William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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stretched musings, part 1

Composed Sunday, November 20th

A lot of things have been on my mind lately. The idea of Canada continues to loom large, yet I feel like I’ve gained my second wind. There are still many things to do and many places to visit, and many books to read when nothing’s happening.

This past Thursday was Student’s Day at Ostroh Academy, or perhaps for all of Ukraine – you never can tell. Ukraine exhibits an uncanny enthusiasm for secular “holidays” – attention greeting-card companies, here’s a great opportunity to create many new and profitable quasi-bogus observances! (Update from my host family: Yes, it is for all of Ukraine.)

Amy and Shelley had Lee and I over to try out their experimental Jell-O shooters that they’re going to prepare for the Canadian Night fundraiser later this week. A few of them were solid, and the rest were kind of runny. We think there may have been too much vodka and not enough Jell-O, so we’re going to tone down the alcohol content a little bit in the name of taste, texture, and preventing large-scale civil unrest.

We all left their place around 9:20 and headed to Karo, where we stayed until 3:00, having a lot of fun in the process. We could have had a good time at any of the Ostroh-area establishments; every one was full of students. Karo was what you might expect – drinking, dancing, funny photos, and all such things. Oh, and I got a phone number which Lee advised me to hold off calling until today. Good thing I typed that, else I may have forgot – Lindsay’s computer being the rare treat that it is. I’m supposed to be using it to rip mp3s out of my personal CD collection for Canadian Night, but the day is still young.

After Karo, I ran into Lee just as I was retreating homewards. He invited me into the billiards bar he’d just walked out of, and parched (for water), I accepted. We played Russian Billiards with some acquaintances for a while, then we sat and talked about girls and politics until six-thirty in the morning. When they told us they were locking up, we walked out into a pre-dawn gloom featuring babushkas, stray dogs, and shopkeepers sweeping out their storefronts. Lee invited me to crash at his apartment, and I was too weak to protest, so I did. I offloaded some pictures onto his computer and then we each had a snooze. I wasn’t able to rise fully until well after noon, when Lee’s host father gave us some food. After that, I was ready to go home, but Lee suggested I accompany him to the cybercafé, so I did that instead. As a result, it was five o’clock in the evening and growing dark by the time I finally got home, twenty-two hours after I left. I had a heck of a time explaining things to my host family, but they had a good sense of humour about it. I had sent an SMS to Olya around seven a.m. to let her know where I was, so nobody was worried or anything.

What’s scary is that that last paragraph explained most of Friday. I didn’t even go to work, but I was in good company, because most of the students didn’t go to their classes. I began to thumb my way into Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and upon reading the introduction I was shocked that I didn’t find occasion to devour the Brontës’ collective works beforehand:

… The four children doomed to isolation, constraint, and precocity because turned in on each other, were made constant companions in his reading by their father. When Charlotte went to her second boarding school in 1831, aged fifteen, it was noted that she … ‘said that she had never played and could not play’ when the girls invited her to join in their games. … [here is recollected their unhappy experiences at school, and the loss of the two eldest sisters] … The four surviving children comforted themselves with a life of corporate fantasy in which their favourite hero Wellington figured with other real and invented characters (aristocratic and royal) in a Byronic ethos. … they early took to literature; they wrote tales, fantasies, poems, journals, serial stories, and brought out a monthly magazine, like so many children*. But with the Brontës the practice of creating a fictional day-dream world persisted into adult life, so that from being the most precocious of children they became retarded adults.

- Q.D. Leavis, introduction to the Penguin edition of Jane Eyre (page 8), 1966, Penguin Books

* - I don’t know about Leavis’ acquaintances, but my friends certainly weren’t sequestered in their homes churning out monthly magazines during their childhoods. Were you?

They of course went on to write fiction based in real life, although their works have an introspectively artistic lilt to them. Charlotte’s work cannot be compared to Jane Austen’s (though it often was); I believe Austen’s (unparalleled!) talent was writing stories that are fun to read while Charlotte Brontë seems to me to speak more directly from the heart with less regard for the popular consumption of her tale. Both have been argued to be superior to Dickens in their different ways.

