Archive for February, 2013

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Education policy 2013 – Ukraine

February 28, 2013

I was going to write about this a few days ago – but became sidetracked by the two previous entries to this one.

Dmytro Tabachnyk (love him or hate him) the Minister for Education and Science, Youth and Sports made an announcement on education policy for 2013 last Friday.

Now I must be honest, I pay little attention to education policy in Ukraine as I have no child being educated in the Ukrainian system.  Despite being qualified to teach English as a foreign language, I have never done so and thus I don’t even dabble on the periphery with current students within the Ukrainian education system.  The only teachers I know complain about their pitiful pay – rather than their students, curriculum, or often disheveled and in need of repair schools.

Thus much of what is contained in the statement means little or nothing to me, although quite obviously any fool can recognise that rural schooling is an issue presenting many difficulties in any nation – let alone one the size of Ukraine.

However, what did catch my eye was the apparent desire to encourage more overseas students.  Odessa, like many Ukrainian cities, certainly does get thousands of overseas students.  Here is it mostly Chinese, North African and Arab students – whether that is true of the other Ukrainian cities I have no idea.

Nevertheless, the economic motivators to educate foreign students is recognised by most nations.  Higher education has become a business and with it academic inflation has set in.

By academic inflation I mean a degree is no longer worth what a degree was worth when I got mine as far as the workplace is concerned.  Now a Masters is necessary to set you apart from the millions of degree holders.  Soon that Masters will have millions of others holding that same level of qualification and thus to stand out it will be necessary to hold a doctorate – You get the idea of academic inflation I am sure.

Thus foreign fee paying students are big business in education in many nations around the globe.  Quite clearly Ukraine will seek to enlarge the number of foreign students (and UAH 4.5 billion is currently generates) just as any other nation would.

Now, one of the greatest learning experiences outside the lecture halls and auditoriums of any university, is often living away from home for the first time – at least as far as the UK is concerned.  The Erasmus project is a rather grand extension of that in so much as you study in a different language (occasionally), in a different nation and experience that nation for the time you are there – not withstanding the expansion of friends and contacts you make and some of which you will keep throughout your lifetime.

What was missing from the latest education policy statement was any mention of Erasmus, the EU programme within higher education allowing students to study part of their degree in other nations.  Necessarily one presumes that the course content has to be similar enough to facilitate such  matters but as EU higher educational certification regardless of member state is recognised throughout the EU (and beyond), there exists the possibilities provided by Erasmus to complete part of any degree in another nation.

Many times the EU has stated that Ukraine can join any EU project it wants to join as long as it funds its way.  It is therefore rather sad that in this, and any other statement made on education policy for Ukraine, there has never been any mention of Erasmus – both for Ukrainian students to experience life, culture and education within the EU and also reciprocally for those in the EU here in Ukraine via a tried and tested system like Erasmus.

After all you do not need to be an EU member nation to participate in the Erasmus project – Turkey is in the club and there is nothing to necessarily disqualify Ukraine – as several EU universities are now accrediting several Ukrainian degree courses at certain universities here – it is a matter of expanding what has begun and partnership building between the seats of higher education.

So, one day I hope to read an education statement from Ukraine that is simply not inward looking in its entirety – though such a statement will probably not be one written by  Dmytro Tabachnyk it has to be said.

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Cheap propaganda

February 27, 2013

If there is one thing that remains a constant and exceptionally annoying hangover from the USSR era in Ukraine – it is cheap Soviet style propaganda and childish political point scoring amongst a political elite – none of whom would have a chance of standing in most democratic nations due to their nefarious histories and on-going shenanigans.

Let us be quite clear, none of the politicians that have been on the scene since independence, and the vast majority that have since appeared in Ukraine, are not without skeletons in cupboards and often contradictory, confusing, opaque and anachronistic accounts of their usually nefarious past and current wealth – far beyond both their capabilities and the transparent opportunities life has afforded them.

As many readers know, I am not a big fan of much of the Svoboda nationalist ideology.  That is because I am not a fan of nationalist ideology full stop – in any nation.  As anybody with an IQ greater than that of a potato will know, there is a huge difference between nationalism and patriotism.

That does not mean I do not agree with some of what Svoboda has to say, I just completely disagree with the ideology that sits behind it.

It also has to be said I often despair at the more centre ground political parties inability and lack of desire to tackle nationalist ideology head on and publicly, not only in Ukraine but across Europe and beyond.  Instead all we see is the centre ground politicians assimilating the least radical parts of the ideology they can get away with and regurgitating it within their own rhetoric to try and capture a small part of any nationalist voter base that is not entirely rabid.

