Archive for the ‘Tourism’ Category

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A gay weekend update – Odessa

August 14, 2015

A few days ago an entry was published relating to a proposed and yet somewhat mysterious premier of an Odessa LGBT festival – mysterious insofar as organisers and the knowledge of the event amongst the Odessa LGBT at the time of writing.

Since then a little more has come to light – this being due to Odessa City Council (not to be confused with the Oblast Council) having made representations to the Odessa Administrative Courts to ban the march which is proposed as part of the festival events.

Odessa City Hall

Odessa City Hall

Odessa City Council, predictably raised some reasonable concerns that were raised in the above linked entry regarding the safety of the march participants and the general public on a weekend when football fans from Donetsk, Luhansk, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa will all be milling around the city due to two games being played in the city this weekend.

It is perhaps arguable whether the City Council is best placed to comment upon the ability of the Odessa Militsia to police such coinciding events, or whether it is the Militsia that should raise any potential violent/public (dis)order flag.

The proposed “Unity March” route – Pushkinska, Maryinska and Shevchenko.  At the time of writing, a route as yet to be approved by the Militsia.  All 3 are busy routes for traffic and prone to congestion with or without any form of marching truth be told.

Whatever the case, the City Council appealed to the Odessa Administrative Court and the court has banned the march citing a high probability of violence all things considered.

An appeal can be expected tomorrow.  One of the organisers, Alina Rakhuba, has stated “If we get an official court decision banning the event, we will file an appeal.  If they ban the demonstration on specific streets, it’s OK – Odessa is big. We will not give up. The festival will definitely take place.

It is claimed that about 200 people, including foreigners, have registered to attend the festival.

Undoubtedly the festival will take place in some form, for the Administrative Court has banned only the march – although it has to be said that any orchestrated violence can be targeted at the other festival events – where ever they are to be centered – just as easily as any march.

It has however, apparently been agreed between the event organisers and various Odessa groups such as “Odessa Self-Defence”, “Right Sector” and “Odessa Automaidan” that violence towards festival attendees from their members will not occur.

Quite whether agreements have been struck with other Odessa groups, for there are many others ranging from far left to far right (and everything in between), or if there have been any such agreements struck with the groups from Donetsk, Luhansk or Dnepropetrovsk that will be in the city for the football this weekend is a different question.

Whether any appeal against the march ban will be successful remains to be seen – albeit it seems very unlikely the court will lift the ban for any streets in or near the city centre having cited the high probability of violence and public disorder behind the ruling.

Thus it is still unclear how this is going to work itself out.  The ever-thorny problem of insuring the fundamental human rights of expression and assembly, verses that of being able to protect those exercising the said rights, the safety of the general public amongst whom those rights are being exercised, and the safety of those that are charged with that protection presents itself – A problem aggravated by two football fixtures in the city this weekend.

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The Rule of P Revisited – Odessa

June 19, 2015

Many times has the “Rule of P” been mentioned within this blog over the years.

The “Rule of P” being “Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance” – a robust and sensible rule during times of peace and stability, when there is ample time to deliberate, ponder and debate best policy and effective implementation, or to obfuscate, bewilder, tinker and been seen to do something when actually doing nothing to maintain the status quo or counter what would be ineffective or counterproductive policy.

However it would be something of a stretch to claim such times exist in Ukraine with a war with The Kremlin in the east, and an economy in dire straits.

Thus with fundamental national and regional reformation a priority, the Rule of P need be accompanied with “more haste, less speed” if a satisfactory outcome is to be arrived at.  Time is of the essence – but not so that the outcome is counterproductive or ineffective reform.

Central government has several key issues to deal with, amongst which is the immediate stabilisation of macroeconomics.  It is perhaps the one sphere of government that has seen the most notable progress with regard to internal structural changes to historical processes.

The other two major issues are the rule of law (and reform of all relevant institutions) and turning the opaque and exceptionally corrupt energy sector into a far more transparent arena.

As has been mentioned previously, it is the rule of law where Governor Saakashvili struggles when it comes to reform, for he cannot repeal or amend laws that need changing, but has to work within the legal framework that currently exists – as retarded as that framework is.

“Governor Saakashvili is exactly that – a governor. He is not a President. He does not have anything like the powers he held as a President. Thus his current legitimate (via The Law of Ukraine) and constitutional authority is significantly reduced in comparison to those he once held.”

Thus it will come as no surprise that Odessa Oblast Administration has now decided to draft laws and lobby for them to be passed in the Rada.  The new leadership wants the legal room to deliver what is expected of it.  Despite Governor Saakashvili’s rhetoric about Odessa becoming the Black Sea capital, there is a far loftier goal to achieve.  That goal should be to make Odessa the anti-corruption capital of Ukraine.

