ruin, 'the outskirts of the Russian Empire.' If you don't like it within the Russian Empire, you're free to move elsewhere.").
The audience at this show consisted exclusively of Ukrainian college students studying in Kyiv, and they were laughing out loud every other minute. Vladyslav Kaskiv, of Pora, noted that despite the seriousness of the problem being discussed, the atmosphere in the studio was very cheerful: "I think this is the best illustration of what the real issues are and what's fiction in this hysterical dispute. I have to say I'm very proud that in this country the existence of politicians like this [like Zhirinovsky] is virtually impossible. And those who resemble them - certain witches [Natalya Vitrenko, most likely] - they do not have any real political status in Ukraine."
A hilarious illustration of Kaskiv's point - that no politician in Ukraine, no matter how idiotic, could compete with Zhirinovsky - came when Mykola Azarov, a man generally considered an asshole by many, formerly head of the tax administration, vice premier in the Yanukovych government and acting prime minister during the Orange Revolution, decided to respond to Zhirinovsky:
Vladimir Wolfovich, it is hard to imagine anything more harmful to the Ukrainian-Russian relations than your words. I used to be a parliamentarian, too, and am currently taking part in the parliamentary campaign, and I would like to ask you, deputy speaker of the State Duma, to cut down on your absolutely hostile, anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. It offends me as a Russian person, Vladimir Wolfovich. So please let's be tactful, simply tactful.
Azarov graduated from the Moscow State University and worked in Russia for quite a while; his Ukrainian is notoriously awful. Last year, someone decided to bring him to Maidan to stand next to Yushchenko and other victors during the New Year's celebration - and the crowd booed him, rightly so. This past Friday, the students in the audience - many of whom were, no doubt, at Maidan or even in the tents in 2004 - applauded Azarov after he brushed Zhirinovsky off. An important development in Ukrainian politics - "My razom, nas bahato, i nas ne podolaty," almost.
There were two Ukraines for Russia last year, a good one (pro-Yanukovych) and a bad one (pro-Yushchenko). This year, there's only one, and it's all bad, and deserves to be punished, as a whole. Do they expect those who voted for Yanukovych to get really mad at those who voted for Yushchenko - for aren't we the ones who've made Russia furious - and blind in its fury to distinguish between the bad and the good ones anymore, punishing us all with those gas prices? But Azarov's unlikely retort to Zhirinovsky shows that if they push too far, the good ones - pro-Yanukovych, or Russian, or Russian-speaking, or East Ukrainian, whatever - take the bad ones' side, and then they all begin to look the same: Ukrainians.