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Here are her comments verbatim:

“Rich people are mostly Russian-speaking, while a great many citizens
of Ukraine with Ukrainian mentality are poor people. This is the legacy
of the first Ukrainian leaders. Whereas Vyacheslav Chornovil [a former
political prisoner and one of the leaders of national-democratic
movement during perestroika and the early years of Ukrainian
independence] led us to meetings, where we sang Chervona kalyna [a
patriotic song], the Komsomol functionaries have seized banks,
privatized factories, and now they are wealthy, influential, and dictate

Herman may know what she is talking about. As a journalist and
democratic activist, she supported the anti-communist, pro-independence
movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Eventually, she headed the
Ukrainian service of the Radio Liberty in Kyiv, but unexpectedly
switched sides in 2004 and became a close associate of Viktor Yanukovych
– a presidential hopeful whose victory in the forthcoming elections
looked, at the time, to have been firmly secured. Whether her choice was
ideological, or purely mercantile, or, as some authors suggest,
intimately personal, is not that important. What really matters is the
fact that she is one of a very few intellectuals, liberals, and genuine
Ukrainian-speakers within the profoundly illiberal, anti-intellectual,
and predominantly anti-Ukrainophone team. Either by chance or choice or
the party assignment, she serves as the human face of the rather ugly
political-cum-economic group that runs the country.

As a person with some Ukrainophile and liberal-intellectual
background, she who certainly cannot deny the conspicuous disparity
between the two major ethno-linguistic groups in the country. Yet, as a
person who switched sides and joined, to put it delicately, the dominant
group, she tries to justify her dubious move with some rational
statements. Ukrainophones, she implies, are in a backward position not
because of colonial legacy and particular policies of tsars and
commissars, and certainly not because of today’s policies of Viktor
Yanukovych and his Ukrainophobic associates. Ukrainophones are socially
handicapped, first and foremost, because they sang patriotic songs with
their gullible leaders and cared too much about national symbolism,
while the former Soviet nomenklatura seized power and property and
effectively transformed the political dominance of the Russophone Soviet
elite into an economic one.

Implicitly, this indulges Herman who was probably right to leave
the national democrats since they were hopeless idealists who were
unable to bring about any real changes, and to join the tough
“pragmatists” from Donetsk who understand what real life means and who
can, with her help, be cultured, enlightened and perhaps Ukrainized, at
least politically, to comprehend the words “national interest” and
launch ultimately the much-needed modernization/Westernization of the

One can only wish her good luck on her project, even though the idea
of acculturating and gentrifying the tough guys from the Party of
Regions looks nearly as utopian as singing “Chervona kalyna” with
Vyacheslav Chornovil. Even should Hanna Herman, by mesmerizing, magic,
or other means, succeed in transforming her patron-cum-pupil into a real
gem (or, as she put it in an earlier interview, a “true diamond”), the
Komsomol functionaries who captured the state and created, with
criminals, today’s oligarchy, would not disappear. Nor is likely to
disappear their profound contempt, even hatred for all those natives who
are usually nicknamed “lokhi,” “byki,” “raguli,” “kuguty,” “zhloby,”
“bandery,” or “svidomity” – in short, subhumans. Actually, it was Viktor
Yanukovych himself who back in 2004 inflamed the xenophobic feelings of
his Russian-speaking electorate by describing his political opponents
as “goats who spoil our life” (“goats”, in Russian criminal argot, is a
strong derogative like “assholes” or worse).

The contempt should not necessarily be interpreted as racial, or
ethnic. It can be considered as merely the class superiority of haves
over have-nots, advanced over backward, urbanized over rural, central
over provincial. Yet, in Ukraine, these worlds and terms largely
coincide. The two centuries of settler colonization resulted in thorough
Russification of urban centers and complete marginalization of the
Ukrainophone folk, primarily as kolkhoz slaves and unqualified workers —
illegal migrants from the rural “third world” to the urban “first
world,” in which “propiska” was institutionalized as the ersatz-visa

For most of Ukrainophones, the Russian language was the only vehicle
for social advancement and higher cultural status. In many cases, they
were forced to adopt not only the language of their colonizers but also
their superior attitude towards uncultured “kolkhoz” aborigines; they
internalized the negative self-image imposed upon them by the dominant
group and contributed themselves to the further Russification of their
defiant or less educated countrymen.