Nevertheless MPs and civil society in Kyiv take note, the provinces are drafting laws and will lobbying for their adoption henceforth.  Top of that Odessa Oblast agenda is an already compiled list of licenses and certification required for business that is entirely unnecessary but cannot be canceled or wavered at a regional level.  It requires their repealing/cancellation by the Rada, so anticipate some overt and public Odessa Oblast lobbying to that end – very, very soon.

If nothing else, Governor Saakashvili is not short of a large ego.  His reputation as a moderniser and reformer is on the line.  He is not about to allow the painfully slow processes and vested Rada interests to delay any legislative change that will confine his room to maneuver.  He will want to retain, and perhaps advance, his reputation should he turn Odessa into the anti-corruption capital of Ukraine.  If he does, or even makes significant in-roads, it will be a major achievement in one of the most corrupt Oblasts in the nation.

In short his credibility is dependent not only on results, but the timeliness of those results.  A reproduction of the manyana attitude to reform within the Rada will not be allowed to occur in Odessa.

For all the local and national headlines regarding sacking and appointments to Governor Saakashvili’s team and the heads of regional institutions, these are simply preparatory events – tinkering with the machinery, removing bugs from the processes – but they are clearly not an actual plan.

To be absolutely blunt, currently there is no plan.

There is a plan under construction – but there is no plan at the moment.

By the end of June however, there will be a plan.  Not only will there be a plan, but there will be implementation processes to achieve it following all the current preparatory sackings and hirings to implement.

That plan includes an economic strategy for the Oblast, to build new roads, clamp down on smuggling and corruption in the ports and at the customs/borders, to develop business, tourism and agriculture etc. as well as reducing the staffing levels by orders of magnitude, and dissolving entirely pointless departments within the Oblast Administration.

Thus the existing Odessa Oblast development and economic plans, submitted as a bureaucratic necessary rather than something to attain to historically, will be shredded.

Behind the curtain there is an offer to the regional elites too.  That offer is a de facto amnesty over historical issues on the proviso they actively work with the new administration and not against it.  If not, prepare to be political roadkill (with all that entails) , and crucified in the mainstream and social media for good measure.  Considering the historical and current nefariousness of the Odessa elite, there is perhaps some attractiveness to that offer.  Time will tell.

The current overarching theme within the half-dozen planners of the Oblast Plan, is not corruption or infrastructure or PR but the timeliness in effectively dealing with these matters and implementing the plan.

Once the plan is complete and announced at the end of June, they expect orderly identified implementation steps to be taken and the first results within weeks rather than months.

It could be a rather interesting July in Odessa if weeks and not months proves to be the case.

It will undoubtedly be interesting to watch Odessa Oblast lobby the Rada to get out of its way and let reforms commence.  It may prove somewhat awkward for numerous Odessa MPs to have to publicly choose between the interests of their constituents and their own vested interests.

Will the Rule of P prevail – or will piss poor performance result?  It appears we will soon see!

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Borders within borders – Ukraine

January 6, 2015

A short entry today relating to the borders within borders created due to events in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula, for those traveling to, through, or from them.

The US has updated its travel advice, which of course whilst aimed specifically at its citizenry, applies to most foreigners in the identified regions to some degree or another:

Jan 5 at 11:42 PM

* The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to eastern Ukraine.
* This supersedes the Travel Warning for Ukraine dated August 29 to provide updated information on the security situation in southern and eastern Ukraine.
* Despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement in September 2014, violent clashes between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces continue in parts of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, resulting in thousands of injuries and deaths.
* The Government of Ukraine has stated that foreigners, including U.S. citizens who enter Ukraine through separatist-controlled checkpoints, will not be allowed to pass through government checkpoints.
* Russia-backed separatist groups have taken on an increasingly strident anti-American tone. U.S. citizens who choose to enter or remain in conflict areas should maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings.
* U.S. citizens should exercise caution in the regions of Odesa, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. In addition, due to a recent increase in low level terrorism incidents, travelers in the cities of Odesa and Kharkiv should exercise extreme vigilance in public places after dark.
* The Russian Federation is likely to take further actions in Crimea in 2015 consistent with their attempted unlawful annexation and occupation of this part of Ukraine.
* In addition, there are continuing reports of abuses against the local population by de facto authorities in Crimea, particularly against those who are seen as challenging their authority on the peninsula.
* The Government of Ukraine prevents foreigners, including U.S. citizens, who enter Crimea directly from any country other than Ukraine, from entering mainland Ukraine.

