Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

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Good business, bad politics. Tigipko

January 2, 2017

Having written about Viktor Pinchuk in the previous entry, this post concentrates on another Dnipro Clan oligarch and long time acquaintance, Sergei Tigipko, who has been spending money recently.

tig

Mr Tigipko it has to be said is an interesting soul whose business activities are somewhat difficult to keep an all-seeing eye upon.

Perhaps he is fated to be that way, for ever since birth Mr Tigipko has not been what he appears to be.  Mr Tigipko was actually born on 13th February 1960 – officially, but in fact he was born in the early hours of 14th February.  Due to a bureaucratic mix up between medical night shift and morning shift workers the wrong date was officially recorded.  It is claimed, similar to Queen Elizabeth II, he therefore has two birthdays, an official one and a real one.

Fair enough – surely all oligarchs can afford to have two birthdays.

In the late 1970’s the family moved from Moldova to Odessa and Mr Tigipko then headed to Dnepropetrovsk and the Metallurgy Institute where (perhaps with the help of a well placed step-father) he became a member of the Komsomol Committee.  In true Marxist-Leninist adherence he busied himself with organising discos and supplying the evils of western decadence – Pepsi.  It appears that a disco-loving Ihor Kolomoisky was a regular and that they became good friends.

(As an aside Mr Tigipko, or more precisely Mrs Tigipko, retain their interest in Odessa in an act philanthropy annually organising and sponsoring the Odessa International Film Festival – which is actually a very good event.)

Indeed Mr Tigipko has had good fortune in meeting business acquaintances, whilst suffering an equally poor fortune in the world of politics.

A few years of questionable military service and teaching intervene before Mr Tigipko lands the role of chief of psyops/reflexive control when he became the Second Secretary of the (Communist) party and Komsomol committees in Dnipro.  Propaganda and agitation commonly being the role of the Second Secretary – a role he was destined to fail at with the date being 1989 and the implosion of the Soviet system only 2 years away.

Nevertheless, having already forged a friendship with Ihor Kolomoisky, it is within the regional Komsomol committee he also meets Olexandr Turchynov (the current head of the Ukrainian national security apparatus and once upon a time, an ardent Tymoshenko ally).

When the Soviet nonsense all eventually crashed, Mr Tigipko had become First Secretary and in charge of the regional Komsomol cash box.  He was also by then known to Gennady Tymoshenko who was head of ideological manipulation for the Kirov District.  Gennady is the father of Alexander Tymoshenko – the unfortunate husband of Yulia.  Indeed it is rumoured that Mr Tigipko played a role in funding Ms Tymoshenko’s video empire back in the day – presumably with Komsomol cash.  Controlling that cash, he also came to the attention of Dnepro Regional Council Chairman, the infamous Pavel Lazerenko.  He had also made direct acquaintance with (soon to be President) Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Pinchuk.

A reader can now literally see the Dnipro Clan forming.

As the Komsomol system was collapsing Mr Tigipko was swiftly given a senior position within Dnipro Bank – no doubt moving to the position along with the Komsomol regional cash.  (There is no reason to believe that events in Dnipro would be any different than those elsewhere in Ukraine at the time when it comes to moving regional Komsomol cash).

Within a year the bank owners were far from getting along well and Mr Tigipko set up PrivatBank with Ihor Kolomoisky, Gennady Bogolyubov, the late Leonid Miloslavsky and Alexie Martynov.  From 1992 – 97 Mr Tigipko was Chairman of the Board of PrivatBank – although what share holding he had will probably never been known.  What is known is that the initial shareholding was not equal.  How much Komsomol/Dnipro Bank cash was used in the creation of Privat is somewhat unclear – and will undoubtedly remain that way.

Meanwhile Mr Kuchma became President Kuchma and Pavel Lazarenko became Prime Minister – leading to a split within the Dnipro Clan and President Kuchma using Mr Tigipko to keep an eye on the out-sized and out of control criminal appetites of Pavel Lazarenko.  He becomes Vice Prime Minister for Economic Reforms in order to carry out that task.

(This move obviously ruffled feathers and PrivatBank came under scrutiny for laundering money via its Riga branch.  Some things don’t change.)

Whilst in post, Mr Tigipko acted as “roof” for the French cement company Lafarge who then had a few issues with assets in Ukraine.  As Bernadette Chirac (wife of Jacques) then sat on the Lafarge board it is perhaps no surprise that Mr Tigipko was awarded French honours personally by Mrs Chirac in 1997.

By 2000 Mr Tigipko wisely quit as the conflict of interests of those around him in the Kuchma government were in all probability intractable at best and very bad for the health at worst.

