Archive for March 22nd, 2009

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Taxi’s – Odessa

March 22, 2009

Strap yourself in!!  You’re in for a more underpants staining ride that you can find at Alton Towers…..or any other amusement theme park on the planet!!

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There is every chance that the skid-marks in your underwear will be greater than those left on the road by your taxi………no, that does not do your taxi driver justice…..there is a better than average chance that the skid-marks in your underwear will be equal to, if not greater than, those left by a serious road accident on the M6 Southbound involving an 18 wheeler articulated lorry, 6 assorted cars and a motorbike!!! 

I started this blog by saying “strap yourself in”……which is indeed sound advice…..but will be seen by your taxi driver as an insult to his driving.

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What?……Yes, it is the law in Ukraine you have to wear seat belts as well…..but as you will discover, traffic laws are there to be ignored by the vast majority of drivers.

Indeed, when I say the traffic laws are ignored by the majority of drivers, the minority which are left are the taxi drivers whereby it is compulsory to ignore traffic laws!!

They will think nothing of trying to beat the land speed record for……..no wait, yet another understatement…..they will try to match the speed of sound at any given opportunity…..even when the opportunity does not exist!

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If there is a gap in the traffic, no matter how small the gap…..and I mean a gap smaller than a gnat’s togger on a bloody cold day……then they will head for it at Warp Factor 3 having informed you in Russian to activate the “Shields” and that they are too close for missiles so they are switching to guns!!!

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Ok, Ok…..I made the last bit up about “Shield’s Up”, missiles and guns…….but there will certainly be some “Clingons” in the form of you clinging onto the taxi for dear life…..and those little brown fish which escaped your arsehole as it turned from the size of a “two-penny” bit to that of a dustbin lid when your anus prolapsed and the last “near miss”!!

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(Yes, very tasteful considering I could have put up a pic of a prolapsed anus!!……..you’re welcome!)

Oh, come on, you’re exaggerating…..that’s what your thinking, I know. 

Well, to be fair, there are some taxi drivers better than others……because there are two types of taxi in Odessa.  The official taxi’s….you know the ones, phone numbers on the side and little signs on the roof…..which I have just described…..yes, they are the better ones…..and then there are the “Gypsy Cabs”.

Gypsy Cabs….what are they?

Gypsy Cabs take many shapes and forms…..depending on the extent of the pre-exisiting damage to the 20 year old Lada, not so ably piloted by the 18 year old Ukrainian young man, you flagged down in the street.

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Yes, young lone women do flag down random men in passing cars here for a lift to where they are going……I know, I know, but I’m not their husband or father!!!!…..and yeh, Ok, they don’t all do it topless like in the pic….but you can bet your life she got a taxi!

Anyway, having selected and successfully stopped your Cold War relic, and as stated, not so ably piloted by a young Ukrainian chap, you then “haggle” over a price to take you where you want to go.  Once accomplished and you have sat in the car…….he then takes on the demeanour of the aforementioned “professional taxi driver”….but in order to show you his “additional skills” as a driver……having recently bought his driving licence, rather than wasting time taking lessons and a test…….well it is time consuming…….you can all but guarantee the extra excitement of mounting pavements, crossing central reservations…..and the curbs are mountainously high here…..and enjoying the continuous dulcet tone of his car horn from start to finish of your journey because nobody else can bloody drive in Ukraine…….at least according to him!!

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So, there you have it…..taking a taxi is an experience…..which will turn you from this…..

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to this……….

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…….in the matter of 10 minutes.

Buses and trams do run regularly to every region of Odessa….even if they are crammed full of local people……well they don’t want to take a taxi now do they!!!

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Ukrainian Politics

March 22, 2009

Alrighty then……welcome to the world of one-up-manship, ultimate power ultimately corrupting, back-stabbing, strange, unpredictable, bizarre, criminal…can I say that?….pathetic, entertaining and murky world of Ukrainian politics.

If, having read this blog, you wonder how the f*ck this country actually runs, then I have succeeded in presenting a somewhat accurate picture, although in no great detail, of the politics of Ukraine.