The highlighted paragraphs are thus, to raise awareness of those who will travel to, through, or from areas of Ukraine that are not currently controlled by the Ukrainian authorities.

In short, there are solidifying borders within borders, and those not entering Ukraine via Ukrainian controlled borders will not be able to pass into the rest of the nation should they enter via “occupied territories” – regardless of nationality or passport held.

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Something local – Arcadia redevelopment, Odessa

January 5, 2014

Elsewhere in cyberspace some months ago, I noted that the famous/infamous Ibiza nightclub in Arcadia was being demolished – and presumably rebuilt.

Since then, the main thoroughfare has also been completely ripped up and many of the small stores that lined the route demolished too.

What was this

ibiza

is currently this

arcadia

Blimey!  Summer tourist/beach life central looks anything but.

However, reconstruction begins immediately after the Orthodox Christmas – presumably to be completed by 1st June when Arcadia is normally officially opened for the summer season.  (Though it has to be said for those of us who live in Acradia, “officially” means very little as it is home.)

It will be interesting to see the end results, as to be quite honest, it was better than OK (if not fantastic) before Arcadia was deemed necessary for a face lift.  I have certainly been to far worse similar developments in Greece and Spain.

One has to hope that the de facto summer city centre will be ready on time simply for the benefit of the local  economy.

Right, back to matters political/policy led tomorrow.  I simply fancied a change today.

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219th birthday celebrations – Odessa itinerary

August 18, 2013

For those readers likely to be in Odessa between 30th August and 3rd September, you will be present as the city celebrates its 219th “official” birthday – it is far older.

Anyway, the itinerary for those few days is as follows:

It includes rock fest, art & flowers exhibitions, music concerts, gala concert etc.
Traditional concert followed by a large firework will take place at Potyomkin Stairs in the evening.

In the network of the celebration, a range of traditional events will be held, including:
– International “Meetings in Odessa” Culture and Arts Festival;
– Gala concert of the XXII “Piqué Vests” Rock Festival in memory of I. Gankevitch at the Kulikovo Field (Chicherina and Skryabin are the headliners of the concert);
– Gala concert at at Potyomkin Stairs;
– open-air “Rakhmaninov by the Sea” concert by Alexei Botvinov by the Vorontsov Palace’s Colonnade;
– open-air “Jazz in Classics. Classics in Jazz” concert by Yuri Kuznetsov in the City Garden;
– flowers exhibition and the 2nd Arts and Crafts Festival;
– “Open-air cinema hall” at Langerone Descent;
– Yerzy Hoffman’s “Ukraine”movie presentation;
– meeting with the legendary Yuri Norstein, the author of bestseller “Hedgehog in Fog”cartoon;
– festive firework.

The traditional Gala-concert at Potyomkin Stairs will feature numerous famous artists, including In-Grid, Potap and Nastya Kamenskykh, BoomBox, Tina Karol, “X-Factor” Show winner Aida Nikolaychuk from Odessa, “Country’s Voice” Show winner Anna Khodorovskaya from Odessa and others.

As and when more details of who on what date and where become available, I will attempt to let you know.

I must admit I do fancy attending “Rakhmaninov by the Sea” and the jazz classics at the City Garden – both of which I hope will occur before the 2nd September when I shall be heading to Crete for a few days.

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E-Gov & E-diplomacy – E-xemplorary service – or not? EU v UK

July 12, 2013

Ho Humm.

As is clear to many readers historically, I am quite proud of my nation – most of the time – as any patriotic and solid citizen of any nation is.

I have a particular admiration for the FCO – not least because I know quite a few people who have served within it currently in various nations acting as Charge D’Affaires, Ambassadors and Consulate Generals or now retired.  That is notwithstanding numerous “boiler room diplomats” behind the scenes I bump into now and again.

Each and every one I know personally are quality people to a man/woman – and every single one of them has always responded to any email I have sent them within 24 hours (unless the standard FCO auto-response “away” message comes back to me offering redirection to another individual in cases of emergency).  Likewise I make a point of responding to anything they send to me equally as swiftly.

Very good – but –

There are times when I do not want to bother people I know personally with a general inquiry, despite the fact I know they will respond even though the general inquiry is well below their station in life and position within the government  machinery.

And so it has come to pass that my passport needs renewal.

I have navigated my way around the .Gov.UK website, downloaded all the forms I need to renew and pay for the new passport and am then faced with having to travel to Kyiv and do “the necessary” in person – fair enough.

