Posts Tagged ‘Independence’

Politicians and Partisans

Politicians and Partisans

March 17, 2010  |  Comments Off

Making the Chapter:

Don’t let anyone tell you that political history is boring, at least not if they’re referring to Ukraine. The leading figures of Ukraine in the twentieth century were Tsarists or Communists, but among them were also Democrats, Republicans, Revolutionaries, Anarchists, Partisans, and Conservatives. They include the Jew, Leon Trotsky, who whimsically assumed the surname of his jailer; Lazar “Iron Man” Kaganovich, the most ruthless executioner of Stalin’s policy who admired the literary works of Ukrainian nationalists; The “Butcher of Ukraine” Nikita Khrushchev, who often visited Taras Shevchenko’s grave; and Leonid Brezhnev, who used tax receipts from the sale of vodka to fund his invasion of Afghanistan and inadvertently created a condition between socialism and communism called alcoholism.

Even those who recorded history provide colour. Mykhailo Hrushevsky died in suspicious circumstances in 1934. His daughter and his nephew died in the gulags and his brother died whilst in exile in Kazakhstan. All of them were historians.

Excerpt:

Kaganovich, who earned the nickname “Iron Lazar” for his personal loyalty to Stalin, died at the age of ninety-six years, and he was one of the few people present at both the creation and the fall of the Soviet Union.

His survival is remarkable given that, by 1953, he had become Deputy Premier (and the last remaining Jew in the hierarchy), and had executed Stalin’s wishes unreservedly, including orchestrating the artificial famine in the 1930s. Despite his lack of a formal education — he worked at a shoe factory in his youth — at the age of just thirty-two years he was leader of the Ukrainian Republic and rigorously implemented a strict policy of Russification (though he spoke fluent Ukrainian) and purged many officials as “Ukrainian Nationalists.”

It was Kaganovich who was responsible for employing jug-eared Nikita Khrushchev. Like his mentor, Khrushchev had very little formal education, but his loquaciousness, bluntness, and folksy humour endeared him to Kaganovich and others, including Stalin. Khrushchev drank prodigious quantities of yorsh (a potent mixture of beer and vodka), and played the Ukrainian flute. Stalin would occasionally demean Khrushchev by ordering him to perform the hopak, the traditional solitary dance of the Ukrainian peasant.

Presidents and the People

Presidents and the People

February 17, 2010  |  Comments Off

Making the Chapter:

It’s hard not to be disappointed at the lack of progress that Ukraine has made in the last twenty years towards a better economy and greater social justice. The expectation was that Ukraine – as the most industrialized and resource-rich country of the former Soviet Union – would be the first to emerge from the rubble of Communism. In Presidents and the People I see this view for what it was: plain wrong. Ukraine was not starting from where everyone thought.

Faced with internal corruption and incompetence, the determination of Russia to return Ukraine to its jurisdiction and the West’s growing ambivalence towards its eastern neighbour, Ukraine has been a political circus. In Presidents and the People I follow the path since independence and look at the expectations of the people, and just what has been achieved, what hasn’t, and what the future holds.

Excerpt:

By most accounts Kuchma started off reasonably well. He brought into positions of influence some of his friends from Dnipropetrovsk, but others did not change, including Viktor Yushchenko, who was head of the National Bank. Having used the coinage of intruders for a millennium — the grosh of Poland and Lithuania, the thalers, ducats, and florins of their western neighbours, and since the eighteenth century, the Russian rouble — it was his responsibility to reintroduce the currency of Kyivan Rus, the Hryvnia (pronounced Grivna).

As it happened, all the former Soviet states introduced a new national currency much sooner than Ukraine, where a lack of local expertise combined with the obfuscation of politicians caused significant delay. With inflation raging, but without the power to print roubles (which was the prerogative of Moscow), Ukraine was forced to adopt a transition currency called the coupon-karbovanets, a sort of monopoly money that bore the brunt of the budget deficit, hyperinflation, and currency devaluation. By the mid-1990s when one million coupon-karbovanets was worth approximately four dollars, Ukraine could rightly say that every citizen was a millionaire.

“I knew I was rich,” remarked one friend. “I would reach across to the gas stove, light a coupon and use it to light my cigarette.”