Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Moscow cheers as Yuschenko implodes…and other weekend Eurasian mayhem

On the face of it, it's not been a 'great' start to the week in any of the countries in my 'patch'...

Kyiv went to the brink and back this weekend, yes? Well, not quite. There was, frankly, something quite Wag the dog about the breathless news reporting I watched on the BBC and CNN, in our Kyiv apartment and the streets of Kyiv itself. I scarcely saw any troops and there seemed no more security on the streets than usual.

When Mr Orange Revolution grabbed control over the Interior Ministry troops – memo to wannabe democracies: why do you need 40,000 ‘interior ministry’ troops if not to use against your own people? – and summoned them to Kyiv he looked, if just for a moment, as bad as the Kuchma regime he had replaced.

Sunday, of course, we all woke up to see that Yush and Yank have finally agreed an election date. But here’s what I heard Sunday: the American, German and Polish governments were furious with Yuschenko – summoning troops to Kyiv? Way bad move! – and the US told him it would ‘pull the plug’, more or less publicly, on backing him further. Faced with that calamity, President Yuschenko had no choice but to cave in and accept Prime Minister Yanukovych’s proposed date for Verkhovna Rada elections.

If this is your thing do check out Foreign Notes, the Ukrainian political blog in English which has been quite brilliant on this stuff recently.

Events having rather overtaken things, my lunch Friday with a sometime Yuschenko adviser (an economist running a local NGO) now seems rather academic; but these gobbets are maybe worth passing on:

- There is no meaningful electoral law in Ukraine and no-one is legitimate; the constitution is something of a farce and is not a sustainable rulebook for what happens next
- The Supreme Court is a useless hive of cronies and “neither side” [there are only two sides? - Exile] sets much store in what it says; if it actually says something (the cronies go-run-hide when real chaos emerges).
- People on both Orange and Blue sides are coming round to the idea that there needs to be a Constitutional Convention, before the Elections, to decide which of the laws passed by the, technically dismissed, Verkhovna Rada to keep – some are quite good - as well as to agree a proper electoral law
- The move to ‘Parliamentary’ over Executive Presidential government seems unstoppable
- At some point, one side has to lose and that will be when the ‘fun’ will begin.

Yuschenko? Sell / Yanukovych becoming a statesman in spite of himself? Buy

Meanwhile, in Kazakhstan, Dariga Nazarbaeva and her husband, Rakhat Aliyev, have finally cut the cord and are striving for political power themselves. Now, personally, I think the son-in-law is a scum-bag (only my opinion, natch, and one I'll have to...ahem...revise, I guess, if he emerges victorious) and my people in Astana say some serious locals are backing away from her Institute of International Modern Politics (the well-funded, if shadowy, ‘NGO’ that is really her prototype opposition party HQ): daughter number one seems to have seriously miscalculated.

Kazakhstani Offspring? Sell.

Whatever else you might think about her father – no prize from the Kennedy School of Government for developing pluralist democracy, maybe – Nursultan Nazarbayev is probably the best and most successful statesman to have emerged from the collapse of the USSR: and yes, that includes VVP. He is genuinely respected amongst the Kazakhstani, especially the ethnic Kazakhs, and has prevailed over staggering economic transformation and a much better civil rights environment than any of the other ‘Stans.

President for Life? Buy

Meanwhile, in Moscow – to which I flew back Sunday night - apparently the gays had been at it again…lemming-like, a small band seems intent on inviting disaster upon themselves. This annual ‘gay riot’ photo-opportunity has already got tiresome… Personally I think every ‘world city’ benefits from a pink-quartier, but this is Moscow, people. Never, ever, here.

Civil rights are a tricky thing. Martin Luther King dragged America towards the civilized treatment of its fellow citizens. But for him, and heroes like Rosa Parks, American blacks would not have the civil rights they have today (whether they can afford to enjoy them being, of course, another thing….). They got those rights through protest.

But in the case of gay rights, the Russian gay community has to consider this: it is clinging on to the decriminalization of homosexuality by its fingertips. By going out to ask for more rights, it might just lose the one ‘right’ it has.

As I recall, a Bill, introduced February 12th by Liberal Democratic Party Deputy, Nikolai Kuryanovich, sits before the State Duma to repeal the decriminalization of homosexuality. So far, I believe, the Government lets it linger there actif, mais en repose. Kuryanovich – who is not exactly the most liberal human being imaginable – has a penchant for popularist legislation: not long ago he proposed stripping citizenship for any Russian woman who married a foreigner.

This is not an area of policy I follow, but I think there is a 30-40% chance that, if United Russia senses that an extra dose of popularist measures is needed before the Duma elections in December, the Bill could well be activated and passed. Such a move would be wildly popular with the Russian electorate – the bit that actually votes that is - which would never have supported the decriminalization of homosexuality in the first place (one of the noteworthy examples, actually, of how Yeltsin’s Young Turks led liberalism in Russia, rather than reflected it).

Rather than protest in the streets, Russian gays would be best advised to lay low until this political cycle is over and the Duma/Presidential elections completed. Alternatively, they might consider moving abroad.

La vie en rose? Hold/Sell

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