This ‘deleting Twitter’ thing seems like so much fun. I mean, I only find out about Victory Day-related shenanigans from the news and I feel like I didn’t miss anything.
To compensate, here’s a picture of the building everyone (including holier-than-thou Western observers such as Bershidsky and Maxim Eristavi) loves to hate:
Bankova Fact #1: The Bankova is approximately 20% cooler than the White House. Those Soviet architects sure knew about impressiveness.
Bankova Fact #3: Western observers hate The Bankova because the guards don’t let them onto the street, citing national security concerns. They didn’t let me in, either, but you can photo to your heart’s content.
Bankova Fact #49: The Bankova had trams!
P.S. With the distinct lack of Twitter exposure, The Ukraine Today’s activity is liable to fall even further down than it did until now.
…So how about that THE TRUTH ABOUT PUBLIC TRANSIT blog where I heap praises upon our intrepid mayor Klitchko?
Mr. Bershidsky is a weasel. I say that because his childish (as usual) actions, such as his refusal to corroborate his accusations, leave me no other choice. Here I am, hoping for a worthy arch-enemy, and that arch-enemy turns out to be a coward, a weasel, a blowhard and a yellow journalist, although calling Bershidsky that is an insult to yellow journalists everywhere. Who am I supposed to compete with now, Maxim Eristavi?
I was banned on Facebook FIVE TIMES (this is for maximum emphasis), so I couldn’t confront Mr. Bershidsky directly (he banned me on Twitter, AGAIN, which is very mature of him, I’m sure), but fellow colleague Kirill Mikhailov (@Mortis_Banned) did, and here’s the result. It’s all in Russian, which experienced Russia- and Ukraine-watchers shouldn’t have a problem with, but I’ll sum it up for you.
claims a thorough investigation into supposed ‘Poroshenko troll factory’ wouldn’t be interesting for anyone (except, maybe, the ‘Poroshenko troll factory Witnesses’ group you and your colleagues belong to, right, Mr. Bershidsky?);
the ‘Poroshenko trolls’ in question are apparently anonymous and appear under fake usernames, which is just like Olgino (clearly Mr. Bershidsky never heard of this thing called the Internet, where people use usernames, and not their names, all the time);
neither he nor his editors at Bloomberg are interested in Ukrainian readers, his op-eds being aimed primarily at Western readers (which suddenly makes the ‘campaign to discredit Ukraine in the West’ argument porokhobots are so fond of sound more credible that it previously did);
Ambassador Pyatt apparently mentioned these ‘Poroshenko trolls’ back in February (which, as it turned out, Ambassador Pyatt didn’t, he merely cautioned against them, although that didn’t really help);
Ambassador Pyatt was also apparently unaware that ‘Poroshenko trolls’ exist already (but of course Mr. Bershidsky refuses to prove that, see item 1);
users with fake usernames who criticize Mr. Bershidsky and other journalists = trolls (see item 2).
Now, this blog got its start because I wanted to fight against the misinformation which is, sadly, all too frequent when it comes to Ukraine, especially where Western journalists and observers are concerned. I was foolish, of course: I wanted my voice to be heard and my questions answered, but for my sins I got spineless wusses instead of journalists and a blog mostly read by Ukrainians (with Americans as close seconds). These are the two reasons The Ukraine Today was mostly on hiatus until recently, with barely one post a month.
Why I’m saying this now is that the truth is there’s no campaign to discredit Ukraine in the Western media. There are, however, Western journalists who either ascribe to a simplistic view of Ukraine, get their information about Ukraine from suspicious sources (usually Ukrainian journalists, who aren’t paragons of virtue by any measure), or are just plain incompetent. In Mr. Bershidsky’s case, it is probably all three. Now, I’m sure these journalists are free to exercise their right to free speech; but that does not mean other people – for example, Ukrainians such as me who read their articles and feel offended by them – aren’t free to exercise that same right to question or criticize these journalists. The latter is usually more widespread, and the criticism isn’t terribly constructive, but it’s the principle of the thing. Instead, however, Mr. Bershidsky and his colleagues do their utmost to quash any discontent, and label everyone with a dissenting opinion a ‘Poroshenko troll’. Just the kind of bravery any professional journalist should exhibit, no doubt.
Case in point is one Oleg Sukhov, ex-Moscow Times journalist who, not five hours after my previous post, published an opinion piece titled Poroshenko’s troll army borrows Kremlin techniques, just like that, on KyivPost’s website. KyivPost’s editors aren’t terribly loyal to the current administration: in fact, they pleaded Western governments to stop foreign aid (but continue giving them grant money) not that long ago, and their boss, Mohammad Zahoor, was implicated in the Panama Papers along with ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko and Pavlo Lazarenko (currently serving time in US prison), but KyivPost somehow failed to report on that.
