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Alexander J. Motyl
Regionnaire Plagiarism Rears Its Head

Who hasn’t heard by now of the charges of plagiarism made against President Viktor Yanukovych’s recently published English-language book, Opportunity Ukraine? The evidence is persuasive. Many sections were clearly lifted without attribution from other texts. And that’s plagiarism, period.

The president’s many critics have seized on the texts as evidence—if any were still necessary—of the regime’s dishonesty. The president’s official defenders dismiss the charges as absurd. They have to, of course. What else can they say in the face of incontrovertible proof? In the final analysis, however, both sides aren’t quite getting the real point.

It goes without saying that plagiarism is dastardly, dishonest, and demeaning and it must be condemned wherever and whenever it rears its ugly little head. But it’s also stupid—profoundly, deeply, screamingly, and unforgivably stupid—especially when committed by people with money, advice, knowhow, and clout who know, or should know, that every single word uttered by Yanukovych is always subjected to minute scrutiny by armies of critics in Ukraine and abroad.

I mean, how dumb must the Regionnaires be to engage in open-faced plagiarism in an English-language book intended to be read—not in party headquarters in Donetsk—but in the West? For chrissakes, man—don’t these guys get it at all? Don’t they understand that the West abjures plagiarism and that the vast majority of Western scholars, journalists, and policymakers would never engage in it? It’s a matter of professional honor. And besides, they know they’d get caught. And getting caught in the age of fancy Internet programs that compare millions of texts is a piece of cake.

So how could the Regionnaires have done it?

One possible explanation is that the Yanukovych people truly didn’t know that what they were doing was plagiarism. Possible? Sure, but in that case these punks shouldn’t be running a country. They should be shining shoes in Grand Central Station. You can forgive a regular guy’s ignorance of quantum mechanics, but for the policy honchos of a big country not to know the elementary rules of citation is unpardonable.

Another explanation is that they knew what they were doing, but thought they’d get away with it. That is to say, the Regionnaires figured that the rest of the world is just one big Donbas and that their provincialism and arrogance wouldn’t raise eyebrows in Paree and the Big Apple. Possible? Sure, but then these guys shouldn’t even be shining shoes in Grand Central. They’d better stick to the Donetsk train station until they learn the ways of the world.

A final explanation is that the book was a collective enterprise and that too many cooks spoiled the broth. Pyotr didn’t know what Pavlo was doing, both assumed Ivan would check for mistakes, while Ivan figured they would—and none of them could read English anyway. Accordingly, the Yanukovych folks could plead sloppiness. Possible? Absolutely, but then they’d be well advised not to shine shoes even in Donetsk. I mean, if these guys can’t get their act together—which, of course, means that they had no leadership from the gentleman who put his name to the book—then no one should trust their shoes to them anywhere.

Whichever explanation you favor, the upshot is the same: the Regionnaires are clods. When they made jaw-dropping mistakes right after Yanukovych became president in early 2010, one could argue that, with time, they’d eventually learn. But if they still can’t get something as simple as proper citation right, it’s clear that they’re incapable of learning.

That’s not because they’re ignoramuses. If they were merely ignorant, there’d be hope. No, the Regionnaires are know-it-alls—but not, alas, your run-of-the-mill breed. What makes their case hopeless is that these guys areaggressively ignorant know-it-alls. Fortunately, like all garrulous drunks with half-baked opinions about everything, they’ll eventually fall under the table.

Sep 16, 2011