Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

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Щасливого Нового Pоку – С Hовым Годом – Happy New Year 2017

December 31, 2016

A few wishes and words of thanks as 2016 draws to an end.

Firstly to all the readers, a humble thank you for spending a few moments to read the prose and ramblings as you do in such numbers.  Your interest in Ukraine and Odessa is very welcome, even if what you read here is not always particularly interesting.

Secondly, for all the Ukrainian friends and acquaintances of the blog, with 2017 likely to be the hardest and most difficult year Ukraine has thus far experienced both domestically and abroad, sincere wishes of of courage, fortitude, determination and of clear-eyed vision to each and every one of you.

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Happy New Year, Щасливого Нового Pоку, С Hовым Годом!

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A belated thanks to CPRDiP

October 15, 2016

Of the varying formats when it comes to gathering scholars, practitioners, policy shapers and agents of influence, they can generally be split into two types.

Although it is tempting to state simply large and small, as an invitee they are perhaps better divided into intimate, press-free and useful, or on such a scale and which are so deliberately media focused as to be fairly pointless from a personal perspective – unless there are moments for enlightenment “on the fringes” distant from the masses.

Media focused events are clearly necessary, but it has to be said that this blog much prefers the small and media-free environment.

As such there are two annual gatherings that stand out for the quality of attendees, the intimacy provided by the managed numbers present, and the absence of media (the latter allowing for blunt and sensitive discussion) .  Consistently two such gatherings stand out though the composition of attendees is quite different.  The first is the outstanding 2 day Black Sea Security Forum, and the second is the ever-erudite annual CRPDiP gathering in Gdansk.

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The blog remains grateful to both for the perennial invitations and last weekend witnessed the CRPDiP gathering.  Thus now a moment can be found, a public acknowledgement of thanks should be forthcoming.

As such gatherings are only ever as enlightening and intellectually challenging as those that attend, thanks to Lukasz Adamski, Anton Barbashin, Fabian Burkhardt,  Geir Flikke, Evgeny Gontmakher, Jonas Gratz, Siriol Hugh-Jones, Olga Irisova, Michal Koran, Kadri Liik, Bobo Lo, John Lough, Pavel Luzin, Stefan Meister, Maria Mendras, Cornelius Ochmann, Nikolai Petrov, Peter Rutland, James Sherr, Ivana Smolenova, Hans-Joachim Spanger, Ulrich Speck, Andris Sruds, Sergey Utkin and Natalia Zubarevich for the exchange of views.

Special thanks to Ernest Wyciszkeiwicz and the CRPDiP team for the seamless hosting of the event – notwithstanding the efforts of the city of Gdansk.

Also to Adam Eberhardt (OSW) and Slawomir Debski (PISM) who extended invitations to poke around in the darkened corners of their respective organisations next time the blog is in Poland, those invitations are gratefully accepted.

Back to matters Ukrainian tomorrow.

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The Odessa Review

June 17, 2016

It is perhaps time to highlight The Odessa Review, a recently launched English language monthly journal with two well received editions under its belt in the city (and more widely across Ukraine).

The very high quality printed versions of both editions thus far, (Edition 3 appears soon) can be found decorating many hotel lobbies and restaurants around the city centre – those Editions perhaps pleasingly from the Editor’s point of view (Vlad Davidzon) being “well-thumbed” very swiftly after distribution, and often seen being surreptitiously stuffed into handbags and/or “manbags” (presumably for English practice purposes).

Indeed it is perhaps testament that several EU chums from within the “Brussels bubble” that come to Odessa fairly frequently not only returned to their “bubble” with copies of Edition 1 purloined from hotels and restaurants for their office “waiting rooms”, but have also asked that subsequent Editions be acquired for them to take back in the near future.  Whether it be testament to the quality of the journal, or a testament to the impression Odessa leaves on people – or both – perhaps matters little.

The on-line versions vary slightly from the printed editions, but for a content overview the on-line version of Edition 2 is here.