Personally, as a Ukrainian, I’m ashamed KyivPost brands itself ‘The Global Voice of Ukraine‘, yet simultaneously advocates hanging Ukrainians out to dry by cutting monetary aid. They’re the reason many Ukraine-watchers bought into the ‘unanimously pro-European, reform-minded, corruption-hating Ukrainians’ fallacy, much like they did with the ‘deeply divided Ukraine’ fallacy ten years ago. An article like Sukhov’s piece isn’t too surprising under these circumstances – and it doesn’t pull any punches. Which is precisely why I’m going to call tovarisch Sukhov out on his bullshit.
Instead of providing moral and legal justifications for Poroshenko’s offshore company, his proponents have focused their energy into attacking the investigative journalists.
Gnap and Babinets have been criticized for making the story too emotional by saying that Poroshenko created the company when hundreds of Ukrainian troops were massacred by the Russian army in the city of Ilovaisk in Donetsk Oblast in August 2014.
Nobody has been able to claim, however, that they got any of the facts wrong.
Rothschild Trust had since came out to state conclusively that Hromadske’s journalists did, in fact, get all the facts wrong: there is a blind trust agreement about the Roshen sale. Nowhere does Ilovaysk figure into it, which is how Hromadske botched their investigation: if they focused on the legal aspects of the matter nobody would have said a word, and Sukhov’s claims would have been more valid.
Yet diverting attention from Poroshenko’s arguably unethical and likely illegal behavior to the quality and ethics of journalism is a much bigger manipulation.
The most striking thing is the effectiveness of Poroshenko’s propaganda. All of a sudden, thousands of people who had never given a damn about journalistic standards in their lives simultaneously started caring about them so much that some of them called for lynching and ostracizing the Hromadske journalists on very flimsy grounds.
Obviously it never occurred to tovarisch Sukhov that people may start giving a damn about journalistic standards because they’re sick of journalists lacking in said standards. For all the grant money the West funnels into Ukrainian media the media themselves failed to improve in that regard. I’m not sure as to ‘thousands’ claim, though: most I’ve seen on Twitter were a few dozen vocal porokhobots. Sukhov also resorts to whataboutism, as if the ‘manipulation’ – drawing attention to journalistic standards – somehow excuses Hromadske’s own ‘manipulations’, to the degree that the investigation focused more on Ilovaysk than on the Panama Papers.
Maybe Hromadske shouldn’t have been advertising it as BREAKING NEWS THE CHOCOLATE DICTATOR’S SECRETS EXPOSED!!! in all-caps and then go full damage control after their viewers expressed dissatisfaction with their investigation. I don’t know, really, but it clearly doesn’t occur to tovarisch Sukhov, again.
Earlier this month Poroshenko accused the New York Times of waging a “hybrid war” against Ukraine after the newspaper published an op-ed about the country’s pervasive corruption.
Only he did not: Tikhon Dzyadko, another Russian expat journalist, posted an incomplete quote of Poroshenko’s on his Twitter and was then (Russian) called out on it. Poroshenko’s press office later published his clarification on the matter, which Sukhov chose to ignore.
Bohdan Miroshnikov, a pro-Poroshenko blogger, wrote on Facebook on April 6 that a Dutch referendum on an association deal between Ukraine and the European Union had been lost by Ukraine due to the efforts of “anti-corruption scum who sell their homeland” in a reference to the Hromadske journalists and anti-corruption activists.
He completed his post by urging the nation to unite behind the president.
Miroshnikov’s overtones are almost identical to those of both paid and sincere Putinist trolls who demonize Russia’s opposition and extol their beloved Fuehrer.
Miroshnikov (who DOES NOT hide himself under a false username, despite being displaced from his native Horlivka) is entitled to his opinions: it may be surprising but not all people who claim to stand behind their government are paid trolls, even (surprise!) in Russia. Tovarisch Sukhov may not want to admit that, but many Russians do support President Putin and his policies, and do it sincerely, for one reason or another. Of course, they may be misguided, but they’re entitled to their opinion. Just because Olgino exists doesn’t mean every Russian who supports Putin is a paid troll, however uncomfortable that might be.
The same is true for Ukrainians and one Bohdan Miroshnikov, whom Sukhov chose for some unfathomable reason, unlike the porokhobot warchiefs Bohdan Karpenko or Kamenyar (Ihor Ronovych). Gee, I wonder why! I’m speaking in Miroshnikov’s defence right now because while he’s been outspoken, he is routinely harassed on Twitter by a group of infantile users with anti-Poroshenko opinions, including abuse, threats and revealing personal info. These users apparently do not care that this may put Miroshnikov’s relatives, still in DNR-occupied Horlivka, in jeopardy; and now Sukhov paints him like some sort of internet troll mastermind.
Speaking of which…
Though Poroshenko’s fans have dominated the agenda online, the offline situation seems to be different, with the president’s approval ratings plummeting to all-time lows.
