Friday, August 27, 2004

A beginning

I am an consultant on international business and international business law working in the Ukraine. I have been here for a little over a year and on and off for another year before that. I will most likely be here for a few more years while we help people in the Ukraine become more business savvy (and help foreign businesses looking to enter the Ukraine.)

The subtitle of this blog is "musings from an outpost on the edge of Western civilization." This is true not only geographically but also culturally. Ukraine is on the edge of what would be called Western Civilization. It wasn't all that affected by the major events of the West, the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment being two of the most important, even though some of the West reached places like Poland and Czechoslovakia though in a somewhat weakened form.

Ukraine has been allied with Russia for hundreds of years, most often unwillingly. Russians refer to Ukraine as "little Russia" and there is a lot of indication that most Russians think of the Ukraine as part of Russia today. There is a real issue here now what with the presidential election coming up as to whether Ukraine ought to align itself with the US and Europe--the West-- or whether it ought to look toward Russia. The current president cozied up to Russia because of his political problems. (His job approval rating is about 17%.) And Putin was one who would give him a pass when he needed it. (The US has been hard on him for many reasons all of them right.) The main opposition candidate is expected to draw Ukraine closer to the US though some of his recent talk has been about maintaining ties with Russia.

There is a schizophrenia here on this question because Ukraine is really a nation split down the middle. To the east is a people that speak Russian predominantly and are more apt to think they have more in common with Russians than with anybody else including Ukrainians. On the West, on the other hand, is a people who speak Ukrainian (a language that seems to owe something to Polish) who are apt to think of themselves as not Russians but Ukrainian.

I had a student once when I taught at a college a few years back who reflected this. He was from a town near Chernobyl whose family was dislocated by the meltdown. (Chernobyl is 70 miles away and it is still bubbling according to the grapevine.) They ended up in Kiev and it was in Kiev that he grew up.

I once asked him if spoke Ukrainian or Russian. He said with pride and emphasis, "I and my friends spoke Russian!" To him that was the only alternative.

This is not a small issue. Russia is not the West and to the extent that Ukrainians have been allied with Russia in the past, to that same extent they have not been a part of the West either. This is a matter of culture that I might talk about a little later. There is a big difference between the way Ukrainians (and Russians) view the world and do things and the way Americans view the world and do things.

And there are other reasons why the subtitle is correct as a more figurative description. Those might become apparent later. (Then again, they might not.)

I will post on anything I think is important both here and in other places including the US.