Herman revealed a profound truth – that there are no oligarchs,
no “rich people” with Ukrainian identity (or, as she put it, “Ukrainian
mentality”). And the problem is not only, and not so much, that they do
not speak Ukrainian as their major language. There are quite a few
Russophones in Ukraine who are politically Ukrainian and, vice-versa,
but there are quite a few Ukrainophones who are politically Soviet or
ambiguously “East Slavonic.” The main problem with the Ukrainian
post-Soviet “elite” is that they are predominantly Soviet-speaking and
their major identity is primarily off-shore.

Most of them live with their families in London, Monaco, or Geneva,
and consider Ukraine just a place from which to extract money. Of
course, since they have captured the state, they need to promote some
statebuilding and to construct a nation with a rather Russophone or
Ukrainophone cultural core. For years, as sheer opportunists, they had
manipulated both groups and the overall project, until the vague balance
of forces shifted dangerously during the Orange revolution toward the
Ukrainian, i.e. anti-Eurasian/pro-European side. The prospect of
Westernization, i.e., of real reforms, transparency, rule of law, and
fair political and economic competition, frightened most Ukrainian
oligarchs. They invested heavily in a counter-revolution and, after its
victory, abandoned a middle-line policy of manipulation as just too
risky and unpredictable. They gave up the traditional Kuchma-style
“centrist” position between the two camps – the position of
self-appointed peacekeepers and intermediaries. Instead, they placed
their stakes on the Russophile side that had been traditionally more
Sovietized, paternalistic and obedient, and therefore looked more likely
to support or, at least, accept their thuggish rule. Indeed, this is
largely the same core electorate that supports Vladimir Putin in Russia and Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. In Ukraine, however, the promotion of homo
sovieticus requires the marginalization of homo anti-sovieticus, which
is largely concentrated within the Ukrainophile camp and which
significantly exceeds, in every respect, the similar anti-incumbent
camps in Russia and Belarus.

Herman seems sincerely to support a centrist line aimed at
engagement rather than containment of Ukrainophones, aimed at their
political cooptation rather than marginalization. In the same TVi
interview she defined her political mission as “to defend the interests
of the people who did not vote for V.Yanukovych […] because they
merely did not know him well enough… Yushchenko failed to become a
leader of the whole nation. And I would not like our current president
to repeat this mistake”

This might be a good idea since Yanukovych was elected a president by
only 49% of the voters, who make up just one-third of Ukraine’s adult
population. The only problem is that this appealing notion is alien to
the basic instincts and monopolistic habits of the ruling “elite” that
not only despises Ukrainophones as an inferior race but also considers
them, not unreasonably, as pro-Western agents and a major threat to
their authoritarian dominance.

Herman is undoubtedly a worldly person, and she does her PR job pretty well:

“We need professionals, the so-called Harvard boys, those young
Ukrainians who have received a good academic training. These
well-educated Ukrainians with practical experience have a different
vision of the world and Ukraine and Ukraine’s place it should come to
power. I think that in the near future the president will introduce his
new team”

Who knows? Miracles do happen. Maybe she has really discovered some
hidden essence behind Yanukovych’s personality, a diamond that will
emerge like a phoenix from ashes, at a secret time X, to usher in a
truly new team and to build a really new country. Still, the question
remains – what will he do with his old team? Or, if one dares to put it
differently, what will the old team then do with the president himself
and with his sweetheart, the well-meaning and delightful deputy head of
his administration?

Mykola Riabchuk is a Ukrainian author and journalist. This article
is reprinted with the author’s permission. It originally appeared in
Current Politics in Ukraine, Stasiuk Program for the Study of Contemporary Ukraine, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies.

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