Posts Tagged ‘history’


Holodomor remembrance – The path to a museum

November 26, 2016

Of the numerous, and seemingly never ending man made tragedies Ukraine has endured, and continues to endure, Holodomor undoubtedly ranks as among the worst and most inhuman.


In 2007, the Holodomor memorial was supposed to be joined in somber company with a museum.  To the shame of every variation of government since, that museum has still to even see the foundation laid.

Having only last week rightly acknowledged the need to build a monument and museum to the events of 2014, indeed President Poroshenko stated he would become a sponsor thereof and take personal responsibility for its manifestation, the President has declared that the Holodomor Museum has to be built.

He is absolutely right a museum there undoubtedly should be – and one that when visited burns hot and deeply into the consciousness of any and all that visit it.

Exactly a year ago today, the blog humbly suggested a way of permanent, public and unmissable commemoration.  The full entry as follows – “The problem with history, certainly when it comes to numbers, is often visualising the horrific loss of human life certain events cause – particularly those events that are “man-made”.

Most people can visualise a dead person, perhaps several.  Some can, and have seen, dozens at a time, occasionally hundreds.  Very few may have witnessed thousands of dead bodies in one place, but beyond that?

Be it any large war, the Holocaust, or the Holodomor, visualising millions and millions of dead is simply beyond comprehension.  The monuments we erect to commemorate such hideous outcomes are often simple and understated, and deliberately so out of somberness, respect and humility – but are therefore mostly forgotten until specific State appointed days of remembrance fall upon the societal calendar.

For how can there be a a monument of suitable scale that is commensurate to the sacrifices, or sacrificed?  How also to bring about remembrance in a more continuous subconsciousness within today’s society outside of the allotted day or hour?

There are museums of course, and libraries and the Internet – all accessible to many, but generally they too fail to adequately impress the sheer number of deaths involved in a manner that makes it digestible and comprehensible with any sense of lasting mental impression.


As these events travel further back in time with each and every passing hour, clearly justice becomes more and more symbolic – as perpetrators and survivors alike reach the natural ending of their days without their day in court.  Justice it seems, is that those who died and/or survived be not forgotten – at least for one day in the year.

It is of course possible to begin belated investigations and perhaps even reach judicial outcomes to cover the events of the past to some degree, and thus to provide some sense of finding of guilt.  If with regard to the Holodomor, Ukraine was to follow the lead of Germany in its ruling against Demjanjuk, a guard at Sobibor, who was found guilty not of any specific act himself, but being part of the “extermination machinery“, then it follows perhaps that there be room to find guilt of Joseph Stalin, the leadership of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the time etc. The question that arises is how far throughout that murderous and repressive apparatus does one go, and/or what parts of the institutions are targeted (apart from the obvious like the political leadership and the NKVD)?

Thus far, with regard to the Holodomor about 800,000 victims have been positively identified amongst figures that range from 3 to 7 million.  No doubt yet more will eventually be identified, and eventually there will be a far more accurate, although never precise, figure reached regarding the actual death toll.

If the names of these known Holodomor victims were individually placed on the average sized cobble stone that makes up Deribasovskaya, the main pedestrian street in central Odessa, it would more than re-cobble the entire street – which thus returns the reader back to the issue of visualising the horrendous and horrific loss of life.

Initially in Germany, and then latterly across Europe, there is something called the Stolpersteine.  It is a project where commemorative stones are laid outside the last known addresses of Jewish victims prior to their deportation (and in most cases extermination).  There are tens of thousands of such stones laid across Europe, outside tens of thousands of addresses throughout Europe.  They are a daily reminder to those now living at the address and/or walking along that street of the dark past it once witnessed – rather than a statue in a pleasantly manicured public space seldom visited.

Imagine, however, all those Stolpersteine laid together along a single public street.

If it is not the graphic images of WWI and WWII in museums or on TV that seem to leave the greatest impact, but when visiting, it is the sight of miles upon miles of headstones in cemeteries across Flanders, Artois and beyond that do, what societal impact would a major Ukrainian street cobbled/paved with individual names of those victims of the Holodomor have on an every day, rather than annual, basis?

Perhaps one day Ukraine will embark upon its own Stolpersteine project and place individual stones outside the addresses of all those known victims of the Holodomor as a daily reminder for those that walk there – or perhaps it will make a bold statement of remembrance where the name of each victim literally stretches from one end of the street to the other.  With 800,000 identified victims from millions, it will have to be a very long street, and rather than being a street with no name, it would be a street of a million names (and more).  Perhaps the boldest act is more appropriate for the victims who will never see justice?  A matter for the authorities (if they ever think of it).”