By 2001 whatever shares in Privat he had were sold for a figure unknown, and he set up on his own with the TAS brand containing banking, insurance, and numerous other interests held under the usual Cypriot holding company  – which today is a beast of many tentacles – and is in fact the reason for this entry.  (Indeed Mr Tigipko sold one of his banks to Swedbank pre 2008 crisis for $735 million via TAS Overseas Investments (Cyprus)).

If business has been good, politics has not been.

Politically Mr Tigipko did not fare well under Viktor Yushenko and Yulia Tymoshenko.  Having chosen the Kuchma side of the Dnipro Clan split, thus backing Yanukovych in 2004/5 elections, that clearly did not sit well with the new “Orange” president, nor a Prime Minister that chose the Lazarenko side of the Dnipro Clan split.

Further when Yanukovych eventually became president in 2010, despite initially welcoming him into the fold, he very clearly and publicly shafted by Mr Tigipko politically.

Lo, tax avoidance aside, it clearly pays in a business sense to hold your assets offshore and in a different legal jurisdiction in a predatory political environment like Ukraine.  It is simply far easier to defend and retain your assets.

Under the current president Mr Tigipko has kept his head down making no discernible political moves and very few business moves.

However, in the past few months Mr Tigipko appears to be going on a spending spree domestically.  Having recently bought another insurance company and rolled it into his TAS insurance entities, it appears he is now entering the hotel business too.

Not only is he entering the hotel business his seems to be doing getting good deals.  For a mere $10 million Mr Tigipko has bought the Radisson Hotel in Kyiv from the Russian owners who for a long time have desperate to sell.

Now a reader may think that the hotel business in Ukraine is not one where returns will be swift – and they’d be right too.  There are no swift returns with anything to do with hotels in Ukraine.  That said, the price paid for this asset being so low, it is possible he will see a 7 year ROI.

However, it may also be that Mr Tigipko has some insider knowledge regarding the return of licensed gambling in Ukraine and any amended parameters regarding what premises can host casinos – and which can’t.   It may well be that the absolute nonsense proposed a year ago for the return of gambling has now had a more sensible eye cast upon it – or is about to have a more sensible eye take a look.

If so, then the Radisson in Kyiv would have additional potential – and a far swifter ROI.  As Mr Tigipko has a knack for good business and poor politics, then who would be surprised if that will ultimately prove to be the case?

More generally, does Mr Tigipko now think that the bottom has now been reached and that the small economic bounce is likely to continue in an upward trend, so now is the time to buy?

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Romania to spend €43.5 billion on infrastructure – Anybody in Odessa know?

September 15, 2016

Although it becomes wearisome to continually state that Kyiv has to radically improve its relations and communication primarily with Warsaw and Bucharest in the immediate neighbourhood, it is once again stated.

15th September witnessed Romanian Transport Minister Sorin Buse unveil an infrastructure master plan for Romania between now and 2030.  A total of €43.5 billion will be spent on roads, railways, airports, ports etc.

Sorin Buse

Sorin Buse

The reason for this huge investment?  The fact that Romania is consistently losing significant inward investment from EU manufacturers due to poor infrastructure – or at least that is what the EU manufacturers are consistently telling Government Romania.

With regard to the investment into roads and rail specifically, for there is a clear interest insofar as Odessa is concerned, 6800 kilometers of new roads and 5000 kilometers of rail modernisation is planned within Romania.

Most of this new and revamped infrastructure will naturally head from Romania toward neighbouring EU nations in order to remove/mitigate the current hurdles to inward EU manufacturing investment in Romania.

However the political leadership in Odessa (and/or Ukraine) may be wise to pay a visit to their Romanian counterparts (something they simply do not do enough of anyway) considering the previously mentioned Odessa-Reni road that is meant to swiftly link Ukraine to Romania, and Odessa ultimately to Bucharest, not withstanding plans to rehabilitate dilapidated rail links between Odessa and Chisinau, ultimately leading to Bucharest and Sophia.

First and foremost, do these routes still feature in the Romanian grand plan for its infrastructure following this announcement?

Does the Romanian grand plan open up any other opportunities as far as Odessa (and Ukraine) is concerned?  Not only road and rail, but ports, airports etc?  Cheap commercial flights?  Air cargo?  Are any of the ports to be modernised situated on the Danube Delta?

In short are there any feasible “bolt on” infrastructure projects that can reasonably be developed on a similar timescale in the Odessa side of the border?

Did anybody in Odessa or Ukraine know about the small matter of a €43.5 billion Romanian infrastructure grand plan next door?

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Eurovision goes to Kyiv – Political warfare will return to Odessa

September 9, 2016

A few weeks ago an entry appeared noting the facade of political comradery between Mayor Trukhanov and Governor Saakashvili and their attempt to present a united and stable political front when wooing decision makers to award the Eurovision contest to Odessa.