For specifics on Ukrainian politics, with a light hearted slant, I can only suggest you take a look here:

http://tap-the-talent.blogspot.com/

Ok – firstly, all Ukrainian politicians are immune from prosecution, so no matter how criminal their acts may be……they are not criminal acts…..even if they are criminal acts.

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As of January 2009, there were 161 political parties officially registered in Ukraine….and since then another 3 have been registered to my knowledge……..which makes for a bloody long ballot paper I can assure you!!!

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There are, however, some major party’s and bloc’s.

What’s a bloc? – It is a group of parties too small to have any effect on their own so they join forces. 

Here’s a list of the ones currently generating the power……..

Party of Regions  (Currently the “Opposition” – does not rely on a bloc and is headed by Viktor Yanukovych)

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Bloc Yuliya Tymoshenko  (Currently the Prime Minister and the bloc is made up of the below…..)

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Our Ukraine–People’s Self-Defense Bloc   (The Party of the President, Viktor Yushenko and made up of the following….)

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Lytvyn Bloc   (Currently the Speaker of the RADA, and made up of the following………)

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Leonid Chernovetskyi Bloc   (Currently the Mayor of Kyiv and made up of the following………)

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The composition of these blocs can and do change with some frequency……shifting the power base unless one of the other 161 parties joins forces with an existing bloc.  The fact a party is in a bloc means that in theory, they agree with the general political direction of that bloc.  In practice it means they get better perks for keeping someone in power. 

But doesn’t that mean that even if someone is ideologically oppossed to the direction of a bloc, they could join it for personal gain….I mean perks……I mean favours?

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Yes, is the answer.

So what if the party I voted for joins a bloc which leans politically away from the party I voted for…..and therefore my politics? – Tough titty my friend – life sucks!!!

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Yeh, but I would know which party will join which bloc before the election, so it isn’t that bad is it? – Well – No you won’t know which party will join which bloc……or why…..before an election.

Why not? – Well the big 3 parties won’t know how many “little parties” they need to give perks to in order to remain in power, as they don’t know the size of their own vote until the results. 

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But doesn’t that mean the same people will always be at the top and they will just change seats sometimes? – Yes……that’s why it works like it works.

But I heard that Bloc Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine – People’s Self Defence Bloc had formed a coalition?  – They have – it was the only way to beat Party Regions into opposition.

Well, that’s not fair – that makes 12 parties all added together under 2 blocs making a coaltion to beat a single party? –  That’s right.

Well, couldn’t they beat them on their own? – No, Party Regions got the most votes for any single Party.

Isn’t it illegal? – No it is allowed under the Constitution of Ukraine, and even if it was illegal, I’ve already told you, all Ukrainian politicians, (even those not in power), are immune from prosecution.

Yes but even so, it’s not right.  Who wrote the Constitution?  – Those currently in power did.

Well surely the judges aren’t happy about that? – The judges are appointed by the politicians….and also sacked by the politicians in power….what do you think the judges say?…….Exactly!!

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But surely that makes it very open to corruption? – You said it, I didn’t!!

Hmmm, well the western press saying Tymoshenko and Yushenko don’t get on at all.  If that is true, how does anything get done with a coalition that is always infighting? – It doesn’t.

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What do you mean it doesn’t? – It doesn’t.

So how does the country run? – Everyone just goes about their normal daily business.

Yes but…… – No, there are no “but’s”, that’s how it is here!

Well how do things get better? – They evolve slowly and nobody tells the politicians.

Really? – Yes

But a “western country” would collapse if there was not competent government! – Maybe, maybe not…..the chances are Ukraine would collapse with a competent government as it would interfere with daily business life.

F*ck me!!  I hope you’re joking – No, I’m not joking and thanks, but no thanks for the other offer.

So if the politicians can get nothing done, what do they do all day? – Run their other businesses.

They have other businesses? – Yes many….all of which do very well….although I can’t think why!

Yes but surely there are some politicians from the towns and cities which are interested in actual politics? – Maybe, who knows…..you vote for a party in the election and your MP is selected from a list of Party Members who may never have been to the town or city you are from….the may not even be from the same planet as you…..