For the sake of full disclosure, your blog author has made minor written contributions to both published editions, and also the forthcoming publication.  For clarity all contributory prose has been written for free – thus there is no financial incentive behind this entry.

The motivation, for those that may therefore question why provide free content is to support the promotion and knowledge of the English language (per Presidential Decree that 2016 is the year of the English language in Ukraine), and also to provide the many tourists in Odessa something to read in a language with which many will have varying degrees of understanding and familiarity with that eclipses their ability with Ukrainian, or Russian, or the Cyrillic alphabet.

Generally, it seemed like a project worth supporting at the expense of but several minutes taken to write a few lines.  Hardly a particularly arduous or onerous task once a month, and all start-ups require some degree of philanthropy and good will when (hopefully) setting forth on a path to success.

Thus far the content (your author’s prose notwithstanding)  has consistently met a high bar – a literary quality commensurate with the aesthetically pleasing graphics and calibre of the physical attributes (print, paper and production etc) of the journal itself.

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The longevity – or not – of The Odessa Review naturally not only relies on the continued high quality of its content and ever changing erudite contributors, but also upon generating revenue.

Falling firmly without the captured oligarchical media ownership common of Ukraine, advertising revenue, donations and various categories of philanthropy (money and/or contributory time freely given) will ultimately be the deciding factor when it comes to the fate of The Odessa Review.

As regular readers of OdessaTalk will know, there is a “Donation” facility for those readers who feel they want to buy your author a drink.  Apart from $26.00 for a blog logo/banner, all donations received ($20 here, $100 there – and they all add up) have historically been given to various charities and/or needy individuals at your author’s discretion.  A reiteration of sincere thanks to all those that have donated, and not bought your author a drink as intended, but instead helped the needy recipients of your author’s discretion is once again offered – and inevitably overdue.

It is only right therefore, to advise any and all future donors, that over the coming summer months, and with one wary eye upon the inevitable horizon relating to the longevity (or not) of The Odessa Review, any donations will head its way – for it is a (primarily cultural) cause worthy of support.

Naturally, once the bitter winters return to Ukraine, donations will make their way, as historically they have, to assorted and random pensioners weighing a single potato to see if it falls within their meager pension, or those forced to deliberate over when and whether to turn on their heating at the expense of that single potato.

As for the grant givers with purses allocated to “bridge building” between “the West” and Ukraine, or incoming market entrants to Ukraine, or external entities wishing to attract Ukrainian attention/customers that may be looking for advertising space whilst supporting something worthy of support in the process, then do contact those young and energetic (English, Ukrainian and Russian speaking) people at The Odessa Review (and not this blog).

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Happy New Year – And a moment to acknowledge you all!

December 31, 2015

Customary it is appears to have become to regurgitate “most read” or “favourite” posts throughout 2015 as the year inevitably draws to a close – this blog won’t.

Instead this last entry of 2015 will take the opportunity to wish a Happy New Year each and every one of the 130,000 readers who either mistakenly (in all probability), or deliberately (rather flatteringly) took their time – or indeed wasted their time – rummaging around in the meandering ruminations presented here, coping heroically with the grammatical errors and limited vocabulary that provide proof, if needed, that little time or effort is given to the daily offerings published.

Of the 130,000 readers that visited more than once, then it is humbling – or perhaps a rather sad reflection that there is such a limited commentary upon Ukraine (and Odessa) in the English language that you were forced to return through lack of alternatives.

Further thanks must go to the politicians, local, national, and foreign, that have sought out this blog for the off the record chats during 2015 when passing through Odessa.  Likewise, the same thanks goes to the diplomats both domestic and foreign who form an often under-acknowledged front line for Ukraine.  The erudite and informative conversations are always something of a joy – even when they simply can’t be repeated.

To the publishers and editors that have requested (paid) essays from this blog after reading it, then a humble thank you (as well as thousands of words) is all that can be offered.  The blog was never intended as a “teaser” to attract work.

For those journalists whom will request interviews and “for the record” comment in 2016, the same answer to that of 2015 (and years previous) will apply – The answer remains “No”.