With equal disdain, it has to be said, I hold the cancer that is Communism.

Extremes of political ideology (or theocracy) do not serve a nation or its people well – particularly in the world in which we now live.

However, it appears that the leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok, is currently subject to a rather cheap smear campaign relating to his current and long time professed nationalist political ideology, and his past whilst living and growing up in Communist Ukraine.

Svoboda

This set of photographs is doing the rounds on the Ukrainian websites showing Mr Tyahnybok  in Communist styled uniform and wearing the Леннского комсомолу (Lennin Party) badge, in an effort one supposes, to undermine his now Ukrainian ultra-nationalist views, marking of all (contentious or otherwise) Ukrainian historical dates, and support of (and rehabilitation of) Ukrainian national figures (contentious or otherwise).

Cheap propaganda to say the least.

If as is stated, he was a member of the Lennin Party between 1982 and 1989, we should recall that at this time very few, if anybody, foresaw the collapse of the USSR.  Being a member of the Lennin Party opened doors – and certainly not being a member closed them – to university, good jobs and careers – something rather necessary for somebody who wanted to be a medical doctor (which he subsequently qualified as after the collapse of the USSR).

To be clear, both my parents-in-law were also in the Lennin Party, however my father-in-law was a member because as a merchant seaman, being a member allowed you to go ashore in foreign lands more often than not –  whereas not being a member would prevent you even getting on the ship.

Thus membership served a purpose, rather than any belief at all in the ideology of the party necessarily.  A means to an end for many – no more and no less.  Alternatively, not being a member could be an end to your means by way of life’s opportunities.  – You get my point I’m sure.

As such, quite what the rationale behind this extremely transparent and cheap propaganda campaign is, I am unsure.  To alienate the significant number of young people who follow Svoboda?  Those same young people who have parents that where in the Lennin Party – who also used it, rather than necessarily believed in it, to gather in the opportunities is provided?

It is obviously an attempt to display some form of inconsistency of character and ideology in the Svoboda leader, but it is one easily put through the political spin machine to have him cleverly emerge as a user of the system to his own ends – like many others undoubtedly.

Nobody really likes propaganda (other than those paid to generate it) – and most people these days see it for exactly what it is – but cheap and less than clever propaganda is a Soviet legacy you would hope Ukraine had grown out of by now.  Particularly given the availability of some very slick international “smear and spin” companies available for hire.

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A non-story that is a story – The missing Focus edition

February 26, 2013

Today I should perhaps be writing about yesterday’s EU-Ukraine summit – so of course I won’t be – as that will be covered to within an inch of its life by everybody else.

Instead, we will return to the freedom of the media, a tired but worthy subject and one that was no doubt touched upon directly or otherwise at the EU-Ukraine summit.

This article appeared in the weekly Focus magazine, issue number 8, 2013 – albeit temporarily:

Yanuk spending

The question is why temporarily?

The subject is the annual cost of President Yanukovych to Ukraine during 2012, in respect to his role as President.  These are not the hidden costs of lackluster leadership, failure to attract FDI, corruption, favouritism, cronyism et al, but things like security, transport and the normal expenses you would expect any head of state in incur at the expense of their nation.

A quick conversion to Euro would, according to the Focus figures, be approximately Euro 94 million.  I use the Euro simply because it is just over UAH 10 to Euro 1 and it makes the slightly more than UAH 1 billion spent far easier to understand.

A huge sum of money to spend on a head of state?  I honestly don’t know, but appears that way.  Particularly so if we are to compare it to President Kucha’s last term in office where his costs to the nation as President were never more than 50% of the above costs that are claimed by Focus.

That said, we are talking about a time lapse of almost 10 years between today and the end of the Kuchma presidency, and I can’t find any costs for the Yushenko presidency at the time of writing.  What is certain is that it is simply not a matter of inflation – though I also don’t remember President Kuchma globe trotting quite as much as the current president does – however perhaps he did and I simply forget.

Anyway, within 24 hours of this particular issue of Focus going out – it was recalled.  The on-line link to this particular page was also broken leaving any would-be reader with the “Error 404” message.

Unfortunately it appears that whomever was ultimately responsible for this decision has failed to realise that when something is published on line, removing it entirely is an impossibility as somebody somewhere will have saved such an image as soon as they saw it.  Likewise once a hard copy of the magazine has been sold, recalling every issue printed is also impossible.

Gene and bottle and all that.

So why was it recalled and links broken to this particular article on line?

