Archive for the ‘Kyiv’ Category

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Major local decisions by referendum – How generally un-European – How democratic!

March 16, 2012

Well what can you say about this?

Major local decisions to be made by referendum as a standard practice.

How very Swiss!

How very encouraging!

If it actually happens it is probably the most democratic friendly move when it comes to local governance in the history of Ukraine – ever!

Let’s hope it happens and let’s hope there is a very big local take-up so that it can be rolled out nationwide.

I am actually flabbergasted.

It’s unlikely to endear Ukraine to the EU however.  If there is one word that the leadership if the EU cringe at every time they hear it, that word is “referendum”.  In fact “referendum” is a positively distasteful word within the EU hierarchy, the mere mention of which is likely to have you removed from such circles either temporarily or permanently.

I once went to a meeting in 2009 where this concept was muted with the then Mayor of Odessa, amongst several other concepts for the development of Odessa.  The democratic concept of a referendum choosing amongst the priority projects was pooh-poohed (partially on a fiscal cost basis of the administration involved of said referendum) whilst other more business orientated concepts also suggested were forwarded for further examination.

Nevertheless, a good idea will always get trialled eventually even if not where I had hoped it would be (namely Odessa)!

Let’s hope the citizens of Kyiv seize the opportunity being offered and bring the major local decisions back to the local people they affect.

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Prostitution and Euro2012

March 11, 2012

Elsewhere in cyberspace, in the Ukrainian and Russian forums to be exact, a debate is running relating to prostitution and the Euro2012 football tournament to be held here in about 3 months time.

The debate is along the lines of prostitution remaining illegal and thus those traveling foreign fans, some of whom hail from nations where prostitution is legal, regulated and taxed by the State,  falling foul of the local police when indulging in carnal pleasures, or whether it should be legalised for the duration of the tournament in the hosting cities (or at least not pursued by the police for the duration of the tournament) or whether it should be legalised (or decriminalised)  anyway.

Should Ukraine follow the German (and others) route with regulation and tax, or should it keep its own domestic laws as they are?

Should the authorities turn a discrete blind eye during the tournament, particularly in regard to foreign fans and avoid unnecessarily arresting foreigners and the diplomatic issues related to persons detained?

See no evil......

All very tricky when good arguments can be made for all 3 options.  As it happens this is more of a philosophical debate than a real policy debate as there is little noise coming from the RADA relating to the issue at all.  Thus the law is unlikely to change.  That does not mean, of course, the blind eye policy will not be quietly encouraged.

Fortunately I live in a city that is not hosting the tournament so these issues will not affect Odessa unless the law does change.  One suspects that it is only a matter of time before somebody in the EU thinks it is a good idea to recognise prostitution as a profession and regulate and tax it similar to Germany across the entire EU block, but that is something for the future one suspects.

For me, the core issue is not one of prostitution being legal or otherwise.  It will happen regardless.  It is the question of choice of those involved in such activities.  There are some involved, male and female, who do this through absolute free choice.  There are others forced and coerced into it.  The latter to me is completely and utterly unacceptable.  The former as far as I am concerned is fair enough.

There are of course social issues when it comes to known red light districts for those residents who live there and are not involved in such activities but that is a regulatory and enforcement issue which some nations cope with quite well and others fail miserably at.

Now I have to make a full disclosure and say I don’t know any prostitutes who work the streets of Odessa.  I do know a Madame and several escorts who work for her but on no account work the streets or the bars and clubs.  I suppose at $100 per hour to visit a local hotel by appointment, there is no requirement to work for less or to have to hunt out men in bars and clubs at lesser fees and with the overheads of club entry.

To be honest it is not a conversation I have ever had with any of the ladies involved and I should point out rather robustly that as a married man whose wife also knows the Madam and the same escorts I do, then I have never met them in their professional capacity.  In fact the only reason I know them is via my wife and she knows the Madam from her school days.

It is difficult to say the escorts involved are doing it against their will.  They work only 3 or 4 days a week and also work unaccompanied across Europe for several days at a time via the services offered by this business and earning a very respectable Euro 1500 – 2000 per day.

It seems to me to be very different from those poor men and women who are forced into such a profession against their will, which is where my objections I have to such a business lay.

An interesting and quite passionate debate nonetheless on the local forums, with debaters of both sexes on all sides of the discussion.

One wonders how the Ukrainian authorities will deal with this issue when it rears its head in a few months time.

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Eurovision racism from the Ukrainian far right

February 26, 2012

Readers of this blog know that once a year despite my very best efforts not to mention the deliciously awful Eurovision Song Contest, an annual farce that is watched religiously by my good lady despite year after year I predict accurately the votes from each country for another to her absolute amazement and also nominate the winner based on their national economic well-being before a song has even been sung.