To the think-tanks, GONGOs, NGOs and civil society people who sought an exchange of views during 2015, and to those that jetted your author around Europe to take part in round-tables and to sit on panels full of people far more enlightened and erudite, sincere gratitude is all that can be expressed.  There is no better outcome than to leave such events with new ideas, thoughts to ponder, or perhaps most importantly new and intellectually challenging friends.

It is also time for a confession to all those that pressed the “Donate” button on the blog Home Page during 2015 and sent their hard earned money not really knowing how that money would be spent.

A pittance ($24.95) from the far larger grand total received was spent on a banner/logo – self indulgence.

The rest was given to various charities/NGOs and/or impromptu acts of kindness for the needy as witnessed when wandering aimlessly around Odessa – (such as selecting a random pensioner and buying food for a week when witnessing them weighing and pricing a single potato to stretch their meager pension that little further).

However, for those having somewhat blindly pressed “donate” and sent money, then hopefully some integrity is projected by the blog to earn such trust, and thus you will understand the morality of the author in “further donating” your hard earned money to causes and people far more in need (and far more deserving), even if it was meant for the betterment of the blog.  For those that pressed “donate” with intent of buying the author a beer, and are therefore disappointed that no beer was bought – apologies, your forgiveness is sought, but be assured that many a prayer has been offered for you by many pensioners in many Orthodox churches in Odessa for your (redirected (and perhaps unintended)) kindness.

2016 will not see the princely sum of $24.95 spent on more blog aesthetics, so in all probability all “donations” will be “further donated” ad hoc to various needy causes/people – for 2016 will remain a hard year for many in Odessa and Ukraine.

When it comes to thanks, it would be entirely remiss not to thank those largely unknown soldiers on the eastern front doing their duty, and all those volunteers that work anonymously and tirelessly to support them – and support the other areas of Ukrainian life where the State is failing.

Such people are a constant and perhaps troubling reminder of just how underutilised our time or abilities – or both – actually are in comparison.

With that, a Happy New Year for 2016 is wished to all – and for those that will continue to face seemingly unending fecklessness when dealing with the Ukrainian establishment and institutions, some wise words from a wise man that will continue to stand the test of time, and that will hopefully restore your constitution before dragging the feckless kicking and screaming into doing what is necessary – “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own.” – Marcus Aurelius.

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Normal service (such as it is) will resume in 2016, with the same aim of giving you something about Ukraine to read during your coffee break.

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A more worthy suspect? SBU bombing, Odessa

October 2, 2015

Following this entry immediately following the bombing of the State Security Service (SBU) building in central Odessa, an entry that suggested caution when speculating as to offenders –  “Perhaps he is correct in where he apportions the responsibility for this latest terrorist blast, although “The fact that this crime – the work of the FSB of Russia, no doubt” is perhaps a little presumptuous, for some doubt there surely is when making such statements within a few hours of the explosion.

Of the several dozen bombings that occurred late last year and early 2015, all were swiftly blamed by politicians in Kyiv upon The Kremlin, pro-Kremlin groups, or “professional Russians”. (“Professional Russians” are those who become “Russian” for money when a protest, brawl, or other headline grabbing acts are required. They are not a new phenomenon to Odessa, for they can be “professional whatever” for whomever is paying on a different day. Rent-a-mob for rent-a-cause.)”

The following day, a local to Odessa well known for his unfortunate mental disorders claimed responsibility for the bombing“Mikhail Dolgov who identifies himself as the “Virtual head of the Odessa Underground” and claims that “we”, as in the “Odessa Underground” partisans were responsible for the blast.”

As stated, in the above entry – “Whether Mr Dolgov and whomever else “we” consist of actually carried out the bombing remains to be seen.”

Emails to the blog followed asking about the “Odessa Underground” – for it had not appeared on the usual radars.  As far as can be ascertained at the time of writing there is a good reason for that – it appears to be an entirely phantom entity (outside the certified troubled mind of Mikhail Dolgov).  That said, moths gather around a flame and what is phantom today may take on some physical form tomorrow.

