Letter from Poland

I recently visited Kraków, Poland, with nine of my writing colleagues, for a ‘writing retreat’ and some minor tourism.

We arrived 10 November, the day before an important national holiday, National Independence Day…

… a national day in Poland celebrated on 11 November to commemorate the anniversary of the restoration of Poland’s sovereignty as the Second Polish Republic in 1918, after 123 years of partition by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Habsburg Empire. (Wikipedia)

img_0697

One of the celebrations early on November 11, image taken from our hotel room

In pursuing the tourism, I went to the English language Massolit Bookstore. The fellow at the cashier and cafe desk is interested in the Beat Poets, as I am. He and I struck up a conversation and I promised to send him a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

After returning home, I sent him the poem, along with some personal comments and links to my writing. I received from him a most unexpected response. Here it is:
___

I am happy to read that you enjoyed your stay in Kraków. It is my favourite Polish city and I am happy to have moved here for good. You found it much settled in history and past. The city was lucky, very lucky not to be destroyed much by any war. Even the Communist  regime didn’t crush its beauty and spirit. And seriously, to me Kraków is an escapist city.

In any other Polish city I always feel some destruction. Warsaw was paved to the ground and awfully rebuilt after 1945. Lublin, which I came from is a God-forgotten place suffering from the consequences of a too rapid switch from communism to capitalism. Wrocław, which I lived in is a German town made Polish fifty years ago and still struggling to reinvent it’s identity, a continuing process. Only in Kraków do I feel at home, without all the damage that has been done to this country.

poland-map

I am writing this at age thirty-four, in the generation that grew up seeing the old being replaced by the new Poland after 1989. I was eight when it all happened. My parents would tell me “how it’s been” and why the Regime should “never repeat”. They raised me with this warning. Their parents raised them with the warnings against war. I am happy to notice twenty-year-olds not influenced with this kind of perspective.

My grandfather lost all his family during the war. He never came back to Lviv (today’s Ukraine, yesterday’s Poland). My mother tried to look for our relatives, didn’t meet anyone when she came there. I don’t feel like going there at all. Let past be the past.

This might sound cruel, but… I am sick and tired of war literature, especially the Holocaust kind of literature still being “mass produced” by yet another Jewish person coming to Auschwitz as a part of their “identity trip”. With masterpieces like Ellie Wiesel’s “Night” we don’t need any more Shoah books to understand the trauma.

I spent one year volunteering in Israel, which was a great lesson on complexity and diversity of life in all kinds of meaning. I walked a mile in someone else’s shoes and it was the most precious experience so far.

I came back to Poland and got close to Judaism again. I acted in Jewish theatre groups. I think that if there is any space in which we can work out the demons of all kinds it is art. Only in art and only on the non-personal but emotional and spiritual level of metaphorical language we can “speak with the ghosts.”

Some people now say: “If they chose Trump it means that humankind didn’t learn anything”. Well, a bit overstatement I would say, but I find an answer in Walter Benjamin’s “The Angel of History” essay. He said that all the answers have been given a long time ago and that if there is something like the Messianic times it IS the time of now, and if we can recognise ourselves and recognise our calling in the calling that has been left to us by the late generations to be accomplished, then it means we are doing right at life.

But why am I writing all this actually? Well, I believe life is a journey and I am trying to learn from all the passengers I happen to be travelling with. Sometimes I feel like explaining myself. Maybe that was one of these moments. We, Poles, have an idea of “The Polish complex,” which is an old fear of not being appreciated or never being understood by outsiders. Maybe this is also my complex that keeps me trying to tell this story again and again, come back to past, tell the identity and keep on checking if I have really told “the whole” story…

jakub-wydrzynski

— Jakub Wydrzynski

These Fourteen European Countries are Disappearing

[See end notes for sources, inclusions and exclusions]

These countries are currently losing population (sorted by population growth rate):

screenhunter_453-oct-16-10-05

[Note: Fertility Rate is the ratio of ‘total children born’ to ‘all women’ in a given population. In order for a given population to remain constant (not counting net migration) the ratio needs to be 2.0 to 2.1.]

What can we intuit from correlating these figures with what we see happening in the world today?

Intuition No. 1: Germany needs to increase the number of its permanent immigrants in order to maintain or grow its population, despite that it already has a relatively high net migration rate: 1.5 net new migrants per 1000 population. But, politically, there is currently a movement away from increased immigration which has created a problem for the current leadership of the country. Note that Germany records the highest median age and the largest percent of the population over 64, in the list above.

