It has been a quarter of a century since the passing of Andrei Sakharov a Nobel Prize winning physicist, dissident and civil rights activist, and I sometimes wonder how little has changed in Russia since then? Particularly since Russia's invasion of Crimea and its incursion into the Donbass region with some of the finest of its elite troops and hired mercenaries from over four-thousand kilometres away. These actions on behalf of the Kremlin, while now different from those which were part of Sakharov's “theory of symmetry” on Soviet society, have created much of the same effect as during Soviet times.
Additionally, the West's reaction to the Kremlin's “debonaire terrorist” attitude towards Ukraine and all aspects of international law has resulted in the Russian rouble being the worst currency in the world. I a typical isolationist and Soviet mentality, there has been a call to make it illegal for retailers to advertise the price of their goods in any currency other than roubles. Paired, with this the Kremlin is recruiting a whole new echelon of “patriotic snitches” known as “stukachi” in Soviet times; let's not forget that the Russian Orthodox Church has played such a role for the Kremlin since the passing of Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow.
While many individuals would probably never remember such a day, the day that I heard of Andrei Sakharov's death is frozen in my mind's eye like it was yesterday. In the mid to late 1980s I became extremely active in the Ukrainian-Canadian students' movement, both in helping to revive Ukrainian Student's Clubs at the universities I attended and taking an active role in the Ukrainian Canadian Students' Union, hereafter SUSK, leadership as Vice-President Laurentian as the position was then called. As anyone who knows me I have always tried to maintain contact with friends wherever we end up on the face of the planet and in December of 1989 while studying at McGill University and in my official position with SUSK I was informed by colleagues in Ottawa that we would be having a visiting scholar from Ukraine who had spent a semester at the University of Alberta, and who was returning to Ukraine, via the standard route in those days – Montreal – Moscow -Kyiv.
Our Visitor – My Task
After his stint at the University of Alberta in Edmonton Vasyl Yaremenko travelled eastward before returning to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as part of the USSR. A good friend of mine Wally Barabash drove him from Ottawa to Montreal where he delivered a talk on the situation and revival of the Ukrainian language in Gorbachev's period of “perebudova”. While our visitor stayed with well-known Holodmor historian professor Roman Serbyn, my friend Wally stayed with me until he had to drive Vasyl Yaremenko to the now non-existent Mirabel Airport some sixty-five kilometres north of Montreal and designated as our international airport of the day.
The day he was to leave was a cold sunny and bright December day. Vasyl Yaremenko had made one request of myself and Wally before he drove him to the airport. It was a simple request and one that was not uncommon for the time. It was to help him in selecting a boom-box for his son Bohdan. Clearly it would have to run on the 220 alternating current which electric and electronic devices operated in that part of the world.
Vasyl Yaremenko told me the price range he had budgeted for the day before Wally and I picked him up at Professor Serbyn's. This was not something I was not familiar with and thus I selected two electronics stores located proximate to Roman Serbyn's home, knowing both the quality of goods sold at the store and understanding the possibility of haggling with the shop-keep.
When we walked into the shop cluttered with wall-to-wall electronics the first thing the three of us heard was the familiar hourly call signal of RFE/RL for shortwave broadcasts. It turned out that my first choice of shops was that of a former Refusenik who had managed to emigrate under the work carried out by Nathan Sharansky. It was then that we heard the news, in that cluttered but welcoming shop, that Andrei Sakaharov had died. He was sixty-eigth.
The four of us looked at one another. It was like the end of an era. Sakharov had embodied so much energy that was totally against what the entire Soviet system stood for. We all looked at one another, there was a complete silence in our space, with the exception of the announcer's voice, of the other relevant news from that part of the world. A part of the world still captured under the yoke of Moscow – in an evil system of domination and subjugation.
The shop-keep held his fore-head in his right hand when he heard the news, Yaremenko shook his head, stating that this was a great loss for freedom loving people everywhere, but particularly in the USSR.
It took a little while to shake this, but clearly longer for Yaremenko and the shop-keep. Once the initial shock wore off, I together with Wally took the time to narrow down the selection of the appropriate unit. Then we left the haggling on the price to the two, pretty-well peers, to work out the price. The entire haggle session which lasted about ten minutes was carried out in the Russian language and eventually Vasyl Yaremenko made a decision with our help. We walked out of that cluttered shop with a boom-box which would be appreciated in the future by his son Bohdan.
I'll never forget that day that when I heard of Andrei Sakharov's passing.
Before and After
Andrei Sakharov while in the Soviet Union fell very much in line with what was Dwight Eisenhower's concept of Atoms for Peace. The role he had as a physicist who understood his own nuclear undertaking came out in the early 1960s against nuclear proliferation. As time went on, Sakharov was branded as an enemy and traitor of the Soviet Union. Interesting now Moscow has returned to such labelling and ostracizing of their critical members of their society. Today, if Sakharov were still here he would face the same shit he faced when he protested against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He would be against Russia's Invasion of Ukraine and that is twenty-five years after his death we should honour him.
As for the decisions I made with Vasyl Yaremenko, I would learn about that connection during the summer of 1990.