Also received was a request to keep certain readers updated with any developments.

Thus for those readers that find matters such as these secondary to the far more interesting, difficult and gargantuan tasks that lay ahead for Ukraine – apologies – your author shares your opinion, but will dutifully adhere to certain emailed requests.

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It now appears that the SBU has a suspect in the frame – but with absolutely no direct evidence released to the public (or whispered in private).  The suspect is in the frame due to certain entries on his VKontakte page, such as “This bundle at the back door into your office – is just the beginning,”.

The suspect is a man from Odessa called Pavel Brigadir, born 26th February 1980.  He and two other unnamed/unknown men, now have the SBU’s attention regarding this incident.

Mr Brigadir is a well known holder of very extreme views from the Kulikova Field pro-Kremlin (rather than Soviet nostalgia) groups.

In March 2014 he created a group with radical views called the “Emergency Response Brigade” which he hoped would get the attention of the Russian Secret Services and funding for the group activities would therefore follow.  That funding never came, whether perhaps the Kremlin spooks were not impressed by Mr Brigadir as the leader, whether they felt it was a possible “dangle”, or whether the group’s short lifespan literally prevented any funding prior to its disappearance from the scene remains unknown.

What makes Pavel Brigadir’s self-inferred responsibility more plausible to any previous claims is not his creation of the “ERB”, nor his radical and extreme views that are well known.

What is different about Pavel Brigadir, is that has already been arrested by the SBU for bombing two Bratkivshchyna Party offices in Odessa during 2014 under the “ERB” banner.  The first bombing on 16th April on Pushkinskaya and the second on 18th April on Dobrovolsky.  On 20th April the “ERB” took to lobbing molotov cocktails about on Dovzhenko.

On 25th April 2014, he and several others of the “ERB” were arrested and subsequently charged with offences under Part 2 of Article. 109, Part 1 of Article. 161, Part 1 of Article. 263, Part 2 of Article 258, Part 1 of Article. 258-1 and Part 2 of Article 194 – Conspiracy to overthrow the state power, possession of weapons and ammunition, the creation of a terrorist organization and terrorist attack, as well as destruction of property by arson.

A serious charge sheet it has to be said – and he was duly remanded in custody pending trial.

Thus the “ERB” lasted a little less than two months.  Certainly the Communist 3, Orthodox Cossacks, Black Sea Knights et al, managed to last somewhat longer.  Such groups will continue to come and go.

However, on 14th September 2014, Pavel Brigadir was subject to a “prisoner swap” for Ukrainian prisoners in the occupied territories .  Once released he promptly took up arms against Ukrainian forces in the east.

It is believed within the Ukrainian security services, that aside from actually fighting, he is now involved in briefing and sending those sent to Odessa to carry out terrorist acts.

As such, the two unnamed men that are currently centre frame with the SBU in Odessa for bombing their building are far more likely to be the actual bombers than Pavel Brigadir, who may very well still be, and probably is, in the occupied territories in eastern Ukraine.

Nevertheless, inferred self-incrimination in the events on VKontakte is not evidence of involvement fit for due process in a court despite a clearly active and recent terrorist past of a very similar nature.  It certainly appears that those who physically planted the bomb are neither of whom that have thus far either claimed or inferred responsibility – any conspiracy charges not withstanding.

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As a postscript – There will be no blog entries for a few days as you author heads to Gdansk “think-tanking” with a room full of people far cleverer than he.

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A few first’s for Odessatalk – Podcasts and Balkanists (& Saakashvili)

August 22, 2015

A short entry doing the blog no favours by directing regular readers elsewhere following two”first’s”.

Balkanist-Magazine-coverThe first is a debut with the Balkanist, where a few lines are published relating to the challenges facing Governor Saakashvili at the ports.

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The second “first” is an appearance on the ever interesting Power Vertical podcast –  Regular readers will get to hear, rather than read, your author’s dolcet tones.  Fortunately a couple of erudite professors and a slick host make up for your author’s dull contributions.

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The common threads, naturally enough being corruption, organised crime and Governor Saakashvili.