How familiar are you with Twitter, tovarisch Sukhov? Because I can certify that Ukrainian Twitter community is overwhelmingly anti-Poroshenko, and so is Facebook. People who voice their support for the government get called ‘porokhobots’, same as you just did, get harassed, belittled and threatened. Of course, the Internet always brings out the extreme in opinions: but here’s you blatantly twisting the facts. There’s, at best, a few dozen pro-Poroshenko bloggers, but many more are anti-Poroshenko, for one reason or another. To prove their superiority they routinely engage in childish behavior, claiming opinion pieces such as yours as their justification. Then they use that justification to harass dissenting users such as Bohdan Miroshnikov, whom you so unfairly mentioned. I assume you approve of this behavior, tovarisch Sukhov. Am I correct?
On the other side are reformers and revolutionaries who were behind the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution and are trying to bring its ideals to life. They have a highly critical and cautious attitude towards any government and seek to control its every step. These people seek a true, fundamental revolution that will transform Ukraine from a third-world flawed democracy into a genuinely European nation with the rule of law and free markets.
You know, I’m at a loss of words here, because I spoke about these issues on more than a few occasions. Since nothing I’m going to say is going to convince tovarisch Sukhov otherwise, what’s the point?
However, it’s a clear example of overly simplistic thinking. Just as Ukrainians are fond of idolizing role models, just to discard them when they don’t meet their expectations, so, it seems, do the many ostensibly professional journalists. They’ve fashioned an idealized image of the ‘reformers and revolutionaries’ for themselves, forgetting that these same reformers were none the better before Euromaidan – which mostly had nothing to do with them. We have praise heaped onto ‘independent journalists’ who take money from oligarchs, ‘corruption fighters’ who had no qualms working for the corrupt establishment, and loudmouthed populists with little to prove. We have destructive criticism praised, when constructive criticism is shunned. We have calls for a ‘fundamental revolution’ two years after the revolution ended, not understanding that there is time for revolution, but there is time for evolution, too. And a country barely back on its feet cannot allow itself the luxury of having another revolution.
I’m sure revolutions are fun, tovarisch Sukhov, and that you would thrive in whatever Ukraine that comes afterwards. Only I’m not certain there’ll even be a Ukraine.
But I’m going too far, am I?
Sukhov’s article pushes all the buttons Ukraine-watchers want, for all the wrong reasons. What it doesn’t do, however, is get any of the facts right.
After getting flak on Twitter for criticizing the Groysman Cabinet about 12 hours after it assumed office, Leonid Bershidsky continues his valiant crusade against the insidious Ministry of Information Policy and its legions of porokhobots. I will concede that most of that Twitter flak was indeed written in horrible English, although the problem seems to be universal: Bershidsky’s fans aren’t terribly proficient in English either:
@alcebaid one problem with Ukrainian patriots is that their English sucks.
I’ve been told Mr. Bershidsky has a ghost editor who fixes his Russian-isms, which is admirable: at least, Mr. Bershidsky has enough sense to recognize his shortcomings when it comes to English language. I suppose that’s something.
Where Mr. Bershidsky displays markedly less sense is his reaction to the (bad English, square head) criticism he’s got for his troubles, exemplified by this Facebook post:
The translation, courtesy of The Ukraine Today staff, follows:
The bastards at the Ukrainian Ministry of Information Policy, both its staff and the freelance employees, continue to amateurishly demean me on Twitter, including in horrible English. They think this is going to make me stop writing about their country, ruined by their thieving masters – Ukraine. Their chicken brains and their ruined neural circuits stop them from comprehending that their toys are broken, the “European” dream is over and they’re all going to be fucked and robbed like they were fucked and robbed during Yanukovych’s time. Like they already are.
I dare Mr. Bershidsky to provide a better translation, since he obviously has a much better command of English (or so he claims, anyway), so that his editors at Bloomberg can see firsthand how well their celebrated columnist responds to criticism. It may not be constructive criticism, true, but it’s not that different from Bershidsky’s criticism of Ukraine and Ukraine’s government. In fact, I’m not sure Bershidsky ever praised it except for that little article about energy reform. What’s more, his infamous article about how ‘unreformed’ Ukraine is ‘self-destructing’ was mostly an English-language translation of an op-ed at Ukrainian Novoye Vremya (a news outlet sponsored by Dragon Capital’s Tomas Fiala, close friend and business partner of ex-Minister of Economic Development Aivaras Abromavicius) by one Serhiy Leshchenko, a veritable anti-corruption crusader and a voice for everything that is horrible with Ukraine. Or, at least, as Mr. Leshchenko would have it.
Translating a biased opinion piece counts as constructive criticism now? Sorry, Mr. Bershidsky, but that doesn’t sound too convincing. What it does sound like is so much wishful thinking.
Let me ask you this, however. You, Mr. Bershidsky, are a highly-qualified, professional journalist, ex-Forbes editor, et cetera. It is obvious that, as a highly-qualified, professional journalist, your findings should be corroborated by solid facts.
The existence of Russian government troll factories is pretty much undisputed at this point. In the last few years, the infamous Olgino was the focal point of a number of leaks, confessions by former employees and investigations by open-source organizations such as Bellingcat. It has been proven, without a shade of doubt (except maybe from some Putin-verstehers, detached from reality as they are), that the Olgino troll factory exists.