However, so deliciously awful and predictable as it is, it is often scandal prone in some manner behind the scenes which forces me to comment.

Ukraine it seems is particularly prone to such things having had heated national debates over Verka Serduchka, a very funny cross-dressing male represent them and subsequently had Ukrainians singing both for Ukraine and also for Russia, to name but a few.

Is a cross-dressing male the right image for Ukraine at such an international event, should a Ukrainian be singing the Russian entry against the Ukrainian entry?  All those issues of self-image on the international stage in what it has to be  repeatedly said is a truly awful annual event.

This year has already become issue-ridden.

This year a lady called Gaitana has been chosen to represent Ukraine.  Here she is:

What could possibly be controversial about her?

Well of course immediately the far-right Svoboda party are up in arms as she is not representative of Ukraine – She is not white!

It doesn’t matter that she was born in Kyiv, has lived there all her life, is a Ukrainian citizen, or that her mother is a Ukrainian.  It matters that she is not white and therefore not representative of Ukraine it seems.  At least that is the opinion of Yuri Sirotyuk who happens to be highly placed within the Svoboda party.  In fact he stated she would get “Nul points” because of the colour of her skin.

Now I have repeatedly and robustly raised my concerns over the rise of the far-right across Europe and have specifically mentioned the poisonous Svoboda party (who happen to be signed up members of the United Democratic Opposition) regularly over the years this blog has been running.  Use the blog search facility and see for yourself.

It is not that I have a problem with the right to free speech.  Mr Sirotyuk has the right to say what he wants, especially so as he is a regional MP and represents a region that is predominantly responsible for the entire 5% of the national vote Svoboda received at the last elections.  I also do not have a problem with Svoboda praising Nazism and identifying themselves with it.  They are at least honest enough to wear the label that others would give them rather than shy away from the word.  He may well be representative of his voters in saying what he did and that is what he is there to do.

It can hardly be classed as a hate speech or be compared to the Nuremburg Rallies.

However as the above link shows, the ECfHR  has stated “… tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings constitute the foundations of a democratic, pluralistic society. That being so, as a matter of principle it may be considered necessary in certain democratic societies to sanction or even prevent all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance…”
(Chamber judgment Erbakan v. Turkey, no. 59405/00, § 56, 6.07.2006)

That would infer that Svoboda are not necessarily worthy of being part of the United Democratic Opposition as such comments must surely seriously undermine “…tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings constitute the foundations of a democratic, pluralistic society…”

However, as I have said above, and as the ECfHR also states, ” the Court is also careful to make a distinction in its findings between, on the one hand, genuine and serious incitement to extremism and, on the other hand, the right of individuals (including journalists and politicians) to express their views freely and to “offend, shock or disturb” others.”

He is entitled to state his opinions and breaks no Ukrainian or ECfHR rulings in doing so.  As  a Ukrainian MP he has immunity from prosecution anyway, so there would be no chance of even challenging him under Ukrainian discriminatory laws should somebody decide to try.

However, given his comments relating to “nul points” due to her colour, I hope that she goes on to get a lot of points regardless of how good or bad she is.  For Ukrainian economic reasons I hope she doesn’t win as the expense of putting on Eurovision compared to income from it would probably lead to a loss from the national budget, but the highest place ever for a Ukrainian would seem to be an adequate response to his comments.

For this reason alone, this year I may join my good woman watching this farce and actually be willing good fortune to Ukraine and Gaitana in a purely reactionary motivation to such obnoxious comments.

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Farewell to “Our woman in Kyiv” – Judith Gardiner

January 17, 2012

Today I am supposed to be attending the leaving function of Judith Gardiner, Deputy Head of Mission (Second in Command) of HM Embassy Kyiv.

Unfortunately due to a rather heavy cold I will not be going despite a genuine desire to be there.  Whilst numerous pharmaceutical wonders undoubtedly will mask the symptoms, being responsible for infecting all others present is not something I would wish to be remembered for.

Of course emailed apologies have been duly sent in good time to HM Ambassador and to Judith individually.

The reason for this post, aside from a public bon voyage and bonne chance with regards to Judith as I am unable to pass on such wishes in person, is also to publicly recognise the sterling service that Judith gave to me as well as recognising the lighthearted (and in good taste) emailed banter from “Our woman in Kyiv” and myself.

As far too few will say thank you for her time and effort, I can at least do so for myself in the public domain.  Manners maketh man as my Mum drilled into me.