Intuition No. 2: Greece’s high net migration rate (2.3 per 1000) is barely adequate to keep its population stable. But the ability of Greece to accommodate large numbers of new residents and citizens is problematical, given its current economic distress. What is not known at this point, is the long term effects of the tens of thousands of refugees who have recently arrived in Greece. Despite recent waves of immigration, the age measures for Greece are only slightly under Germany’s.

screenhunter_453-oct-16-09-36Intuition No. 3: The three, small Baltic Sea countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are seriously losing population (0.5% to over 1% annually, currently). Further, their fertility rates are low (1.5-1.6), and immigration from elsewhere is not occurring. What can be the future of these countries if they continue to fade away? [Note: they all share a border with Russia.] Despite different cultures and ethnicities in these three countries, their age measures are almost identical. In that they were dominated and occupied by the Soviet Union, I wonder if there is a uniting thread resultant from this. There are no separate measures available for the entity named ‘Kaliningrad’, a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, around one-third the size of the neighboring Baltic States. According to the 2010 Census, its population was 431,902

Intuition No. 4: The neighbor countries of Bulgaria and Romania, like the Three Baltic states, are losing population and are not gaining immigrants. Their current populations are much larger than the Baltics, so it will take longer for them to “disappear.” In that they border the Black Sea, Russians flock to these countries during the tourist season and have bought many properties along the coast. Russians are a palpable presence in these two countries, which unofficially affects national politics. Their net migration rates are only slightly negative, but their fertility rates are very low, below 1.5.

screenhunter_452-oct-16-09-36

Intuition No. 5: Five of the six former provinces of the united Yugoslavia, which have reverted to their former independent states, are losing population: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The other, Macedonia (not in the above chart), is slowly growing due, apparently, to positive net migration, despite its fertility rate being 1.6. The bottom line: the former Yugoslavia is slowly fading away, as are Bulgaria and Romania, above. [Note: The present day state of Kosovo was, until recently, a province of Serbia. We have no data for Kosovo, other than population: 1,883,0189]. The population of these five seems to be slightly younger than others on this list, but they are not reproducing. Their fertility rates are at or near the bottom of the list.

Intuition No. 6: The remaining two states in the above chart are Hungary and Poland. Both are currently aligned politically to resist immigration from non-European countries. But, unless they reverse this position, they will fade along with the others mentioned here. Hungary’s fertility rate is 1.44 and Poland’s is a very low 1.34.

On the other hand: These 13 countries in Europe are currently growing at an annual rate between 0.5% and 2.0% (sorted by population growth rate):

screenhunter_453-oct-16-10-08

Why are these countries not fading away like the others?

The quick answer is: immigration. The Net migration rates for all are relatively high, ranging from 2.5 in the United Kingdom to 16.3 in Luxembourg. The highest fertility rates are in Sweden and Ireland; the are lowest in Austria, Cyprus and Spain. In the latter three, if their current fertility rates and immigration rates continue, the native born ethnic Austrians, Cypriots, and Spaniards will be in the minority within a lifetime. Is this a problem? I guess it depends on the person viewing the situation. Such things have happened many times in the past, peacefully and otherwise.

Not Reproducing

Only two European countries in the forty studied have a positive fertility rate:

screenhunter_453-oct-16-10-09

I intuit that France is the picture of the future for most European countries. France has had waves of immigration of people from North Africa in the past and, more recently, from the Near East whose birth rates are higher than the indigenous population.

rvxnf4bujdek3kcm2dwdq6jy These people, in my intuition, are responsible for France’s high fertility rate, compared to other European countries. Nonetheless, France’s annual population growth rate of 0.41% is not remarkable or significantly different from other European countries. The non-immigrant residents are reproducing at a much lower rate than the immigrant population. The accompanying chart was for the year 2004, and the ensuing twelve years have seen a significant rise in the immigrants from ‘Asia.’

Iceland seems to be a special case about which I have no useful remarks.

WHY are European countries Not Reproducing?

The answer is given by Col. Robert de Marcellus (Ret.) in an article “Falling Fertility: The World at the Tipping Point,” in the online magazine of the Population Research Institute:

  • The great increase in the number of wives who must work in the paid economy to help support the family due to the loss of the “family wage” concept
  • The increasing cost of raising children
  • High taxation that reduces family disposable income
  • Educational debt
  • Lifestyle changes that increasingly cause luxuries to be considered necessities
  • More years spent by young people in higher education. delaying family formation
  • Older average marriage ages, which greatly reduce wives’ childbearing years
  • Less family support as young couples relocate at a distance from family members

Please read the entire article for a lucid discussion of these and other factors.

