Saturday, February 26, 2005

More prosecution

I never know whether it is better to update a post already made if there is more on the subject or just to make another post on it with the additional information. I think what normally happens is that the title of the post is seen and, since that one has already been read, the reader moves on. So my tendency is to make another post.

In the last post, an anonymous commenter takes the position opposite mine in response and makes a compelling argument—the people are for it. In a democracy, what could be more compelling? Of course, that the people are for it has come from opinion polls and they can present their own problems. What would be the answer if the question asked, for example, “Would you be for lustration if there were a possibility that it would delay or make impossible government reform?” The objection to that is that it is a bit too leading. Often though the questions that get us to what the public is supposed to want are as leading in an opposite direction. But public opinion polls are accepted as a reflection of the voice of the people and in democracies, vox populi, vox deii--the voice of the people is the voice of god.

A digression. If an opinion poll is valid, it still suffers from the problem that it is a snapshot of a person’s opinion at a given point. What would it be the next day or the next hour or even minute? Wouldn’t you need to take a sampling over an extended period of time to get the real opinion? A government would be really democratic that based its policies on what the majority of the people thought. So give them a button to register that opinion and have a computer compile it from moment to moment. Wouldn’t make government workable because the people are, what even some of the founders made the case for, fickle? That is one reason why we have an arbitrary time set for elections and a time limit to them. We get the will of the people at that set time and move on. Government would not be workable otherwise. And all this talk about elections in the US is simply trying to get to what the opposition absolutely knows to be the opinion of the people based on polls. But that is not the system. Vote, figure out who won the majority of those votes and set up office for 2 years, 4 years or 6 years. Is the vote the best way to register the will of the people? Maybe not, but it is the only workable way.

I’m finished. Now back to the issue.

But possibly the even more compelling reason for lustration as it is called here is that Yuschenko himself is for it. He made it an issue during the revolution and seems to be still making it an issue. And that may be driving opinion as much as anything.

And there is a lot to the argument that those who have committed crimes against the people through abuse of their office should be brought to justice. Or those who have used their political power to get rid of certain people like Gangadze should be brought to justice. You might say that there has been a sort of dam that has kept justice pent up for not only the years of Soviet rule but for centuries before that under the Tsars. Prosecutions of those who have perpetrated these crimes would bring some sort of release—relief-- a sense that justice has finally been served. I find that to be a compelling argument too.

And who could look at the widow of Gangadze (I believe he was married, right?) or at his mother and say that the government will delay dealing with those who killed him so brutally. Delay is what they have had to this day. To them delay would mean the same it has meant under the Kuchma regime which would make the Yuschenko government to them and to those for whom this is a significant issue, no different. That is a compelling argument to me also and I don’t think I could look at them and do it.

But even with all of these arguments, I think there is a reason not do it, at least not yet. (Don G. in the comments makes the argument that this would be better dealt with later by a successor regime. That makes a lot of sense to me.) And this reason could create more good for the Ukrainians so as to be a more moral reason to wait than to act right now. The reason is that reform of the government and dealing with corruption is a way to prevent the abuses that brought about the murder of Gangadze and the flagrant abuse of power that the Ukrainians have been subject to under the Kuchma regime. If corruption can be dealt with, and I think it can be under a man like Yuschenko, that would go a long way to prevent what resulted in taking the life of Gangadze.

So why can’t Yuschenko do both? Why can’t he proceed on two fronts, prosecuting the criminals and reforming government to deal with the source of these abuses? The short answer is that he does not have absolute power. To be frank, he is only president of Kiev and the western part of the Ukraine. He has to work to consolidate his power over the eastern part. That he will most likely be able to do this right now is because of a certain acquiescence by those in the east--maybe it’s fatalism, kind of a cultural trait?—and because the opposition has gone to ground, for now.

That opposition has not gone away though. It is still there and still powerful. They have money if they don’t have political power. Yuschenko is not in control of the Parliament either and that Parliament has been controlled by the oligarchs to a great extent for years. They still wield considerable influence there even if it is a minority.