Now I have never been one to cause a problem for our people in Kyiv.  There has been no time when I have needed to call on our Embassy in times of need having got myself into a situation whereby they have had to intervene on my behalf.  The same applied to my time in Moscow.

However, of all our Embassy staff, Judith has been the most helpful, frank and entertaining of them, both in person and by email.  It is also fair to say, now completing her second tour of duty in Ukraine, she is hardly naive when it comes to matters Ukrainian.

It is with regards to getting things done, or more accurately pointing me in the right direction to investigate matters further myself, that Judith has been extremely helpful.  I suspect her occasional assistance would not have been forthcoming from others in her position and dismissed out of hand.

Choosing my words carefully and making an empirical judgement based on my years working in the public service as an extremely small cog two very big public service machines, but in doing so coming into contact with numerous civil servants and politicians, it is fair to say she ranks very highly in my esteem.  In short Judith is a solid citizen (to use an old-school expression) with a sense of humour I can relate to.

I trust her next few years as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Bishkek will be enjoyable.  An appointment which is undoubtedly deserved and I am sure all Embassy staff in Bishkek will be relieved to know such a worthy individual is en route.  I am sure Kyrgyzstan will be a challenge (as will all Central Asia as a geopolitical region in the immediate future).

As for her replacement, Mr Martin Day, meeting him will have to be delayed as I am certain not to be forgiven for inflicting illness upon him unnecessarily.  It is rather juvenile to imagine him in Judith’s shoes, and one suspects her shoes are smaller than those of Mr Day, at least physically, however, metaphorically speaking  they will be very hard to fill.

Nevertheless, adieu, bonne chance and bon voyage Mrs Gardiner and please accept my public thanks for the assistance given to me in the past.  I am pleased your ticky box FCO appraisal was as good as it deserved to be and a suitable appointment made as a result.

(For some reason my public service appraisals always employed some very long words designed to encourage whilst keep me in my place in the scheme of things.  I don’t suppose things have changed much.)

Suffice to say I will keep my eye on the FCO appointments and the Honours Lists in future to see where you go and if you get a little enameled gong with St George and a dragon on it!

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Fans Consulates – Euro 2012

December 12, 2011

Now here is an interesting concept.  It maybe not a new idea directly out of the box of new ideas, but it is certainly an interesting concept for Ukraine.

Embassies for fans” situated along side relevant national embassies –  Blimey!

Me thinks the UK Consulate building is more appropriate than a tent pitched in the back garden of the Ambassadorial residence.  It simply wouldn’t do to have the lawn at the rear trampled and muddied by several thousand drunken Englishmen seeking advice having been conned by a landlord or leggy Ukrainian lovely let alone roughly refused entry into certain Kyiv clubs because they are the wrong colour Englishman.

What is more interesting still, is that it seems the fans will be advising the fans – Really?

One look at the Expat forums in Ukraine or about Ukraine and a fan can find all the bad advice they could possibly wish for.   Some forums are better than others, however the better ones will state what the law is as written and immediately follow it up with a caveat that whilst the law maybe consistent, interpretation and implementation can vary dramatically from region to region.  Thus even 100% correct information provided can in practice be completely irrelevant to circumstances faced by an individual.

Which fans are going to work next to their Embassy’s/Consulates and provide advice that may have absolutely no grounding in fact, or if it is indeed factually correct, proved irrelevant by local authority interpretation?

Would a national Embassy/Consulate want such a facility temporarily planted next to them?  Would it not be easier to simply have those with “issues” speak with the Consular staff as they normally would when in the mire?

Does a “Fans Embassy” situated next to the official Embassy/Consular building provide some form of faux authority and inference that any advice given is representative of the relevant government?

Does Ukraine think that the UK Embassy and Consulate in Kyiv will be completely unprepared for Euro 2012 and not already have plans (and hopefully contingency plans) in place?

Given the advice and personal assistance that the UK Embassy can and does give on a personal level for a UK citizen who comes unstuck in Ukraine, unless a fan loses their passport, dies or gets arrested, there is very little that will be done on their behalf.  Quite rightly too, the UK Embassy is not your mother and there to wipe your nose, read you a bedtime story and tuck you up in bed feeling all snug, warm and loved-up!

What more, exactly, is a “Fans Embassy” going to do?  In fact, considering it can’t replace your passport,  could possibly repatriate your dead body (but nowhere near as efficiently as the official UK FCO representatives), and would not be given access to visit a Brit in a cell, the question should be, what will a “Fans Embassy” actually do?