Enjoy!

(Normal service will resume tomorrow).

 

 

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In search of sponsors in a sea of EU/US grant money – Ukraine

April 8, 2015

Only in exceptional circumstances does this blog become even remotely personal in its content – and this will be one of few occasions.

It is very rare that the civil society activities of this blog are ever mentioned within it – and never in detail if they are.  There are reasons for that, which are mostly due to your author’s desire to avoid smudging the lines between a hobby, as is this blog – and things that actually matter, both personally and to wider society in Odessa and Ukraine.

If this blog stopped tomorrow, the author would have an extra free 15 minutes each day, and you, dear readers, would have an additional 2 minutes each day to read something more erudite.

However, some months ago, the blog was approached by some members of the Ukrainian academia, with specific aims, looking to reach out to the wider western academic world.  There are, of course, several existing programmes to achieve such ends.  However, in this instance it was not a matter of joining a programme, taking some grant money, and then enjoying – or not – a forced marriage with other programme participants.  It was a request to find a receptive partner(s) and only then seek out the financing/grants programme.  The aims, as stated as specific.  Did this blog know of any suitable and approachable academic partners of repute?

The simple answer was “Yes – several in fact”.  Having lots of enlightened friends and acquaintances has its advantages, even if it means your author is frequently the dumbest person in the room.

Thus an official (embossed letterhead paper exchanges and all that) fledgling courtship began between a highly respected UK University and a well known university in Kyiv.  For now, these universities will remain anonymous, but almost daily emails are exchanged (in which this blog is included as a matter of courtesy presumably) relating to forthcoming workshops in the Autumn and Winter 2015, and Spring summer 2016.  One aim is to glue together a close academic relationship, open to other western and Ukrainian universities to join should they wish (and some are already expressing interest) at the post-grad, Doctorate, Professor level.

Something right up – or at least partly up – the British Council grant alley – except the British Council grant budget for 2015 has only just received its annual refill, and thus no applications for funding under the new budget have hit the British Council website yet.

The blog has now 25 Ukrainian professors from Kyiv and Odessa confirmed as wanting to attend the first London workshops in the autumn, and thus is not about to wait the British Council getting its act together on-line, without looking for appropriate funding elsewhere too.

This blog is fortunate to have some very enlightened and influential readers – some of whom have spent time with your author on more than one occasion, exchanging thoughts on Ukrainian politics, policy, society and all such high brow issues.  It is sometime worrisome to contemplate possibly numerous official notes containing the dull, but usually accurate, comments made in various files in Kyiv and beyond.

To those political, diplomatic and international NGO leaders acquainted with the author, or such readers with whom a meeting is yet to occur, should they have a few moments to rummage around their national grants/endowments/philanthropists looking to support the projection and cross-fertilisation of Ukrainian higher education at a post-Grad and above level – particularly by way of active workshops within the realms politics, policy, economics, history and law – and feel they could support, and indeed encourage participation therein, do drop the blog an email.

By way of disclosure, aside from the initial match-making, and continued inclusion in email correspondence, this blog has no connection with any university involved.  It’s next task will be to persuade some diplomats and practitioners to attend the London workshops too.

However, in a sea of grant money flowing toward Ukraine, much of which will be spend heaven only knows how, on programmes imported, rather than created by Ukrainian practitioners, this blog is seeking access to as many sources of funding as possible, to finance albeit, a very small sum.  To be abundantly clear – no funds are for the blog itself.  Therefore DO NOT click on the “Donate” button on the home page of Odessatalk to sponsor the aforementioned university project – as stated at the very start of this entry, not smudging the lines between a hobby and what really matters, is your author’s generally enforced rule.

Naturally any donor/sponsor of this university project, should they desire it, will get there necessary public gratitude here (and in London as protocol dictates).  If they would prefer to hide their light behind a bushel – then discretion is assured.

Before anybody asks, your author doesn’t know George Soros, so it is very unlikely the “inbox” is going to see an email from him asking for details of the nitty-gritty that requires funding – unfortunately.

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