As a variation upon this Stolpersteine theme, perhaps the pathways within grounds of any new museum could be formed of a paving block with the name of each identified victim?  Or even perhaps the floor within the museum itself?

Something for the architects to consider?

It would be unique and provide a human sense of the scale of this crime for any that walk thereon or therein.


Memorials and museums – 3 years on (Epitaphs)

November 21, 2016

Upon the third anniversary of the commencing of EuroMaidan/Revolution of Dignity, President Poroshenko announced a memorial and museum to be housed on the Avenue of the Heavenly Hundred (formerly Institutska) in Kyiv.

Quite rightly .

He stated “A memorial to the heroes of the “Heavenly Hundred” not only marks the fact of its existence, but the location should remind all about the high price that people paid for Ukrainian independence, freedom and democracy.

Unquestionably.  Not only to act as a solemn commemorative reminder, but also to act as a motivational spur to prevent any backsliding both now and in the future.

As such President Poroshenko announced a charitable foundation to raise the funds, for which he would take personal responsibility and of which he would be a sponsor, going on to state that “the museum should be modern, should look to the future, to be formed from the best international and Ukrainian artists.”


Well OK.  If the current difficulties regarding land ownership upon which memorial and museum will be placed are resolved, if possible it should perhaps be so orientated as to face “West” if ticking all possible symbolic boxes?

Whatever – the result will have to strive to do justice to what was in effect the birth of a modern Ukraine (despite the current complications following that birth).

There will naturally be those reminded of previous charitable foundations of former Ukrainian presidents that delivered little more than scandal and allegations (Yushchenko and his Ukraine 3000 foundation for example).  There will be those that find it somewhat borderline Pinchuk-esque.  There will also be those that consider it politically expedient populism at a time when opinion polls continue to desert those currently in power.

Well may be so,, but there is no doubt that a permanent and poignant public reminder is required.

However three years on from the beginning of Euromaidan/Revolution of Dignity, perhaps the priority over monuments and museums remains justice?

Justice via due process for what occurred during that time is surely first and foremost that owed, and is definitely a rightful and fitting legacy beyond any honorary construction or artistic imortalisation.  Particularly when it appears to far too many that Ukraine progresses inch by inch in spite of, and not because of, those that politically inherited what became a nation aware of, reunited with, and consolidated within its identity.

Of course monuments, museums and justice are all rightfully due to those that forever changed the Ukrainian view of Ukraine and for Ukraine – but does not any values based (ultimate) sacrifice not demand of those values when they prevail to provide justice first (and commemoration thereafter)?

The question for the reader therefore, which will come first – due process and justice, or monuments and museums?  It would be the saddest of epitaphs for Ukraine to deliver a museum and monument before justice.


Goodbye to the Masonic House Odessa

November 10, 2016

On Prince Street in Odessa sits the ruins of the building that was once the Russian Technical Society – known locally as the Masonic House – whether or not freemasonry actually occurred on the premises or not.


It was once a very imposing and architecturally significant building in Odessa – but like so many old and historic buildings in Odessa is has been allowed to decay.

Nevertheless, the building was put up for auction and a company called Art Building Group, part of Incor Group bought the land and building for $1.6 million with the intention of replicating the building exactly both internally and externally – as restoration was deemed impossible following full inspection.

Inkor Group is owned by Ruslan Tarpan, a man that was responsible for the refurbishment of Ekaterinaskaya Ploshad in its entirety a number of years ago returning it to being of the most photogenic spots in the very centre of  Odessa, and the location in which the head office of Incor Group is located.


(To be precise Incor Group is to be found within the old 19th century mayoral offices of Georgi Mazari – a man of arguably equal historical standing to the Duke of Richelieu with regard to the development of the city .)

Incor Group has a reputation for two distinct types of work.  Quality engineering projects and architectural reconstruction of historic buildings – both of which it does very well, and the latter with no historic detail overlooked.

It has to be said that Ruslan Tarpan does not have the best reputation which can be partly attributed/expected following a 6 year tenure in City Hall on the finance committee during Ukraine’s “Orange” period.

