Monday, November 23, 2009

Three pictures from Maidan five years ago - Nov. 22, 2004...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I know a person here in Moscow who, while having a casual conversation, always pauses before saying the word 'Ukrainians' - and never says it. He says the word 'khokhly" instead, always. He once asked me why 'khokhly' are getting so emotional about being called 'khokhly.' I had a question of my own instead of an answer: what is is that makes an otherwise normal, educated person, who's wasted half his life voting for Yavlinsky's Yabloko and cursing Putin, substitute a totally legit word for the one that, as he himself admits, is making somebody nervous? How does his mind work? I can't imagine myself substituting the word 'Russians' for 'katsapy' every time I talk to a Russian, I told this guy. Let me try, though, I added. And then I spent five minutes or so pausing and saying 'katsapy' instead of 'Russians' whenever that word came up. It wasn't a fun exercise. I felt like shit. And the guy grew visibly uncomfortable in those five minutes or so, too, which was kind of funny. He didn't admit feeling uncomfortable, though, and moved on to another subject instead: the origin of the word 'Ukraine' - okraina, outskirts, borderland and all that, the usual crap. I told him I had better things to do than having a discussion on this subject and left. I haven't spoken to him ever since. He admitted being a senile ass to another person right away, apologized through that other person, which was somewhat poignant, but I really do have better things to occupy myself with than having those silly conversations with him ever again.

Writing about Putin's sense of humor isn't one of those 'better' things, and I thought one tweet about it would be enough: "Putin trying to impress Tymoshenko with his cab driver sense of humor (RUS)"

But then a former colleague posted a response on my Facebook page today, which made me realize that my description of Putin's sense of humor was a bit misleading - and offensive towards cab drivers. Basically, there are too many cab drivers who are way cooler than Putin, even though he once considered becoming one, too, and it's unfair and rude to generalize like this. My sincere apologies to cab drivers.

Also today, I was forced to dodge the guy obsessed with the 'khokhly' word - our paths do cross every now and then - and it got me thinking in analogies again. What if Yulia had followed up on Putin's jokes about Yushchenko and Saakashvili with a bunch of her own - say, about Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, his ridiculous leather caps and his inane attempts to do geopolitics stuff in Crimea instead of just keeping Moscow clean and happy. Like Putin's jokes, that wouldn't have sounded funny, and Yulia is a good girl, too, so she just giggled along with everyone else and played the femininity card, making one awkward joke of her own, about not wearing a tie - unlike Saakashvili. Would have been counterproductive of her, of course, to ruin that lovely endorsement that she'd just received from her Russian colleague.

Speaking of Yulia, Putin and Luzhkov, I've recently stumbled on an item (RUS) about Konstantin Korolevsky, the brother of one of Yulia's most prominent teammates, Natalya Korolevskaya (I wrote briefly about the two of them at the end of this lengthy post). This guy used to be the first deputy head of the department of urban construction policy, development and reconstruction of the city of Moscow, but this past summer he was transferred to Putin's "government apparatus," following rumors of Luzhkov's displeasure at the results of Korolevsky's work and some allegations of major corruption. So who knows, maybe Yulia and Putin are cracking jokes about Luzhkov during their private meetings. Because, all things considered, it's hard to imagine the two of them discussing Anton Pavlovich Chekhov: Putin must have been joking when he said they would.

Our foreign affairs ministry, via the deputy foreign minister, announced that the joking episode had been taken out of context by some media and politicians, and that the Tymoshenko-Putin meeting had been quite productive at many levels. Among other things, what really hurts here is the fact that Yulia and the current foreign affairs minister Petro Poroshenko appear to have finally made it up, just in time for the 2010 election. Had they not been fighting ever since Yushchenko's 2004 victory, causing the mess of Sept. 2005, who knows, maybe Ukraine wouldn't have ranked #146 (out of 180) on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index now. This, of course, isn't exclusively their fault, and Russia, too, is #146, while Georgia, led by the butt of Putin's jokes, Saakashvili, since 2003, is currently at #66, but still.