The undeclared, but nevertheless mutual feeling of both men was that after Odessa missed out on the European football championships in 2012 (despite building a brand new stadium) meant that Odessa was owed the hosting rights to a large international event.

The fact that the Chermomoretz stadium is situated in Park Shevchenko with a single access road and therefore simply failed to meet the minimum safety demands of the footballing authorities of two access/egress roads is not a particularly well known.  That it is not well known therefore means it is not understood as a reason why Odessa was refused Euro 2012 so far as the local constituency is concerned.

(It is even less known that (former Mayor) Eduard Gurvitz proposed creating tunnel to and from the stadium under Shevchenko Park to address the access/egress issue – a proposal that went nowhere.)

Whether or not the Eurovision organisers also require two entry/egress routes from any hosting venue is beyond the knowledge of this blog – maybe they do, maybe they don’t.  Nevertheless the only venue in Odessa large enough to host tens of thousands of “Eurovisioners”, TV crews, presenters, commentators etc is the Chernomoretz stadium – which is also open air and would therefore require a roof to insure those attending remain dry during early May.

New Odessa airport terminal

New Odessa airport terminal

The new airport terminal, which has taken years to get to its existing state, is months from completion even if the will and cash is found to complete it – and it is a terminal without any runway dedicated or connected to it.  The runway that exists naturally leads directly to the existing terminal (which will apparently eventually be “mothballed”).

Indeed when Governor Saakashvili first arrived in Odessa, one of the first things he muted was opening an entirely new Odessa airport, far from the existing one.  It is a prospect that has not entirely died a death with US interest in an entirely new air hub.  There is indeed a case for a passenger and freight air hub to be made.

That the city would have coped with accommodation demands, and found thousands of English speaking volunteers, done “enough” for disabled ablutions and access etc is not in doubt.  It caters for a million and more tourists each year and therefore it would have coped – and coped fairly well with all such matters if it had been successful.  The political and societal will existed in sufficient quantity to insure success.

9th September witnessed the decision makers award the hosting rights to Kyiv – a city that has previously hosted Eurovision in 2005.  The committee charged with making the decision voted 19 in favour of Kyiv and 2 for Odessa.  A very clear and unambiguous vote.  No doubt finances and (existing/lack of) infrastructure had much to do with the outcome.

The outcome of the decision will have repercussions of course.

As the vast majority of people from Odessa are oblivious as to why the city was denied the 2012 football tournament, this will appear to be yet another snub by Kyiv.  No more and no less.

It will portray, not only to those in Odessa but also all provinces, that major international events always go to Kyiv and thus decentralisation is something that is a selective issue (and in truth it is, as the genuine reasons Odessa did not get Euro 2012 display).  By extension it will give the perception that lacking infrastructure and/or infrastructure development will never arrive in the provinces when there is no apparent desire or incentive to take the world beyond Kyiv (or the war in Donbas) as far as central authorities are concerned.

There is now no need for Governor Saakashvili or Mayor Trukhanov to continue with their facade of political unity.  The open political warfare that saw a Eurovision inspired armistice begin a few weeks ago can now recommence – and undoubtedly will in earnest.

The parliamentarians of Odessa attempting to unseat Governor Saakashvili will actively return to that cause.

The 100 Verkhovna Rada parliamentarians (not one of the sixteen from Odessa) that have signed a resolution to remove Mayor Trukhanov will be joined by yet more colleagues.

In short open political warfare on all fronts both in and toward Odessa can now recommence without the necessary (albeit temporary) truce hosting Eurovision would have brought.

There may soon be a Waterloo moment in Odessa, but it will have nothing to do with Eurovision and everything to do with politics.

Will those that govern have the sense to explain why Eurovision didn’t come to Odessa and attempt to correct public perceptions – or will they do as they did for Euro 2012 and leave faulty perceptions to grow in fertile conspiratorial soil?

Who will emerge victorious from any political Waterloo?

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If music be the food of love – play on!

August 28, 2016

The Bard knew a thing or two about humanity and life’s bemusement and intrigues – as all great writers do, for an acute sense of observation is somewhat key to prose able to retain interest (and with great prose distinctly lacking, it is why this blog will never have readers counted in millions).

Act 1 Scene 1, The Twelfth Night :  (The Duke) “If music be the food of love, play on.  (Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.”)

The issue of Eurovision 2017 and which city will host it remains unresolved, despite a promised announcement on 1st August.  Then another canceled announcement on 24th August.  Time ticks away – and with it preparatory time for whichever city will eventually be announced as host.