How much of that reputation is deserved and how much is simply attributed is rather subjective in the absence of sufficient hard evidence in the public realm.  Regardless he is also most certainly a “no nonsense” individual too.  Without doubt he has the ability to upset some of a more meek disposition or who display an inability to make timely decisions.  Fools are simply not suffered.

Full disclosure – Ruslan Tarpan is known to this blog.

Having made that disclosure it is a fact to which this blog bears witness that when Incor Group takes on a project of historical importance there is an incredible amount of investigative work, rummaging through the old achieves (that survived the centuries through a turn of fate when they were evacuated during WWII, whilst the Soviet documents were destroyed) the collection and collation of photographic and cinematographic evidence wherever it can be found.

Hundreds of hours are spent investigating any building that Mr Tarpan decides to refurbish or replicate before a decision to do the work is even entertained – and with so many old building in Odessa crumbling due to continued neglect.  There is also the matter of purchasing what can be saved and prioritising those purchases.

For those that get to meet him, his is capable of reciting the entire history of every historic building his company has refurbished or painstakingly replicated – and of those buildings he would like to.


Along with the House Russov in the city centre, the Masonic House was also identified as for sale, and of sufficient historic importance to interest Mr Tarpan.  (To be blunt both require replication and are beyond restoration.  Nevertheless all the research for diligent replication for both has been done.)

However, despite winning the auction for Masonic House in 2015, it will not be painstakingly replicated.  Former Governor Saakashvili refused to complete the necessary bureaucracy to transfer ownership of the property, making various statements regarding the auction price being too long and claims that a high rise would be built instead.

Incor doesn’t build high rise and  it was the third attempt to auction the building, the previous two auction attempts getting no interest whatsoever.

Whatever the reason for the former-Governor’s objections and obstructionism, there was no way a high rise would be built in place of the Masonic House by Mr Tarpan.  Whatever his faults, he cares passionately about history and the architectural preservation of the city centre – as his historical work evidences.

Whilst the former Governor was delaying the finalising of the purchase – lightening struck.


– collapsing what was left of the roof and turning large parts of the building to rubble.

Nevertheless there was no change in the position of Art Building Group/Incor/Mr Tarpan.  Indeed attempts were made through the courts to enforce the honouring of the auction outcome.  All such efforts have failed.

As the former Governor leaves Odessa, Art Building Group, Incor and Ruslan Tarpan now walk away from the rubble of the Masonic House.

The city still owns the rubble.

Perhaps another auction at some point will be held, perhaps not.  What seems fairly evident however, is that a building of historical interest in Odessa will not longer be replicated in excruciating detail as it otherwise would have been.

So Russov House will be the city centre gain at the loss of the Masonic House?

Well it could be if only the documentation and surrounding bureaucracy relating to that purchase was also not being repeatedly delayed and effectively blocked  – while in the meantime that building also moves beyond simple ruin and heads progressively toward a major public safety hazard.

One of the most striking things that Ruslan Tarpan has said in the presence of this blog, and which has remained flagged within the tired and muddled brain, is that the 10 big property families of Odessa, and businessmen like himself, all love their city and are all very well aware of their limitations before the public, as ultimately all want to live and eventually die in Odessa – and not be run out by a baying mob.

Seemingly even the self-appointed aristocracy of Odessa differs little from that of the old bloodlines when it comes to leaving a legacy for their future generations that does not involve exile.

Whatever the case, if and when the blog meets with Mr Tarpan again, perhaps there will be some progress toward his saving Russov House from a Masonic fate.  If so, an update regarding the saving of Russov House will appear.


In a contested history is there room for inclusive commemoration?

July 23, 2016

Ukrainian history is a very sensitive and contested subject – both internally and externally of Ukraine.

Unsurprising when the nation, or parts of the nation, have at various times, and sometimes simultaneously, been ruled by external powers more often than not at a very bloody and detrimental cost to the people of Ukraine.

Very few, if any major or significant grim incidents within its past are without contesting points of view – particularly when academic historical research is cast aside and emotion is played expertly to further political interests.

There are also issues relating to the difference between nationalism and patriotism that many seem unable or unwilling to recognise that lead to less than objective consideration.

To rake over all the atrocities that Ukraine has suffered, including some self-inflicted to one degree or another, is not the theme of this entry.  What matters is that Ukraine has yet to honestly confront its history and recognise the wrongs done to it, and also the wrongs it too has committed.  If and when it does, how will the nation commemorate the good, the bad, and the ugly?

