Streetwise Professor

October 14, 2010

Suicide Sovok Style

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:31 pm

This article mentions the alleged suicide of Ukrainian Interior Minister, Yuriy Kravchenko, in 2005.  He chose a very novel method: shooting himself in the head.

What’s so novel about that, you ask?  He shot himself twice.  No sense leaving such things to chance!  (The only thing that could make this story better is if the bullets were different calibers.)

That brings to mind the story of the VTB bank executive, found dead in his Moscow swimming pool.  State television stated that he had committed suicide–even though his hands and feet were bound.

The Kravchenko story is back in the news because Ukraine’s “Prosecutor-General’s Office concluded that the only person who ordered the murder of journalist Georgi Gongadze.”  Kravchenko’s supposed double-tap suicide took place the day before he was supposed to give evidence in the case.  Pinning it all on the now well decomposed Kravchenko is quite, quite convenient for others currently in power or close to it who were involved in Gongadze’s death

As the EDM article suggests, this is just one of many indications of Ukraine’s er, evolution (devolution?), from a chaotic cesspool of corruption to an authoritarian cesspool of corruption, and from a country somewhat independent of Russia to one increasingly in its thrall.

Whenever I criticize Putinism and the current Russian purgatory (yeah, I know it’s rare, but it happens!), the whataboutists invariably say: Whatabout Ukraine!  Better orderly and authoritarian, they say, than chaotic and passably democratic. Heck, Putin himself makes that argument that it is imperative to avoid “the Ukrainian Scenario.”

The implicit argument here is those alternatives are exhaustive.  Let’s assume for the sake of argument that’s true.  It would be hard to imagine a more damning indictment of the legacy of the Soviet past, and a more depressing characterization of the post-Soviet future.

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  1. One reason for Ukraine’s “chaos problem” prior to Yanukovich was the fact that a situation in which competing normal parties who could be punished at the ballot box were never able to form due to the fact that any “pro-Western” party alone would stand no chance against the monolithic eastern 45% of the country. What exists there is a fusion of a typical Eastern or Central European post-Soviet society with multiple parties representing multiple and often radically different viewpoints (the econimically classic-liberal Yushchenko vs. populaist Tymoshenko, for example) fused with a one-party Belarus region which has 45% or so of the voters. So, the 55% of the country who politically could have been like Poland or the Baltics were never given the chance to sort out their problems and evolve towards being a normal country as those states have done, because any lack of unity or misstep among the majority would result in the unified 45% taking over the country. Which is what occurred in the last presidential election. The westerners were bitterly divided, and the easterner won the election with fewer votes than he got when he had lost the previous presidential election, due to many westerners voting “against all” (an option on the Ukrainian ballot) or not voting at all.

    Now Yanukovich, the president of the 45% is pushing through all sorts of reforms that will ensure that the majority never get into power again, at least peacefully. One law bans small (usually western) parties from joining together to form “blocs” – basically, trying to insure that there will be dozens of small parties in the western half of the country. The latest reform he’s pushing will give election victory to the party with the most votes. So if 4 democratic candidates each get 10% of the vote but the one easterner gets 25% the latter wins the election and the other 4 get nothing. Etc.

    Comment by AP — October 15, 2010 @ 1:08 am

  2. This reminds me of a story I might have mentioned on here before. Back in 2003 or 2004 when the site for the Prigorodnoye LNG plant on Sakhalin Island was being cleared, the workers uncovered body parts – arms, legs, torso, and head – buried a few metres apart. he local police, probably not wanting to investigate a decade-old murder, came up with a satisfactory alternative verdict instead: suicide.

    Comment by Tim Newman — October 15, 2010 @ 7:24 am

  3. +++fused with a one-party Belarus region+++

    You meant Donbass, I guess?

    Comment by LL — October 15, 2010 @ 12:20 pm

  4. Ah, yes, the Soviet past, where the places now under discussion were fit places to have and raise children. Oh, and you left out the Baltics, where the “Soviet” influence was of least duration, but which have some of the least-fit places for having and raising children, as indicated by their substantial absence.

    Comment by rkka — October 15, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

  5. @ Tim – yes, I should have written Belarus-like region.

    Comment by AP — October 15, 2010 @ 9:42 pm

  6. I’d say that’s the quintessential POST-sovok suicide.

    Comment by So? — October 17, 2010 @ 4:16 am

  7. @ So?

    I guess you are implying that the quintessential sovok suicide was the one where the dead committed mass suicide by shooting themselves in the back of the head and conveniently fell into mass graves and sprinkled lime on themselves afterwards?

    Comment by Andrew — October 18, 2010 @ 12:58 am

  8. Sorry, Andrew, though you’re making great strides towards Tsotnehood, I can only give your effort 0.2 Tsotne. This is the benchmark, remember?

    Comment by So? — October 19, 2010 @ 1:31 am

  9. So? Are you another one of these Gulag deniers?

    Then there was the “mass suicide” of all those Polish officers at Katyn…..