That announcements continue to be postponed is not entirely unsurprising when the cynical gene within a reader is well aware that nefarious local governance in Kyiv, Dnipro and Odessa all to eagerly awaits the €15 million that will be allocated to insure the host city does Ukraine proud.  Continued delays in an announcement simply provides the cynical with the impression that horse trading and dirty deeds are occurring behind the political curtain.

odessa

Odessa has a strong case being a cultural and tourist centre already.  It also was a city that was not chosen to host the Euro 2012 football championships unlike Dnipro and Kyiv.  Further Kyiv hosts international ice hockey championships at the same time as Eurovision.  The usually fractious, indeed internally hostile (as outlined in a recent entry about tourism policy – or the lack of it due to the dysfunctional governance) leadership of Odessa feels Ukraine owes it to the city.

Yet it is perhaps the openly fractious and extremely hostile relationships between Mayor and Governor, City and Oblast administrations that is the major reason to doubt the awarding of Eurovision to Odessa.  Indeed in another recent entry outlining the many woes of Mayor Trukhanov (and questioning his grip on City Hall), Odessa landing Eurovision may very well take pressure off, rather than place pressure upon the Mayor – “All of that said, there simply doesn’t “feel” to be any real desire to remove Mayor Trukhanov – yet.  Undoubtedly if Odessa is chosen to host Eurovision, then there will be no desire to do so until after the event anyway whilst the Ukrainian elite put on, and intensely buff, a veneer of respectability to the world peering in.  The ugliness and nefariousness of removing Mayor Trukhanov prior to that event if held in Odessa would be simply unthinkable.”

In short, if Odessa is chosen Mayor Trukhanov will undoubtedly remain unchallenged until after the event in May 2017 – to remove him before would be unthinkable.  Likewise the blatant political maneuvering by the parliamentarians of Odessa to remove Governor Saakashvili would be equally unthinkable.

Considering the outright animosity between Governor and Mayor and their respective administrations, the 28th August witnessed an exceptionally rare sight.  Extraordinary in fact.

The Governor and Mayor called a joint press conference promoting Odessa as the host city of choice for Eurovision 2017 and putting on something approaching political unity over the issue.

mish

It is a significant effort on their part to stand shoulder to shoulder and share the same press conference.  The last time they shared a press conference and stood shoulder to shoulder was on the 30th June 2015 – some 14 months ago.

Naturally since that time they have attended numerous functions as guests – for example at the recent film festival both were present – and sat 6 seats apart.  At a US Sea Breeze event aboard ship, when both attended, one more or less stood at the stern whilst the other at the bow.  The distance between them at all such functions about as far as possible, with ne’er a word spoken between them – the blog knows as the blog receives invitations to these events too and is acquainted with both men.

Official joint press events however, are as rare as rocking horse shit – thus this is a noteworthy event.

Ergo, this joint press conference, standing shoulder to shoulder to champion Odessa is a significant effort on their part to display to the leadership in Kyiv that they are willing to put Odessa first when it comes to hosting Eurovision.

If so there are potentially benefits for all – especially Kyiv, in granting hosting right to Odessa.

For Kyiv, something of a truce between them, no matter how temporary that armistice, would be something of a good result.  With no obvious alternatives to Mayor Trukhanov (without jailing him and keeping him out of any electoral race) there appears little option but to leave him in post – for now.  If Governor Saakashvili is also preoccupied with Eurovision, he may become just busy enough to relieve some pressure upon the current Cabinet through his persistent calls for early Verkhovna Rada elections, and also his consistent calls to throw Mayor Trukhanov out of office.

Also for Kyiv, the political efforts of the parliamentarians of Odessa to oust the Governor would also have to be put on ice.

For Odessa, even limited communication and cooperation between Oblast and City administrations would be a change from the current unhelpful situation – and may lead to cooperation in certain other areas too – at least until Eurovision 2017 concludes.   A window of opportunity, (albeit certainly a limited window until mid-May 2017 when open warfare would resume), with regard to cooperation between City and Oblast administrations presents itself, and despite their serious differences and barbed commentary about each other, both men in their own way would wish to put the best possible shine upon both a city and oblast they actually do care about (in their own ways).

The Bard will probably be proven astute once more, for if Odessa is successful, from the announcement until the Eurovision finale, “If music be the food of love, play on.” 

Thereafter however a return to the current political situation seems assured “Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.”

T’will be interesting to see, should no announcement be forthcoming by 2nd September and the City’s birthday, whether both Governor and Mayor will appear together once again that day to insure the message to Kyiv is understood.

(Then again, it is perhaps at Kyiv’s orchestration that both men appeared together in a show of unity prior to any announcements.)