What seems a long time ago, this blog wrote an entry pondering a Stolpersteine styled project for the identified Holodomor victims.  It was of course a thought exercise rather than an expectation that it would ever be seriously considered – nevertheless it was an entry that seemed to capture the imagination  of many within social media causing a significant spike in the readership figures compared to other entries.

Whether or not, publicly or privately a reader considers Holodomor genocide or not, whether or not a reader recognises Volhynia as genocide as Poland has done in the last few days, whether or not a reader recognises the mass extermination of the Odessan Jewry by the Romanians part of a larger genocide, whether or not a reader recognises the mass deportation of the Tatar from Crimea under Stalin as ethnic cleansing, and whether or not a reader recognises the massive losses of WWII suffered by Ukraine at the hands of both Hitler and Stalin, (to name fairly contemporary examples), there are incontestable commonalities to all of those events.

All occurred and continues to occur within the current internationally recognised territory of Ukraine, and they all had victims – thousands and thousands of victims at the lower end of the scale, and millions upon millions at the upper end of that truly awful gradation.

Indeed a reader may ponder further where within the “captured State” that was and is Ukraine since independence, where the victims end?  For example, are not the thousands upon thousands of Ukrainians that die unnecessarily due to poor medial care and lack of medicines not victims of the various elites that continually raped and pillaged the health budget for their personal enrichment to the tune of $ millions and millions?

As Ukraine today fights the Kremlin in its east, victims continue to mount among the civilian communities on either side of the “contact line” and fatalities among the military ranks continue on a daily basis.

All historical incidents have naturally resulted in numerous monuments, large and small as time has moves on – with many of these monuments as contested as the incidents that are responsible for their being.

Clearly the removal of any such contested monuments to contested memory events will be contested – as few would contest.

Odessa has more than 2000 monuments (including one to Steve Jobs and one to Darth Vader) and yet an empirical perception is that there are very few to commemorate victims, or indeed “the fallen”, in comparison to “victory”.

Perhaps a little odd for a nation that has so often been the victim – even if on occasion simultaneously having been on the victorious side.


With a contested history around many a corner if and when Ukraine honestly, humbly and bravely addresses its past, and perhaps an equally contested future to which monuments will yet be built, how then to honestly, somberly and inclusively address the issue of monuments around which future generations, whatever their personal views and/or emotional bias will prove to be, will be able to commemorate without creating internal moral issues that fester, but rather creating a new holistic identity capable of managing and tolerating differing historical views ?

Can the answer be as simple as the creation of future monuments to “victims” – all victims – however and whomever those commemorating define a “victim” within their own moral system?  Similarly, can all monuments to “the fallen” – to all those who have “fallen”, whenever and where ever they fell – be a solution, however and whomever those commemorating decide to categorise “the fallen”?

Is that perhaps just too bland, or too elastic, or too inclusive to have any meaning at all for those that would commemorate?

A reader may of course consider this a small detail in light of the enormous issues and challenges currently facing Ukraine – and certainly not one that would seem a priority – but when attempting to create a Ukrainian nation of a new cloth, the stitching can be just as important as the pattern.


Odessa Court refuses to satisfy City Council regarding mass events

April 27, 2016

It is not often – or certainly not often enough – that the courts of Odessa fail to satisfy the requests/petitions of City Hall.

Indeed much of the local constituency would perceive the courts of Odessa as being in cahoots with, or at the very least tacitly approving (by way of inaction) many acts of City Hall that would appear to breach the of City Ordnance to which it is meant to comply.

As stated in yesterday‘s entry. there is the possibility of some rather tense moments in Odessa over the coming weeks – the 2nd anniversary of the 2nd May tragedy, the 9th May Victory day events, and the first anniversary of Governor Saakashvili’s appointment.

All of these dates have the potential for mass gatherings and perhaps spontaneous, or agent provocateur instigated, or pre-planned violence, when considering the purely politically and artificially created atmosphere of complete intolerance among the local political class in recent weeks.

The “old guard” is clearly pushing back – Messrs Kivalov and Skoryk are pushing their agenda.  Anton Kisse in the south-west of the Oblast is making “Bessarabian” noises (again).  Mayor Trukhanov is under the Panama Papers cosh, Governor Saakashvili will face anniversary questions of accomplishments (or not), and the persistent mention of both Ihor Kolomoisky and Alexander Angert continues in the local political and underworld circles with regard to continued disservices to the well-being of the city (and region).  This notwithstanding continuing societal discontent over issues such as the perceived lack of rule of law and failure to tackle corruption within the local and national elite.