My Final Intuitive Statement

The spirit of ‘Europe’ is depressed. Depressed spirits decline to reproduce.

Perhaps there is no more ‘Europe.’ It seems to be an idea, an abstraction, without a basis.

We can point to European Culture, starting from its putative origins in Ancient Greece and Rome, then The Renaissance, then The Enlightenment, and so on—Art, Music, Literature, Philosophy, Science… and the relationship of the Church to any of these.

It seems all a museum now.

The European ‘Union’ is reeling, nationalism on the rise, tribalism more evident.

Popular arts are declining, public figures ever more ridiculous.

BUT…

Perhaps the above is necessary for a rebirth of something more beautiful?

“Without mud, there can be no lotus,” Thich Nhat Hanh, renown Buddhist teacher.

The data are taken from the current listings, by country, in the CIA World Factbook.

I analyzed all countries in Europe (40), not just those in the European Union (28)

I excluded Russia and Turkey, even though some parts of these nation-states are in what is recognized as Europe, geographically.

I excluded five other “European” countries because they are dominated politically and/or economically either by Russia or Turkey: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine.

“… at last the world knows America as the savior of the world!”

The words in the heading for this article are those of President Woodrow Wilson, given to an audience in Portland, Oregon, 1919, referencing the USA’s role in the establishment of the League of Nations after the end of World War One, “the war to end war.”

 <<This is the first part of a series on “Democracy”>>


Declaration of War

woodrow-wilson-postage-stampOn April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to seek a Declaration of War against Germany in order that the world “be made safe for democracy.” Four days later, Congress voted to declare war… By the time the war ended a year and a half later, an entire generation was decimated—France alone lost half its men between the ages of twenty and thirty-two. The maimed bodies of millions of European men who survived bore mute testimony to the war’s savagery. (Source)

The Treaty of Versailles, 28 June 1919

After four years of warfare, the conflict ended in Versailles in 1919. It was “peace” for one side, but a “diktat” for the other side. The treaty contained the germ of the causes of a second world war 20 years later.

The negotiations had been difficult. A peace conference had met in Paris since 18 January to prepare the treaty. The Allies alone took part in the debates. But they were not in agreement. France wanted to remove the German danger definitively and bring Germany to its knees. Great Britain, in contrast, wanted to let Germany keep its rank. The United States looked forward to a world pacified with the Society of Nations. Italy wanted the territories promised to it in 1915. The treaty was finally submitted to Germany on 7 May. All Germany’s counter-proposals were rejected and it refused to sign the treaty. On 17 June, the Allies gave it 5 days to decide. Germany finally accepted this “diktat.”

Germany lost 68,000 km² of its territory, including Alsace and Lorraine annexed in 1870, and 8 million inhabitants. Part of eastern Prussia was dismantled to the benefit of Poland which gained access to the sea via the “Danzig corridor”. Germany had to pay 20 billion gold marks in reparation to France. It lost most of its mineral resources and agricultural production. Its colonies were confiscated and its military power was annihilated. Humiliated, Germany aspired for revenge. A new war, which the Allies thought they were avoiding, was soon to be prepared.

After the Versailles conference Wilson claimed that “at last the world knows America as the savior of the world!” [ President Woodrow Wilson speaking on the League of Nations to a luncheon audience in Portland OR. 66th Cong., 1st sess. Senate Documents: Addresses of President Wilson (May–November 1919), vol.11, no. 120, p.206.] (Source)

Almost 100 years later, the USA is still trying make, or at least encourage, the world to be “democratic,” while not explicitly advocating that it be “safe for democracy,” as President Wilson enunciated.

The US Department of State has the job of encouraging the spread of democracy. Immediately below are excerpts from the official sites of the department, all accessible at http://www.state.gov/I warn the reader that he or she will encounter the turgid bureaucratic language of large organizations, of which our government is certainly one, and plead with you not to be discouraged by it. Bland and abstract words and phrases contain obscured meaning. If you are a citizen of the USA, this is your government talking to the rest of the world. If you are not a citizen of the USA, this is America talking to your government and the people of your country. (I color with red font all words in the body of State Department articles which are derivatives of the word ‘democracy’).