During a SUSK planned trip to Ukraine in the summer of 1990 which started on July 1, I would learn of some close connections on a trip that meant a great deal to me. The first connection was primarily a connection with my deceased father. He unlike many who had travelled to the new world by ship had made a decision to fly to Canada his adoptive home after the great war.
My father flew from Brussels to Shannon, Ireland. This was followed with a hop to Gander, Newfoundland, and then on to Montreal. At about the same age as he was coming to the “New World” I was flying in the opposite direction with stops in Gander and Shannon. Howecer, my final stop in Kyiv and not Brussels, my paternal homeland.
Our Ukrainian student contacts of the day had contacts in Kyiv whom we would eventually be staying with for our first few days in Ukraine's capital – Kyiv.
On the first day of our stay I was introduced to a number of students and even one who I had know as one of the first graduands of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program – Ivan Tkachenko whom I had met the in Ottawa the summer before, while I was employed at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa. When our small group of six students finally met Ivan and his family we were instantly introduced to his like-minded friends.
A Visit to Kharkivskiy Massiv
While it never really hit me at the time, during my first visit to Kyiv in July of 1990, I was getting some extremely privileged experiences. Ivan Tkachenko's father walked us from their flat on Gorkovoho, now Antonovycha, over to Pushkinska Street and through Shevchenko Park on that muggy July afternoon the day of our arrival. Ivan's father, a film maker, told us of how Jews were marched along Volodymyrska and then north to Babyn Yar. As we walked past 33 Volodymyrska Street my fellow student and friend playfully opened the door what was still the KGB HQ in Ukaine and fired off a few snaps with his camera. None of the officers were thrilled with his antics, and they followed him out on to the street as we passed his camera amongst our group, denying any such “espionage” had taken place.
We then went to the sight of the Church of the Tithes, looked out on Podil and Obolon'. In 1990 Ivan Tkachenko clearly stood out. He was wearing a pair of long-shorts with the cartoon character “Yosemite Sam” blazing his guns and clearly a shout out to the people of Ukraine of 1990.
While chronology doesn't matter in this retelling of this tale, eventually we all ended up at an apartment at Kharkivskiy Massiv. At the moment we arrived there we only knew we were at Bohdan's place and that his parents were at their “dacha”, or cottage.
It was not long after we arrived there, our host Bohdan put on some music and we were invited to have some drinks. In less than half an hour of being there, one of my fellow Canadian students asked Bohdan where he had gotten his “boom box”. Of course he went on to explain how his father had been in Canada a few years earlier, and how this guy Vasyl had picked out such a great piece of equipment for him. In all honesty, it didn't take me or anyone else to realize the connection and that I had been a principle of advising Bohdan Vasylovych on this particular product for his son.
Full Circle - 25 Years Less a Year
As we all know, Viktor Yanukovych – for anyone with normal vision, understood him as both a criminal and vassal of Moscovia decided to change Ukraine's publicly declared vector towards Europe, towards one aimed in a different direction; that of Tsar Putin's Eurasian Economic Union as a manner to re-establish the Soviet Union in USSR 2.0.
When it became clear that Yanukovych was not going to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, Mustafa Nayyem called on students to come out to Maidan, Kyiv's main square, though I think he is given too much credit for this movement as new generation had come to fruition from the Orange (R)evolution. They were not going to be fooled again, and it wasn't simply his call to action, but their own initiative and the witnessing of empty promises of Viktor Yushchenko, the poster boy of democracy in Ukraine. Unfortunately, too much credit is being given to people like Nayem who may be great at what they did and do professionally but are far from ready to be involved in politics in a still very immature political culture with no party discipline and no political checks and balances.
While, many like to credit Nayyem with what happened and what started the EuroMaidan movement – they are all mistaken and have oversimplified the situation and once again catapulted, a number of individuals who are popular, into politics for the wrong reasons. This,which seems to have bevcome a phenomenon of Ukraine's last two revolutions, will once again retard political development in Ukraine. It is equally as stupid as Yulia Tymoshenko's populist tact of utilizing Nadia Savchenko as a political candidate in their retarded and non-democratic but populist list system.
A few days after Nayem, purportedly started the Euromaidan movement via Facebook, there was a brutal crack-down on the peacefully protesting students on Maidan.
When that happened, my old acquaintance, Bohdan Yaremenko, then in Ukraine's Foreign Service and then posted in Istanbul, called a spade a spade. He equated the crack down on student's on Maidan as being the same as the Nazi regime upon Jews in Germany during the Third Reich. He wasn't far off, but given the criminal regime of Yanukovych then he was recalled from Istanbul and his political post.
Let's Not Repeat Mistakes
I hope for the sake of those who died of the Heavenly Hundred and those who are continuing to die in the Donbass region, that those who've been elected to the Verkhovna Rada will continuously check themselves and the reasons they are there. They must all realize that if they become complacent in the requirements for change that there are still plenty of civic watch-dogs ready to snap at their heels, and if necessary, bite them in the ass.
