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Correspondent 35

Yushchenko: 'What, me worry?!'

by Paul Miazga

Lately it seems the local press has been burning the candle at both ends to keep the story of preparations for the 2012 European Football (soccer) Championships alive and well. It’s like this story represents the only stimulus for Ukraine’s elite to do anything to rebuild or shape this country for the future and losing sight of it would be to fall further into the nadir of despair that’s clearly gripping this country.

Take, for example, President Viktor Yushchenko. It’s election season – the new poll is less than two months away – and with what or, rather, whom has he been keeping himself occupied? French film star Gerard Depardieu. A recent photo of the two shows them chumming it up, Yushchenko smiling like a girl from the country on her first big date with the charming foreigner set up by the marriage agency for her to meet, the obvious translator kept out of view of the camera’s lens. This is a man leading the country into yet another huge election – one he fought hard to get – and towards the country’s first tangible goal in years, and he’s chumming it up with a guy he has nothing in common with except maybe a love for Asterix comics?

The current story of the Euro 2012 preparations is a lot like the meeting between Yushchenko and Depardieu: it looks good for the cameras but essentially it’s just a lot of talk about nothing. Watching the news last night, on one of several channels discussing the ongoing preparations for the big event, they interviewed some local sports guru who stated the obvious, that nothing is happening yet, but what will happen is X, Y and Z and billions of dollars will be spent to get the country ready. Later, watching the other channels discuss the exact same thing, strangely it made me think of the news directives (“temnyky”) that former President Leonid Kuchma used to order as a way of making sure Ukrainians got just a faint, rosy glow out of their TVs and that warm, fuzzy feeling about the country.

The President and Depardieu arguably talked in a similar fashion as the TV stations – about very little of any substance, as with any simple love story:

“How’s the weather in Paris, Gerard?”

“Very good, Viktor, thank you. I’m happy not to be in England, aren’t you?” (Following translation of this remark, together they laugh amicably.)

A pause, Yushchenko smiles again, then:

“You know, I loved you in ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’…”

Now maybe I’m being overly simplistic and the two had much more to discuss. I’m sure the President finds in Depardieu a sage and savvy political ally who will help him negotiate the sophisticated cheating already long-rumored to have begun well in advance of the Sept. 30 vote:

Has anyone else noticed how the police presence in the capital has increased significantly over the last six months or so? Police are everywhere in the city and they’re rumored to be under the direction of men loyal to thuggish Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. And how about the President’s long-ago promise to reform Ukraine’s voter lists – how many more dead people will get to vote from beyond the grave in 2007? Also, many seem to have turned a blind eye to the fact that the same guys who tried to fix the 2004 presidential poll – including disgraced Party of Regions hack Sergey Kivalov – are back to run the show for this election. What’s more, pro-Party of Regions people have been chosen to head the election commissions in all 13 regions in Ukraine’s south and east where fraud was found to be rampant in Yanukovych’s failed bid for the presidency in 2004. It looks like a case of the fox guarding the henhouse.

Maybe the friendship with Depardieu is Yushchenko’s way of embracing the notion of Ukraine’s “European choice”: more French cheese and wine, and more French films with happy endings. I guess that’s it. Or maybe he’s just not as interested in all those billions to be spent in preparation for Euro 2012 as that other Viktor.

“President Viktor Yushchenko and French actor Gerard Depardieu: happy days are here again, it seems.” (http://vivre-en-normandie.typepad.com)


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