    The “voluntary relocation” and “mass suicide” of Chechens, Crimean Tartars, and Ingush in 1944.

    Comment by Andrew — October 20, 2010 @ 6:27 am

  10. By the way, what exactly was wrong with the article you linked to?

    Standing up to Russia

    I first met Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago at a crowded party. When he found out I was from the Republic of Georgia, he said, “What can I do for you?” I answered quickly: “Defend my country from Russia.”

    We talked about the fact Russia was muscling the former Soviet countries in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Kazakhstan. On the eve of his five-day trip to Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Mr. Cheney told me the United States would do its best to encourage democracy and freedom in the post-Soviet era. He knew how millions of people were suffering under a modern version of the “Iron Curtain.”

    In his speech in Vilnius last week, the vice president voiced the harshest criticism of Russia from a U.S. official since Cold War ended. Russia’s withholding oil and natural gas from its neighbors was unacceptable. “Tools of intimidation,” he said. And of course Moscow denied it.

    But the vice president is correct. Russia is bent on punishing several post-Soviet countries, struggling with their infant democracies but determined to conduct a free and open society.

    Russia is trying to break the back of freedom with economic sanctions bordering on the bizarre. Several months ago, Russia banned all wine from Georgia. More than 97 percent of Georgian wine was sold to Russia.

    The Russian government claimed the world-famous wine — of which I consumed my fair share over the years — was tainted, a ridiculous excuse at best. (Imagine the East Coast banning California Chardonnay.) Desperate winemakers in Georgia are scrambling to find international buyers, and the economy has already taken a direct hit. Which is, of course, what the Russian government wanted all along.

    Calling home to my brother and family, I receive more bad news every day. There is no economy. Unemployment is high. Russia is strangling my country for one reason: America backs the Georgian people and its decision to become a democracy.

    Last week, the Russian government also prohibited importing Georgian bottled spring water — arguably the best in the world, but I’m biased — sending the economy even deeper into depression.

    This winter, Russia cut off gas and oil supplies to both Georgia and Ukraine. How many innocent Europeans suffered for that act, universally condemned as a cruel form of blackmail?

    Russia is a bully, punishing its smaller neighbors with gross pettiness and petulant behavior. President Vladimir Putin — who is well educated — needs to take control. Many people assume he is a strong leader within the Kremlin. But in fact, he is not. The ultranationalists, led by head of the liberal union Vladimir Zhirinovski, the corrupt, homophobic, billionaire Moscow Mayor Yuri Lushzkov and leftist, the so-called “Black General” Albert Makashov, as well as the head of the Communist Party in Russia Genadi Zuganov are behind the crackdown on democracies, even inside the country.

    They dream of restoring the Soviet Union to all its crumbling, dysfunctional glory. They dream of seeing the United States under a red flag (seriously). Communism is a latent virus in Eastern Europe, but forces are bent on seeing it become active again. (Why else would Moscow reward the corrupt dictatorship in Belarus and punish others who don’t fall in line?) In Washington, Russian ambassador Yuri Ushakov — a talented diplomat — is bewildered by the recent turn of events. He told me last week during a daylong seminar with American-Russian business leaders at the Russian Embassy, that he doesn’t understand the chauvinism of a few select politicians. He is of course, of a younger generation, as am I.

    I grew up under communism and its harsh, vicelike grip on my country. Drinking Coca-Cola was prohibited. Watching Hollywood movies might land you 12 years in a Siberian gulag. Reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn? You might as well drink arsenic the next morning and get it over with.

    A schoolmate of mine showed up one day in a pair of new Nike sneakers. For the next three weeks, he was mysteriously absent from school. The local police took him in for days of questioning. What connections did his family have in America to send him such a decadent present?

    Torturing journalists. Killing opposition voices. I remember listening to the Soviet-scrambled Voice of America in a musty, dank basement, afraid we would go to jail. Cars stopping in the night; KGB officers in black leather coats branding Kalashnikovs, taking innocent people away in the dark. My own mother and father were arrested for something I had written against the government, and taken to jail. They let my mother go but kept my father in a cell with dozens of other prisoners forced to sleep standing up. He died of a heart attack a week later.

    My grandfather was executed in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s reign of terror. Do gambling-crazed, oil-rich, nightclub hopping Russian citizens really yearn for their ignoble past?

    I was amazed the other day watching Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld field questions about Iraq, and watching protesters politely escorted out of the hall. In my day, they would have been executed in two hours as traitors by the Troika.

    After my talk with Mr. Cheney, I was relieved to discover he knew what to do. I applaud his recent visit to Lithuania and standing up to the Russians. And I often wonder what became of that criminal pair of Nikes.

    Tsotne Bakuria is a former member of the Georgian Parliament and visiting scholar at George Washington University.

    Comment by Andrew — October 20, 2010 @ 6:29 am

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