Another reason why I decided to apologize to cab drivers is because of a guy who drove me home today. An ethnic Georgian, born and raised in Moscow, with family in Batumi, he was telling me of how much things have changed in Georgia in the past few years. It used to take months to get through bureaucracy while getting registered as the owner of real estate, and now you can have it all done in a single day, without running around from one office to another, bribing everyone along the way - now you just submit all the paperwork at one office, and they don't even want to take a box of candies from the grateful you. Traffic cops are not taking bribes, either - they are not stopping cars indiscriminately in order to demand a bribe. In the Soviet times, he said, Georgia was considered to be the most corrupt republic, and people used to think that it was impossible to change anything, took corruption for granted, but it turns out that if the authorities start doing something to stop corruption, things do change for the better eventually. Funny, but we didn't really mention Saakashvili in the course of this conversation - but, obviously, much if not all of the credit went to him.

We didn't mention the Putin-Tymoshenko joking episode, either, and we didn't have the time to discuss the Aug. 2008 war. And, at one point, the guy said he was a "pro-Russian person" - because he grew up here and cared about things - and, at another point, he said that he liked Yushchenko, but thought that, unfortunately, he was a weak leader. He also told me of how he had lost his driver's license once and then drove some 400 km across Georgia, and the police didn't stop him once - because he didn't violate any traffic rules, he said. To all this, part of me wants to say, Go figure, and another part of me thinks that it all makes perfect sense. Life, after all, is a crazy mess, full of contradictions and halftones.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The 5th anniversary of Maidan is almost there (or is already here, depending on when you start counting from, the first round of voting or the second), and every now and then I re-read what I was writing in Nov. 2004. Today, I ran into this post, about my father, his best childhood friend and the politics that got between them in the early 1990s. Papa's friend, Dima, died of cancer just a few months ahead of papa, in early 2007. We didn't tell papa about Dima's passing. It hurts terribly to re-read that post, to be reminded of how intense and positive everything was back then, of how idealistic we all were, and of how quickly it all turned into crap, and of how it all ended for Dima and for my father. When we were searching for papa, I stopped by at the hospital where Dima had died and was directed to a so-called hospice for the elderly located nearby - the conditions there shocked me then, and this is still a very vivid memory - a horrible memory. I guess one of the things I'm trying to say here is that politics and reality do not seem to overlap much in Ukraine, and even though back in 2004 it appeared briefly that such an overlap was possible, I don't think many people hold on to this illusion anymore. Yushchenko calling Tymoshenko 'a bum' and Tymoshenko calling Yushchenko 'a terrorist' - this so undignified, and so irrelevant.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

This NPR story about corruption in Romania broke my heart today. This part of it (and I didn't listen or read to the end, can't bear it):

[...] A Corruption-Linked Tragedy

In their small Bucharest flat in a big, drab Soviet-era apartment complex, Elena and Nansi Lungu look at photos of their 2-year-old son, Sebastian, who is asleep in the next room.

During Elena's pregnancy, she bribed the gynecologist and the nurses, which is a common practice. It was a normal, healthy pregnancy. But on delivery day during the final stage of labor, Elena says she was left alone for long stretches. Then Elena's main nurse suddenly told her she was done with her shift — and left.

"Imagine a nurse who told me she could see the head of the baby but she must go home because her shift is finished — 'My time, it's over,' " Elena says.

When another nurse finally showed up — some 45 minutes later — Elena says that nurse was in a panic about what she saw: The umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around the baby's head several times, restricting the oxygen flow.

After 25 minutes, Sebastian was born — but he was nearly dead.

"He didn't scream; he didn't move. He was blue. We try to accept that he will never be like a normal child, healthy. But with every step, we have to improve, a little bit, his life," Elena says.

Each day is a struggle, she says. At 2 years of age, Sebastian can't crawl, can't sit or hold up his head; he doesn't talk.

"We feed him through a tube inserted directly into his stomach and give him food via a syringe," she says.

Now, the Lungus are suing the Romanian Health Ministry and the hospital for criminal negligence and grievous bodily harm, charging that a culture of corruption in Romania has bred incompetence in the health system. [...]

