Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Russian away from Europe?

A long, long time ago (6 months ago?), this ad for parking popped up in Kyiv:
"Be European! Buy parking tickets!"
And now, as you've most likely heard after the internet blew up with protests and calls to action, there's a lot more going on with this European idea than mere parking customs.

Should Ukraine align itself with Europe? With Russia? Do its own thing?

The first political display of opinion to show up in Kharkiv was this, about two months ago:
"Independence 1991 - 2013. We remember, we love, we mourn."
I noticed the sticker on the back of an advertisement stand at the train station. Who had put it there?

A few weeks later, the billboards spoke out:
"EU association means an increase in prices." [depicts 19.99 uah becoming 19.99] "The Ukrainian Choice political party is warning you."
"EU association" [warning symbol] "The Ukrainian Choice political party is warning you."

If you're late to the game, here's some good reading to get caught up. Or just use the dates as a timeline of what's been going down.

Nov 3: Ukraine's Risky Bet: An eventual new alliance?

Nov 11: Phantom Pain in Russia's Amputated Limbs: Russia just won't let go?

Nov 12: Ukraine, a Chocolate Factory, and the Fate of a Woman: Poisonious chocolate? Or political pressure?

Nov 16: Waiting to See if Ukraine Tilts East or West: What will happen to Yulia Tymoshenko?

Nov 16: Epic Drama in Ukraine: Do Villains Turn Into Heroes?: Ukraine... as a Hollywood screenplay?

and then the President called things off...

Nov 21: Ukraine Suspends Preparations for EU Trade Agreement: Further delays?

Nov 22: From Facebook and Twitter to the streets: Ukrainians protest of ceased EU deal: #євромайдан, #майдан, and #euromaidan? 

Nov 22: EU loses out on Ukraine, but may have dodged a bullet: Did it?

Nov 22: Politics of Brutal Pressure: What's going on behind the scenes?

Nov 24: Huge Ukraine rally over EU agreement delay A second Orange Revolution in the works?

And that's pretty much where things stand as of today, November 26th. The mayor of Kharkiv has banned all mass public gatherings, allegedly to try to contain a flu outbreak. Lugansk has outlawed all peaceful public protests until 2014. There's already been violence in Dnipropetrovsk. One blogger witnessed her students leaving school and taking to the streets in Kolomyia.

By the way, this is NOT about Ukraine joining the EU tomorrow- that's not what was on the table. What was being offered was a trade agreement.
source: vk.com
The political ads around Kharkiv protest any form of alliance with the E.U. but I wondered what the average person thinks.

So I put the question out there:

What do you think about Ukraine and the E.U.?

And here's what people (students and friends) said:

"What do I think about Ukraine and EU? There are three points of view in Ukraine: people who want to join EU; people who want to support Russia; people who don't want to change anything (still live with the same things). From my point of view, Russian politics are unfair. They take advantage of us. Today Russian customs officers refuse to let in Ukrainians, because we want to join EU. I think it will give us a lot of opportunities to change our life for better. Elder people are afraid of it because they have Soviet Union mentality, they are used to work without dedication. We should change our mind and everything will be fine! :)"
28, teacher, Kharkov 

"In my opinion, Ukraine obviously belongs to European family. But... total corruption in all sides of peoples' lives holds us in the USSR. And the worst in this situation is that everyone agrees to live in such conditions. Everyone complains, but no one wants to change something in his own life. It is comfortable to give bribes, hide income from tax police, throw garbage in the street, etc. I think peoples' minds should change first. Otherwise, an official statement that Ukraine is now a part of EU will not change anything."
- 24, medical doctor, currently practicing in Namibia but originally from Kharkiv

"Ukraine definitely needs to try to reach their dream about being closer to Europe. That will be very decisive experience relevant for the farther future."
- 34, IT consultant, Kharkov