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What? – It’s true, I’m not joking.

So how do I get on the list to be an MP? – Money, money and money……..or money, blackmail and money.

Say it ain’t so Joe…….. – But it is so, which is why there is so many incompetents, clueless, self serving half-wits in the parliament, that yes, even Sarah Palin would be able to hold her own in…….well Ok, may be that’s stretching things a little too far, but you catch the general drift!

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What do the business leaders think, surely they want things to change? – Well, all the political leaders are support by oligarchs who need their pet politicians to carry out the “business activities” they have without unnecessary scrutiny……and the politicians need the money from the oligarchs to stay in power……so what do you think?

Amongst the political parties registered there are some great titles, of which here are some of my favourites…….. 

No doubt I will return to politics again, but probably with more specifics as there is an election……yes, a scheduled election……..in 2010, which will no doubt bring out the very worst of Ukrainian politics in all its genres.

Let’s hear it one more time for the Ukrainian Beer Lovers Party……

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………well, they’d get my vote!!!!!

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Russian Orthodox Church

March 22, 2009

A serious post…..so for those looking forward to my more “adolescent stylee” blog had better skip this one, unless you have an interest in religion, Orthodoxy or simply beautiful buildings……as I will try and cram in as many pics of the churches in Ukraine as possible……but there are so many I will not do the number, or quality of the buildings justice.

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Before I attempt to provide a little history, a brief note about today is in order. 

As of today approximately 65% of all Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians consider themselves Russian Orthodox.  That number is growing, unlike many religions which are seeing figures fall, and new churches are being erected throughout the former Soviet Union.

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The Church’s officials statistics state that is has 157 dioceses including 29,263 parishes served by 203 bishops (another 14 are on retirement), 27,216 priests and 3,454 deacons; there were 804 monasteries, including 478 in the Russian Federation (another 25 are within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia – ROCOR jurisdiction), 87 theological schools, including 5 theological academies and 38 seminaries.

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Russian Orhtodox Church Outside Russia?……This is based in the USA and was set up in the 1920’s by Russians free of the new Soviet regime.  I know nothing else about it, other than it is obviously part of the Russian Orthodox Church and is based outside Russia, Ukraine and Belarus……..and to be honest, I am not even going to try and research it for you, as this whole blog is about Odessa and Ukraine……yes I know that’s not very Christian of me and it is probably another “black mark” in the Book Saint Peter has with my name on it, but compared to the other “marks” in the book, this is minor!

Anyway, the Russian Orthodox Church is said to be….and who am I to disbelieve….the second biggest “Christian Church” in the world, behind that of Roman Catholicism and has in excess of 135 million members across the globe. 

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The Russian Orthodox Church has a hierarchical structure similar in design to that of Catholics.  This is a fairly simple design when I think about it, but when I write it down it may become a bit of a maze…..so I will try and keep it simple….

At the bottom of the pyramid you have a church and it’s parishioners which is run by the church priest, called a “Nastoyatel” and constitutes what we would identify as a parish church. 

All parishes in a specific region make up something known as an Eparchy….which seems to be the equivalent of a Diocese.  The Eparchy is managed by an Archierey, or what we would call a Bishop….of which there somewhere between 130 – 140 world wide. 

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Some of these Eparchy’s/Eparchies…..whats the plural of an Eparchy???…….are autonomous such as those in Moldova, China, Japan and Belarus for example.

Simple so far?…..Ok, the smaller Eparchy’s have one Archierey but the larger Eparchy’s and autonomous Eparchy’s are governed by a “Metropolitan Archbishop” who can have more than one Archierey running around helping him with the running of the Church.

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Sounds simple eh….but what about the Orthodox equivalent of the Pope or Archbishop of Canterbury?

Well now we enter into the Church power system….and there is more than one source of “power”.

Firstly, there is the  “Pomestny Sobor” or local religious council as we would recognise it.  This is made up from laypersons and members of the clergy.

Secondly there is Archiepeyskiy Sobor or Bishops Council. 