It has reminded me of my father. Of how a nurse at the Obukhiv hospital allowed him to leave just because she didn't know there was someone out there looking for him. An elderly man who had spent two nights at a bus stop without food or water, and who couldn't have looked healthy then, even though he was able to identify himself. And she yelled at my mother when she was trying to justify her actions. Yelled at my mother after my father's body had just been found in a nearby forest. I'm glad I don't know the nurse's name, I don't want to know it, it's safer that way.

It has also reminded me of a nurse at a centrally-located Kyiv hospital, where my father was being treated following his fourth stroke, some seven months before his death. I've just re-read my post about it - here - and I don't have it in me to re-post it here.

Anyway. This kind of attitude does have a lot to do with poverty, corruption, impunity. They aren't getting paid enough, they expect to be bribed, they act so savagely because they know they can get away with it. And we do allow them to get away with it. We pay them because that's the only way to get the most basic things done - and, in many cases, the most basic things help keep someone alive, no less, and, under certain circumstances, there is no time to think whether paying someone who is supposed to be paid by the state is right or wrong. And once something is being done, we feel grateful, and, again, we pay them. In some cases, we may consider it charity. And we rarely press charges - because it is futile.

I hope the Romanian couple will win that lawsuit. And I admire them for having the strength to fight.

But I still do not understand why our hospitals are filled with cruel people. Is it because the majority of us are cruel, and there's nothing extraordinary about being cruel? Or is it because too many of those who aren't cruel - which seems like a prerequisite for becoming a health care professional - have moved elsewhere a long time ago: to other countries, to private hospitals, to other jobs? I know it's not good thinking this way, and normally I hate to generalize, but when I do allow myself to think about it long enough, these two are the only explanations I can come up with.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It was amusing to read what Yushchenko said about himself yesterday (RUS):

I'm an economist, I'm a financier. I think I'm one of the world's top 5 bankers.

Very funny, considering the crazy banking mess that we've seen in Ukraine this year, among other things.

But his words have also reminded me of what I thought of him back in 2004: I voted for him not only because I didn't want to vote for Yanukovych, but because I genuinely believed he was more of an economist/banker than a politician - and because I also believed that the country had too many of the latter, but needed more of the former. Yushchenko, of course, turned out to be one of those countless pure politicians. Full of bullshit.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

I translated that internet joke about pedophiles and flu madness yesterday - and then felt a bit guilty. Because what's taking place in Ukraine now isn't funny. And I'm not writing anything about it here, but it doesn't mean I'm not following the situation, and it doesn't mean I'm not worried. I am. Even though I'm in Moscow, not in Kyiv, now. It all started just a few days after we left, and it feels really surreal to see all the pictures of people in masks, etc. Here in Moscow, pharmacies are out of masks, too, and there are plenty of people - especially kids - wearing masks on the subway, I've been told. But they aren't having an election here in two months.

Anyway, that Tymoshenko joke, it reminded me of a Bosnian boy I talked to back in 1998 - and of something he told me about life at a refugee camp:

[...] Many people in the camp thought the Bosnian boy and his friends were the happiest among the refugees – because they always had something to laugh about: “We were so strong because we made jokes all the time. One year we spent in a joke. We didn’t even think of anything, just lived for today and tomorrow. We made jokes about politics. We made jokes about people without a leg, like myself. We made fun of each other because we could understand each other. We made jokes because refugee camp was hard.” [...]

Thursday, November 05, 2009

One dear Kyiv friend keeps emailing me those more or less funny little stories and jokes that are circling the web at the moment, and here's my quick translation of the one I've received this morning.

It's about how PM Yulia Tymoshenko looked out of the window and found a way to save the asses of Victor Ukolov, Serhiy Teryokhin and Ruslan Bohdan, the three MPs from Yulia's faction who were accused of pedophilia in mid-October.

Hilarious, relevant, and says a lot about how people are taking all this... :)

One day, MPs Ukolov, Bohdan and Teryokhin came to Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko. Disgusted, Yulia Volodymyrivna hid her hand behind her back and asked:

- What do you want, perverts?

- Well, Yulia Volodymyrivna, - mumbled Ukolov. - They are writing all these ugly things about us.

- You shouldn't have hired a lawyer for a pedophile - serves you well, - said Yulia Volodymyrivna angrily.

