Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Looting, Kirpa and fleeing rats from sinking ship

The Sunday Times has some interesting information in this article. (via Ukrainski Pravda.)

Opposition sympathisers within the government, police and intelligence services are said to be supplying Yushchenko with inside information about the government’s activities.

"In this current week, the head of the state property fund . . . has secretly been preparing documents which give permission to secure state corporate rights and property," Yushchenko said on Friday.

One official in the presidential administration said many prominent bureaucrats and politicians were scrambling to flee the country, worried that they will face prosecution.

"It's like the last days in Hitler's bunker," she said. "They just never expected the opposition and Yushchenko to win and they are in shock. Many documents are being destroyed."

The prosecutor-general has opened a criminal investigation after Heorhiy Kyrpa, the transport minister, was found shot dead with a pistol beside him.

Kyrpa, a close associate of Kuchma, was suspected of funnelling millions of dollars via the country's lucrative railway network to top government officials for use in
the attempt to manipulate the presidential election.

Those who knew Kyrpa said he had been in touch with the opposition, possibly to trade information about the government's criminal activities in return for immunity from prosecution.

Shortly before his death he was in a heated telephone conversation with someone described as an important administration official; he also received a visit from another top official.

Neither official has been named but the prosecutor- general has promised more information within days.

The whole article is interesting.

The elite here have reminded me of the kind of smugness the French aristocracy had prior to the French Revolution. That was the "let them eat cake" of Marie Antoinette that was really a reference to brioche, a light, refined bread the upper class ate. Her point was that if they were hungry then they should "try eating what we eat when we are hungry." But that smugness inevitably came up against the real world where revolution had been brewing in the streets for some time. The elite of that time were completely out of touch with what was really going on. Then their little brioche eating world changed and came butt up against the guillotine.

The elite here have been the same. They have had their way for a long time with impunity and have been able to construct a world they have come to believe is reality. And they have acted with the same callous disregard for the people and what they think that the French elite had.

About ten years ago, just a few years after independence, my wife went out for a walk on the street. She had taken here camera with her just in case she found something worth taking a picture of. At one point in her walk, a Mercedes happened to drive by. To see a Mercedes was a kind of a treat. There had not been all that many around before and none during the Soviet period. It was a rare thing. So she took a picture of it.

The driver of that rare, luxury car stopped it, got out of it , came over to my wife and took her camera away from her. Opening up the back he took out her film and threw it away. When she asked him why he had done that, he said, "It's my car and no one can take pictures of it but me!" (Notice how he regarded property rights as absolute. He was a good capitalist.)

To think he could do such a thing is arrogance. But he could. Though it would have been an assault in any country that has rule of law--and I think it probably is one here too, at least on the books--this guy would never have been prosecuted. He had to have been rich or at least very well-to-do and that meant he either had patrons in government or had a patron that was well connected in government. If my wife had taken down the license plate number of this guy and had gone to report it to the police, nothing more would have been done about it after they had found out who he was. (Or if they had felt they could threaten prosecution, he would have been able to bribe his way out of it.) And by doing this, she would have been courting all kinds of retaliation. She knew this just as any other Ukrainian knew this. Doing nothing was always the best course just as it had been under the Soviets.

And there have been worse things here, much worse. But the point is that the elite have had their world for a long time and they came to believe in the inevitable survival of that world. Who was there to challenge it? They had control of the government and the economy and there was no other rival. But that world has changed and now it looks like some might be fleeing for their lives-- a large part of their lives anyway. The people shook finally off the stupor that has kept them back for so long and took to the streets. Now some of the rats are scurrying away.


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