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Alexander J. Motyl
Are the Regionnaires Schoolchildren?

Funny you should ask, as a few weeks ago, in the immediate aftermath of the stupid Tymoshenko verdict and the subsequent cancellation of Viktor Yanukovych’s trip to Brussels, a raft of Regionnaires bristled at Europe’s supposed treatment of Ukrainians as “schoolchildren.”

“We’re equals,” the Regionnaires insisted, “and deserve to be treated as such.”
Disregard the underhanded way in which the Regionnaires claimed to stand for all Ukrainians. After all, whatever the Europeans did or said about Tymoshenko, they directed their comments at the Regionnaire government misruling Ukraine—and not at Ukrainians.

The more interesting question is: Are the Regionnaires schoolchildren? To my mind, that’s putting an all-too-flattering spin on a bunch of incompetent crooks who never made it through kindergarten. Still, the question is valid and deserves a response. Underlying the Regionnaires’ rejection of the term is their view that they have nothing to learn from Europe. If they’re not schoolchildren, then Europe is no teacher, and if Europe is no teacher, then it has nothing to teach the Regionnaires. And that’s that.

Except for one tiny detail. Last time I looked, it was Ukraine that wanted to join the European Union, and not—repeat not—the European Union that wanted to join Ukraine. If you want to join a club, then you have to play by the club’s rules. If you don’t want to play by the club’s rules, then don’t join the club. To me, that’s pretty elementary—something that even schoolchildren can understand.

Unconvinced? Consider two more examples of Regionnaire childishness.

A few weeks ago, the Regionnaire-controlled Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, ruled that Ukraine would be off winter savings time. Why? To place the country in the same time zone as Moscow, of course. Naturally, not a single one of the Regionnaire deputies who voted for the motion considered what the technical consequences of such an action might be: electricity shortfalls, breakdowns in heating, and possible difficulties with atomic energy stations. After all, Ukraine’s energy system is calibrated to reflect changes in daily savings time. Fortunately, a bunch of scientists raised a stink. The Regionnaires initially resisted common sense until, finally, they must have decided that a nuclear meltdown might be a tad too high a price to pay for a temporal rapprochement with Mother Russia and reversed their motion.

At the same time as these bizarre goings-on were taking place, the Regionnaire-run central bank instituted new currency-conversion rules. If you wanted to exchange hard currency for hryvnia, you’d now need to show your passport and fill out a bunch of paperwork. While in Kyiv, I stopped off at a branch of Austria’s Raiffeisenbank and decided to change 200 USD. The teller saw my US passport and immediately got flustered. She called Alyona. They conversed for a few minutes. Then the teller smiled and made a copy of my passport. She rummaged through her drawers and fished out two identical forms and a ragged carbon paper (remember those?). Then she started filling in my passport data, by hand. That took a few more minutes. She made a mistake. Out went the two forms, and she started the process anew. Finally, she was done.

“Please sign the documents here and here,” she said.

“In Ukrainian or in English?” I asked.

“As in your passport.”

Just to be on the safe side, I signed in both languages. Then she punched in some numbers and produced a receipt. I had to sign that as well. Finally, thirty minutes after arriving at the bank, I got my money. As I left, I noticed that the waiting room, which had been empty when I walked in, was full of about 15 impatient people.
Next day, the television carried a news item about how the new currency regulations had led to the emergence of—surprise!—black-market currency traders. Stern-faced Regionnaire commentators promised to crack down on their illegal activity.

A few days later, I looked at one of the forms the teller had given me. It was intended for conversions of foreign currency into karbovantsi—the short-lived currency used by Ukraine during the hyperinflationary years of the early 1990s. Which meant what? That the Regionnaires didn’t even bother to introduce new forms. And, worse, that they didn’t realize that the currency controls that failed close to twenty years ago couldn’t possibly work today.

Schoolchildren would understand that bad ideas stay bad. The Regionnaires, evidently, don’t.

Come to think of it, these guys may be right to insist they’re not school kids.

They’re pre-K.

Alexander J. Motyl's blog

Nov 04, 2011