Yet for some reason, in the 1.5 years of the Ukrainian Ministry of Information Policy’s existence, there’s been precisely zero leaks from the ‘Ukrainian troll factory’ you’re so busy condemning. There’s been no media revelations, no investigations, nothing that might suggest it exists: yet you continue to brand everyone who disagrees with you as paid trolls.
I can only assume you’ve got some solid facts if you’re busy making such bold statements. Facts such as leaked documents, uncovered botnets, testimonies, the usual stuff. So why won’t you show these facts for the whole world to see?
You’re the journalist. Accusations should be substantiated by proof. And it is your job, as the accuser, to provide the public with the facts to prove your words.
And if you decline, Mr. Bershidsky, then I will be forced to question your integrity as a highly-qualified, professional journalist.
Right when I think this blog should be left to rot in peace something inevitably happens that forces me to bring it back from the shed where it belongs. This ‘something’, specifically, has to do with the Panama Papers. I don’t have an ax to grind with investigative journalism in general, it is just that I had stated, time and again, that I much prefer investigative journalism to yellow journalism. One strives for standards; the other strives for sensations, bold print all-caps headlines, that sort of thing. One poses questions that need to be answered; the other provokes public outcry of a feel-good variety, with a lot of smoke and not much in the way of fire.
Why I’m writing this post, right now, instead of enjoying the finer things in life, is that famously, one of the Panama Papers leaks has to do with our chocolate leader, President Poroshenko, and his offshore deal to a grand total of $3085, purportedly in order to sell – or, as it happens, not to sell – the Roshen confectionary empire. Poroshenko’s deal was in there along with President Putin’s $2 billion given to a violinist friend, along with the prime minister of Iceland (who may, or may not, resign over the whole deal), Azerbaijan’s Aliyev, Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev and many other politicians across the globe.
It is every citizen’s duty to doubt their own government, and to be perfectly honest, there are a few things to doubt with Poroshenko recently: his close associates were implicated in power abuse, his stance on the Prosecutor General’s Office is middling at best (although as of 04.04.2016 Shokin is now officially off the job), and the situation with Roshen doesn’t really help, either. This is notwithstanding people who have a grudge against the current administration, which includes… half of Ukraine’s political scene? This is, again, notwithstanding oligarchs, rabid nationalists (can you say ‘gangsters’? because that’s what Right Sector pretty much is nowadays), common folk with unreasonable expectations and, of course, journalists. Ah, the journalists. Abusing the government is Ukraine’s time-honored tradition, although recently it seems to be getting quite out of hand.
Let’s be honest: Poroshenko isn’t the ideal. Rather, he’s the compromise. He’s the old guard that unwittingly saved Ukraine from oblivion, whether it wanted to or not. He’s been in politics for years: MP, NDSC chair, minister, you name it. He had a hand in creating the Party of Regions, although that was some time before Yanukovych hijacked it, he was Yuschenko’s ally during the Orange Revolution, he even served as Yanukovych’s Foreign Minister – right before getting replaced by a more manageable candidate, no doubt. He’s Frank Underwood of Ukrainian politics, and his becoming President could be seen as a logical next step. Yet for all that Poroshenko probably has the least amount of skeletons in his closet compared to other Ukrainian politicians – especially other presidents. His claim of oligarchdom is more or less reduced to owning the 5th Channel and some dubious legislative lobbying in favor of Bogdan, an automobile and bus-building enterprise he owned before 2009. But the point – or the problem, however you choose to put it – is that he’s what Ukraine has. He’s probably what Ukraine deserves. Ukrainians aren’t saints and certainly are not paragons of virtue. How should a president, elected by the majority of those Ukrainians, be any different?
This is the point I’m getting to: the Panama Papers and the offshore deal. OCCRP’s report was done by investigative journalists – I will be using the term broadly in this case – from all over the world, and information relating to Poroshenko’s offshore was handed over to the Hromadske TV team. Offshores aren’t illegal per se, and tax evasion is a pretty damning accusation: however, Hromadske had one job to do and they’ve completely botched it. Why?
The answer is simple. They – and, unwittingly, OCCRP – decided to tie the War in Donbass into it. Specifically, the infamous Battle of Ilovaysk, by far the most tragic event of the Summer 2014 campaign. Apparently, Hromadske’s Dmytro Gnap claims, while Ukrainian soldiers died, Poroshenko was busy registering offshores to evade taxes.The problem is, however, quite simple. Ilovaysk and the offshore deal have no direct connection with each other. What is worse, Ilovaysk is beside the point entirely; but they just had to shoehorn it in. The result is quite strange: more than half of the report is taken up by the Ilovaysk Massacre, with judiciously spaced comments by one Alexander Gal, the man now in charge of the (in)famous Donbass Battalion. Donbass Battalion’s former commander is one Semen Semenchenko, better known as Konstantin Grishyn, a criminal, con man and purported war criminal who is currently under investigation. Gal wasn’t even commanding the battalion back during Ilovaysk, and his account is frankly suspect: yet Ilovaysk still takes up half the entire report!
