Saturday, October 6, 2012

Election propaganda in Ukraine

Eat pineapples!
Dine on grouse!
Your final day is close, bourgeois!
(poem by Vladimir Mayakovskiy, a Soviet poet)

Election time is drawing near here in Ukraine and the streets are filled with politics. Just like any red-blooded capitalist I'm especially fascinated by the Ukrainian Communist Party slogans.
In addition to seeing lots of signs on the streets, there's an almost daily delivery of various brochures and newsletters to our mailbox.
Support the Communists!
You won't be making a mistake!
For example, this fascinating newspaper turned up several days ago.
Title translates roughly to "speaking honestly"

It's full of blunt statements about how life was better in the Ukrainian SSR.
(Below the pictures is written: in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic the simple people lived well, in modern Ukraine only the oligarchs live well.)
 And more-
And my favorite-
Time and morals: Morals change, even the heroes of children's films change. In the USSR children were shown positive heroes, and now- bandits, horror, and "the beautiful life".
As I've mentioned before, this nostalgia is not being invented out of thin air. A substantial number of people in Ukraine miss things like the free education and medical care that were offered in the USSR. True, education and medical care are still supposed to be free in present-day Ukraine, but somehow the reality works out differently. This longing for the USSR used to surprise me because in history class we were taught that the Soviet Union was a terrible and evil yoke upon its poor citizens and that people there surely longed for the sweet air of freedom. Haha, the same thing that's still being taught in schools, only that the oppressor is no longer named the USSR :p

But the Ukrainian Communist Party isn't the only one running. There's also Vitali Klitschko.
"Politics can be open!"
He may look like just another politician, but he's not.

He's a 41-year-old champion boxer. That's right, a heavyweight boxer, arguably one of the best in the world in his youth. His nickname is Dr. Ironfist (he also holds a PhD) and his political party's name is УДАР, or punch, strike. He retired from boxing for a few years in the mid 2000s and has dabbled in politics over the past decade.

One issue that Klitschko has gotten involved in is Ukraine's language war. 
Stop Russification- it cannot continue!

This is a REALLY hot topic nowadays. Truth be told, they've always been "fighting words" here. Russian was popularized (by law) in the Soviet Union. Then there was a surge of Ukrainian nationalistic pride.. er, except for in places like Crimea. Now Ukrainian-speakers feel marginalized one week. Then Russian-speakers feel discriminated against by the following Monday.

The official language here is Ukrainian.

Movies are dubbed in Ukrainian.
TV is in Ukrainian.
Government documents are in Ukrainian.
The metro announcements are in Ukrainian.
Radio announcers speak in Ukrainian.
Advertisements are in Ukrainian.
School books are in Ukrainian.
School children are supposed to be taught in Ukrainian.

The problem? In parts of Ukraine, some Ukrainians....


And thus, now some politicians have given Russian a more legal linguistic status in part of the country.

Can you see the potential for disagreement? 

I've never seen any street fights breaking out in my city over this. In fact, encounters (outside of the parliament) between the two languages are usually very civil. Kharkov is one of the Russian-speaking cities. Sometimes there will be a vegetable vender or souvenir seller who speaks Ukrainian and an extremely polite conversation ensues with one side speaking Ukrainian and the other responding in Russian. Maybe deep down in peoples' hearts, though, they secretly want to start slugging each other, who knows! It certainly has been known to happen in other cities.

 Earlier this summer a mysterious billboard appeared. It showed a clenched fist smashing through a brick wall and the Ukrainian words "it's time!"
I thought is was a promo for a new store or movie, something like Cloverfield's viral marketing campaign back in 2007.

Nope, it's not a TV show. 
It's the language war.
Here are the new posters.
It's time to protect the Ukrainian language!

Another recent story in the news is the extension of Russia's military presence (naval base) in the Crimean peninsula. Perhaps that deal led to this angry statement from Ukraine's Communist Party:
The native land is like a mother to Ukrainians. Don't you dare sell it for money!
Although D thinks this sign is instead about a recent law allowing land to be sold to foreigners.

Interestingly, the sign is written in Russian, not Ukrainian. All their materials are usually in Russian so I guess it's clear which side of the debate they're on.

The parliamentary elections will be held at the end of this month. According to this Kyiv post article, "only 3 percent of Ukrainians believe that the Oct. 28 election will be free and fair."

What do you think will happen?


  1. This is all very sad to me. I don't remember the commies being so active in the previous campaigns. Are they really that noticeable or you're just paying more attention to their campaign because it's fascinating to you as an American? You know what I mean? In general I don't see them being a big trouble. After all their electoral base is quite marginal, predominantly consisting of the older crowd. Unfortunately that crowd still votes for their illusions of the past and a package of buckwheat right before the elections in their present. It's a shame but I can't blame them - they don't know any better. What really leaves me speechless is the number of people who are STILL willing to vote for the party of regions. Those people either have their slice of the pie or are clinical idiots. The ukrainian pie is not that big, so I have to make an unpleasant conclusion. Either way there's way too many of them. I'm gonna stop myself here before I ramble on for fifteen paragraphs.
    This year I got the chance to observe the presidential campaign in the US for the first time since I moved here. The programs, the candidates, the rhetorics is night and day comparing to what I've seen in Ukraine. Even though I personally disagree with some of them, especially the President :) , it's still a completely different level. It's not even the NBA vs a high school game. It's the NBA vs a bunch of kids with no basketball, who don't understand the rules, so they just make up their own rules and think that's the real deal. It's a cargo cult. Except that the cargo cult was a product of ignorance, while the Ukrainian politics is a killing mix of ignorance and cynical malice. It would simply not be possible in a mature society with strong understanding of the nature and power of democracy. One can always say that there's nowhere for it to come from because of the soviet past, but how did the Czechs do it? Hungarians? Slovenians for God's sake! Anyways, I'm getting into another endless and pointless argument... With myself, what's even more disturbing :) I drew my bottom line almost four years ago. When I realized that I had irreconcilable differences with the society of the country where I happened to be born. The differences that were much bigger than just the favorite political party. And that they were not going away for years, more likely - decades. And I left. I would be really happy to see positive changes, but I'm afraid it's the same old swamp. In this sense it doesn't really matter what will happen at the elections day. The problem is much much more fundamental than that.

  2. Hi Sergiy, as an outsider it's difficult for me to judge if they're more active in this campaign than they've been in previous ones, but they are definitely very visible right now in Kharkov. They have more billboards and signs than anyone else. In fact, I think I also recall several cars of their supporters loudly driving around town to promote the cause. Of course, the other political factions are also present but they're not as memorable to me, much less aggressive in their promotion. They mainly set up little booths by the metro and shyly hand out flyers while the communists are marching. Anyways, one of D's coworkers had this job when he was a teen- he said that people would shout at him and curse him as they went by, but what they didn't understand is that it was just a job for him and the following week he'd pick up another job handing out flyers for the opposing side. That's interesting because in the US it always seemed like those people were true supporters of that particular candidate and doing the job for free.... but maybe I'm mistaken?

    In short, yeah- politics is always messed up, more in some countries, less in others. You may find some interesting reading on another American's blog- he lives in DP and pays a lot of attention to this kind of stuff.