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Tackling tourism (or its development) – Odessa

August 14, 2016

A few days ago the blog had occasion to informally discuss infrastructure, PPPs and tourism with somebody who works within the Oblast Regional Development, (read infrastructure, PPP/FDI) and Tourism Division within the bureaucratic machinery.

It was an interesting conversation, and of the 30+ unrealised infrastructure and/or PPP projects of the Oblast, at some point in the future the blog will somehow (not necessarily by way of a large block of text) feature the most promising 5.

What swiftly became apparent, and reading between the lines of what was not said, is that there are serious communication issues between the City and Oblast bureaucracies, and also between those individual local governance entities and the relevant central ministries in Kyiv.

The lack of communication between City and Oblast governance comes as no surprise, particularly under the current leadership of both entities which have no liking of each other whatsoever.  This something set to continue, for there is no candidate to replace Mayor Trukhanov in any election that would beat him.  In fact there is no other candidate that is even promoting themselves as an alternative now in order to preposition themselves with even the remotest of chances.  In short, Mayor Trukhanov will have to be disqualified from reelection not to remain Mayor following any forthcoming elections – as poor a Mayor as he may be.  The sacking of Governor Saakashvili is a matter for the President and seems unlikely any time soon despite the on-going attempts of the local political class to unseat him.  Ergo the communication and cooperation impasse remains extremely likely.

That there is also a lack of communication between ministries and oblast is also no surprise – especially so when it comes to tourism.  There are is no shortage of interest in chjasing FDI or developing PPP infrastructure projects from any governance entity, but tourism is clearly something of a limp add-on therefore devoid of serious attention.

Indeed regarding FDI and PPP, albeit such things appear slowly, over the coming two years (should existing, if dysfunctional, stability across the political and economic arenas continue) some (quite surprising) projects will assuredly manifest across the oblast.

Nevertheless, the result is that there is no national, regional, nor city tourism policy worthy of the name – and certainly none that are complementary or part of an overarching vision.

odessa-logo

Suffice to say that the last tourism conference in Odessa truly failed to inspire – whatsoever.

Albeit there seems to be little likelihood of a national tourism policy worthy of the name occurring anytime soon – let alone implemented – should Eurovision 2017 be awarded to Odessa then there may be something akin to an Oblast and City policy that has little choice but to force limited cooperation and implementation under the watchful eye of Kyiv that cannot afford a political farce, large scale corruption of invested funds, or event delivery disaster.

Having written a few lines in the Odessa Review (pages 44-45) regarding Eurovision as generally being an event that is a financial loss for the host city almost every year, it is therefore imperative that it is the Eurovision legacy in the immediate years that follow are capitalised upon in order to balance the books – or eventually turn a profit.  That means infrastructure spending on what those “Euro tourists” expect to find – and which is in fact what all tourists expect to find and yet remains largely absent in Odessa despite it being a city with a reputation for tourism.  Many of these issues are cheap fixes that should have been fixed long ago, and can be/should be fixed now, regardless of whether Eurovision is awarded to Odessa or not.  The Odessa Review article highlights but a few obvious and easily fixed failings (of many not mentioned).

There are governance issues relating to tourism at the best of times – even with effective communication of which Ukraine and Odessa has none.  That there is almost no effective communication within the Oblast and City administrations or those businesses involved in the industry makes development almost impossible.   Coherence and consistency are required.

Governance, both vertical and horizontal dramatically and directly effects tourism.  It is only necessary to think of issues like border security, Visa issuance (for those that need them), the regulation of the aviation industry, the control (or lack of) it has over any attractions such as castles, catacombs,  the maintenance of public beaches,  parks et al.  This notwithstanding infrastructure such as roads, rail, obligations of e-promotion of the region, the regulation public transport, and of on-line/virtual agents etc.  (Almost everything else can and should be left to the micro-tourism industry itself and/or its industry associations).

Is tourism best placed within the Regional Development portfolio as it is in Odessa, where it is a footnote to infrastructure and FDI?  Tourism in Austria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, FYR Macedonia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the USA, falls within the economics ministries (business, industry commerce and trade).  In the UK, Italy, Turkey and Korea it falls within the culture ministry portfolio.

Would placing tourism within the economics ministry produce further and swifter development than within the regional development machinery?  Clearly a dedicated ministry for tourism such as Egypt, Brazil, Israel, Malta etc enjoy is not going to happen – and perhaps rightly, but if Ukraine has no ministry, does that prevent Odessa having a dedicated Tourism department within the oblast machinery, and would there be the justification for such a stand-alone department at the oblast level?

Whatever the case, is a regional development division clearly far more orientated toward infrastructure and investment chasing, the right entity to also be casting a watchful eye over existing tourism?  (Does it monitor standards and safety within?)