Kuchma, as one focus of lustration, may not enjoy the support of the oligarchs anymore. I don’t think he is getting any phone calls from them today, do you? Out of office and out of favor is always the rule. But what about Pinchuk? He seemed to come out more moderate in the tail end of the revolution. That made him seem to be more of a realist than some of the others. He still has considerable power and wealth. Would his realism mean that those would not be at the disposal of Kuchma if he were to be prosecuted?

And what is Kuchma’s own personal wealth? He may not have political power but if he has money, he has power. He can still buy a lot of influence in the event he were to be prosecuted.

If I didn’t have a conscience and, as a result, were capable of defending Kuchma were he to be prosecuted and I had a virtually unlimited budget to do it, I would take on the whole incoming government and focus the light on a lot of them. None of these guys, with the possible exception of Yuschenko, is squeaky clean. You cannot look closely at a lot of these people and not come away with something that doesn’t look right. No one who participated in the free-for-all that was privatization and came away with anything is pure. And they may have even acted legally but by present lights it might not look all that good.

Tymoschenko is a most appealing target of opportunity, not so much because she has done anything—that hasn’t been shown—but because there has been so much out there and so many interested in taking her down. They could be called out to do it again very easily. But she is not alone. How did Poroshenko get his wealth, for instance?

So put the attention on these people and their histories. Set up a Maidan-like website to publicize it and get the media outlets that are friendly still to publicize it. Even the ones that are not friendly will most likely not turn down advertising money. Put together a half hour or hour expose and pay the stations to run it. They might even think it’s a public service since they may be having some pangs of journalistic integrity for having come down so whole-souled for Yuschenko in the revolution. For journalists when information comes out about one side that is not good, objectivity often means finding something bad to say about the other side.

Have an issue a day press conference to keep it in the news. And if there is any hint that the press is being muzzled by the government, howl long and loud about how the Yuschenko camp talks about freedom in public but issues its own temniki or comes down on the press in its own way in private. As part of that front of the campaign—that is what it is a war campaign—take any suspicion of government restrictions on freedom of the press to the International Court of Human Rights. (Supported by evidence of course. That can always be found.) Do they have jurisdiction for such a case? I don’t know and frankly, if I were a part of this amoral world, wouldn’t care. The thing would be to take an issue to the West on the West’s own terms in their own institutions. Frankly, for me, it might be better that they refuse to take it. The argument would be that the West is hypocritical about freedom of the press and human rights. Hit them where they are most sensitive. Then have the PR firms follow up in the West consistently—meaning daily--to keep the issue in the forefront there.

I can assure you that it will be only a short time before the stories start to show up: “The promise of the Orange Revolution started to go sour today when it was revealed that the government of Victor Yuschenko has engaged in (fill in the blank.)” Or: “The Yuschenko government has come to resemble more the government of Vladimir Putin in its treatment of the press…” At that point, the honeymoon with the West will be over.

If the Yuschenko government were confronted by daily bombardments of information about the activities of some of their leading lights, what would they do? I think Yuschenko is a man of principle but he is not the only one who would have any power that could be used to deal with this sort of thing. Wouldn’t the real temptation be to try to stop this the way it has been stopped before? A very old reflex.

And it wouldn’t matter if there was any real truth to any of it in the end. That it might be true is the only thing that matters. That would keep the people on their heels about this. And the Western outlets would begin to examine this too more closely than they did. A story about a fall is much more interesting than one about any rise. The story is the thing—just ask Dan Rather.

If this happened, Yuschenko and his government would be fighting battles that have nothing to do with the central important issue of corruption. The opposition in Parliament wouldn’t stand still. They would ask for inquiries and point fingers when they didn’t get them. They would howl that this is more of the same thing that Yuschenko pledged to do away with. They could bang away on the “this is undemocratic chord” to some pretty good effect I think in the West and here. Some will be sensitive that the revolution they gave so much for not be hijacked by those who were supposed to be its friends. They might join in in the criticism.

And the more people are exposed to this over and over, the more that they become uncertain about things. Is it true? Was (fill in the blank) really involved in these types of corrupt activities? If it is true, then he/she is no better than anyone involved with Kuchma et al. It wouldn’t necessarily cause support to change to the opposition, but it might neutralize any support of the people when that support is needed by the government.