Was it an editorial decision because the numbers are seriously flawed in some way, and this only came to light after publication?  That would show a degree of integrity far beyond that associated with the Ukrainian press, not withstanding the costs of recalling all printed issues and loss of sales.  Far easier to make a correction in the next issue – although that is not something the Ukrainian press are good at either – admitting when they get it wrong.

The other alternative is that pressure was put on Focus to withdraw the printed issue and break the on line links to this particular article.  Not that such action would necessarily make one conclude the figures quoted are right or wrong, as in either case, few would be surprised if pressure over such an article was put upon the owner and/or editor of Focus in such times of financial strife and severe imbalances between rich and poor across the nation – notwithstanding making President Yanukovych even more unpopular.

It seems, as of the time of writing, Focus is in a state of something similar to purdah – thus no mention of this event is being made whatsoever.  As such, whilst nobody likes to admit their mistakes, it seems more likely that this censorship of the media is not self-censorship due to error but due to external pressure.

As such, today, rather than ruminating over the EU-Ukraine summit as many will be doing, I will raise this issue instead – whilst allowing you to see what was briefly in the public domain via Focus and now back in the public domain here – whether it be accurate or not is down to the reader to either discredit or add substantiate.  I make no claims to the accuracy of the numbers quoted.

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From the NATO website…..

February 25, 2013

As all eyes focus on the EU/Ukraine summit in Brussels today, quite unsurprisingly issues such as the NATO/Ukrainian meeting last Friday have been widely ignored.

That said, what appears on the NATO website really doesn’t inspire much coverage.

No mention of the exceptionally unrealistic time line to turn the Ukrainian army from a conscription based to a contract based entity – the last conscription draft due to be September 2013, or the fact that in doing so, the army will be reduced by 50% very swiftly and yet still armed with nothing more than a blunt and rusty knife, fork and spoon for the majority of servicemen and women.

No mention that there is an imperative for a massively reduced Ukrainian military to therefore concentrate on precision equipment – and thus by extension, a necessary imperative for the Ukrainian arms producers to concentrate on developing and producing precision equipment.

No mention of the financial implications of such massive personnel reductions when NATO funds a scheme for the retraining of Ukrainian ex-service personnel.

No mention of the Russians now upgrading the weaponry of the Black Sea Fleet – not that such a Cold War hangover has much effect on the regional balance of power or any significant implications for NATO or Ukraine.  Turkey remains the Black Sea naval presence of note.

Of the usually bland announcements to be found on the NATO website – this is no exception.

The only thing of any interest is a fund to neutralise the legacy of ex-Soviet radioactive sites – which pales in significants to the highly toxic environmental and ecological legacy of ex-Soviet industry still to be dealt with.

Meanwhile, back to paying attention to the EU/Ukraine summit which will neither flatter nor deceive – or produce anything other than the realisation of low to zero expectations by way of concrete action – but it will produce more of the same rhetoric despite the ticking clock!

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Euro Basketball 2015 – The continuation of an Odessa sporting makeover?

February 24, 2013

As many will recall, Ukraine held the Euro 2012 football championships – Odessa was not a host city – but it built a new football stadium anyway – and very good it is – albeit the biggest names to play there thus far have been bands such as Linkin Park and Garbage.

Less well known is that Ukraine is to host the EuroBasket 2015, European Basketball Championships.  Neither Ukraine nor Odessa have particularly shabby basketball teams.  Championship winners they may not be, but bottom of the league they are not either.

Anyway, it appears that Odessa will have two brand new multi-functional stadiums and an extensive refurbishment of the existing Sports Palace on Prospect Shevchenko (opposite Victory Park) in order to host part of the EuroBasket 2015 competition.  The construction of, and refurbishment of these premises will cost UAH 42 million (about $5 million) and will be carried out by Ihor Kolomoisky’s business group.  Ergo, we had better hope that parts of his empire like Privat Bank survive, whilst other parts, such as AeroSvit go bankrupt (deliberately or otherwise).

The new stadium will be built on the grounds of what is currently known as October Revolution Plant and will have seating for 10,000 or more people.  The plan is that is will also be able to host hockey, 5/7-a-side indoor football etc after the EuroBasket competition is over.

On the outskirts of Odessa, it is planned to build a multi-purpose training facility.  Location as yet unknown/identified apparently – very much like the UAH 42 million to pay Mr Kolomoisky for his efforts – as the source of this funding is also currently unknown.

Nevertheless, it appears that Odessa will soon have not only the new and very good Chernomoretz football stadium, but also one extensively refurbished, and one new multi-purpose indoor arena, together with a multi-purpose training facility.

