Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko (R) welcomes U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Kiev, Ukraine, December 7, 2015. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
Original by Aleksandr Vasilyev published by Vzglyad; translated from Russian by J.Hawk
Anyone who grew up within the framework of the Russian political culture which elevates external political sovereignty to the level of the highest principle, it is all but impossible to understand Ukrainians’ reaction to the visits by senior US officials. It’s just as hard not notice the photos showing the guests sitting at the head of the table with not the blue-yellow but stars-and-stripes flag flying above the official buildings in which they lecture the local legislature.
In our eyes, it looks not like a visit by the US VP to an independent state but rather a visit by a British viceroy to a local principality.
Once again, someone brought up in the Russian political culture sees nothing but signs of political humiliation and can’t understand how national dignity could have been devalued to such a degree that such humiliations are accepted with pleasure. Let me try to explain.
Biden will come, Biden will explain
Imagine you are an orphan. That you are a good, working girl with ash-smeared face. And that you have foster mother. A bad foster mother who has her own daughter. Perhaps even two daughters. One thin and one fat. Imagining so far?
Then imagine you have a godmother. Not just a godmother, but a fairy godmother. Who has a husband in the form of a powerful magician. Deputy to Gandalf himself. OK, perhaps not Gandalf, that would have been a Republican administration. Deputy to Dumbledore. Can you imagine that? If yes, then how would you react to their rare visits?
There is a well known saying that a victory has many fathers, but a failure is an orphan. That orphan with an ash-smeared face is the Ukrainian society. Who is always on the losing end of things. Do you think that society is unaware it was assigned to be governed by a scandalous and corrupt regime? Yes, it knows it better than anyone else.
Ukrainian society views that regime as a foster mother which, in concert with her corrupt daughters, is insulting and looting Ukraine. Approval and trust ratings of the current Ukrainian leaders are the lowest they have ever been. Joe Biden and Victoria Nuland are the fairy godmothers of the Ukrainian national revolution of February 2014. So how should the children of that revolution who define Ukraine’s public opinion view their visit? Biden was expected to wave his magical wand and transform the Prosecutor General into a driver in sparkling livery, and the rabbit prime minister into a grey horse who will take the pumpkin that is the Ukrainian state to the ball of European integration.
Chicken Kiev 2.0
People who do not suffer from the Ukrainian orphan complex ought to understand that speeches given by senior US officials at the Rada are not always a reflection of what the aborigines are thinking. The speech given by George H.W. Bush at that very same location, which went down as the “Chicken Kiev” speech, is a classic example.
Many of us feel sure that the US dreamt of tearing Ukraine away from Russia, in keeping with the Dulles Plan (which, as everyone knows, doesn’t exist but is being implemented) and Brzezinski’s devilish prescriptions.
Bush, on August 1, 1991, in other words two weeks prior to the “putsch”, warned the Ukrainian SSR Rada deputies against “suicidal nationalism” and urged them to sign a new union treaty which “holds forth the hope that republics will combine greater autonomy with greater voluntary interaction — political, social, cultural, economic rather than pursuing the hopeless course of isolation“
. The speech was met by lengthy and thunderous applause, although the relatively few nationalists then present were unhappy.Something similar happened this time as well. Having uttered a mass of compliments and collected the appropriate applause, US VP said that which was clearly not to the liking of the Kiev “suicidal nationalists.” They didn’t like his words so much that they never heard them. And since they haven’t heard them, many hastened to add they were never uttered.So what did Joe Biden say about the United States of Ukraine?Ukrainian Egyptology
Now let’s pretend we are Egyptologists and imagine we are looking at the famous Rosetta stone with three identical statements but in different languages as Jean-Francois Champolion once did to learn how to read hieroglyphics.
So let’s hear Joseph Robinet Biden Jr.:
«Constitutional reform that includes judicial reform and decentralization does not compromise your sovereignty, it enhances it. It’s an important step to building a strong new nation. It is important for Ukrainian European future (here Biden turns away from the audience and says the next sentence facing the government bench). This issue of federalism is a thing that almost prevented our nation from coming into being. (Biden once again turns toward the audience, makes a pregnant, theatrical pause, looks around the room, and begins to dictate:) Autonomous independent states, the determination to have their own police forces, their determination to have their own education system, to have their own government under a united constitution».
