Monday, November 29, 2004

Moving off the kopeck 

Someone else has friends in high places: Check out PowerLine's letter from Michael Bleyzer, who is a big-time investment banker and media operator in Ukraine. Here's some of Bleyzer's history as a philanthropist trying to develop entrepreneurs in his country, and here acting as a cheerleader for Ukraine. About this weeks events, Bleyzer writes,

It has become clear to any observer that this crowd is bound to win. There is absolutely no way to stop this crowd without a massive blood bath, which is almost impossible to imagine to take place in the center of Europe, with all the world's TV cameras [present] ...

All major channels had previously been completely ignoring the millions of people on the streets, never reporting it and instead showing cartoons, classical music concerts and exotic travel destinations. We knew that most journalists from the major channels had either been fired by then or had gone on strike because they refused to continue broadcasting lies. As a result, all news programs on National channels 1 and 2, Inter, 1+1, Noviy, and others simply ceased any and all operations. For 3 days in a row, most of Ukraine, which only has access to the major channels, had no TV news. Imagine that - the very day after a major election - no news for three days, no morning news, no evening news, no news at all! All these channels simply had no creative staff left to produce bogus news. All fired or on strike.

Thursday night it all changed. The management and owners of all of the major channels gave in to the demands of their striking journalists and allowed honest news reporting for the first time in the history of independent Ukraine. Some of the channels like National Channel 1 and 1+1 began their evening news broadcast on Thursday with a group shot of all journalists standing together and one of them reading a statement from the creative staff in which they swore to report honest news and honest news only! This was one of the most unbelievable sights I have ever seen. And then the miracle happened - they showed a direct feed of a million proud Ukrainians on Maidan in Kyiv to the whole country. If there are defining moments in the birth of a Nation, that was certainly one! I am so proud to be able to witness it with my own eyes, in spite of all the tears that covered them at that moment.

When I wrote my book on Ukraine, I said that I went to Ukraine looking for the gravitational pull I thought would happen to move Ukraine from plan to market. I didn't find it there. Ukraine didn't really demand independence in 1991 in a meaningful way; it saw Moscow too weak to protect its claim on the USSR's resources and decided to redirect the flows from Moscow to Kyiv. This was the history of Leonid Kravchuk's, Ukraine's first president, rise to power, and what motivated Kuchma as well. It appeared that countries making the move from a planned economy and a closed society could get stuck along the spectrum between plan and market, between kleptocracy and democracy, and it would need a kick to move it further along the path.

This week might just be that kick.