Considering these dates are upon the immediate horizon, City Hall petitioned the courts of Odessa to ban mass events from 1st – 10th May at Kulikovo Field.

Kulikovo Field, adjacent to the city centre railway station, has traditionally been the location for 9th May Victory Day military parades, and is also the location of Union House, the scene of several shootings and the fire that claimed so many lives in 2014.

City Hall claimed that allowing mass gatherings would “draw the attention of a large number of radical parties with an opposing civil position.”

Perhaps so.  Certainly a legitimate concern for those governing the city, and clearly a symbolic and tragic location.  It is to be duly noted that this was the only location that City Hall sought to ban mass gatherings between the dates identified.

The petition prima facie sought to prevent the opportunity for large scale disorder by preemptively banning large organised gatherings at Kulikovo Field, vis a vis the right of society to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of speech.

Such decisions are never particularly easy for any authority, albeit in a democracy the default position of a court should lean toward the fundamental rights of the constituency.  The case to curtail such rights must necessarily have a particularly high threshold.  Existing human rights outweighing the potential for human wrongs and all that.

(Reader’s will duly note that democracy and rule of law, and indeed the independence of the courts in Ukraine, can be perceived as somewhat subjective to be charitable.)


The outcome was that the court in Odessa refused to satisfy the City Hall petition to ban mass events at Kulikovo Field.  The court stated that the City Hall arguments were simply not convincing as only one NGO had notified City Hall of its intention to carry out activities on Kulikovo Field during the period 1st – 10th May.

The NGO that notified City Hall of its intentions at Kulikovo Field was AutoMaidan Odessa, who planned to carry out “military/patriotic education of the youth” and familiarising “the youth” with MMGs (weaponry operation, size, weights etc) including their use and the use of pyrotechnics.

Quite rightly, the court banned the use of MMGs and pyrotechnics during the “military/patriotic education of the youth“, but not the NGO from holding its activities on Kulikovo Field.  It now falls to the police to insure that ban is robustly and uncompromisingly enforced.  (The lack of enforced court rulings across Ukraine is a significant problem – if a case gets to court at all.)

This raises the question of whether those that uphold the rule of law feel able to adequately provide for the safety of the local constituency – or not – when considering the risk of significant public disorder.  A reader may question what input, if any, the police and/or the SBU had in this City Hall petition to the court, and/or what evidence these institutions gave at the court hearing – if any.

All of that said, the vast majority of the local constituency will not be engaging in any AutoMaidan Odessa activities at Kulikovo Field, no differently from the vast majority of the local constituency not partaking in the tragic events of 2nd May 2014.  Indeed the vast majority of the local constituency have not attended any of the numerous 9th May military victory parades at Kulikovo Field of years past either.

It is therefore perhaps not the only the local constituency that City Hall fears when it states Kulikovo Field will “draw the attention of a large number of radical parties with an opposing civil position”.  Indeed, few would be surprised if “concerned citizens” (of various persuasions) external of Odessa were to arrive to “show their support” (to whomever).

Such non-local actors may decide it entirely unnecessary to inform City Hall of their attendance at Kulikova Field of course.  Ergo it may be the case that other organisations may be present.

What, if any, input from the SBU and/or police was given to the court with regard to intelligence is unknown.  The court can only rule upon the evidence and arguments presented.

If 2015 was an indication of what is ahead on these sensitive dates in 2016, then the court decision will certainly prove to be the right one.  That said, 2015 did not see the local political class so openly manipulating events and forcefully pushing their own personal agendas in such a reckless manner – the tragic events of 2014 however, did.

A few days of politically soothing rhetoric, a (perhaps unfortunately temporary) changing of modus operandi for some, and unambiguous stern words behind the curtain would seem in order to aid the court in its decision ultimately proving to be justified by events (or lack thereof) in the weeks ahead, rather than arguments presented upon which after due deliberation, it has now ruled.


KIIS opinion polls and the “Secret Speech” anniversary

March 9, 2016

A recent KIIS opinion survey regarding the perception of Joseph Stalin as a “great leader” (or not) among the Ukrainian constituency has just been released.