The reminder of the report is devoted to the offshore itself, registered in British Virginian Islands, and the whole grand total of $3085 in there. Hromadske goes further and states that the blind trust arrangement which the President had claimed to put Roshen in doesn’t exist, because they didn’t find a trace of that. As it turns out, the lawyer they contacted relating to the blind trust question, Daniel Bilak, chimed in to state that he didn’t comment on Poroshenko’s business affairs, so this makes Hromadske’s account even more suspect. The law firm in charge of Roshen’s assets also contacted Ukrainian media with a statement (in Ukrainian) that the blind trust agreement a) exists; b) was signed as of this writing; and c) the offshore funds weren’t taxed or declared because Ukrainian law doesn’t require that they must be.
Somebody obviously didn’t do their job correctly. Hromadske certainly advertized the leak as major news, but the problem is that in Ukraine, everyone and their dog knows about the Roshen sale. I’m not sure anyone even expects it to go through at this point. In all honesty, Poroshenko shouldn’t even have mentioned Roshen in the first place when he was elected: it would’ve saved him a lot of trouble. As I’ve seen a lot of Western media outlets employ epithets like ‘the Chocolate King’ or ‘Willy Wonka’ referring to Poroshenko, the Roshen sale isn’t major news in the West, either. So, what did the report accomplish?
Well, it certainly made it to the first page in the Netherlands. I mean, just look at this (apologies if you can’t read Dutch):
Poroshenko getting compared to Putin is exactly what Ukraine needs, right before the Association Agreement referendum. What’s worse, some (if not all) Western journalists do not know any better, as evidenced by this tweet by Mashable’s Christopher J. Miller:
This is, again, referring to Ilovaysk’s vastly overstated role in the offshore scandal – a role hastily tacked-on by Hromadske: but it just sounds so great, Mr. Miller simply couldn’t resist. Am I right?
I probably am. Ukraine, after all, is a country full of reform-minded, pro-EU people chafing under the corrupt yoke of Poroshenko the Chocolate Tyrant and his corrupt cronies, worse than Yanukovych, who jail people for tearing up His Chocolate Eminence’s portraits – or, at least, that’s what Mr. Miller would like us to believe. What he and his colleagues fail to recognize, though, is that Ukrainians aren’t cardboard cutouts, but real people – people with a troubled history and diverse opinions. It seems like we went full circle from ‘deeply divided Ukrainians’ to ‘unanimously pro-European Ukrainians’, but the truth isn’t any closer than before.
The truth is that governments – and, by extension, politicians – are the flesh and blood of the people they govern and represent (or, as it happens, claim to represent). The truth is that the average Ukrainian is not entirely too thrilled about the EU: it seems nice, but actively doing something to further that cause is beyond most Ukrainians. Some even say they’d be much better off without the EU – either because the EU didn’t help Ukraine enough (not like the EU prolongs sanctions against Russia or anything), or because the EU saddled Ukraine with the Minsk Agreements (as opposed to, say, a glorious all-out war with Russia), or because the EU is full of pedophiles and homosexuals (Russian rhetorics much?), or just because they’d much prefer cheap electricity and gas like in the olden days (when the country was perpetually bankrupt thanks to low household prices). The truth is that the average Ukrainian is surrounded by corruption so much that he has no incentive to fight it: most of the times it is easier to give bribes than go through official channels, and what’s the point? Nothing has changed, they even say so on TV, so why should we change, anyway? The truth is that many Ukrainians, especially the highly-paid IT professionals, routinely evade taxes by working under the simplified tax system, paying 700 UAH a month from a yearly income of $50 000.
‘Everyone does it’ is not an excuse, that is certainly true. But the truth is, again, that countries don’t change fast. Certainly not in barely three years. People don’t change fast, either, whether they are presidents, IT professionals or common salt of the earth working people. Anyone who expected otherwise had unreasonable expectations at best.
And the truth is that Poroshenko, for all his faults, is nothing compared to his predecessors. President Kuchma handed out government assets to his family members and close associates, and ordered the journalist who reported on that murdered execution style. President Yuschenko bartered Western and nationalist rhetorics while neck-deep in natural gas shipping schemes. President Yanukovych sacked the country dry, tried to sell it down the river and ran away with hard cash and elbow-deep in blood. And the worst investigative journalists managed to dig up about Poroshenko is $3085. Three thousand eighty-five dollars.
Poroshenko is supposed to be worse than Yanukovych? I’m sorry, but this is just laughable.
And Hromadske TV’s credibility may have died a final death with this report. Because journalism must have standards, and while journalism is indispensable in holding politicians responsible, it should be held responsible in turn. And responsibility is something that Ukrainian media – and especially the supposedly-independent Hromanske – seem to lack.