- Oh, and you, too, are saying this! - said Ukolov, obviously hurt. - It's a smear campaign against us, that's all!

- Yes, - interfered Teryokhin. - Me, I'm drawn only to blacks, so I couldn't have done it. No way I could!

- And I don't even know these two! - yelled Bohdan bravely.

- Are you saying the truth? - asked Yulia Volodymyrivna sternly.

- I swear on my mother! - replied Ukolov.

- Fuck, yes! - confirmed Teryokhin.

- May I not see 'Artek' forever if I'm lying! - swore Bohdan but stopped short of finishing the oath.

- Okay, I'll think of some way out, - promised Yulia Volodymyrivna.

When the three MPs left, she looked out of the window and saw a big poster that read: "CHILDREN ARE SCARED OF INJECTIONS." ['scared of injections'='boyatsa ukolov' - a pun on Ukolov's name]

- Ukolov... - said Yulia Volodymyrivna quietly. - [Scared of] injections and vaccinations... Hmmm...

She dialed the number of the Health Ministry and said:

- Hello! Knyazevych? Vasya, listen, by any chance, do we have some epidemic going on right now? ... Swine flu? Is that dangerous? ... No, Vasya, no dear, it is very dangerous! ... And I'm saying it is extremely dangerous, deadly! For everyone! ... Why? Because flu is more dangerous than pedophilia! Let them urgently store up on masks and anti-viral drugs! Only the ones who get to the pharmacies first will get a chance to buy this stuff! ... Do we have lung plague by any chance as well? No? What a pity. Well, for three days you should be saying it on every TV channel - that there is no lung plague in Ukraine whatsoever. And show movies about pandemics! ... Oh, it's not your area but the culture minister's? Okay. Start working!

Yulia Volodymyrivna made a few more calls, recorded an address to the people and leaned back in her armchair, tired:

- Here you go, my darlings! Better worry about your health, and keep your hands off my MPs.

I'm not sure where this lovely, silly little text was published first - possibly, here - but dozens of blogs have republished it by now. Here's the original, in Russian:

Однажды к Юлии Владимировне Тимошенко пришли народные депутаты Уколов, Богдан и Терехин. Юлия Владимировна брезгливо спрятала руки за спину и спросила:

- Чего надо, извращенцы?

- Такое дело, Юлия Владимировна! - промямлил Уколов.

- Про нас тут всякие гадости пишут.

- А нечего было для педофила адвоката нанимать! - сварливо сказала Юлия Владимировна.

- Вот, и Вы туда же! - обиделся Уколов. - А ведь на нас клевещут!

- Да! - вмешался Терехин. - Мне вообще только чернокожие нравятся. Так что не мог я. Никак не мог!

- А я вообще этих двоих не знаю! - храбро закричал Богдан.

- Честно? - строго спросила Юлия Владимировна.

- Мамой клянусь! - ответил Уколов.

- Бля буду! - подтвердил Терехин.

- Да век "Артека" не видать! - побожился Богдан и осекся.

- Ладно, я что-нибудь придумаю. - пообещала Юлия Владимировна.

Когда трое ушли, она выглянула в окно и увидела большой плакат, на котором было написано: "ДЕТИ БОЯТСЯ УКОЛОВ".

- Уколов... - про себя сказала Юлия Владимировна. - Прививок и вакцинаций... Хм...

Она набрала номер Министерства охраны здоровья и сказала:- Алло! Князевич? Вася, слушай, у нас никакой эпидемии, часом, нет?... Свиной грипп? А это опасно?... Нет, Васенька, это очень опасно!... А я сказала, смертельно опасно! Для всех! Почему? Потому что грипп опаснее педофилии! Пусть срочно запасаются масками и противовирусными препаратами! Кто первый добежит, тот и купит!... А легочной чумы у нас нету? Жаль: Ну так в течение трех дней по всем каналам рассказывайте, что никакой легочной чумы нету. И кино про эпидемии крутите!.. А, это не к Вам, это к министру культуры? Ок, работайте!

Юлия Владимировна сделала еще несколько звонков, записала обращение к народу и устало откинулась в кресло:

- Вот так, мои хорошие! О своем здоровье лучше заботьтесь, а моих депутатов не трогайте.