It’s a shame that Charlotte and Austen weren’t contemporaries (Charlotte was born in 1816 and published Jane Eyre in 1847 – Austen was born in 1775 and published Emma in 1816) because Charlotte as much as said that she had no use for Austen’s kind of writing, and the two could have easily established a Fielding-Richardson sort of rivalry. The poor, orphaned Jane Fairfax of Emma could have been an excellent parody of poor, orphaned Jane Eyre. In fact, after I finish Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, I intend to see if I can dig up any Jane Eyre parodies – trust me, there’s potential, as with any archetypal great art.

You might imagine how my outlook concerning “Wrong Planet” has changed for both better and worse in light of this newly-acquired knowledge, but I should be careful not to get too full of myself. I’m just a simple boy who tries to personify the idea that it’s better to be born lucky than rich. I’m also trying not to live my life as a stratified tragedy, where one lamentable misfortune gives way to another, though I must admit that it may only be the twenty-first century and half-decent self-help books that separate me from many literary geniuses of the past. In any case, I’m kicking myself for not discovering the Brontës before now, especially seeing that I was an English major. How the heck did I manage that?

As an aside, I’ve recently finished Kingsley Amis’ classic Lucky Jim. I loved this book, although the 1950’s British academic jargon kept me running to the dictionary. At first I wasn’t really accepting Jim as an antihero, but about halfway through the book I started to really get behind him in a “f*** the system!” sort of way. In the story, Jim Dixon is a young lecturer at one of Britain’s then-new red-brick universities. The plot revolves around his efforts to keep his job lecturing about a subject he cares nothing about (or rather, that he actively hates). It’s simply hilarious and has something for everyone. I can recommend it more, but I imagine certain anonymous LJ “friends” are already clamouring for the cut, so I’ll cease my tomal tributes here.

So, yeah, I’ve been having a lot of nights out with Lee lately – perhaps we are reprising the role of Cedrick and Nic back in Grande Prairie. He even invited me to come out last night, but I already had plans – I met up with Sasha K. at Hunter, and we had a chat as such as I can only have with people who have been to Canada (he went to Wetaskiwin, Alberta two years ago on the youth program). Sasha is from a Russian family, and his perspectives were enlightening – he told me that he believed that Russian should be made a second official language, and he shared compelling arguments for this.

Just to begin with, many people in the east of the country haven’t yet learned to speak Ukrainian, and it’s likely that many never will. The central government’s aggressive Ukrainian-promotion probably makes such people feel sidelined and alienated, maybe even to the point where they become vulnerable to the predations of the oligarchial political parties, which in turn come to parliament and/or the presidency with the aim of depreciating Ukrainian, which only further mobilizes the Ukrainian-promoters. It’s a vicious cycle with no easy solution in sight – Sasha’s solution of establishing Russian as an official language would indeed please many, but it would mean that many people on the other side would have to admit defeat. Also, historically speaking, the only reason so many Russians and Russian-speakers are in Ukraine is because Stalin put them here to weaken Ukrainian nationalism and the Ukrainian language. (Still, that’s not their fault, and President Yushchenko has as much as said that Ukraine ought to be a country that anyone can live in.) And in Belarus, where Russian has been declared an official language, you hardly ever hear actual Belarusian anymore (not that you ever did in recent times anyway) except in certain media.

This segues into Ukraine’s political situation. From Sasha’s point of view, the Orange Revolution was about electing the lesser of two evils. I don’t disagree with this; politicians are politicians, not super-human miracle workers. I personally respect Yushchenko’s policies and his handling of the difficult task of brining Ukraine forward economically and democratically, but I know he’s only human. We talked about how many people in Ukraine tend to simply make an emotional investment in their favourite politicians rather than logically considering the issues at hand.