Astute readers may have noticed that I’ve not been writing as much as I probably should. The reason for that, however, is quite simple: there isn’t anything going on in Ukraine or elsewhere – if you don’t count the continuing kangaroo court mockery of justice that is the Nadiya Savchenko case. The recent and inconclusive trial caused bouts of stupidity in far too many Ukrainians, which, although sad, is to be expected. While my sympathies and my support is with Nadiya (and yours should be, too), as well as the other Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia, such as Sentsov, Afanasiyev and Kolchenko, I am simply not qualified to write on the matter. Frankly, the whole #FreeSavchenko twitterstorming gets more than a bit nauseating for me to add anything.
In other news, the Rada was on hiatus, which means nothing of any consequence was being done in this country. Even Western observers more or less refrained from outright stupidity, if you exclude the recent outburst by Anders Östlund:
@AndrijUkraine Because Jaresko has values, is not corrupt. Poroshenko is a shameful president who play games like a child.
C’est vrai! In case you missed it, rumors abound that incumbent Finance Minister Jaresko is set to become Ukraine’s next PM, possibly replacing Yatsenyuk. Frankly, given the alternatives, she would be an excellent candidate, were it not for the fact she may not enjoy a (relatively) stable majority in the Rada, and, in fact, may not even get enough votes to be appointed in the first place. Of course, what Östlund forgets is that Jaresko is a minister on the Poroshenko Bloc quota in the first place, and making her out to be some alternative to Poroshenko isn’t particularly close to reality. People closely following Ukrainian politics may also remember that Jaresko is the least-outspoken minister compared to resignation-writing and corruption-exposing types like Abromavicius (who, apparently, says he’s ready to return after a month of relentless zrada-mongering and reform-minded doom-and-gloom). That Jaresko would somehow magically become an opponent to Poroshenko is strange at least and wishful thinking at best.
Yeah, according to some ‘anti-corruption activists’ from pastoral Ivano-Frankivsk, Poroshenko is now the only oligarch in Ukraine. What’s more alarming, that view seems to be shared by several prominent Western Ukraine-watchers, including, but not limited to, my arch-enemy Bershidsky and Maxim Eristavi. Gee, whatever happened to Akhmetov (kicked off the Forbes list due to being valued at $2 bil.), Firtash (still refusing to be extradited from Vienna) or Kolomoyskiy (still not paying Ukrnafta’s dividends to the state)?
As for Mr. Östlund, my advice? Root for Saakashvili. Sure, he was recently exposed as ‘the Donald Trump of Eastern Europe’, and it looks like someone in the West is steadily getting tired of his game, but remember how he’s done Georgia! Surely he’s the hero Ukraine deserves, if not for all the pesky oligarchs getting in his way, but he’ll show them all, GO MIKHO!!! YAY!!!
See? This is how it’s done. Get your game together, would you?
With so much stuff going on I found it hard to concentrate on writing articles, not to mention that I lost a lot of my English-language audience. Incidentally, this is my new Twitter account, so run, do not walk, and sign up for more scathing critique of Ukraine’s media establishment than you could shake a stick at.
Back in January, before the recent bout of crisis, I had an opportunity to read an op-ed piece by Alexander Paskhaver, a Ukrainian economist and presidential advisor, aptly titled ‘Why Are The Reforms So Slow‘, available, sadly, only in Ukrainian and Russian. In this article, Mr. Paskhaver not only summarized that Ukraine’s current government is, essentially, a transitional one between the old Ukraine and the new Ukraine, but had also noted that one of the factors actually slowing down Ukraine’s reforms is the European Union.
In Mr. Paskhaver’s opinion, the EU views Ukraine as, essentially, any other Eastern European country – a second Poland, if you may. Instead of radical reforms, they advocate gradual change; laws should be improved, not changed. Given how much effort is required to pass any reform legislation, and how many Ukrainians demand radical change, this may be responsible for much of Ukraine’s reform faults, perceived and otherwise. For example, the EU pretty much nixed radical judicial reform (summed up as ‘fire ’em all and let God sort ’em out’) and radical deregulation efforts – both of which are much demanded by both ordinary Ukrainians and foreign interests. In fact, not a day goes by that I don’t hear some Western official or other talking about the progress they expect from Ukraine in judicial reform and fighting corruption. And although Ukraine’s new Anti-Corruption Bureau is busy working at the moment, it can’t do much without a judicial corps that would actually convict crooks, rather than let them off with a slap on the wrist.
Naturally, since Ukraine’s goal is to eventually join the EU, and since sanctions against Russia and monetary aid to Ukraine depend on EU’s political goodwill, Ukraine has no choice but to knuckle under Europe’s demands. For the record, I’m not sure the US has a different view, which can’t be said of some US-based financial interests. But there you have it: that Ukraine is reforming slowly isn’t solely the Ukrainians’ fault. Perhaps, the West is to blame, as well.
However, let us return to the crux of the problem: that is, the Poland comparison. If anything, I find it favorable, because Poland twenty years ago was, in fact, a lot more miserable than Ukraine. Twenty years down the line, however, it is a thriving economic powerhouse. Ukrainians tend to fetishize Poland the way they do Georgia: a rich country of instant success due to ‘radical reforms’. The historic ties and a shorter language barrier probably help, too. With the last two years in Ukraine being what they are, a sizable part of the population, especially out West, are pining for Warsaw or Krakow, and who knows how many Ukrainians have a Karta Polaka in case things go south.