ScreenHunter_227 May. 06 10.51

Department Mission Statement

“Shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.” –From the FY 2013 Agency Financial Report, released December 2013

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor leads the U.S. efforts to promote democracy, protect human rights and international religious freedom, and advance labor rights globally.

Democracy

Democracy and respect for human rights have long been central components of U.S. foreign policy. Supporting democracy not only promotes such fundamental American values as religious freedom and worker rights, but also helps create a more secure, stable, and prosperous global arena in which the United States can advance its national interests. In addition, democracy is the one national interest that helps to secure all the others. Democratically governed nations are more likely to secure the peace, deter aggression, expand open markets, promote economic development, protect American citizens, combat international terrorism and crime, uphold human and worker rights, avoid humanitarian crises and refugee flows, improve the global environment, and protect human health.

With these goals in mind, the United States seeks to:

  • Promote democracy as a means to achieve security, stability, and prosperity for the entire world;
  • Assist newly formed democracies in implementing democratic principles;
  • Assist democracy advocates around the world to establish vibrant democracies in their own countries; and
  • Identify and denounce regimes that deny their citizens the right to choose their leaders in elections that are free, fair, and transparent.

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) is committed to supporting and promoting democracy programs throughout the world. As the nation’s primary democracy advocate, DRL is responsible for overseeing the Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF), which was established in 1998 to address human rights and democratization emergencies. DRL uses resources from the HRDF, as well as those allocated to Regional Democracy Funds, to support democratization programs such as election monitoring and parliamentary development.

Over the past quarter-century, a large number of nations have made a successful transition to democracy. Many more are at various stages of the transition. When historians write about U.S. foreign policy at the end of the 20th century, they will identify the growth of democracy–from 30 countries in 1974 to 117 today–as one of the United States’ greatest legacies. The United States remains committed to expanding upon this legacy until all the citizens of the world have the fundamental right to choose those who govern them through an ongoing civil process that includes free, fair, and transparent elections.

Advancing Freedom and Democracy

“We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy. What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent. Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and the respect for the rights of minorities.”  – President Barack Obama

The Advancing Freedom and Democracy Report describes efforts by the U.S. Government to support democracy and human rights in nondemocratic countries and countries undergoing democratic transitions worldwide. The U.S. Department of State submits this report in accordance with the ADVANCE Democracy Act of 2007.

Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies

Tomicah Tillemann was appointed as the Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies in October 2010. In collaboration with department bureaus, Dr. Tillemann and his staff are responsible for helping to develop and operationalize the civil society agenda and strengthen emerging democracies.

One of S/SACSED’s key initiatives is the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. The office also orchestrates engagement with the Community of Democracies and generates strategic partnerships to advance democracy abroad.

Goals

  • To elevate the role of civil society in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy.
  • To support emerging democracies as they work to complete successful transitions.
  • To engage multilateral organizations that advance democracy and civil society.
  • To promote the independence of civil society globally.

— (End excerpts from the US Department of State web pages) —

I infer that the USA initiated the formation of “Community of Democracies” to further the mission and goals of the US State Department. Here is about this organization:

Community of Democracies

Our vision The Warsaw Declaration

glowna-box1-communityAccording to the Declaration, these are the core principles and practices that the member states of the Community of Democracies agree to uphold:

  •  The right of citizens to choose their representatives through regular, free and fair elections, with universal and equal suffrage, open to multiple parties, conducted by secret ballot, monitored by independent electoral authorities, and free of fraud and intimidation.
  • The right of every person to equal access to public service and to take part in the conduct of public affairs.
  • The right of every person to equal protection of the law, without any discrimination as to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
  • The right of every person to freedom of opinion and of expression, including to exchange and receive ideas and information through any media.
  • The right of every person to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  • The right of every person to equal access to education.
  • The right of the press to collect, report and disseminate information, news and opinions, subject only to restrictions necessary in a democratic society and prescribed by law.
  • The right of every person to respect for private family life, home, correspondence, including electronic communications, free of arbitrary or unlawful interference.
  • The right of every person to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, including to establish or join their own political parties, civic groups, trade unions or other organizations with the necessary legal guarantees to allow them to operate freely.
  • The right of persons belonging to minorities or disadvantaged groups to equal protection of the law, and the freedom to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, and use their own language.
  • The right of every person to be free from arbitrary arrest or detention, to be free from torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment; and to receive due process of law, including to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
  • The right of those elected to form a government, assume office and fulfill the term of office.
  • The obligation of an elected government to refrain from extra-constitutional actions, to allow the holding of periodic elections and to respect their results, and to relinquish power when its legal mandate ends.
  • That the aforementioned rights will be enforced by a competent, independent and impartial judiciary open to the public.
  • That elected leaders uphold the law and function strictly in accordance with the constitution and procedures established by law.
  • That government institutions be transparent, participatory and fully accountable, and take steps to combat corruption.
  • That the legislature be elected, transparent and accountable to the people.
  • That civilian, democratic control over the military be established and preserved.
  • That all human right (sic) be promoted and protected.