Lastly there is the Holy Synod, which consists of 7 permanent members and is “chaired”…..if that is the right expression, although it makes it sound like a Board Meeting….which I suppose it is in a way……by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

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So the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia is like the Pope then?…..Well he is the figurehead of the Russian Orthodox Church and obviously a very powerful voice within it BUT he is not the final say on matters of faith.  Some matters of faith which cannot be resolved through any of the 3 bodies I have mentioned have to be decided via something called a Council of Representatives, which is drawn up from all Eastern Orthodox Churches.

This is not a regular occurrence though, the last such Council of Representatives met in 787 AD…..well they do take some organisation and people within the Church are normally very busy!

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So when did the Russian Orthodox Church start and who started it?  Well there is an official birthday for the Russian Orthodox Church but I would suggest that the actual foundation is a matter for each individual to work out.

Some would argue, that when Saint Andrew wandered up from the Greek colonies along the Black Sea coast and planted a crucifix in the ground where the city of Kyiv now stands, this was the start…although there was no city there at the time.  Saint Andrew’s Cathedral in Kyiv is now said to stand on that very spot.

Others may say that it occurred when Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, between 863 and 869, translated the Bible into the Slavic language that Christianity started to replace the Pagan traditions, which together with the evidence that either Patriarch Photius or Ignatius from Constantinople, in 867, sent the first Bishop to Novgorod, may have a case.

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So which of these does the Russian Orthodox Church class as it’s birthday?  Neither!  The Russian Orthodox Church places it’s creation to the year 988, when the then Prince Vladimir I of Kyiv adopted Christianity as the formal religion of KyivRus.

Ok, but then how is it the “Russian” Orthodox Church if it was set up by Patriarchs from Constantinople and was founded in Kyiv, which  is in Ukraine?

Well, the answer is in fate……or survival.

The answer is the Mongol Hordes!!

Due to the invasion of the Mongols, Kyiv became a little “unsafe” for the Church leaders, which at this time had been given a “metropolitan status” by the Church leaders in Constantinople…..scroll up, I have told you about “Metropolitan Eparchy”.  So anyway, as so many leaders do, in this case, they most “verily” left Kyiv and having set up and then moved HQ in several other cities, ended up in Moscow in 1325.

Ok, I here you say, now they are Head Quartered in Moscow, which is indeed Russia, but they are still under the leadership of those from Constantinople.  Very true…..until 1453 when Constantinople fell….and the Russian Orthodox Church claimed independence…..from something which no longer existed in Constantinople.

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A very basic outline, missing huge chunks of influential history but it comes down to fate and survival or rather survival then fate, when all is said and done.

From here on it, it was a matter of expansion and survival for the Russian Orthodox Church, in various cycles but none more so dramatic than the Bolshevik Revolution culminating in the separation of Church and State in 1917…. for the first time ever in the history of the Church.

During the period between 1920 and 1941, Stalin executed…not personally of course, over 95000 clergy and devout followers.  In 1941 that changed as Stalin wanted the Church support for WWII.

Between 1945 and 1959 the Church once again went through a cycle of expansion before Krushchev and subsequently Brezhnev targeted it and it’s followers once more.

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Under Gorbachev in the late 1980’s lands, properties and valuables seized from the Church over the past 80 years were slowly returned and the Church’s influence began to flourish again.  This was no doubt due to the vacuum left by the collapse of the Communist Machine…..the void into which, the Church happily filled under the guidance of Patriarch Alexy, until December 2008 when he died.

The Patriarch currently in charge, since 27 January 2009, is Kirill.

The Russian Orthodox Church differs from Catholicism in many ways, all of which seem both major and minor simultaneously to those who are not overtly religious.

When making the sign of the cross, Orthodox worshipers make it in the opposite direction to those of Catholics when crossing the body horizontally.

The statues which are in so many Catholic Churches are not to be found in the Orthodox Church, but have been replaced with the famous “Icons”.

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Women must cover their head and cannot wear trousers in an Orthodox Church. 

Orthodox clergy can marry and have children.

Orthodoxy does not use the New Gregorian Calendar. 

There are many such small differences, which to be honest, I cannot be bothered to list……but the churches are well worth a visit when you are here…..even if you are not a religious type!!

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