Most Poles will probably laugh at the Ukrainians’ view of Poland as ‘rich’, although it sure is compared to Ukraine. Most older Poles will probably remember how miserable their life was in the 1990s, especially in 1990-1992; i.e. the years when most of Poland’s celebrated reforms actually took place. C’est vrai! reforming Poland from a bankrupt post-Communist country into a EU member nation did not take nine months, contrary to what many Ukrainians actually believe. Instead, it took ten years, the first three of which were the hardest.
Whenever I hear Ukrainians complain about inflation and exchange rates (and that’s pretty much everyone except IT specialists), what I think is a number. That number is 640%, and it is Poland’s inflation rate back in 1989. The zloty was effectively worthless back then – not to mention that you couldn’t buy anything, the shelves were empty. Even tourists from the USSR, famous for its shortages and queues, were honestly surprised back then. Poland’s GDP dropped by 9,68% that same year. It took until the very end of 1990, the next year, for enterprising Deputy Prime Minister Balcerovicz to do what made him famous: propose a radical reform package to limit the state’s influence over the economy, combat hyperinflation and stabilize the country to put it back on track. This was the Balcerovicz Plan.
Ukrainian pundits and critics tout the Balczerovicz Plan as an admonition to Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk for being ‘too slow’ with reforms; or, at least, they did a year ago. What they conveniently forget to mention, however, is the time it took for Balcerovicz’s reforms to actually bear fruit. GDP growth only resumed in 1992, at a modest rate of +2.51%. The collapse of Poland’s state-regulated economy left 20% of the nation unemployed. Inflation fell to merely 40% by 1992. Popular support for reforms plummeted almost instantly, with the populist slogan of ‘Balcerowicz musi odejść’ – ‘Balcerovicz must go’. Short-term gains were sacrificed in favor of long-term growth, and instant success was pretty hard to come by. Meanwhile, Poland was wracked by political infighting, as the former Solidarnoscz members turned on each other; in fact, the first Polish parliament to serve a full term was elected in 1993, the government went through three prime ministers until 1995, and scandals were ripe, with one prime minister accused of furthering personal and party interests, and the other accused of collaborating with Soviet intelligence.
Sure. Not similar at all.
Of course, Ukraine is no Poland. For one, where Balcerovicz was forced to start from a blank slate in a country with no private enterprise and private interests, Ukraine is forced to struggle against oligarchs who, at one point, owned most of Ukraine’s economy, and who command popular media outlets to do their bidding. Communist Poland had no free press, but Ukraine has to contend with independent journalists that are as entrenched in their habits as the elites they rile against. And, last, but not least, Poland was not at war. It is easy to dismiss it now, but Russian aggression eats up impressive amounts of Ukraine’s efforts – efforts that could have been directed at reforming the country. Ukraine has one of the largest standing armies in Europe, but not by choice. Ukraine is highly militarized, but not by choice. And while it is easy to criticize branding every dissenting voice as ‘Kremlin agents’, these agents exist. And Kremlin knows Ukraine’s internal struggles had, time after time, proved to be its undoing.
Ukraine is not Poland. It is much more. And if anything, Ukraine’s accomplishments over the last two years – torn between the resistance of the old system and combating Russian aggression – should not be derided, but celebrated.
Somehow, Ukraine’s critics failed to take the hint.
I have been particularly loathe to write anything in light of Ukraine’s recent brand of political crisis, but I think now is as good time as ever to return. However, we will do so with a twist.
Say hello to Maxim Eristavi, founder of Hromadske International, and a particularly difficult person to hate (or, at least, a particularly difficult person to hate properly). A native of Zaporizzhia, Maxim doesn’t really like Ukraine all that much: he railed on President Poroshenko for being a ‘homophobic, patriarchial oligarch’, claimed that Ukraine boasts the highest rates of violence against journalists (most of which seems to happen in occupied Crimea and Donbas, for some reason), and he bashed the Vogue magazine for running articles that depicted Ukraine favorably, including a comparison between Ukraine and Assad-run Syria along the way. My second-hand shopping at Europe’s finest flea market aside (move over, Le Marais!), the day before yesterday Mr. Eristavi has gone and done it again – this time by running an article in Foreign Policy, aptly titled Now We Know Who Really Runs Ukraine.
Conspiracy theories abound as to why Ukraine’s parliament (the Rada, rhyming with ‘zrada‘) did not actually relieve Prime Minister Yatsenyuk after spending the better part of four hours denouncing him and his cabinet’s shortcomings. Several ‘prominent’ Ukrainian journalists-turned-MPs-turned-corruption fighters, such as Mustafa Nayyem and Serhiy Leshchenko, were quick to denounce the spectacularly failed no-confidence vote as an oligarch conspiracy – which, I think, is pretty much what Eristavi refers to. The business of localizing Ukrainian zrada is by no means limited to my arch-enemy Bershidsky, it seems.