The newly formed Cabinet of Ministers has been in principle been given carte-blanche for a year. How well the government will perform will not only be their responsibility, but that of the VR in ensuring that required reform legislation is passed. Though we've seen a similar scenario, where some good legislation made it through the VR, though it was never implemented or enforced – and when people broke the law they were never punished. This has to change if Ukraine wants to move forward, and not besmirch those who have paid the ultimate price.
There is unfortunately a group of members of Ukraine's VR that will do everything possible to throw a spanner into the works and make it more difficult to pass legislation. The extremely unimaginative and ass-backwards thinking group that calls themselves the “Oppositional Block” consists of twenty-nine members in the Verkhovna Rada. A good number of these individuals are dubious characters and leftovers from Yanukovych's criminal regime who should all be sitting in prison for their voting behaviour on January 16, 2014, for a package of laws which would restrict practically any type of civil dissent and give law-enforcement agencies wide-ranging powers to suppress such dissent. This legislation came to be known as the “Dictatorial Laws” passed on Black Thursday.
To not repeat many of the same mistakes made in the past in particular on deputies who've been elected to the VR – is that their immunity which puts them above the law must be eliminated immediately. This immunity is similar and a hold over to a period when Sakharov postulated a “theory of symmetry”. “...Our state is similar to a cancer cell – with its messianism and expansionism, its totalitarian suppression of dissent, the authoritarian structure of power, with a total absence of public control in the most important decisions in domestic and foreign policy, a closed society that does not inform its citizens of anything substantial, closed to the outside world, without freedom of travel or the exchange of information.”
This quote of Sakharov's is the exact direction to which the Russian Federation is returning. A Russian Federation guided by a KGB crony with a Napoleon Complex.
Supporting Rule of Law: Quick Wins
While, Ukraine is making very valiant efforts to breakaway from its Soviet legacy, the most important changes it must make are in Rule of Law. This is something I have written about in the past, though at this time, I would like to direct you all to my fellow Canadian, Daniel Bilak's opinion piece in the Kyiv Post called Nine Quick Wins For Justice.
While, I am not an expert on legal matters, I can support those matters that I felt effected my decade experience living in Ukraine. We all know that i will agree with QW1, as it is something I have stated above.
QW2: I remember when I was still working in journalism and about to make my way back to librarianship/information services at one of Ukraine's leading law firms in early 2003 when Ukraine's new Civil Code came to light. I saw many things where the conflict of interest of the State and private interests created expenses to many parties which were unnecessary.
QW3: The issue of judges in Ukraine must be investigated, not only at the level that Bilak mentions but at all levels. Transparency and rule of law are once again important. In 2001 I had a family member in a regional city whose husband wanted to take things into his own hands and use a third party outside of the law. I convinced her and him to work with civic organizations in that city to resolve their issues.
QW4: Yes, the issue between civil servants and public masters needs a change, both between the understanding of those civil servants and on behalf of citizens expecting service and not being dictated to. Ukraine could benefit by removing up to three layers least of duplication in services which are to work for society and its people.
QW5: Over ten years ago there were projects supported by TACIS and other organizations for such important aspects of Ukrainian life. Unfortunately, internal corruption of the system, never let those project come to fruition.
QW6: Please remember that volunteerism and civic activism has been by many as a way to ingratiate themselves and close family members. I know this for a fact and I have plenty of evidence to prove it. Let's be careful with this area. I know it inside and out.
QW7: I know this area personally having spent easily close to five times at a least for equivalent services in Canada – and that was in the best case scenario. Along with this from a Canadian point of view; the idiocy of company seals and stamps is nonsense and an additional cost creating a nonsensical industry of stamps.
QW8: Under the current situation, the rule of law is not being satisfied.
Finally Daniel Bilak's “Quick Win's” and I hope that there will be an appropriate implantation of these Quick Wins.
QW9: Communication is key. There are plenty of top notch NGOs which I had the great opportunity to work with. Communication was always their key and they have trained many along the way. I hope that as in the past that the government of Ukraine and it's advisers continue to listen to the tell of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation.
I'm not someone dislocated from the needs many of us have had for a quarter of a century. I hope that those new “foreign” members of the government will make sure these matters are implemented, and they will bear the necessary fruit.
Ukraine must take the proper steps that Ukrainians from abroad have taken for so many years. Ukraine, somehow always rejected a Jewish model. A model of inviting Ukrainians and foreigners to build a nation. Those who reject this approach are simply out to lunch, but at the same time only wanting to garner more than they are worth. This same approach of barring new approaches to investment took place during the 2012 Euro bid and unfortunately the transparency that is necessary will not tell us all who Sadoviy really is? I experienced this personally therefore I have a great scepticism of what Samopomich involved with Sadoviy is. If you followed the matter in 2012, you will have to wonder? Is Samopomich a criminal organization as all other political parties. I hope I am wrong, but at the same time I will love to say – I told you so. I have very little trust in Sadoviy and his team in terms of professionalism based on my personal professional experience.
Now,when experience is important, we again have the Soviet approach towards a new government that wants to gather the best people possible. Let's make every possible moment count for Ukraine's new government. Let's help Ukraine move as far away as possible from a theory of symmetry.
Vasyl Pawlowsky Independent Consultant
The commentary of this was first published on the WPawlowsky.com site.