And how would this play in the east and north of here? It would play into their very prejudices about the Yuschenko government. It would confirm them all. Would that be good? Not hardly.

And the same sort of thing could happen if any of the other oligarchs were singled out for prosecution. The Yuschenko government would spend its time putting out all the brush fires and not do what it needs to do and is absolutely crucuial to Ukrainainas that it do. And Yuschenko does not have unlimited time to do what he needs to do.

Will this happen? I don’t know. The opposition has not shown themselves to be all that clever. (Selection for leadership of the clans seems to have been on the basis of loyalty not on the basis of smarts. Maybe there was a reason for it? Promote those who are not a threat? Sounds like any other organization.) That they might do it should be enough to give the government pause for these reasons. I think the revolution could very well hang in the balance if they don't.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Olmelchenko, a Rada deputy, was interviewed on the radio this morning. He said that they have sent information to the prosecutor to charge Kuchma with, among other things, the murder of Gangadze. He said that if the prosecutor does not prosecute, they will dismiss him.

This may be fine if they have the evidence, may be. But it is not all that clear in my mind that the Yuschenko government gains anything by this prosecution. As a matter of fact, it might spend time and political capital that should be hoarded for bigger problems than trying to get Kuchma. It is agreed that he has done some not so good things here. But if in the end, the Yuschenko government can only look back on a prosecution of Kuchma as its number one contribution, it will have been a waste.

Corruption is the number one problem and it is not centered in Kuchma. It must be dealt with at all levels and if that means letting Kuchma go then that is a small price to pay even in the face of his crimes. I know this doesn't sit well with people and justice would not be served with this result, but there are much bigger problems than simply Kuchma (or Yanukovych or Medvedchuck, et al.) To solve these would prevent those kinds of crimes from happening, at least on the scale that they have here. And that would be a major improvement.

It is not necessarily a demonstration of the rule of law to prosecute him either. It looks like the kind of retribution that any incoming regime in a non-rule of law country would exact from the outgoing party. Happened in Indonesia and Japan and it isn't a convincing proof of functioning rule of law systems when it happens. I think it means the opposite. And thinking about it some more, I think it makes no difference if they now have the evidence. I looks like the winners removing the opposition from the scene. That is the status quo.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A new Russian ambassador

It was reported on the radio yesterday that Chernomyrdin is being replaced by another ambassador. This might be something routine but it could mean something. Chernomyrdin was a moderate Russian voice during the revolution. Could signal some sort of change.

UPDATE: Looks like this wasn't the case after all. Thanks to the those in the comments who posted the info.

Monday, February 14, 2005

My absence

I have not been posting here because I have had spotty access to the Internet. That is a story all by itself. But we have also been trying to get our new place in shape enough to be able to live in this century. Its been a hard slog. And trying to keep up with work has taken up the rest of my time. But I will be posting more in the next few days as things kind of ease up a bit.

On the home front

We have been in our new home for about a week. We’re still without hot water but the heat is on and there is heat though I think they have it on low. It is still a bit cold inside.

We had an interesting experience a feew days back. We sent our oldest boy down to get the elevator for us so we could ride down in some style for once and not have to hoof it down the 234 steps to the ground floor. That gets old after awhile, so we sent the fleetest (and most in shape, I might add) down to bring us the elevator. (It was a little like being chauffer driven. That is the point this kind of life can bring you to.) When it got here we stepped on, pushed the button and saw the doors close. The elevator began to move and we were on our way down.

When we got to about the fifth floor--between the fifth and fourth floor as it turned out—the elevator jarred to a stop. When I say jarred, I mean that it was as if it had hit something and hit it hard. The force of the impact made my knees buckle. And the elevator stopped dead.

The first instant, there was a thought that the thing might just drop the rest of the way down. There is really know way to know that it wouldn’t. But that was a split second thought. We soon figured we were stopped cold.

Nothing worked, no buttons lighted up when pushed, no doors came open when we hit the button for it. Nothing worked and we didn’t move. The only thing that would work was the alarm. So we rang it and stood around trying to figure out what to do. Fortunately, the only other ting that worked was the elevator light so we weren’t left to think about it in the dark.