However, whilst the website tells me quite clearly the working days and hours the UK Consulate Kyiv is open, I really do not like Kyiv or having to go there – so I want to know if I need an appointment – or not.  The website does not say.  To go and be turned away would annoy me to the point of an exceptionally critical blog entry – and this blog is read by many of those within the FCO I know and would not be best pleased should this occur.

So I decided to ask my mundane question about the requirement for an appointment – or not – via the general inquiries email address for the Kyiv Consulate.

Arrrrrghhh!

ukembinf@gmail.com – What?  gmail?  Why is it not an FCO or .Gov.UK email address?  Something that would give me confidence that somebody professional is at the other end?

All my professional life, any professional e-correspondence was done via professional “entity name.com” or “.co.uk” email addresses – and all private/personal/juvenile e-correspondence done via email addresses such a gmail, yahoo or hotmail etc.

Perhaps it is me?  Perhaps I am peculiar in keeping the professional separate from the personal and wanting to portray a professional image all the way down to using a corporate.com or .co.uk email address for professional activity?

Anyway, having briefly pondered why such an unprofessional email address appears, I proceeded to ask the question some days ago, as to whether I need an appointment at the UK Consulate Kyiv – or not – when it comes to renewing my passport.  I will no doubt have to go through the process of being “biometricised” this time, and would be happily surprised if I can just stroll into the Consulate at any normal working hour of any working day and expect it to be done – pronto.  Ergo why I ask the question I ask.

Needless to say, the unprofessional appearance of the gmail email address has been matched by the fact I still await a reply to such a very basic and mundane question that takes no more than 30 seconds to answer.

Meanwhile on the EU front, clarification was sought relating Article 5 of Directive 2004 38/EC which states my Ukrainian wife is entitled to a free EU Visa upon request, supported only by her passport and our marriage certificate – because she is married to an “EU citizen”.

This email inquiry was sent the same day as that to my inquiry to my own Consulate in Kyiv – to a formal looking generic EC email address I might add!

Surprise, surprise, a response within hours, not only confirming that she is entitled to a free Visa because she is married to an EU citizen but also stating that if any EU nation demands more documentation that her passport and our marriage certificate then the issue should be passed to SOLVIT – an EU entity that will inform relevant diplomatic mission that they are duty bound to issue the passport free and with no further documents required.

Generic and formal looking EU email inquiry 1 – 0 Generic and unprofessional looking email inquiry to the UK – and still waiting for the answer!

As an aside, yes one is left to ponder just why, when my wife is married to a UK for many years – and by default EU citizen – she needs only show her passport and marriage certificate to me to gain a free Visa and visit any Schengen nations she likes – at yet to visit the UK, the EU nation from which she is married to a citizen thereof – she must complete a 10 page application, with supporting documentation such as the production proof of funds, proof of ownership of property, proof of marriage, reason for visiting the UK, proof of employment, declare family members in the UK, previous Visa details and copies thereof etc etc – in short a small rain forest of documentation – each and every time she applies for a UK Visa.

She has now had 4 (ranging from 6 months to 2 years in validity).  There is no way to short-cut the system with a “no change” declaration each time she applies – typical.

She is very, very unlikely to want to overstay in the UK when she can overstay on Mediterranean coasts of Italy or Spain – and despite the fairly high hurdles required for her to live in the UK – she/we can meet every one of them with ease, so she can simply apply for the immigration Visa should she temporarily lose control of her senses and want to live in Blighty permanently.

Immigration risk she is not – economy booster by way of shop until she drops (including property shopping) – she is!

Once again – EU 1 – 0 UK when it comes to (e-)bureaucracy.

Thus far, the EU is 2 – 0 up when it comes to the speed at which generic E-Gov answers inquiries, reduction of bureaucracy and repeated unnecessary invasion of privacy.

If I add 1 to the EU score for each day I wait for a response from ukembinf@gmail.com – I suspect, if not a cricket score, the possibility a rugby score in the offing!

Perhaps if I gather together enough Brits together for a Haka I may scare the awful ukembinf@gmail.com into a response to keep it to a rugby score – or perhaps we will indeed reach a cricket score?

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Italy to open Consulate in Odessa soon

April 2, 2013

A very short and sweet entry today.

Yet another diplomatic mission will soon open in Odessa – this time Italian – which will please the good woman if it has the ability to produce Visas, as Italy is a nation that particularly attracts her for reasons of history, architecture, food and of course fashion.

Very good.  That makes half a dozen Consulates opened in Odessa in as many years and leaves Odessa housing close to 20 diplomatic missions.

Naturally the UK isn’t one of them – not even an Honorary Consul, despite an ever growing and vibrant local diplomatic community – but I have come to expect nothing less.

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