glowna-box2-visioningThe Warsaw Declaration acknowledges that democratic development is a process, in which each country is at a different stage- no country has reached perfection, and all should work together to meet these objectives, supporting each other while respecting each other’s sovereignty. The best way to help strengthening these democratic institutions and principles is by promoting discussion, exchanging experiences and identifying best practices, together. This is what makes us a community- we cooperate, learn together, focus on the common values, and encourage each other to uphold these values.

On a practical note, the Warsaw Declaration suggests the ways to achieve these goals: to promote civic education, including education for democracy; to support civil society and independent media; to work with relevant institutions and international organizations; to assist each other in economic and social development, including eradication of poverty; and to collaborate and form coalitions in existing international and regional institutions aimed at the promotion of democratic governance. All these, says the Warsaw Declaration, will help to create an environment conducive to democratic development.

Our mission

The Mission Statement of the Community of Democracies is built upon the democratic values agreed in the Warsaw Declaration (of 2000). The Community seeks to support democratic transition and consolidation worldwide and help bridge the gap between principles of democracy and universal human rights and their practice by assisting societies in the development and strengthening of democratic institutions and values, identifying, alerting and responding to threats to democracy so as to assist states to remain on the path to democracy, supporting and defending civil society in all countries, advancing broad-based participation in democratic governance, and giving a voice to those working peacefully for democracy in all countries. (Source).

Countries not included in the Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies (Several small island states are not included in this list):

ScreenHunter_228 May. 06 11.36

In researching the countries not included in the Warsaw Declaration, the French Republic stood out as unexpected. Here are France’s objections, as reported by the Associated Press, Wednesday, June 28, 2000:

WARSAW, Poland – Upsetting the celebratory mood at a global democracy conference, France excluded itself from a newly formed “community of democracies” Tuesday after skewering other Western powers for evangelizing.

France stunned the other 107 participants by refusing to join them in endorsing a declaration setting universal standards by which mature and developing countries alike can measure their progress – an effort to consolidate the dramatic gains democracy made in the 20th century.

The dispute was largely philosophical and centered on French criticism that the conference was a prod to get non-democratic nations to adopt democracy – a policy French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine on Monday said usually backfires. He cited ineffective sanctions against Yugoslavia and Iraq.

“The bottom line is that in Western countries the thinking is that democracy is like religion and that all you have to do is convert people,” Vedrine told reporters in Warsaw on Monday…

France said it didn’t back the document because it amounts “to a diplomatic pledge for the democratic states to act as a group.” In particular, France objected to general agreement at the conference to convene a caucus of democratic states, possibly at the next meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in the fall.

Such a caucus creates a new bloc, in effect replicating the Cold War divisions by excluding nations who have not yet achieved democracy, said the French ambassador to Poland, Benoit d’Aboville… (Source)

—-
To end Part One of this series on “Democracy,” I ask these questions of myself and the reader:

  •  Is the US State Department’s mission to encourage the world-wide development of democratic institutions a continuation of the values and dreams of President Woodrow Wilson, or is it something different?
  •  Can the USA successfully export democracy?
  •  Should it?
  •  What is democracy?
  •  Is the USA a “democracy?”

The next article will look at the history of democratic concepts and governments, starting around 500 B.C

 

“Ukraine and its glory has not died yet, nor her freedom…”

 

This is from the first line of the national anthem of the country of Ukraine. (Transliterated from the Ukrainian; written Ukrainian uses a variant of the Cyrillic script).

These words speak to me of a country and a people who have suffered at the hands of powerful neighbors and despotic rulers.

But why am I pursuing this line of inquiry?

Through a DNA-matching service I connected with a distant relative who has intimate knowledge of the country—she has lived there all her long life. I offer here, with permission, her narrative about her country.