How much effort does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs put into promoting tourism in Ukraine?  It currently has far greater priorities and rightly so, but is any notable effort spent?  Are there nations that Ukraine would/should/could specifically target?  The USA?  Canada?  The Gulf States (which are seemingly more and more inclined to look to Ukraine lately)?  Israel? China?  Others?

For those that need a Tourist Visa to enter Ukraine, how easily and how quickly does a Visa appear in a passport?  Can they be bought at the airport on arrival in Ukraine?  If not, why not, and could or should they be?

The role of government will not remain a static one either.  Even if Ukraine maximised its tourism potential, governance will be required to create and insure conditions for market competitors within the sector – but is government even looking that far ahead when doing so little now?

How best to regulate and manage eco-tourism at the stunning Danube Delta?  The answer surely is jointly with Romania for it falls within the territory of both nations.  Who should facilitate such interaction?  At what level?  Who pays and for what?  Is it possible to find a co-operative funding mechanism?  Should tax revenue generated by eco-tourism be redirected back into eco-tourism – if so, in part or in full?

If promoting eco-tourism or the few niche historical tour operators, is that time better spent than promoting sun, sand, sea, water parks?  Or wineries?  Or mountains?  Diversification matters and some tourism niches require more of a promotional lift than others.

Would the creation of a dedicated “Tourism Investment Fund” be of benefit?  For example could it be used to put new facades in place of those crumbling where tourists regularly frequent, or fund specific issues such as the complete lack public disabled toilets?  Or wheelchair access?  Or Latin letter street signage in the tourist areas?  Perhaps it would be a pointless exercise when both the City Council and Ministry of Culture, both legally charged with preventing illegal construction in the historical town centre, and upon historically listed buildings themselves, abjectly fail not only in their responsibilities of prevention, but also enforcing the law and demolishing offending work despite their protests if and when made.

How effectively can internal/domestic tourism be developed?  What do other nations with very developed tourism industries do to generate internal tourism and thus industry growth?  Music festivals, language camps, sporting events, naturism, nudism, art festivals etc?  How to maximise the legacy of such events, encouraging sustainable and repeat domestic tourism?

Simply leaving tourism to fend for itself as currently appears to be the case is clearly failing to bring development – and the “what to do?” and the “how to do it?” in order to change that are questions that have been answered far more successfully by far less developed nations than Ukraine, and in localities far less attractive than Odessa.

There is a general perception that tourism brings Odessa a far higher percentage of regional income than is actually the case, but there is certainly room, and in many cases at very little expense, to bring the reality closer to that perception.  What is lacking is policy – and the leadership that will pursue it.

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Odessa Black Sea Music Fest 2016

June 16, 2016

For those that find themselves in Odessa over the next week and find themselves at a loose end, do consider this event.

Black Sea Music Fest 2016

For any UK concert goers, one of the finest cellists on the planet (according to other cellists) will be playing – Steven Isserlis.  Interestingly, albeit Mr Isserlis is a Brit, his family has ties to Odessa – not that this matters to an audience when one of the world’s greatest living cellists is playing.

As an aside, any “would-be” sponsors of this event for 2017,  do get in touch!

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Hiding your philharmonic under a bushel – Ukrainian Culture Policy

April 13, 2016

In the next 24 hours or so, the never-ending shuffling behind the Ukrainian political curtain will announce a new Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers and (wafer thin) majority coalition.

Following the unveiling, it will not come as any surprise, should Vyacheslav Kyrylenko be removed from his office as Minsiter of Culture, being replaced by somebody like Evgene Nyschuk.

Ministry_of_Culture_(Ukraine)

Indeed those within the Ukrainian cultural sphere subjected to the whims of Mr Kyrylenko will undoubtedly raise a glass (or two) at his departure – particularly those State financed entities that saw budgets cut by 10% for reasons unknown and unexplained.  There is surely no public record of such cuts being a Cabinet of Ministers decision, nor subject to Verkhovna Rada debate.  The cuts therefore, prima facie, the arbitrary decision of the Ministry of Culture for reasons undisclosed.

A reader may therefore ponder, as no doubt many State financed cultural entities do, what happened to that 10% of their budget?

Not even so much as “there’s a war on” was offered as a reason, despite many an inquiry.  There was simply no response, not to those within the world of Ukrainian culture, nor to parliamentarians such as Alexie Goncharenko that wrote officially asking on behalf of the Ukrainian cultural world.  The State budget for  culture is not enormous, but it is not so small that the apparent disappearance of 10% of funding to State financed cultural entities is an insignificant sum either.

It is actually quite difficult to find a State policy for culture.

One exists on paper undoubtedly, but where it manifests elsewhere is actually very difficult to define.  Quite what the policy is actually meant to achieve, how those achievements are measured, and over what time frame, is something of an enigma.

Indeed over the past 25 years, the only real noticeable change in cultural policy came under former President Yushenko, when culture became “folksy”.  There is nothing wrong with that, for it was at least a policy, but as much as the vyshyvanka is a beautiful garment, and valenki keep your feet warm, there is much more to culture and cultural reach than that – particularly if culture is to be used to both inwardly promote nationhood, and simultaneously externally to promote the nation.

In short, it is a cultural policy mistake to hide something like a world class philharmonic orchestra under a bushel (to tease the English idiom), or under-promote artists of truly world class acclaim.

Morris dancing is very quaint, of particular cultural heritage, seen as a little eccentric perhaps, and certainly reaches those that pass by, but does little to promote the national culture outside the local village green, summer fete (or Supermarket car park).  Other cultural events however have a far greater promotional impact both domestically and internationally – so much so fields fill with people to participate in all weathers.

And when it is done well, audience participation and fun with culture occurs – and more to the point it is forever remembered!

How many cellos does it take to sell out a stadium?  2 (if they are performing AC/DC it seems).

Now there is nothing wrong with the Morris dancers above, a part of cultural heritage undoubtedly, but a world class cultural entity (indeed institution) attracts not only world class performers, but a worldwide participation in a nation’s culture.  There is both domestic pride and international PR.

Indeed the little event above in Odessa has not been forgotten, and is actually to be shown at a cultural festival in France this summer as part of a large cultural event – not that the Ukrainian political class will know, nor that the Ukrainian Ambassador to France will attend (without prompting) and not that the Odessa Philharmonic that created this little gem will be attending to play it “live”.

More of live performance issues a few paragraphs from now, suffice to say the Odessa Philharmonic has played the USA, UK, Israel, Hungary, Australia, Spain, Austria and many more.  It would still be doing so now if there were the funds to actually send it and allow it to promote Odessa and Ukraine.

Before leaving the classical music giddy heights of the UK Proms, the Odessa Philharmonic has twice been encouraged to play at The Proms and has not done so because the airfare for 100 people (it is a full philharmonic) and the shipping of 30 cubic meters of instruments could not – or more precisely would not – be funded by Ukraine, or any exceptionally wealthy Ukrainians wishing to try and cleanse their otherwise grubby public personas.

(A reader may find it somewhat unbelievable that Ukraine cannot find $100,000(ish) to project itself at a global cultural pinnacle through what the UK Proms people clearly believe to be a philharmonic orchestra worthy of gracing its stage – especially so when that amount of money is stolen from the budget every other day.  No doubt such invitations will continue – as will the budgetary theft preventing the national promotion at the highest levels.)

Whatever the case, a reader might reasonably expect the promotion of an internationally acknowledged (if entirely domestically dismissed) cultural gem, especially when fighting a war on many fronts with The Kremlin – a war that includes culture.

Instead, in the case of the Odessa Philharmonic, aside from slashed State funding,  it relies on donations and the occasional philanthropic donation (which unsurprisingly is not tax deductible in Ukraine) to put on an annual “Black Sea Music Fest” for the local constituency and tourists present at the time.

A reader may ponder rightly, if such philanthropy is not tax deductible for the Ukrainian oligarchy and odiously/stupidly wealthy, what the motivation for any support actually is.

Kyiv, Lviv, Dnepropetrovsk have similar issues, but Odessa takes centre stage in this entry because it is the home of this blog and thus it knows the “what”, “why” and “wherefores” more intimately.

Perhaps what also makes the Odessa Philharmonic unique is that for as long as this blog has been running (and prior) it shares the Odessa Philharmonic Hall with an entirely illegal casino, remains partially refurbished (having had $50 million stolen from the refurbishment budget some years ago), and was given a gratis refurbishment programme by Russell Johnson, a world famous acoustics expert that described the Odessa Philharmonic Hall as a top class performing venue – notwithstanding it is is conducted by Hobart Earle, a People’s Artist of Ukraine, who as the name suggests is not a Ukrainian.

(There have naturally been numerous promises to complete the refurbishment, the last made by Igor Palitsa when he was Governor, but when a politician’s lips are moving, more often than not the truth is not forthcoming.)

In summer a reader may per chance be walking past the Philharmonic Hall when windows are open (as this blog does), and overhear the Hall Director complain that the Odessa Philharmonic rehearsing from 1000 – 1300 daily means it cannot be hired out to others for money during that time.  It must be quite a bore to run a State funded philharmonic hall, and have a State funded philharmonic orchestra want to rehearse there daily preventing external monetary flows for 3 hours a day.

Needless to say, with such a large amount of refurbishment funds stolen, the refurbishment is half completed – and has remained that way for years, to the point where the refurbishment now requires refurbishment..

Yet it is not only Ukraine that fails to promote its living and breathing international class cultural entities – neither Odessa Oblast nor Odessa City do so either.  It is an issue not unique to Odessa, an example from Dnepropetrovsk a little later.

Indeed, so shocking is the failure to promote the cultural gems within Odessa, it took this blog to get two old friends to do the simplest of things – because the idea had never occurred to them before.

A simple case of asking a regular dining chum Konstantin Rzhepishevsky, Head of the Odessa Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide as gifts a DVD of the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra to the regular visiting dignitaries, and almost 30 resident consulates on the one hand, and asking a far more irregular dining chum, Hobart Earle, the Conductor of the Odessa Philharmonic to give this blog a few dozen copies of the DVD to MFA Odessa to hand out.

These gifts after all, fall far below the financial threshold of refusing or handing over to others per diplomatic guidelines, yet promote the city and the Philharmonic.  Such gifts are very likely to stay with those that received them for many years.

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Before readers email asking to be sent copies of the DVDs, cheap as they are to produce, the shipping cost anywhere outside of Ukraine is entirely prohibitive – although for those in Odessa, for a donation to the Odessa Philharmonic NFP fund, undoubtedly copies can reach you.

For any of those external of Ukraine seeking to support the Odessa Philharmonic, undoubtedly they would receive any and all donations humbly and with sincere gratitude.  The NFP charitable account details as follows:

Beneficiary: Charitable Fund “Muzikant”
Account: 260073221236
Bank: Bank Pivdenny 
Odessa, Ukraine
SWIFT Code: PIVDUA22

Correspondent Bank: The Bank of New York
New York, NY
SWIFT Code: IRVTUS3N
Correspondent account: 890-0319-313

Thus, the MFA Odessa now does its bit to promote Odessa and the cultural icon that is the Philharmonic.  There are naturally other local cultural gems that should also be promoted that won’t be – albeit they are perhaps not as easy to hire, or sell out a concert hall, perform an entirely Polish repertoire in Poland or entirely Jewish repertoire in Israel.

Nothing however comes from the Odessa Oblast Administration, nor from Odessa City Hall when it comes to promoting a cultural asset that can hold its own across Europe and beyond – and a reader has to ask why that is?  They too can have a bag full of DVDs to hand out to visiting dignitaries.  They can have a list of hiring rates too, lest a nation wants to employ the philharmonic when holding the “Day’s off…….” cultural promotions in Odessa.

Just because Ukraine seems to have no identifiable cultural policy or national projection goals through the use of its quality cultural assets, that does not mean Odessa Oblast nor the City is excused from using its finest cultural assets from promoting itself.  It is something that is surely not dependent upon “decentralisation” legislation, but is entirely dependent upon realising the quality PR that is available from the assets held – even if the decision makers are little more than philistines and cultural Luddites.

In sum, there is an internationally recognised, domestically ignored, poorly accommodated, underfunded cultural gem that is not being used to promote the nation or the city to its full ability – which raises questions over cultural policy – local, regional, national and international.

Having previously mentioned Dnepropetrovsk, and for the sake of “theme” sticking to music rather than the other cultural arts, it too suffers from a Philharmonic Hall that requires refurbishment and would otherwise be a very good concert hall.  Despite having more than a few oligarchs hailing from the city, no refurbishment is on the horizon.

Yet Dnepropetrovsk, with a refurbished hall, would draw international artists and international attention if it were to rename it after what is surely its most famous classical music son.  Famous that is worldwide – but not in Dnepropetrovsk.

One of the greatest cellists ever to draw a bow, an internationally renowned son of Dnepropetrovsk, is (or rather was)  Gregor Piatigorsky.  Simply by refurbishing the hall and renaming it after Piatigorsky would bring it to global cultural attention and have a queue of acclaimed cellists wanting to play there by way of intellectual/musical homage.  International PR for Dnepropetrovsk awaits – and will probably continue to wait in the absence of meaningful cultural policy when it comes to international projection.

In the meantime, without an external cultural projection policy that maximises what the nation has that can stand shoulder to shoulder on a global stage, presumably Ukraine will be left to hoping that derivatives of the vyshyvanka remain fashionable in the shops of Europe, that Borscht recipe variations dominate in a niche market in cyberspace, and Ukrainian sportsmen and women continue to do well and Eurovision retains its excruciating but addictive nature.

Such hope is neither policy nor strategy.

(For those seeking a far more cultured peak behind the curtain at the Odessa Philharmonic, there is a piece in the Odessa Review – this blog doesn’t “do” culture as must be obvious! )

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