After a few minutes of pushing—actually leaning-- on the alarm button, there was no response. But we could hear some people on the floor above us, the fifth floor, and we called out to them to tell the guard downstairs that we were stuck in the elevator. And we waited some more.

I tried to pry open the door and got it open enough to see that we were between floors. But that is as far as it would go. Apparently, they are made so that you cannot pry them open in transit. That is a good thing-- when you are in transit. But when you are stuck between floors, it doesn’t seem like a good thing.

I even tried the panel on the elevator ceiling to see if it would open. I wouldn’t budge and I couldn’t see any screws to open it. What would we have done if it had opened? I don’t know maybe stick a head out to see what was going on. It was a little too small to get people out of very easily so that was not a real good way. And a lot of people, most especially my wife, would consider it the height of stupidity to even try that sort of thing. (I reserve comment on it.) But it wouldn’t open so we didn’t come to that question.

In the end, after about 40 minutes of waiting, we heard someone on the floor above us working on the door at that level. We heard first that door open and then we heard our door being winched open. What we saw when it was open was a pair of shoes at eye level sitting underneath a pair of pant’s legs. The owner of those shoes was the elevator repairman on the fifth floor. He told us to push a lever and open the door on the fourth floor below us. We did that and the door opened.
I wouldn’t wait for the guy to come down a floor and take us out, which is what he asked us to do. I jumped out and got my wife out as quickly as we could. Our oldest boy got out last. It is a bit unsettling to come through a door of an elevator stuck between floors knowing that the thing is capable of moving and catching you as you are getting out. It is s scene from a movie, I know, and it may be that it is not possible to happen with all the safeguards built in, but the thought is still there. That is why I insisted that we move quickly out when we started to go.

The repairman showed up on the fourth to help us out but we were out already. We of course had some pointed questions to ask him. He explained that there was a lot of dust from all the work that is going on in our building and that that dust, cement dust, had worked its way into the elevator shaft and onto the mechanisms there. That caused the elevator to stick at points and when it was sticking too much, it stopped. He didn’t tell us, but I think that what happened was that the elevator had to work against all that debris and the effort caused a breaker to pop. That turned off the elevator, meaning that the buttons wouldn’t work, and, being between floors, it caused the brakes to come on. That is the reason why it jarred to a stop. It is only a guess mind you. But absent their finding a deer dead in the elevator shaft, I think it is a good one.

The guy told us that we would be better off not riding the elevator. That is probably a good idea, but when my wife and I were out later in the evening, later than the elevator is usually on, and we came back to find someone had left the elevator on, I couldn’t resist taking it up. I told my wife that it was like getting on the horse that bucked you off. When we got to our floor, the doors opened, we kissed the ground and were home.

Later in the evening, the water went off. Cold water is one thing, but no water is quite another thing entirely.

Friday, February 04, 2005


Thanks to those who posted a comment to my post about our move and to those who voted for this blog in the Fistful of Euros awards, all 17 of you. That is actually 17 more than I thought would ever be reading this thing. I actually started it as a place to post on Ukraine that I could steer clients and family to for some background information. I also thought I might post on some things that I teach in my critical thinking classes. To post in a more public forum needs more discipline than making a note to myself would.

But we got caught up in the revolution here and so a few more people started reading. The thing that constantly amazes me about those who do read is how sharp they are. A lot of the comments have been very good and show real intelligence.

Anyway, thank you for the comments.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

In an Internet cafe

I am sitting here in an Internet cafe a couple of blocks from our new home after we have talked the guy into letting me connect in with my own computer. It is a problem for them because of their official documents. Here, as the saying goes, if you don't have the right documents, you are less than a bug. Their official documents don't say anything about letting anybody connect in with their own computer. They do talk about people using the internet café’s computers to access the Internet, but not about people using their own computers to access the Internet. That I might pay money to have them do it is not the point. The point is that it is not in the documents so they are uncomfortable with it.

But they ended up letting me do it anyway. A lot of it was the insistence of my wife. She is persuasive.