"The probability of entry in the EU is too little."
- 37, manager, Kharkov

[This was written after a soccer game between France and Ukraine and posted on social media in Russian. The author agreed to let me translate it into English and post it here.] Today's game is a reflection of Ukraine as a country: a country without guts, without willpower, without ambition, without the ability to sacrifice to protect. People who cannot commit to serious goals- and I'm not even mentioning achieving them. They can only dream. The entire national ideology was demonstrated on the football field: maybe suddenly we'll get lucky, maybe we'll get away with it, maybe they will pity us or some other freebie will come by. Or maybe all of those things... but don't change anything! Cowering in a corner to not get smacked on the nose. If it didn't work out, it's okay, we're used to that shit. That's why this team and country are being screwed in all possible manners by anyone who's up for it. It's not a shame to lose 3-0 or even 6-0. It's a shame to be such spineless amoebas. And with the EU association it'll be the same. Don't even dream about it. For Europe, as for the world championship, one at least has to have guts, if you have nothing else to offer.
 - 30, software industry, currently in New York, NY but originally from Kharkiv

"Being a living creature in this world means you live and eat those who are smaller until you feed yourself to someone who's bigger.

The same is with politics, no matter how peaceful and tolerant they claim they are. Everyone is either oppressor or oppressed. Ukraine is the latter and has always been. But what makes it worse is the type of people who ruled Ukraine for the past 400 years. The simple scheme goes like this - Get to the top, kill the rivals, make a fortune, and sell the independence in exchange for protection from your own people.

What we can see now is the typical behavior of the typical Ukrainian leader. He is at the point when he can't afford another election. If his rivals win, it means jail for him. The same he did with Y. Timoshenko. The only way to survive for him is to save the economy from the trade war and get help and guarantees from Russia or from EU. Which one to choose? None of them cares about our welfare. Being a member of EU doesn't mean we will live like Britons and earn $10 an hour. We will still live like we deserve. Being a member of the Russian empire doesn't mean we will get gas for free or even any cheaper or we will export to Russia like we did at the Soviet times. So choosing between those two is not about where to get more but where to lose less. Although there has been the collapse of the Greek and Cyprus economy I would still prefer the EU, and here is why. Among other equal interests like expanding the influence or competing for the markets these two forces differ in one crucial way. Russia just hates Ukrainian independence. And I wouldn't give them the pleasure to make fun of it, no matter how "independent" this independence is."
- 38, mechanic, Kharkiv

Glory to Ukraine… Ukrainians are accustomed to thinking that one day somebody will change their life for better. But nobody can make you happy but you. A lot of changes will happen after Ukraine chooses EU or Russia. As a matter of fact, neither of them wait for us. Both EU and Russia know what they will receive from Ukraine. Some Ukrainians think that Russian language is an enemy for our nation, and that if Ukraine will be the part of EU, life here will be as beautiful as in EU, but not many people understand that EU has a lot of problems nowadays… they just believe that magic will happen. EU will have a lot of rights in our territory and we won’t have any voice after. A lot of Ukrainian factories will close and plenty of families will be without any jobs. As for me I don’t think that magic happens in politics and just hope for better. 

- 25, teacher, Lviv (originally Kharkiv area)

"Well, it seems like the only choice of Ukraine is either to be in alliance with Russia or to be integrated into the EU. And choosing between the dictatorship along with human discrimination of Russia (let's be honest here, ok?) and the developed society of the EU, I'm definitely standing for integration with the EU. I don't have enough competence to say with absolute certainty whether it'll have positive influence on Ukrainian economy, but I've been told by those who should know that it'll hardly make it worse. Because, in fact, it's really hard thing to predict: we all more than know the sad example of Greece. On the other hand, there's a Polish example of great blossoming. So you can't really know how it'll turn out in that respect. But what I DO know is that integration with European Union will make a great cultural benefit. Because when curtains fall, a lot of people will get to see and experience that different, developed, civilized European way of living, their mentality and attitude. And, hopefully, Ukrainians will like and adopt that lifestyle."
- 19, jobless, Kharkiv

So as you can see, there are a variety of thoughts on this issue but one undeniable fact is:
it's what everyone is thinking about this week.

PS: Did you get the play on words in the title of this post? If so, you'll appreciate these puns.


  1. I am an English teacher and it is my dream to see Ukraine as the part of the EU . I want people and myself to have more opportunities for jobs and traveling and it would be possible for Ukrainians to do that when we are the part of the EU.

  2. Read "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" -Twain understood long ago how this is going to play out...