in the Ukraine
been trying to avoid the subject of Ukraine, not only in this column,
but in general. Like anyone with strong ties to Russia, I have a whole
range of feelings about Ukraine and Ukrainians, not all of them generous.
are people whose idea of a snack is a big lump of fat. The Ukrainian
fat-snack—a fiendish thing called salo that is virtually indistinguishable
from suet—has played a significant role in my life, and I'm reminded
of it every day. The problem began in 1994, when I spent a summer
playing with the CSKA Red Army baseball team in Moscow.
team had an unusual fitness drill. We would divide up the team into
pairs, in descending height order, and line up on the third-base line.
Then each player would put his partner on his back, and, carrying
that person, run wind-sprints to the right-field fence and back. Whichever
pair won got to sit down. The losers continued, and the process was
repeated, until there were no more pairs left.
was the second-tallest person on the team. The tallest was a Ukrainian.
Our ace starting pitcher, this Ukrainian subscribed to the David Wells
school of fitness, only he was even bigger in scale: six-five and
about 240 pounds. The Ukrainian was this fat because all he ate was
salo. In fact, he ate so much salo, we all called him
"Salo." I don't even remember his real name. All I remember
is that I always had to carry "Salo" on my back for these
wind-sprints, and naturally lost every single race, which meant that
I had to run about 10 wind sprints with this kid on my back every
day for two months.
have a bad back now. I can't sit on stools or benches. So fuck the
Ukrainians and their Orange Revolution.
was my initial reaction to the Ukrainian revolution story. Petty as
it is, I'm not sure it's any dumber than any of the other takes on
the revolution that we're hearing in the Western press.
first, the storyline coming out of Ukraine was suspiciously simplistic,
with the "pro-Western" candidate, Viktor Yuschenko, heroically
standing up for the freedom-loving population against the evil revanchist
"Kremlin-backed" candidate, Viktor Yanukovich—a bloodless
sadist who brazenly tried to steal an election and inject his horrible
haircut onto the world stage.
the likes of William Safire stood up and painted the Putin crowd as
a gang of KGB thugs in trench coats and Yuschenko as the second coming
of Gandhi, this sent a signal to some people that perhaps the Orange
Revolution was not the festival of unambiguous wonderfulness it was
being made out to be. When William Safire starts holding his lighter
in the air and waving his hand to the sunny tune of humanist revolution,
you know it's usually time to place your bets on the other guys.
indeed, last week, a counter-spin on the Ukraine election started
to creep into the Western press. Traveling by way of the Russian press,
to such outlets as Al-Jazeera, and finally to British papers like
the Guardian and the
Independent, the news started to reach America
last week that certain of the Ukrainian oppositionist political groups
had received funding from American organizations. Specifically, it
is said that the youth-opposition group "Pora" (meaning
"It's time"), with its slick marketing campaigns and impressive
organization, had received money from such groups as the National
Democratic Institute and Freedom House. Moreover, many of these stories
pointed out that the same organizations had helped fund and found
similar "pro-democracy" movements like the Serbian "Otpor"
(resistance), the Belarussian "Zubr" (Bison), and the anti-Shevardnadze
Georgian group "Kmara" (Enough is enough).
reporting inspired this new spin on the Orange Revolution. The Guardian
put it most bluntly, calling the revolution "an American creation,
a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding
and mass marketing." The paper also said that the ascension of
Yuschenko was a "postmodern coup d'etat" and a "CIA-sponsored
third world uprising of cold war days, adapted to post-Soviet conditions."
in the States, this line of reasoning has begun to be parroted by
a number of liberal analysts, including some friends of mine, like
Katrina Van Den Heuvel of the Nation. These articles, in turn,
have inspired conservative denunciations on the part of people like
Anne Appelbaum of the Washington Post, who described folks
like Katrina and the Guardian crew as "freedom haters"
for espousing these opinions. Here's how Appelbaum put it:
At least a part of the Western left—or
rather the Western far left—is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush,
that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to
any government that would be friendly to the United States.
whole debate, it seems to me, is ridiculous.
Of course the U.S. is improperly influencing
the domestic politics of places like Ukraine, Georgia and Serbia.
It has been shamelessly injecting its proteges in ex-Soviet governments
ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, and it has used groups like
Freedom House and the NDI and USAID to funnel money to all sorts of
unsavory characters. That's why the reaction of certain people familiar
with these mechanisms has been to balk at the Orange Revolution—because
it's seldom failed to be true that anyone described in the New
York Times or other major American dailies as a "pro-Western
politician" has ever turned out to be anything other than a scumbag
of the highest order.
just look at this quote from Alessandra Stanley of the Times
a few years back:
Under the leadership of President
Leonid Kuchma, elected last July, the once isolated and economically
ruined Ukraine has turned pro-Western and pro-economic-reform...
a few years, Kuchma would be chopping off the heads of journalists,
and a few years after that, he'd be stealing elections. Next thing
you know, this same pro-Western president is showing up in the news
as the "Kremlin puppet," and his successor's opponent
is being hailed as the Thomas Jefferson type. It should be noted
that Yuschenko's chief pro-Western quality is that he opposes the
government of the old pro-Western guy, Kuchma.
familiar with ex-Soviet politics has seen this script repeated endlessly
over the last decade or so. It has always been next to impossible
to identify the "pro-Western" politician by his politics
alone, as he, too, steals elections (see: Boris Yeltsin's theft of
the 1993 referendum), represses the media (Kuchma, lately the bad
anti-West guy, beheaded Gongadze; Yeltsin, at the time still the good
pro-West guy, whacked Dmitri Kholodov), and commits gargantuan acts
of thievery (too numerous on all sides to detail).
difference in this case is that the guys who tried to steal this election
didn't have our support, and were too stupid to pull it off. That
doesn't mean they don't still deserve to lose. I mean, they tried
to kill Yuschenko. They put dioxin in his soup, for Christ's sake.
(Soup! In Ukraine! Is nothing sacred?) There have to be some
does that mean Yuschenko is the next Tom Paine? I'm not holding my
breath. My old colleague at the eXile in Moscow, the writer/politician
Eduard Limonov, put it best:
The choice between two swine-looking
bureaucrats is not so exciting. Ukrainians have not choosen between
say, Che Guevara and Yanukovitch, between capitalist development and
Revolutionary way of life... Coal miners better to drink their Ukrainian
vodka "Goritka," stay home and fuck their huge wives.
knows, maybe that was in the first draft of Safire's piece. Now that
would be thrilling.