I won’t be denying that oligarch influence, while waning, is still pretty thick on the ground in Ukrainian politics. Both Akhmetov, the coal and steel robber baron of Donbas, and Kolomoyskiy, the oil and banking duke of Dnipropetrovsk, are still quite at large, even as Akhmetov’s flagship Metinvest went bankrupt a year ago and Kolomoyskiy’s hold over the state-owned Ukrnafta is pretty slippery at the moment. Kolomoyskiy’s interests in the Rada are represented by the Vidrodzhenniya (‘Revival’) group of former Party of Regions MPs; Akhmetov still relies on his old Regions guard, now rebranded as the ‘Opposition Bloc’. As both of them either refused to vote, walked out or voted against relieving Yatsenyuk, there is at least some basis for saying Kolomoyskiy and Akhmetov tacitly supported Yatsenyuk’s stay in the government. There’s less basis for saying Poroshenko (who had previously asked Yatsenyuk to leave) was in on the deal, but Ukrainian readers, always eager for zrada, will believe just about anything.
However, this is not the point of this discussion. The point is how Mr. Eristavi tries to predict Western reaction to the failed vote. Now, predicting Western reactions is a pretty lucrative trade in Ukraine: all you have to do is write articles (if you’re really sophisticated) or Facebook posts (if you’re not) about how the West is ‘tired’, ‘cautions’ or ‘warns’ Ukraine about doing something you (or your intended audience) don’t like. The sheer amount of rumor-mongering whenever a Western official arrives in Ukraine, or whenever EU or IMF or the State Department make a statement about Ukraine is too horrible to describe, which is why I steadfastly refuse to add my own opinion into the pile.
Of course, sometimes Western officials don’t really help, as was the case with Ambassador Pyatt’s remarks about troll factories. The remark turned out to have nothing to do with Ukraine’s smidgen of pro-government bloggers, as multiple detractors immediately deduced, but the damage’s already been done. However, the problem in this particular case is that ‘the West’ Eristavi so often refers to goes completely anonymous.
Western officials have more or less kept mum about Yatsenyuk’s not-resignation: the best we have is ex-Ambassador Herbst, who wrote that Yatsenyuk’s resignation would most likely mean early elections – and, thus, no reform efforts and no IMF aid. More up-to-date sources like Ambassador Pyatt are surprisingly silent of the issue, which may confirm Herbst’s angle – as well as the long-held suspicion that, for all his faults, Yatsenyuk has significant US backing. Here’s a tweet by NYT reporter David Herszenhorn more or less confirming that. Yet, however, Eristavi’s article has nothing of the sort. Instead, it is filled with anonymous ‘foreign commentators’ and the equally anonymous ‘West’.
This is a problem all too common in Ukrainian media. Indeed, both Nayyem and Leshchenko, whom Eristavi hails as ‘anti-corruption crusaders’, are guilty of doing that. But this is not a Ukrainian publication, this is Foreign Policy, a respectful Western magazine, publishing an article which claims to predict Western reactions… but offers no credible sources on which those prediction may be founded! Who is to say that the reaction Eristavi predicts really represents the West’s (the anonymous West’s) opinion, and how so? No names are mentioned, neither are any organizations or news agencies. Western condemnation of Ukraine, as represented by one Maxim Eristavi, floats up on completely anonymous claims.
It is almost as if these claims have little to no basis in reality.
I’m not sure Western policymakers and officials are entirely thrilled with everything that’s happening in Ukraine. But I’m also pretty sure the implications of this are much less apocalyptic than some would like us to believe. And this time, in the absence of official Western reaction, I’m beginning to suspect they don’t even exist.
The article goes further by saying that ‘after two years of empty promises, neither Ukrainians nor their foreign partners should be satisfied’. Yet somehow, talk of Ukraine’s progress in reform comes from the same ‘foreign partners’ Eristavi mentions. And while Ukrainian journalists usually paint those remarks as doom-and-gloom, the reality is much simpler. Ukraine has done much, but it should do more. I don’t see how it, supposedly, means that ‘the West is tired of Ukraine and will cut off monetary aid if you don’t do reforms!’ – which is exactly how Ukrainian journalists choose to present these remarks.
Of course, common Ukrainians’ understanding of what ‘reforms’ entail is pretty limited compared to that of Ukraine’s foreign partners. This is unfortunate. This also means that we shouldn’t tolerate the continued manipulation of Ukrainian public opinion in that regard – which is exactly what Ukrainian media does. And what Foreign Policy – by publishing articles like this one – doesn’t help with.
How can we hope to achieve any standards of journalism when we happily resort to writing ‘West says’ to advance our own agenda? No quotes, no sources, no opinions except the author’s own – and in the end, the article fails to advocate constructive dialogue. Instead, it fuels zrada.
And there’s already all too much of that.
P.S. Since I feel I should get this straight: I do not hate Maxim Eristavi because of his sexuality, as he undoubtedly thinks.
But I do not care for one-sided doom-and-gloom visions of Ukraine he so often provides, and I do not intend to tolerate them, either.