Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Ukrainian Eagle

Today, the president of Ukraine appears to have been overthrown by the restless masses.

The tent city has won. Abandoned by his presidential guard, Victor Yanukovich fled to the Russian-speaking east of the country... guarded by... who exactly? Perhaps by the Russians who despise him as much as his people but for different reasons.

Meanwhile, the revolutionaries are giving guided tours of his abandoned residence. No looting to behold. Pictures of Ukrainian hipsters playing golf on his course proliferate throughout the media. Turning a government overthrow into a cute photo op. Perhaps Western intelligence has something to do with the smoothness of this spectacle though maybe the revolutionaries are just that good.

Russians in general and Russian nationalists in particular are always flabbergasted by Ukraine. Half of the people worship in the same church, speak the same language, look exactly the same as Russians. The modern Russian state traces its roots to ancient Kiev where these chaotic Slavs adopted the Orthodox faith of Constantinople. For most of their history they lived as one country, under one Tsar.

In the eyes of Russian nationalists, Ukraine is the perpetual Fredo of Godfather fame. Always breaking Michael Corleone's heart with his disloyalty and overall goofiness. The older brother to a greater man who sees no dignity in submission and holds no potential for real independence.

Ukrainian nationalists see Russians as the poisonous snake tempting their naive countryman out of the garden of Europe and into a dark, Asiatic kingdom defined by alcohol consumption and patriotic chest-beating. Russia is the country that oppressed them under the Tsar and starved them under Stalin. Their native language was the enemy of unity and their national identity, a threat to the empire.

The emblem of tsarist Russia and the presidential seal of the modern Russian Federation is the double-headed eagle. One head is turned toward the East while the other glares at the West. This beast is supposed to highlight the Eurasian uniqueness of Russia. It's the nation's freak flag, loudly proclaiming, "We are white people! But... not quite like you."  

But really this bipolar bird is better suited as the mascot for many -if not most- Ukrainians. Looking eastward they see the sort of people they would like to drink with, looking westward they see the sort of countries they would like to live in.

On their eastern border is the Russian nationalist saying, "I love you, baby. Come here. I promise not to hit you again." Closer to the Polish border the Ukrainian nationalist screams, "don't listen to that Neanderthal! He will rape you in his cave."

Some Ukrainians turn toward the West others run to hold hands with the Russian; but to many, neither sentiment seems quite right.


The doors of the prison swung open and Yulia Tymoshenko emerged out of it. Newly released through an act of the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. With her braided blond hair and her traditional clothes she often looks like some collector's doll representing a Ukrainian village woman, the kind of a woman you are unlikely to ever encounter in an actual village. Ukraine's very own, freedom-loving Pocahontas.

Tymoshenko told the protesters -many of whom are skeptical toward her shtick- that they are heroes and that Ukraine will be part of Europe.

The one thing she neglected to tell them is that -when all cards are on the table- Europe doesn't want Ukraine all that badly.

If you read much of the coverage of Ukraine in the Western press, you may have noticed that Ukraine wasn't at the center of the attention. The center stage was reserved for the ONE, the ONLY, the FURRY, the CORRUPT, the NUCLEAR-ARMED... ah, you know who I'm talking about.

To the West it was all about RUSSIA.

You see, the West doesn't care all that much about Ukraine until that point and time when it looks like Russia will snatch it away. The West is sort of like that girl who doesn't really want to marry you but only over her dead body will she allow you to sleep with anyone else. Yes, Ukraine you are being strung along.

To Europe, Ukraine is a bush behind which hides that old Russian bear. In on of itself, the bush holds little value but if you let the bear claim the bush he would have crawled closer to your house.

Well anyway, these analogies could go on forever. Perhaps Susie, a random British commentator observing the victory of freedom in Ukraine, said it best, "I suppose this is another country that will now benefit from our hard earned money which is grabbed by Brussels."

Money, my friends. Susie nailed it. It's all about that sweet scratch. Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Eastern Europe. The per capita GDP is less than half that of Russia. After bailing out Spain, Portugal and Greece, the Europeans aren't exactly all the eager to let another orphan join their dysfunctional family.

Ukraine has its own internal divisions. They might not be -thank God- significant enough for a civil war but they are big enough to get in the way of a functioning government. In 2004, in the aftermath of a fixed election, a pro-Western president was elected.

It was a new beginning! A window toward Europe has opened!

Four years later he left with an approval rating of five percent. Then the "pro-Russian" Yanukovich won the presidency fair and square (or something like that). Now this glorious revolution did away with him.

So today is a new beginning! A window toward Europe is open again!

That's the great thing about revolutions, they always promise a clean slate, a new world. But then the dust settles and here you are again with your divided soul. A resentful Russia on one side and a weary Europe on the other.

Lincoln said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Well, Lincoln was wrong. It can. Its just might not be the sort of house you'd want to live in.

I wish the best for Ukraine. The overthrown president was a corrupt criminal. But I am also suspicious of the sweet promises of revolutions and this country had a few of those with little to show for the turmoil they leave in their wake.


  1. excellent articles Ivan, I'd welcome more.

    The 50 year history of Ukraine illustrates that linguistics is a common glue, and nation states usually cannot be held together unless they have a unifying language, which trumps religion, race, income divides, etc. think Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, the Soviet can hold them together for a time, but when that well runs dry, unless you've got a ton in common and you're still talking to each other, it's splitsville

  2. What Gauls me is the western (us) media reaction, this great indignation that Russia has violated international law. Talk about hypocrisy! Russia has a great pretext to protect national interests in a border region with energy and military objectives, not to mention an expatriate population.

    Anachronistically, we Went to war to occupy two sovereign states on the other side of the globe with the idea to remove one man!!!!! (Hussein, bin laden)