Case in point: As you know, I was helping one of my friends with her Canadian-Ukrainian Parliamentary Program application many weeks ago. One of the requirements was that she critique a political journal article of her choosing. She chose an excellent article by Adrian Karatnycky entitled, “Thermidor in Ukraine?” which examined Yushchenko’s sacking of his government and compared it to the thermidor in the French Revolution, a course correction where the semi-radicals took over from the radicals which overthrew the old power in the first place. The article asked whether Yushchenko’s actions were a step away from reform, or a step towards it. So I explained the article to her, bit by bit, and finally, when there was no doubt of her understanding, her opinion, edited for clarity, was: “Every time I think about President Yushchenko and ask myself, ‘Is he the president that I want to see in my country?’ I answer, ‘Yes, he is!’ I’m happy that he’s organizing new government. I think that the new government will be strong and have the power to change our lives. I believe in Ukraine, and I believe in Yushchenko and his new team. This is my concise opinion that makes me believe in the future.” It’s great that she feels that way, but her feelings did nothing to address the subject at hand. I practically begged her to make a constructive comment on how she felt about the thermidor comparison and why (aside from “I believe in Yushchenko”), but she merely pointed to the words on this screen and insisted that was the extent of her opinion. I should have just made up an opinion for her, and she would have went along with this idea, but perhaps I thought she might be called upon to defend said opinion, so in that case it should have been her own.

And, even if all of Ukraine were able to look at candidates and issues objectively, there would still remain the problem of civic participation. I’m not really talking about voting - everyone votes in Ukraine – heck, in the East, even deceased persons have the franchise (they all voted for Yanukovich, if you were wondering). Participation between elections is the more critical, and this is one aspect where the west side of the Dnipro River aces the east. People in the west tend to seek out independent media, attend rallies, and generally get involved whereas the people in the east tend to vote the way their oligarchs tell them to, advice which is given along with a few months’ wages. The resulting political parties (such as the “Party of Regions,” which supported Yanukovich’s bid for the Presidency in 2004) are little more than puppets of the oligarchs meant to maintain the status quo and to ensure that the big-time crooks get to keep their money. (The post-independence privatization of state resources was about as transparent as you might expect any process that generates overnight billionaires on a seemingly arbitrary basis to be.)

There will be a Parliamentary election in early 2006, which promises to be just as interesting as the Presidential election of late 2004. Scrutiny will be tight, especially since one of Kuchma’s last acts as President was to change the constitution so that as of January 1st, 2006, the President (currently Yushchenko) will have much less power. The idea wasn’t so much to democratize the state so much as to keep power in the hands of Kuchma’s cronies, who control much of the parliament, in the event of a Yushchenko victory. However, if the progressive parties can rally together and turn out voters (Ukraine’s parliament will be 100% proportional representation in this coming election), there’s still hope for progress. Ukraine’s future literally depends on this election, almost more than on the Presidential election of 2004. Until 2004, Ukraine’s path towards democracy was unsteady and circumferential, featuring many pauses and backtracks. It remains to be seen whether progress and modernization can be continually and consistently sought in this emerging democratic state.

Articles on this subject: Thermidor in Ukraine? by Adrian Karatnycky (HTML) - Regime type and politics in Ukraine under Kuchma by Taras Kuzio (PDF)

I saw a “Party of Regions” booth at the market this morning when I went to meet Lindsay to pick up the laptop, complete with sandwich girl and inquiring babushka. In front of Lindsay and Vania (her boyfriend), I raised a certain finger and said something less than charitable, probably because I was still a bit drunk from last night. (Dave was right; I do swear a lot more when I’m drunk.) I remember two weeks ago at the academy when we were discussing the upcoming NGO fair and perhaps getting some student representatives of the various parties’ youth wings to come out. Our Ukraine and the Green party were obvious choices, but when I jokingly questioned the pan-spectrum extent of the choices and said, “Yay Party of Regions Youth Movement!” I was quite rightly looked at as if I had horns growing out of my head. Anyway, enough politics.

Or, enough everything. Tune in tomorrow for the next update.
Tags: best of ukraine, cwy, elections, ostroh, politics, travel, ukraine

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