Ignoring all the possible shenanigans and probably nefarious mechanics behind the who, where and how of this project, I have one hope – the design and facilities will be conducive to disabled access and sporting participation long after the EuroBasket 2015 circus has left.

Too much to hope for?

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Just in time for the weekend – RADA back at work

February 23, 2013

Well, just in time for the EU-Ukraine summit on 25th February, and possibly more importantly for those UDAR MPs who have spent two weeks living in the RADA 24/7 to prevent its working (over a valid point of principle I hasten to add), the RADA began working normally yesterday – in time for weekend – and a few more days off.

It did manage to issue a multi-party pro-EU Association Agreement statement backed by all parties less the Communist Party.  The vote count 315 in favour, 24 against.

Jolly good – but political statements are two a penny in most nations, let alone Ukraine – and all too often empty of anything other than rhetoric.

What remains to be seen is whether the Party of Regions and the opposition parties can actually work together on the areas they agree to progress matters towards moving legislative changes that meet EU the normative – or not.

All too often both allow the areas where they disagree to prevent any progress on the matters where they do – insuring nothing gets done, when in fact, much could be achieved – to the obvious detriment to the people of Ukraine.

It would appear the Communists are not likely to help their coalition partners within the PoR get pro-EU legislative changes through the RADA if the voting on the pro-EU statement is any guideline.  Thus without some of the opposition voting with the PoR to achieve legislative changes and therefore legal parity with the EU, it would appear numerically impossible.

Are both sides mature enough to progress the issues where they agree and fight only over those they don’t?  Probably not, but we will see.

On a completely different subject, to answer a sharp-eyed reader, yes that is me at the bottom of this page on somebody else’s website.  It does happen every so often – Now move along, there is nothing further to see!

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Great expectations? – Errr No! (EU/Ukraine summit)

February 22, 2013

OK, having employed a Dickens title within this post title, I will now quote from a Tale of Two Cities – just to keep you Dickens fans on your toes.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

And so it is with Ukraine both domestically and further afield.

On 25th February, Ukraine and the EU have a summit.  Summits when they occur usually like to produce signed agreements to show they were worthwhile in the eyes of a usually disinterested or politics weary public who foot the bill for such events.

Signed agreements are a politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and occasionally diplomats way of apparently justifying such events to anybody who will listen.

So what of the EU/Ukraine summit?  Well if anything gets signed, it will be a case having “something” to sign – anything – so whist they disagree and make very little headway over these serious and complex issues, they did agree on these minor and irrelevant points- and signed an agreement to prove it – despite its irrelevance and despite such agreements would otherwise be signed by far lesser beings than Presidents.

This undoubtedly will be the case on 25th February – at least as far as signed agreements go.

Of far more significants, is what headway if any, will be made over the issues that are difficult (for one side or the other), that do have entrenched positions, and that have publicised those positions to the extent that there is very little wiggle room for any party in either  re-framing demands, or accepting some form of movement – but not quite enough.

Can we realistically have great expectations from the next EU/Ukrainian summit that will take relations forwards to the satisfaction of both sides?  I very much doubt it.

What I expect, aside from the signing of a few agreements of irrelevance, is the search for wiggle room on both sides in order to make some progress, possibly enough, to make the signing of the EU DCFTA and AA documents a reality in November.

Certainly there will not be anything like the significant movement to make ratification of those signed agreements possible this year or next – and even if there were – ratification is still unlikely due to elections in the European Parliament and Germany to name but two where the outcomes of which may have significant implications for ratification.

Ergo anybody with a modicum of sense will know that there will have been a presidential election in Ukraine in 2015 before ratification of this agreement even becomes close to reality, or another attempt to muster the political will on either side is found to try and sign it again – no matter what happens in Vilnius in November this year.

The question is then only whether Ukraine will stand firm against the ever increasing Russian pressure it is under.

Whatever diplomatic and political wriggle room remains, will be a precious thing indeed to both sides for this forthcoming encounter in preparation for November.  Look not to the fluff that may be signed, but the the efforts of the staff in the boiler rooms to expand and exploit any wiggle room within both entities as November moves ever closer.

How best to play the interests verses values matrix with such overt Russian pressure as a complicating factor?

Thus we must also watch the hand of the Kremlin as it attempts to win this geopolitical battle – if not by getting Ukraine to join the Customs Union, then by at the very least, forcing it to abandon the EU – or the EU to abandon Ukraine – temporarily or permanently.

Can enough wiggle room be found within the EU/Ukrainian camps to allow for signing if the specter of Moscow’s shadow looms too great – regardless of progress?

We will soon find out – but not on 25th February.

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