To begin with, the word Ukraine means Borderland. It’s been a borderland between the Forest and the Steppe for millennia, and then a borderland between the Catholic and Orthodox Europe for centuries. This probably explains a somewhat schizophrenic nature of the nation’s history and mentality. Ukrainians have seldom been sure about who they actually are—sort of European or a sort of Russian, or something else. (Click on the map for a detailed view).

The country is quite large, around 600 thousand square kilometers [note: slightly smaller than Texas]—and populous, around 46 million (plus a few million trying to make a living for their families by working abroad). Ukraine is primarily known for its fertile land (arable land is roughly half of the country’s territory, around 30 mn hectares—ca. 75 million acres), and I was taught that Ukraine accounts for a third of Earth’s most fertile soil, chernozem. Ukraine is also a major steel exporter. It is less lucky in terms of energy, as its once big oil, gas and coal resources are somewhat depleted, and the country is strongly dependent on Russia for oil and gas supplies. During the Soviet era, Ukraine was a major machine engineering centre, but a substantial part of this industry (especially defence-oriented) has been destroyed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Still, Ukraine currently exports a lot of various heavy machines.

The territory of what is now Ukraine was the centre of two major kingdoms, first the Gothic state of Ermanaric in 4th century and, much later in 9th-13th centuries, the medieval polity of Kievan Rus’. Both had capitals on the Dnieper river, near the border of forest and steppe. It’s not clear where Ermanaric’s capital was, but Kiev (my native city), the capital of Rus, exists until today. Rus collapsed following Tatar invasion in 1240, and the semblance of order was restored only when the principality of Lithuania drove the Tatars from more or less densely populated parts of Ukraine in the middle of 14th century. Lithuanian rule was a period of stability as less numerous Lithuanians lived in relative harmony with much more populous Rusyns—descendands of Slavic tribes that comprised Rus and ancestors of modern Ukrainians and Belorussians. Later on, Orthodox Christian Lithuania started to become more and more integrated with Catholic Poland through a dynastic union.

Mongol invasion of Ukrainian lands
(ukrmap.su/en-uh7/284.html)

In 1596, the southern part of Lithuania’s Slavic lands was administratively subordinated to Poland, and the northern part remained under Lithuania. This was the beginning of Ukraine in the southern Dnieper river basin, and Belarus on its northern border. Dealing with Catholic Poland turned out to be difficult, and the next few centuries included numerous episodes of civil (or, rather, religious) war between Poles and Ukrainians. Eventually, Ukrainians had to seek protection of the Moscow principality which later became Russian empire. However, Western parts of Ukraine continued to be ruled by Poland, the Austrian Empire and then again Poland until World War II.

The country as it exists today was in fact created by Joseph Stalin. When the lands that comprised the former Russian empire were transformed into Soviet Union, he put together less loyal Ukrainian-speaking agrarian regions located along the Dnieper river and more loyal Russian-speaking regions to the East to make sure the new republic will not steer away from Russia. Then, during the Second World War, he added the Western Ukrainian regions most of which were parts of Austria-Hungary and then Poland for a long time. The guy has been dead for almost 60 years, but his dark wisdom continues to work. After more than 20 years of independence, Ukraine still remains strongly dependent on Russia, and not so much economically as mentally.

Costume of Halychyna
(folkcostume.blogspot.se)

Roughly 40% of modern Ukrainian population are “pure” Ukrainian speakers, another 40% or so are bilingual, and the remaining 20% are pure Russian speakers and minorities. The borders of old days may not be visible on the modern map, but if you look at maps showing how Ukrainians vote in elections, they immediately become so clear as if medieval kingdoms were still here. One part (often hated elsewhere in Ukraine) is the Halychyna, a Western land lying along the banks of Dniester River. Another one is Ukraine proper—a core of the country lying in the Dnieper river basin. Finally, the country’s Eastern and Southern parts, which became more or less densely inhabited only after the Crimean Tatar state was destroyed by the Russian Empire in late 18th century, are a kind of “Ukraine’s New World”, populated by the natives of all corners of the former Russian empire.