But here’s what Ukrainians, both deputies and invited guests, as well as the TV audience, heard in a simultaneous translation:
“Constitutional reforms which include the reform of the judicial system and decentralization, which are European best practices, are not against democratic principles, are not contrary to sovereignty. It is more important for the future of Ukraine in Europe, umm, more important. Something like that ought to be built in our country and also (sighing, babbling, pause, the camera shifts from Biden to the government bench)…a similar situation. It is important to have autonomous independent states which have their own forces, their own education system, and government within a unified constitution.”
“In order to move Constitutional reform further, they had to bring up the heavy artillery–the VP himself.”
One doesn’t need to speak the demotic Ukrainian language to realize the word “federalism” was not mentioned at all.
I think that the professional translator who realized what Biden said was simply horrified at the use of this forbidden word in Ukraine and decided to pretend she forgot how to speak English. The poor girl was probably executed shortly afterward by the Right Sector (I’m joking).
The Federalist Papers
The final straw at which Ukrainians are grasping was the claim that Biden is not suggesting anything of the sort, and was simply sharing such little known details of the US political system with his audience. Those who think that miss two important details.
First of all, lectures on politics are usually given by retired politicians. But the words of an elected US VP are actionable, irrespective of the level to which they were sugar-coated. Secondly, and more importantly, there’s the historical context the ignorance of which prevents one from understanding Biden’s words.
Biden is referring his audience to the historical moment when the US adopted its Constitution which was ratified by the legislative assemblies of all the then-existing states. The Constitution provided for a union, a federation of separate states-countries which retained their autonomy.
That approach had its opponents who feared a strong center capable of limiting the states’ freedom. There were particularly many skeptics in the state of New York. If their point of view won, America as we know it would have never come into being.
It was then that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, writing under the pseudonym of Publius, wrote 85 articles between October 1787 and August 1788 to defend their federalist Constitution. In 1788 these articles were published as a book called The Federalist or the Federalist Papers, which became the bible of the US political philosophy.
Every US student knows that story, every local redneck Gavrilyuk. And all of them, of course, are certain that every Ukrainian legislator knows that story as well. That’s the point of the example that Joe Biden cited, not the description of autonomous states.
Naturally, the US was moving to a federal system which is more centralized than a confederal one, whereas in Ukraine the process is moving in the opposite direction. But both here and there the “federal question” ultimately provoked a civil war.
The Minsk Process
Here one has to explain what is expected of Ukraine by the administration of the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Obama. Biden’s words about Moscow’s aggression, the inhabitants of the Donbass who dream of returning to Ukraine, about that the US will “never, never” recognize Crimea being part of Russia, words which the audience was dying to hear, in reality did not express anything new or important.
Whereas Minsk Agreements are important. Each of the conflict parties is trying playing the “who’s the slowest” game. One mustn’t implement them right away–neither Ukraine nor Donbass like their provisions. But at the same time one can’t totally ignore them because the extension or cancellation of sanctions are tied to them. Each side makes a small step then blames the other of violations, then it makes another step, and the cycle repeats itself.
The fairy godmother’s husband (Biden) is tossing out magical formulas in order to hypnotize Rada deputies: “this is what Putin is afraid of”, “this will help your European future!”. “This” is the constitutional reform specified in Minsk Agreements, including genuine decentralization.
But in the Ukrainian society there is an ironclad consensus that constitutional reform is treason, loss of sovereignty, loss to Putin. And any politician who attempts it commits political suicide (which in Ukraine is often followed by an actual suicide). Which means that if it is to be attempted, it has to be with everyone’s participation, no exceptions.
That’s why Biden did not demand a new prime minister, new Rada elections, or a new president. He understands that anyone in favor of a constitutional reform would be labeled a traitor, and everyone against it would be a hero.
The last time the Rada was compelled to make a small step in that direction, it took the presence of Victoria Nuland who is not a cookie-dispensing fairly godmother but also an honest to goodness deputy secretary of state. Now, in order to move constitutional reform further, it was necessary to bring up the heavy artillery in the person of Biden.
Above him is only Barack Obama and the Reptiloid Supreme Council.