Hand out maps of Kyiv and Donetsk cities with the name written in English in case you get lost?  Hand out telephone numbers for English speaking lawyers, dentists, doctors and police?  Such things no doubt will be posted on the UK Embassy website temporarily during the competition.  They may even be available as an “App” download if the FCO is on the ball and tech savvy.

What is highly unlikely is that a “Fans Embassy” will get involved with a landlord dispute or mediate a resolution with a leggy Ukrainian lovely who some drunken fan feels wronged by after she has allowed him to wine, dine and dance the night away without the resulting Slavic notch on his bedpost.

A small handbook of Ukrainian/Russian phrases in English to point at when our drunken fan cannot get his tongue around such “complicated” sounding words?

A liaison point for taxis to the airport possibly?

Just what will the “Fans Embassies” be telling the fans that the existing Embassies/Consulates cannot or will not and just what exactly will the official Embassies and Consulates be prepared to let “Fans Embassies” tell those that find their way to them in some inferred “official” capacity?

Is it not going to be easier to simply set up twenty or so temporary “tourist/Euro 2012” information centres dotted around the hosting cities that have no inferred governmental affiliation to nations of visiting fans and thus any advice given will not result in a tempest of complaints to Foreign Ministries should the advice be “suspect”?

What, exactly, is the point of “Fans Embassies”?

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A UK garden in The Peoples Friendship Park?

November 12, 2011

You know how sometimes little things catch you eye?

Whilst speed reading my way through the daily mountain of emails and constant twittering, at the bottom of an obscure paragraph relating to some form of musical and light displaying fountain to be created in Kyiv next year, almost as an after-thought, there was mention of the Kyiv authorities giving up plots of land to each foreign embassy within the parameters of The Peoples Park in Kyiv to create a national garden.

It is very rare I am envious of anything that happens in Kyiv.  In fact almost everybody I know, Ukrainian or foreign that has to spend any amount of time there does little but complain about the city, which is not the case for those who spend a lot of time in the other cities of Ukraine for the most part.

Anyway, I am envious on this occasion.  There are few things I really miss about the UK anymore.  The most notable and annually recalled are The Proms, The 6 Nations (rugby) and The Chelsea Flower Show.

Yes Odessa has some beautiful parks, numerous fountains (including one that operates to music with lights – sorry Kyiv, hardly original) and some very large garden centers which could pass as a small corner of the Chelsea Flower Show, but I find the thought of a UK garden next to a Japanese garden, opposite an Indian garden, adjacent to a Moroccan garden quite exotic and strangely exciting.

Of course Odessa could do the same thing with the close to 20 Consulates here, and a quite exotic mix of Consulates there are to, but it would pale into insignificance compared to what could be achieved in The Peoples Friendship Park in Kyiv should every Embassy in the capitol get on board with the idea and create a domestic floral oasis relating to their home nations.

I am more green with envy than green fingered, however what wonderful images this idea creates in the mind.

Certainly not enough to make me want to live in Kyiv, but certainly enough to make me want to visit The Peoples Friendship Park when I am next there if the idea takes root and the gardens are established.

Now, who to drop an encouraging email to within the FCO and commend this idea with suitable small words of encouragement for UK participation?  Maybe HRH Prince Charles?

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Lost in translation? The facial expressions say it all – Sir John Walsh at the Tymoshenko trial

September 1, 2011

For those of you who didn’t know, Sir John Walsh has been attending the Tymoshenko trial.

Given that the trial is being held in Ukrainian and Russian language, depending upon who is speaking at any particular time, have a look at this video and work out for yourself how much Sir John understands in real time what is being said around him.

As he has no interpreter for the press conference, does he have one inside the courtroom? Probably not as an interpreter talking over the witnesses or judge, prosecutors or defence would be an intolerable situation for all those in the courtroom and also for the interpreter trying to keep up with half a dozen people often talking at the same time over each other.

As he and his team get transcripts of what is said, why is he actually there and not a cheaper member of his team. After all, if you don’t understand what is being said, a physical presence there is surely to watch to ensure the thumb-screws are not being applied and little more in “real time”.

All that said, it is a positive thing that there are international observers sitting in on the trial. One imagines that there will be an EU mission employee present each day as well as several other interested parties be they official or NGO.

Even so, you can tell that when the journalists are asking him questions, the lights are on but nobody is home without an interpreter. I remember those days all to well when I first arrived and was fairly clueless to what was being said around me. You feel like a fish out of water. So where is his interpreter? You can hardly meet the press and give the impression of a professsional representing a competent NGO without one as it becomes quite clear you have no idea what is happening inside the courtroom without one either.

A rather shambolic incident really. Two if you count the trial as well.

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