(Second communication from my relative)

Actually, the self-identification based on ethnicity is not an ancient thing—it’s a child of 18th and 19th century. Before that time, people usually self-identified based on their religion or allegiance to a certain dynasty. And Ukraine is not the only state where borders do not fully coincide with ethnic distinctions—just look at Central Asia or Africa or Iraq or even Belgium. As for the borders, I think in the future they will cease to be defined ethnically as during the last 2-3 centuries. People come and go, but natural features persist. If you look at a good map of river basins (some maps can be found here), you will notice that many ancient and/or modern borders are based on watersheds of major rivers. This could be a good basis to define borders in the present and future as trying to define them on ethnic basis will always leave one of the sides unhappy. As for Ukraine, I would say that its Eastern part lying in the basin of Don river is mostly Russian and can go to Russia without pain. Things will be more difficult in the south as almost totally Russian-speaking Crimean region is too dependent on Ukraine (and also has a Muslim Crimean Tatar minority). But in any case I don’t think Ukraine or Belarus can survive without Russia in the long run (and Russia will struggle to remain secure without a union with Ukraine and Belarus as well), so the question of borders in this case is more rhetorical.

St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, Kiev
(mypostcard-page.blogspot.se)

In any case, the topic of future borders is very interesting. I strongly doubt that the inviolability of borders principle that became established in the international public law as recently as 40 years ago will be followed in the next 40 years as well. It will be more and more becoming a mere fig leaf to hide geographical and/or ethnic realities. Joseph Stalin made life difficult for modern Ukraine, but the results of his border-making policy in Central Asia will detonate in the next 10-20 years in a much more massive way (when the post-Soviet generation of local leaders goes, the region can become a real hell). So I think the topic of future borders and factors that will determine them is definitely worth studying.

Politicians in Ukraine belong to two types—smart thieves and outrageous thieves. Timoshenko [Yulia Tymoshenko, former prime minister] is from the second category, and I have no pity for her. I don’t like her opponents either, but these half-criminal representatives of Eastern Ukrainian elite are probably the country’s last chance to remain independent for longer. But the problem is not in Ukraine or West vs. Russia in Ukraine. The bigger problem is that the whole international financial and political system is flawed and it is waiting to collapse.

This is Ron Pavellas writing again. All the above, except the introduction, was from my relative. I sent her an article on the current political situation in Ukraine, excerpted below asking her opinion of it. I show not only my relative’s response to it, but also those of the readers of the article who responded to it.

Ukraine at a crossroads
By Damon M. Wilson, Published: April 19 (Washington Post)

… As part of a Freedom House mission of American and Ukrainian analysts to examine the state of democracy in Ukraine, I visited former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko in Kachanivska and Lukyanivska prisons, respectively, this month. Our group was Tymoshenko’s first visit from independent observers since December; we were the second independent group to see Lutsenko since his incarceration…

Last month, as these leaders sat in prison and Ukrainian authorities announced plans to bring new charges against them, negotiators initialed the E.U.-Ukraine Association Agreement. The pact includes a deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement. Yet the European Union is unlikely to sign and ratify the agreement as long as Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s most prominent opposition leader, remains in prison or before parliamentary elections this fall, a critical test of this government’s willingness to conduct a free, fair vote.

The Ukrainian government is pursuing contradictory policies: It seeks to integrate Ukraine into Europe while emasculating its domestic opposition. In their first two years in office, Ukrainian authorities have made progress on both fronts. Ultimately, though, they must choose.

Ukraine’s choice is not between Russia and the West. That is a false choice. Indeed, (Ukraine President Viktor) Yanukovych has courageously challenged President-elect Vladimir Putin’s plan to assert control over the states of the former Soviet Union through a Eurasian Union. The question is whether Ukraine sees its future in the European mainstream or relegated to the borderlands.

Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych
(http://news.nikcity.com)

It is not too late to take the democratic path. The government has made some progress in the past year, including enacting legislation that allows nongovernmental organizations to be active on civil-political issues without being considered political actors and to accept foreign funds in a transparent manner; advancing a more modern criminal procedure code; and increasing public access to government information. But it must do more. The government’s first step should be facilitating independent medical care for Tymoshenko and Lutsenko. Ukraine can avoid international ostracism, and perhaps even U.S. and E.U. sanctions, by respecting the independence of the judiciary and allowing all opposition figures, including those in prison, to contest parliamentary elections in October.

Ukraine teeters between Eurasian malaise and an ambivalent Europe. As long as the government in Kiev criminalizes political differences, it will find itself in control at home but increasingly isolated internationally.

U.S. and European policy should make clear that a democratic Ukraine that makes the right choices is welcome as a member of the transatlantic community.

