Sunday, February 20, 2011

We’re Shocked, Too

Channel 5 has recently broadcasted a report about the visit of Polish Parliamentary Delegation to our national legislature Verkhovna Rada [video in UKR included below]. The delegates entered at the moment when our MPs were voting, customary, for themselves and on behalf of their absent colleagues. According to the report, Poles were “shocked” by the practice that was illegal in their country. One delegate noted that there was such incident in Poland, about 10 years ago or so, and it led to the loss of mandate by the MP in question.

Well, it is also illegal in Ukraine, moreover, it is forbidden by the Constitution. Yet, this does not stop our MPs, even when the cameras and/or foreign delegates are watching.

I regret that Channel 5 has not gone on the streets and asked average Ukrainians how they feel about this shameful practice. I am sure their opinions would not differ much from those of Ukrainian Facebook users that expressed their anger and embarrassment. Some of them agreed to be quoted in my latest GV post

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Undressing… with an excuse

Recently, CNN has broadcasted a series of reports on Ukraine as a part of its special I-list news coverage. One of them included FEMEN – a female protest group known for its provocative bare-breasted acts. As I watched it, I thought that if CNN were to do this report about a year and a half earlier, I could have actually liked it. I might have even been happy about it. This time, however, their story only upset and irritated me.

When FEMEN first appeared on Ukraine’s political scene in 2008 I was rather excited. Finally there was a group that chose to draw public attention to such issues as prostitution, sex tourism, and general discrimination of women. I was also wondering whether the girls chose such provocative tactics because they were just fed up with living in a country where job adds seeking secretaries for work and intimacy were not uncommon, where women were still making about 30% less than men occupying similar posts, and, with sex tourism on the rise, as many as two in three young Kyiv women claimed to have been offered sex for money by a foreigner.

And at first FEMEN did seem to progress toward some of their declared goals. With provocative clothes (or, rather, their absence), slogans like “Ukraine is not a brothel”, and "raids" on sex tourists’ popular destinations in the capitol, they got noticed by both foreign and Ukrainian media, which at least prompted the latter to speak about issues [UKR] on which our government often chose to turn a blind eye.

Nevertheless, it quickly became obvious that regardless of the slogans and declared goals, FEMEN was no feminist movement. For instance, many have pointed out how girls’ opinions contrasted with ideas developed by women’s rights organizations [UKR], such as opposing legalization of prostitution (which is generally regarded as a main tool for protecting sex workers), and so on. In short, FEMEN members demonstrated general lack of knowledge and understanding of the issues they were supposedly dealing with, and, apart from one alleged attempt to propose legislation, offered no comprehensive plans for changing the situation for the better. 

Yet, even at that point I retained a sort of positive attitude toward the group – after all, could one really expect a bunch of 18 to 20 year olds to have a serious background in feminist theory and be able to propose comprehensive policy changes? However, as the list of issues taken on by FEMEN grew, along with the number of occasions on which they chose to take their clothes off, disappointment began to settle in.

Throughout 2010 FEMEN has probably joined every public protest that was taking place – luckily for them, the year was rich in attacks on democratic rights and freedoms in Ukraine, which offered girls plenty of such opportunities. By 2011 the organization was regarded by many as a (naked) performance group of sorts. And, although CNN might not have picked it up yet, many western journalists were left wondering why, if Ukraine were not a brothel, it was frequently made to look like one.

Curiously, group’s popularity has continued to grow. Recently, FEMEN has been invited to take part in filming a music video [UKR], while one of its front-girls, 21 y.o. Olexandra Shevchenko, has been noticed in a company of some high-ranked politicians [RUS]. No wonder new members from outside of Kyiv have been joining FEMEN’s ranks and eagerly showing off their good looks on the group’s Live Journal page. After all, not every beautiful Ukrainian girl can become a Via Gra [RUS] pop star and marry an oligarch…. But many can join FEMEN. And while some observers have suggested that FEMEN could be saved by turning from quasi-feminists into real feminists [UKR], the longer I followed their activities the more it seemed that, willingly or not, instead of taking up a cause FEMEN were simply taking the ever-popular Ukrainian game of finding a wealthy man to the new level.

The sad part is that all the while Ukraine has remained Europe’s single country with male-only government, over-sexualized singers like Svetlana Loboda have represented us at Eurovision, and our President has been openly inviting Davos guests to come watch Ukrainian women take off their clothes in spring. And in the end I’ve been left wondering whether FEMEN has actually turned the situation with the issues it was supposed to counter from bad to worse, and if anyone was ever going to take the problems of gender discrimination, prostitution, or sex tourism in Ukraine seriously. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ukrainians against the TV

Ukrainians are increasingly choosing to switch off their television, reports [UKR] weekly magazine Ukrainskyi Tyzhden. The list of their reasons continues to grow, too. For instance, it includes:
  1. Internet offering a lot more than TV
  2. TV programs being too primitive
  3. Russification of Ukrainian television
  4. Lack of time
  5.  Desire to protest or demonstrate non-conformism
  6. Religious beliefs 
  7. Perception of television as an “entertainment of the unhappy”

I must admit that I never liked our TV too much, and that I don’t mind Ukrainians switching it off, because it really is primitive, and Internet does offer a lot more. I also strongly relate to the reason number three.

When living in Moscow between 2007 and late 2010, I've gotten closely acquainted with that mix of criminal series, celebrity scandals, pre-moderated talk shows, and government-produced “news” that, unfortunately, has come to dominate today's Russian television. I should add that not all of the TV was bad. After all, there were channels like Kutlura [RUS], covering arts, culture and history quite nicely. But Russian television has launched an active anti-Ukrainian propaganda, allowing itself to declare, among other things, that a fully independent Ukrainian state should not exist, that the Ukrainian language and nation were invented by westerners to divide the “Russian peoples”, and that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “20th century's greatest tragedy”. As a result, in the recent years even the Russian-speaking Ukrainians that traditionally relied on information coming from Moscow have been switching to national news sources.

Ironically, after leaving Moscow in October 2010, I returned to Ukraine only to discover that our television increasingly resembled that of Russia’s, and not in a good way. Most Ukrainian channels were now broadcasting neighbor's grim criminal films and mind numbing soap operas, endless comedy shows, and even programs with anti-Ukrainian propaganda. In the words of our former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, not only the Ukrainian language has disappeared from TV channels, but "Ukraine has disappeared", too.

Along with the Russification of television came increased media censorship. According to the Ukrainian media watchdog Telekritika, only two TV channels would still provide independent and fair news coverage – Channel 5 and TVi. Sadly, those two channels have just been stripped off some of their broadcasting frequencies by a recent court ruling, which further cramped their already limited audience.

I must admit that with major channels showing low-quality Russian programs and broadcasting one-sided news, I like our TV even less. And I would not mind most (if not all) Ukrainians switching it off. At least for now. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What’s in the name?

“Going Ukrainian” in the Soviet Union would most likely mean subjecting yourself to severe repressions. This was the case after the short-lived Ukrainization of the 1920s, or the period of a Khrushchev’s Thaw. Perhaps, only during Perestroika and right after independence many could finally “go Ukrainian” all they wanted – speak the language, revive traditions, get involved in national politics, etc. However, I was too young to remember that period well. I think I’ve personally “gone Ukrainian” when I first left Ukraine. There I was, a 16-year-old, explaining to foreigners that it was a country located in Eastern Europe, and that it was quite distinct from Russia, too. And, of course, I was going to go back and help change things for the better.

I have also seen many people “go Ukrainian” quite boldly on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in 2004 – some switched to Ukrainian language, many sang national songs, waived yellow-blue flags, and so on. It was even possible to “go Ukrainian” if you were a foreigner (and still is, I’m sure :). What I mean is that people were suddenly proud of who they were, cared about the future of their country, and knew that it's fate depended on them and nobody else.

Unfortunately, the recent events in my homeland are quite disturbing, and I really wish we could’ve all gone a little more Ukrainian now. And it doesn’t matter whether you currently live there or have moved abroad. It doesn’t even matter if you’re not at all from Ukraine. What matters is that you pay a little more attention, give it a little more thought, and just try to care a little more about what’s going on. Go Ukrainian.