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We're Back

May 1, 2001

Dear Friends and Family,

It's been almost six months since our last "diary". For two years I managed to write about once a month. At first it was easy, lots of new stories to bring to this Show and Tell. It got harder as we became more settled and "at home". Then, we went to America for last Christmas. When I started writing about that trip, for a general audience at least, the result was a story that failed to meet the standards of my editorial board. "Too boring" I think was the evaluation. Consequently, we sent pictures to specific people but the general "Diary" lapsed into Winter doldrums.

With the advent of Spring, I am determined to shake off the lassitude and start exposing our life again. The first step is to look through pictures. Let's see, there's the Christmas set of a couple hundred and then there's a dozen or more sets with such thrilling titles as "brunch" and "Steve party" and "Sunday Walk". Talk about boring! Maybe that's the insight from this: we've reverted to boring lives. I suppose that's both good and bad. No disasters, no trauma, no (expensive) tales of projects no sane person would attempt. Nonetheless, I will go on a bit on two themes: Ukraine politics and Istanbul tourism.

First, local politics. You may have noticed that Ukraine's government was thrown out on a "vote of no confidence". For us Americans, this whole process is part of that strange form of democracy called a "Parliamentary" government. I never understood it from the outside and now I don't understand it when it happens "at home". I need a good Italian or Israeli Political Science instructor to explain it.

I think the basic idea is that the representative body" (Parliament, Congress or, in our case, the "Supreme Rada") gets to say the current executive ("Prime Minister") and his team of Ministers is not getting the job done. They have a vote saying they have "no confidence" and out goes the Prime Minister and all his Cabinet. In Ukraine however, and some other places as well, we have both a President and a Prime Minister. The President is elected and the Prime Minister is appointed by the President. So, a "no confidence" vote gets rid of the Prime Minister but the President stays. Simple enough I guess. But here, it's not so simple.

We have it on good authority (and on audio tapes) that Leonid Kuchma, our President, is a thug, a crook and possibly a murderer The now ex-Prime Minister Victor Yushenko seems to be an honest and effective civil servant. (We actually met him at our local art gallery a month or two ago but that's not what we are basing this evaluation on.) His Deputy Prime Minister Julia Timoshenko, just recently released from prison, has been somewhere in between. She reportedly IS an honest and effective Minister but probably WAS a crook in an earlier administration. At least her boss robbed billions when HE was Prime Minister. (But he's in jail in San Francisco now.) Julia is always reported as "striking" or some such but I have no personal view. After a month in the local Lubyanka jail she looked a mess.

Yushenko's demise came at the hands of a coalition of Communists and Oligarchs. Communists are Communists. They don't like financial reform and they do like Russia.

Oligarchs are harder to explain. They don't like financial regulation and they like Russia, Crete, Florida or anywhere else they can live well. It's as if Bill Gates were to openly buy a few-dozen Congress and Senate seats. He'd take one and give the rest to his buddies. This bunch would vote against anyone who threatened their financial empire - by strengthening unfair trade practice laws or not cheaply selling government mineral reserves for examples. Lest you think Oligarchs are anonymous, faceless villains, remember that some of Marianne's best students are their kids and grand kids. Nice kids, bodyguards and all.

Meanwhile, the US has given asylum to the former presidential guard who made tapes of Kuchma saying thug-like things but this guy has been given asylum despite the charges of treason the Kuchma government has levied against him. This has made Ukraine officially upset with the USA. Basically they want back the Prime Minister who stole billions, the Secret Service guy who made incriminating tapes and they want 60 Minutes and CNN to stop harassing our President just because he "might" have had a hand in the first murder of an Internet journalist. Big deal. Besides, the Communists want all Western influence ended and the Oligarchs want the FBI to stop investigating before their homes in Crete (and Florida) get threatened.

Even Bill Clinton couldn't provide such a soap opera. Even Richard Nixon would look good over here. Someone said we've become a Banana Republic without bananas.

So, why this long speech? I just want to assure people back home to keep track of Ukraine a bit. It will be a shame if this place slips back into Communism, despotism or oligarchic feudalism. This would not be any sort of personal threat to Marianne or me (other than a drop in real estate values!) because we would leave but most of the fifty million people here can not.

Enough politics. Our next mail, following very soon, will be a travelogue of our third trip to Turkey. Stay tuned.

John and Marianne
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Originally sent Septemebr, 1998. Edited for website May 11, 2001






Originally emailed May 1, 2001. Formatted for website May 13, 2001. This page created on a Macintosh using PhotoPage by John A. Vink.