[End of excerpted article]

Former Ukraine Prime Minister
Yulia Tymoshenko (Wikimedia)

(My relative’s comments): As for the article—I must admit that the author seems to be trying to be balanced. This happens less often than one would expect of the “free world” media covering Ukraine. Unfortunately, his sources seem to be some local Western-leaning media people, so the facts are not always correct and sometimes are irrelevant. Nobody in Freedom House would care if former premier Timoshenko won the presidency and put Yanukovich to prison, because she is believed to be pro-Western. This is pure hypocricy. If we speak about the real big villains, then why the voices about the political system of China are not heard as often as they should have been? Because trade interests dominate the desire to bring the light of democracy to all nations of the world? Maybe the guy honestly believes it’s all about democracy, but I find it difficult to come up with explanation other than that in the case of Ukraine it’s all about geopolitical interests of the US and broader Western world vs. the geopolitical interests of Russia.

Published Comments:

sanfran6003, 4/19/2012 12:38 PM GMT+0200

Damon M. Wilson, an independent observer, writes of the brutal treatment of opposition political figures. His clear condemnation of the thuggish leaders of Ukraine should be heeded.

OldUncleTom, 4/19/2012 7:38 PM GMT+0200

Heeded, perhaps, but Wilson leaves out more than he discusses.

1) Just because the jailed politicians are opposition does not mean they don’t belong in jail.
2) The issues preventing EU accession for Ukraine are a lot bigger than political corruption.

Templejr, 1:53 AM GMT+0200

Better to be in jail than poisoned. The problem here is a wonderful country that has lived under a corrupt political system and uncontrolled capitalism. A people oppressed so long can only struggle to survive. At some point they become too passive-aggressive to accomplish anything except the basics of life. Survival of the fittest. I stand by my assertion that the future of Ukraine is in the hands of the people, not in the corrupt and decadent leadership. Certainly not in the pimps that prop up the circus tent.

Templejr, 2:28 AM GMT+0200

The UEFA cup, coming up in June, has the country investing Billions of UAH into infrastructure and they have done a credible job despite the cronyism and kickbacks. Most of the events are being handled by local volunteer groups who work for free.. This is their time to shine and show pride in their country and show the rest of the world that despite the clown in charge (little more than a puppet) the country is a proud and free nation with much to offer. If only the criminal element could be disposed of.

Igrmng7771, 5:35 AM GMT+0200

Ukrainian elite is corrupt. Everyone could get in jail. Timoshenko was sued by Ukrainian laws, her behavior in the court was outrageous. In states she would have gotten much bigger jail time only for such a behavior. She, in reality, crossed many lines and put Ukraine in a very difficult situation. She is a populist with a very little knowledge of economy and law. I believe, that it is the western diplomats who select for whom they should struggle. It means that they aggravate ordinary Ukrainians who feel that Yushchenko – Timoshenko administrations robbed them. I think, that before saying something westerns should get familiar with the case and video of Timoshenko from the court room. Many oppose Yanukovich style but even less want Timoshenko back.

[End of all comments and excerpts from others]

So, I see that my inference, expressed at the beginning of this article, was correct: Ukraine is country and a people who have suffered at the hands of powerful neighbors and ruling despots.

I will end here with the full, transliterated text of the national anthem, as it was from its beginning in 1863 until it was changed in 2003:

Severyn Nalyvaiko, Leader
of Cossack Rebellion

Ukraine has not yet perished,
The glory and the freedom!
Still upon us brave brothers,
Fate shall smile!
Our enemies will vanish
Like dew in the sun;
We too shall rule
In our country.

Soul and body we will lay down
For our freedom
And show that we brothers
Are of the Cossack nation,
Hey, hey dearest brothers
Onward take to battle
Hey, hey, time to rise,
Time to gain freedom!

Nalyvaiko, Zalizniak
And Taras Triasylo
Call us from beyond the grave
To the holy battle.
Recall the famous death of
Chivalarious Cossacks
Not to lose vainly
Our youth.

Soul and body …

Oh Bohdan, Bohdan
Our great hetman
What for did you give Ukraine
To wretched muscovites?!
To return her honor,
We lay our heads
We shall call ourselves Ukraine’s
Faithful sons!

Soul and body …

Our Slavic brothers
Already took up arms
No one shall see
That we should stay behind.
Unite together all,
Brothers Slavs:
So that enemies perish,
And freedom comes!

Soul and body …


Other sources for Ukraine:

The Land of Oium
The World Factbook of the CIA
Ukraine History
Bohdan Khmelnytsky
Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine