30 October 2008

"Buy a Driver's License"

Received in my e-mail today.

8 9О6 794 nn nn, 8 9O6 794 nn nn Владимир

And DAI wonders why there are so many accidents on the road.

27 October 2008

Pawn to King 4: The Prosecutor’s Opening

From the tone of the official letters that I received demanding my presence, one would think I was meeting the top Prosecutor in the country. As it happens, it is one of the Prosecutor’s assistants that will take my deposition. He opens the door to the small office he shares with another assistant and invites my lawyer and me to sit down opposite him at his small desk. It strikes me that this office is impressively equipped relative to the other government offices I’ve been in. A personal computer sits on each desk; an air-conditioning unit hangs above a large window.

He is young, though well schooled in the bureaucratic manner of the old pros twice, or even three times his age. The opening is standard. It involves setting up the immensity of the crude, blatant, and negligent violation that Ministry X’s diligent Inspectorate has documented in their official “Protocols of Inspection”.

“Are you familiar with the contents of Article 63 of the Constitution of Ukraine?” he asks.

“Yes” I reply. I was briefed earlier.

“And do you consciously waive those rights? If so, sign here.”

Ok, even though I am fully aware that I am playing my role in a corruption dance there is still a little room in my psyche for fear to creep in. After all, he does have the power to incarcerate me on whatever charges he wishes to trump up. Seeing the inside of a Ukrainian prison, even for an hour, is not on my “to do before I die” list. I sign the document.

“Well,” he starts, “as a foreigner our laws may seem a little primitive to you. I fully agree. In fact it pains me that the legislation is so confusing with so many contradictory instructions and clarifications. I really feel for people like you who run businesses but there is little I can do. I have to play by the rules right? I have to enforce the law as it is.”

“Of course,” I reply, “the laws are there to protect Ukraine and its citizens. We, at the company bend over backwards to comply with every regulation no matter how arcane and seemingly illogical. We learned early on that to do otherwise would simply open us up to a continuous revolving door of inspectors and fines.” then dropping the volume of my voice I add “official and otherwise”.

“I’m glad you agree”, he nods ignoring the last phrase, “sometimes I get the impression that you Americans do things in Ukraine they would never think of doing in America for fear of the strict fines there.” He muses for moment. “I was in Chicago once you know.”

“Nice city.” My mind conjures images of Ministry X bureaucrats and their counterparts from other countries at a lakeside convention hall checking out each other’s new Armani suits. This is going well I think to myself naively. Maybe it was ok to say no to paying that bribe last week?

“Now about the facts of the matter at hand. Our Inspectorate has pictures of your violation. If you add up the damages, it’s over twenty thousand Hryvnia. That means, that we are not discussing the simple matter of an administrative fine. No indeed, you as General Director of the company, are criminally liable. Are you aware of this?” he asks arching his eyebrows and looking over the top of his glasses.

“Are you opening a criminal case against my client?” pipes up my lawyer, suddenly awake and alert.

When speaking with a Ukrainian government official I’d rather not even be part of a conversation with word “criminal” in it.

“Well, not at this point. I need to ask some questions.” answers the Prosecutor.

I can sense the smugness in his demeanor. He is satisfied with the way the opening is playing out. From the numerous piles of legal paperwork he picks up one in particular and starts flipping through the pages.

“It’s a shame,” sighs the Prosecutor “now that the Protocols of Inspection have been filed with my office I have to investigate”. The implication being that I had my chance to make a deal at the Inspectorate level at a reasonable rate, and that now it’s going to cost me.

“Now. Let’s get started. Passport please.”

Finding the Prosecutor's Office

I am searching for the address of the specialized prosecutor from a ministry that I’ll refer to as “Ministry X” for the purposes of this entry. The location is not obvious from the street so the lawyer and I enter the most logical choice of archways into a courtyard to continue our search. My planned supply of searching time is eroding and I am in danger of being late. They love it when you are late because it gives them license to make you wait for a hugely disproportionate amount of time. They relish this part of the corruption dance.

Finally, among a collection of weather-beaten, plastic signs next to a non-descript door we find a small “Office of the Prosecutor of Ministry X” sign. With a minute to go we enter the jumble of half-renovated office space and begin the game of trying to find the office we need. We approach a secretary with our plight and after the requisite “you are nobody to me” delay she finally turns away from the television to look at us. Her demeanor can only be described as the personification of the phrase “You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone that gives a crap”. With a scowl she motions toward a hallway that we quickly shuffle down while reading the signs on the doors. Deputy This and Deputy That all the way down the hall. The last door has the last name we are looking for on it. I am about to knock on the door when the lawyer stops me.

“Remember, the prosecutor has the right to ask for your attorney not to be present. In that case you should refuse to answer on the grounds that you might incriminate yourself. Say something about being a foreigner and not fully understanding the language. Then mention Article 63 of the constitution.”

“Article 63? Ok.”