I am here because we moved the day before yesterday to our new place. This new place is in a new building but that new building does not have any Internet connection. When we asked why not, we were told it is a matter of the documents.

We were supposed to be moved in in December. It is now the first part of February. The building is supposed to be signed off by the various agencies of the government that have a say in who knows what in order for us to get any Internet connection and other services. Someone somewhere has not signed and is probably filibustering to up his fee. This view may be colored somewhat by some heavy duty frustration. I want to blame someone for it and corruption is a god reason I could do this.

But it is not necessarily corruption. It could be the other problem that occurs here too which can be s source of frustration (and a ready-made source, by the way, for corruption.) It is the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy must have its due which means it must have the paperwork together. (What bureaucracy does not thrive on paperwork?) And if the paperwork is not together, the right document, without which you are no more than a bug, will not be issued. And that bureaucracy can work at a glacial pace, grinding its way to a final decision inch by stupid inch.

But it is unsatisfying to rail at an impersonal system. I want to be able to rail at somebody, a readily identifiable somebody. And there may be some evidence as to who the culprit is from a visit my wife made to the government agency in charge. (In charge of the documents.) She had gone there to tell—correction, to ask politely; I want to tell them-- them to turn on the elevator one day. (More on this in a moment.) There was a guy down there at the agency in charge of Okaying the building, that is, signing off on the document, who told my wife that he had his own problems with that building. Now, he may in fact have some problems with the building that a conscientious public servant in any other country might have with the same building, that might prevent him, in good conscience, from signing off on it until they are corrected. But here, this kind of talk is often the opening salvo of a series of negotiations on the price of his signature.

So I am railing against him.

But we are now in and like the amount of space we have. Nice. The only problems are the lack of services that we have come to count on for living in this century. The first of these is hot water. Here they do not have a hot water heater in the various homes. They have central heating. By central is meant very central, out of the building central, in its own heating plant building central. And that building is controlled by the government. In order for us to get hot water, it has to be turned on by the government. And in order for it to be turned on by the government, they must have the proper documents. (Rail, rail.)

And we live on the 13th floor. This is not a problem because we are superstitious. This is a problem because we are not Olympic athletes. The point is that the elevator is only working from the first floor. There is a button on the 13th which, when pushed, does nothing. This has meant that we ride up with the stuff we have. But when we need to go down, we walk the 26 flights.

This may seem a small matter. Walking down with not much stuff is a lot better than walking up with a lot of stuff. And this is true. But the elevator does not work all the time from the first floor. It works only until around 4 p.m. If you get caught out after 4 p.m. you will be left having to hoof it the 26 flights back up. And in the morning, it will work sometimes from 9:30 a.m. but oftentimes not until 10:30. Why? The guy doesn’t get there to turn it on.

On the weekend, though, the schedule is different. On Saturdays, it works from the same time in the morning, a ballpark 10 a.m. But it is shut off at 1 p.m. And on Sundays, we have no elevator at all. This means that the elevator works when people are not here and doesn’t work when people are. Go figure.

So why won’t they just turn it on and leave it on? The reason is the documents. You must have the right documents for the elevator can be turned on.

They would say that the fact it is even on at all is an accommodation to the people here. And there is something to that. Of course, wanting to rail, I would say that the building owners found the right person who was able to get it turned on for those periods absent any documents—they can only go so far at their pay grade. This would mean a fee of course.

It could be worse though. We have a friend who bought a place in another area of town. My wife asked them about the elevator. Turns out they didn’t have one for 6 months after they moved in. And they live on the 19th floor—nice view by the way-- and have a baby. “But that is all behind us now.” Sounds like it was a very bad experience.

Which brings us to the Internet. We were told that we could not get any Internet connection until the proper documents were signed. That is of course the whole problem and the reason why are I am now in the Internet café. I think I might have to get cozy here. I could be making my way back to this place for some time. I hope not but I have to steel myself for the possibility.

I shouldn’t rail too much though in the end. Even with all the problems, we still like the place. But this is just another reminder that this is not the West. And maybe at the end of six months we will be able to say that it is all behind us too.