This opinion poll presumably timed to coincide with the anniversary of Stalin’s death on 5th March – notwithstanding being a subtle litmus test for the extent of seepage into Ukraine from the persistent rehabilitation and legislated nostalgia to which the unfortunate Russian public are currently being bombarded.

The results are to be quite blunt, unsurprising, with the anticipated geographical, demographic, income and educational expectations being realised.

For those that do not want to click on the link and/or wade through the Cyrillic text, 23% of the Ukrainian nation believe he was a “great leader” – that figure greatly enhanced by the mostly eastern residing 50-somethings (and older) under-educated section of the population.

For the record, though not participating in the poll, the blog would stand robustly with the 70% of the nation in stating that “Stalin – a cruel, inhuman tyrant, guilty of the destruction of millions of innocent people”, and would struggle to find much wisdom in his rule either.

As for the remainder of those polled who must somehow find him far less odious, perhaps even rather cuddly, nice, and simply misunderstood (especially by westerners), a reader cannot but ponder whether the worst kept of secret Soviet oratory, Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech“, is simply willful ignorance upon their part.


Although the speech was not officially published in full until 1989 within the USSR, it was hardly a secret.  Western intelligence services and the Communist public alike were all well aware of its contents very soon after it was delivered in 1956.  How else could the “Khrushchev thaw” occur without its pre-framing by way of the “Secret Speech”?

Indeed, the “Secret Speech” saw it’s 60th anniversary on 22/23 February this year, and perhaps considering the on-going rehabilitation and attempts at legislated nostalgia relating to Stalin currently underway in Russia, maybe the 60th anniversary of that speech should have received something of a revival – (perhaps “Lenin’s Testament” too depending upon the level of credence one gives to the Lenin Testament authenticity) – by those that would counter this Stalin rehab effort.

The “Secret Speech”, after all, is hardly a glowing reference for Stalin’s accomplishments – certainly from WWII onward.  It is a political damnation of Stalin as it was written to be (albeit there is little mention of his actions and atrocities pre-1934, so perhaps Khrushchev agreed with Stalin’s pre-1934 policies and atrocities?).

The speech also recognises and warns (repeatedly) of the “cult of personality” – and that obviously has some resonance within today’s Russia too.

Perhaps in failing to “re-up” the “Secret Speech” on its 60th anniversary, it was an opportunity missed to take a historical swipe at two Kremlin figures in one go?

Whatever the case, the KIIS opinion survey has offered no surprises – other than the entire world seems to have forgotten the 60th anniversary of the “Secret Speech”, a speech that was actually a very important event at the time.


A rare public word of thanks for a gathering of minds

October 5, 2015

As regular readers will have noticed, there have been no entries at the blog for the past few days owing to your author being in Gdansk at a gathering of some exceptionally sharp minds (your author naturally excluded from that category).

Being fortunate to have the time to attend many such events when invitations are received should your author choose, few words of thanks and even fewer words relating to what was said (Chatham House Rule notwithstanding) following such gatherings have ever been written here.  It is perhaps time to break that unwritten rule and write a few words of genuine appreciation regarding the quality of the event in Gdansk.

Firstly it is right to thank the City of Gdansk for its support for an extremely high quality gathering in what can only be described as a spectacular and atmospheric historical venue.  The type of venue that adds an additional soberness and sharpening of the mind by default.

Secondly, there is a specific need to thank all panelists and moderators, and especially those who listened so attentively to the panel upon which your author sat and opined for 2 hours – and even more so for some very sharp and insightful comments and discussion.

Therefore, and in no particular order, a name check for one of the most erudite, intellectually challenging and stimulating groups it has been your author’s pleasure to mingle with for a very long time – Adamski Lukasz, Anton Barbashin, Fabian Burkhardt, Marek Cichocki, Slawomir Debski, Adam Eberhardt, Geir Flikke, Evgeny Gontmakher, Jonas Gratz, Olga Irisova, Maria Issaeva, Leszek Jesien, Michal Koran, Kadri Liik, John Lough, Lauri Malksoo, Nikolay Petrov, Hans Joachim Spanger, Rafal Tarnogorski, Sergey Utkin and Ernest Wyciszkiewicz – a heart felt thanks for a weekend where lazy thinking was banished and insightful comment was the branding of the entire event both on and off the official clock.


Indeed thanks to all at The Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding who work in the boiler room behind the scenes and made the event run seamlessly.

Lastly many thanks for the invitations to similar events over the coming months in Warsaw, Prague and London being hosted by other equally erudite organisations which appear to present an equally challenging arena.