19 October 2008

Kyiv and Prague

Visiting Prague from Kyiv I naturally begin to compare the two. Some might argue that comparing the second most popular tourist destination city in Europe (Paris being the first) to Kyiv is silly at best, the comparison nonetheless enters my thoughts.

Traffic Under Control
With no apparent large roadways, somehow the traffic, at least in the center of Prague where we stayed, is managed and under control. A matter of organizing flow, parking, and law enforcement I am guessing. The tour guide, during the boat trip, told us that up to the 18th century there was only one bridge across the Vltava river (the famous Charles bridge). Now the river is crossed by 17 bridges.

Monuments to Victims of Communist Oppression
Czech people commemorate those that were killed (among them students) opposing the communist occupation. In Ukraine, it seems that history is more of a debate subject than something that is part of the country's identity.

The streets are filled with tourists, even in these cool fall days. I can't imagine Prague in the summer when the tourism most likely detracts from what the city has to offer. Kyiv has so much to offer and so little real tourist infrastructure. The impact of a healthy tourist industry, and all the required services, would be huge in Kyiv.

14 October 2008

High-times at the Security Council

On Ukrainian television yesterday I came across a clip of President Yushchenko conducting a National Security Council meeting and then I heard him say something about laying in a field of Marijuana. Blogger Abdymok captured the intriguing line of reasoning: read it here.

13 October 2008

The Champ is Back! Klitschko vs. Peter, Berlin 11.10.2008

Vitaliy Klitschko, after a four-year hiatus, entered the ring last Saturday night to face Samuel "the Nigerian Nightmare" Peter in the WBC Heavyweight Championship of the world. He was extremely well received in the O2 World Arena by both the Germans, who consider the long-time Hamburg resident one of their own, and of course by the Ukrainians from Germany, other EU countries, the USA, and from Ukraine. The Ukrainian flags numbered in the hundreds and were being waved throughout the brand new arena, only opened a few weeks earlier.

The national anthems of both countries (Ukraine and Nigeria) where played with flags displayed in the ring.

Entering the ring to the tune of AC/DC's "Hell's Bells", complete with huge bell suspended from the arena ceiling and ringing eerily, Vitaliy looked in shape and focused. Vladimir his brother, entered the ring with this training team and helped in the corner. Himself a current heavyweight champion, Vladimir was the only boxer to beat Samuel Peter in the Nigerian's long string of title bout victories.

Many Vitaliy fans were nervous. Can a fighter really come back after four years out of the ring? A video on the diamond vision was played right before the fight with best wishes said personally to Vitaliy. George Foreman, Lennox Lewis, and others (including even Mike Tyson) have Vitaliy their encouraging words.

The fight itself consisted basically of eight rounds of Vitaliy pounding on the "Nigerian Nightmare". At first I was expecting Peter to surprise us with a punch to Vitaliy's head, but he was unable to get in. Peter's small stature was no match for Vitaliy's long arms. The match ended by Peter resigning while in the corner after the eighth round. Victory Vitaliy.

We lingered after the fight and watched as Vitaliy (and Vladimir) and Vitaliy's wife all gave interviews for the media. Someone on Vitaliy's team stretched out a Ukrainian Flag behind Vitaliy as a backdrop. One of the interviews was for the audience and was broadcast in the Arena. From what I could gather, it was in German, the interviewer asked if Vitaliy was going to go back into politics. The question actually caught him off guard and he stuttered and struggled to come up with a non-commital reply while grinning widely.

Go Vitaliy!

10 October 2008

Swan Song for the Orange Revolution

A swan song is being sung in Ukraine for the Orange Revolution. Of the team that once stood together on the stage on Maidan Nezalezhnosti even Yuriy Lutsenko is now breaking from supporting President Yushchenko. The OR has received a great deal of retrospective heat since those cold days on Maidan in 2004. It seems the predominate opinion is that the political capital established by President Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko has been recklessly squandered replaced instead by in-fighting and indecisiveness. The teenager on T.V. yesterday asks: "When are politicians going to stop worrying so much about politics and start worrying about Ukraine and its economy?"

As much as I too would have loved to see the days on Maidan followed up with mass indictments of corrupt government bureaucrats, the OR will always hold a special place in my heart due to the simple fact that Ukrainians rose up together, stood their ground , and demanded their voice be heard. It was an incredible, festive, peaceful time of working together as a people.

Nowhere have I seen this captured better on film than in the "Orange Chronicles" by Damyan Kolodiy. (cf. Orange Chronicles Website)

Damyan has been faithfully conducting viewings and participating in film festivals with his documentary. Most recently he has shown his film in London, and at the EU in Brussels. See his interview with BBC here: BBC Interview

08 October 2008

Ukrainian Hospitality

The King and Queen of Sweden spent three days in Ukraine last week. On their itinerary was a visit to a "Swedish" settlement in the Kherson Oblast. The citizens where thrilled with the visit. In a television interview, a woman said "I was thinking that they would stay for a few days at least. They only visited for one day. They should stay longer. 'Malo' she said."