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A Scant 90 Years Gone By

A Scant 90 Years Gone By

by Paul Miazga

Few alive today could possibly remember Ukraine’s last experiment with democracy, the short-lived republic that came into being exactly 90 years ago this week (Jan. 22, 1918) when the Ukrainian National Republic came into being. Anyone who has read Mikhail Bulgakov’s historical fiction work “The White Guard” can get a sense of how ramshackle that attempt at democracy was seen by him (and likely many others) given how confused many Ukrainians were during the civil war that preceded and later doomed the nascent republic.

Regardless of how that first republic ended, Ukrainian politicians and historians love to perpetuate the myths and romanticism of the past, and earlier this week President Viktor Yushchenko paid homage to past Ukrainian heroes Mykhailo Hrushevskiy (his statue sits on Volodymyrsky St. near the House of Teachers – Ukraine’s first parliament) and Taras Shevchenko, whose looming figure adorns the park named for the nation’s poet laureate. Yushchenko even suggested creating a national holiday to mark the date (so two independence days?). I have not read enough history to suggest one way or the other whether Ukrainians really understood what “Ukraine” really meant back then or, more importantly, if they were willing to die that it might live on.

In any case, police barred entrance to Shevchenko Park for almost the entire day Tuesday and lined Volodymyrsky St. from Sofiyivska Square – the site of the original declaration uniting the eastern and western factions of Ukraine’s erstwhile independence movement – to the park in anticipation of the president and his motorcade. Once the flowers and wreaths are laid, speeches made and pictures taken, it will be interesting to see if the current government moves in light of the current panic in global financial markets to solidify this country’s democratic and market institutions in order to make this second attempt at democracy a truly lasting one.

The greening of Kiev?

“Ukraine’s first president, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, might have enjoyed a longer taste of independence than what it first got.” (www.ualberta.ca)
About two weeks ago I saw a report on local TV that suggested Kiev Mayor Leonid Chernovetskiy wants to initiate a blue box program in the city in order to reduce the amount of waste that the city produces. Apparently, according to the report, he’s even behind the creation of a city-wide composting program to deal with organic waste.

Now while I have my own opinions about the mayor, I can’t help but be amused at his ideas. Whatever the near impossibility of setting up and maintaining such a program in Kiev, I’d certainly do my part to try to make it work – anything to reduce the voluminous heaps of garbage that continue to pile up in one neighborhood of the city after another. And with all the people renovating apartments these days – and simply dumping the old bricks, mortar, window shards and frames and other refuse by their local trash bin – Chernovetskiy would also do well to charge people for the weight of trash they throw away, the way they do in cities such as Brussels. The Brussels city administration actually encourages people to keep chickens in their yards in order to help dispose of organic waste (which tends to be heavier than other types of waste). Would that were to happen here!

And then this week Chernovetskiy enacted a new program whereby the city will charge people on a descending scale when parking in the city center; the further away from the center one parks, the less that person will pay per hour of parking. At present, given that the local parkovshiky are unlicensed, are not under city administration and therefore can simply dictate parking fees wherever they decide to work, the mayor’s move should prove to be a boon for drivers and a bane for these enterprising men (and women).

Far-fetched ideas for the city? Not quite. The mayor is up for reelection next year, so he’s fighting for his political life and in all fairness at least he’s trying. Not like the previous sad-sack mayor and sitting parliamentarian in Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine camp Oleksandr Omelchenko, who lined his pockets with state cash while city mayor. Rumor has it Omelchenko recently tried to get Ukraine’s new interior minister (and fellow Our Ukraine bloc chum) Yuriy Lutsenko to start a corruption investigation of Chernovetskiy. Not surprisingly, the anti-corruption crusading Lutsenko rebuffed Omelchenko and his suggestions.


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