Before normal service resumes tomorrow with matters Ukrainian, a special note of recognition to  Slawomir Debski who was an extremely engaging and considerate host.

Bravo to all, a very enjoyable and intellectually stimulating weekend  – how rare it is to leave such a gathering and want to keep all the business cards exchanged (rather than throw most of them away)!


Mitigating a PR fumble in the Saakashvili camp – Maria Gaidar

August 8, 2015

Some weeks ago an entry was published relating to the persona non grata of the then Russian Consular General in Odessa, and the appointment of then Russian citizen, Russian opposition politician Maria Gaidar within the Governor Saakashvili “top table” administration.

Within that entry the following paragraph was quite prophetic, and not to say problematic for Ms Gaidar:  “The next appointment will be a Russian – or at least was, and possibly still is, but is to apparently be a holder of Ukrainian citizenship. Her name of Maria Gaidar. Her role will relate to social issues in the oblast. (Would a young well known Russian politician give up her citizenship when she may return in the post-Putin epoch?)”


To be entirely blunt, her PR debut was something of a fumble – the biggest of the Saakashvili administration thus far.

Asked pointed, and what should have been entirely expected, questions by the media of Odessa regarding the Kremlin war in eastern Ukraine, Ms Gaidar attempted to avoid calling a spade a spade, and decided to use what in the current circumstances is perceived as unwelcome “Kremlin-esque” terminology along the lines of “brotherly people’s/nations”.

She further went on to fumble the question of her citizenship – whether she would or would not take Ukrainian citizenship, and whether she would or would not renounce her Russian citizenship.

Indeed she went so far as to say that as Ukrainian law prevents dual citizenship and that such an appointment would require Ukrainian citizenship, she would happily work as an “advisor” to Governor Saakashvili – either paid or unpaid.

The announcement of her appointment was not received well in Russia either.  Within days, a Bill was drafted for Duma consideration to give the State the ability to strip (undesirable) Russian citizens of citizenship under certain circumstances.  Needless to say her circumstances would fit the draft Bill.

Clearly any thoughts Ms Gaidar had of riding dual horses that are undoubtedly galloping in entirely different directions was not going to work – and the draft Bill for Duma consideration may well have removed her Russian citizenship having made the political decision to join the Saakashvili administration in Odessa.  Indeed, the decision may have been made to remove her citizenship even if she had changed her mind and abandoned the Saakashvili administration entirely.

Over the past few weeks, Ms Gaidar has seemingly realised that any political future in Russia is dead for the foreseeable future – if not, in all probability, for good.  She gradually began to make statements far more definitive than her initial attempt at fudging events in the east of the nation and also her future citizenship.

Thus it came to pass last week, that she was granted and accepted Ukrainian citizenship making her free to officially take the position offered to her within the “top table” Saakashvili administration in Odessa – this of course if she had renounced her Russian citizenship in accordance with Ukrainian law.

The matter of her Russian citizenship has now been addressed, having watched an interview with her on First City TV channel (a local Odessa channel), during which she states she has officially (and in writing) renounced her Russian citizenship.

That, as they say, is that – or is it?

Her move has stolen any political capital from any Duma engineered stripping of citizenship.  There are no longer political or PR points to score for The Kremlin by way of citizenship manipulation surrounding her.

However. part of the Russian “political aristocracy” (or as close as it comes considering her heritage) has left the fold.  Some form of Kremlin retaliation seems certain.  Her actions cannot (and undoubtedly will not) be allowed to pass without repercussions.

She is now a foreign citizen, therefore any involvement or funding in her charity Sotsialny Zapros, directly, indirectly, inferred (or simply invented) will likely see it branded as a “foreign agent” in fairly short order.  Next perhaps, given the Kremlin penchant for manipulating history, perhaps her politically aristocratic heritage (in a Russian sense) will be next to be publicly deformed – and defamed.

What ramifications there will be, if any, amongst the beleaguered, battered and ineffectual Russian political opposition remains to be seen.

The question now perhaps, is what is her political future in Odessa and more broadly Ukraine?

She will have to be effective, and be seen to be effective, to mitigate the initial PR fumble some weeks ago.

What happens to her political future in a post-Saakashvili Odessa, and/or a post-Poroshenko Ukraine having chosen the horse (or perhaps having been forced upon a single horse) to ride?

Time, as it always does, will tell.

%d bloggers like this: