Ukraine: Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation

Invisible Um, so. Exciting times in the Ukraine seems to have got even more exciting. Is it possible to hope for a Happy Ending? If people will Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation then yes [*].

The Prez is fled, and the Beeb says Ukraine crisis: Crowds descend on Yanukovych house where they find the usual opulence; somewhat reminiscent of Gaddafi; I was cautiously hopeful then but I'll hope the Ukrainians manage better. Lenin statues toppled in protest Aunty continues, which has ominous echoes of the disaster area that we made of Iraq; not that the statue-toppling was the problem itself; indeed the people's joy is clear.

The Prez has declared this a coup and scarpered to Eastern Ukraine, whilst simultaneously declaring "he has no intention of quitting". Declaring a coup, and hoping for the Russkie tanks to restore him to power sounds like his best hope; but is it a runner? Miriam says Yes: she thinks "Russian armed forces, on Ukrainian soil, within two weeks" (she declined to say "tanks over the border", though I think that's the only way they can do it, if they want to). I say No. perhaps more in hope than in judgement, but my reasoning would be: this is all unexpected. No-one is in place to react quickly. Invading (sorry: "restoring the democratically elected Prez"; note that the FT says he was constitutionally removed, but I'm sure that can be finessed by sufficient firepower) is very risky, and could go terribly wrong for Putin. Whereas doing nothing except fomenting a bit of bother, and hoping it all goes horribly wrong, is not very risky(he looks a bit stupid and somewhat dissed, but its far from fatal).

[*] Well I suppose I should say that whilst I like Alasdair Gray's books and the slogan itself is beautiful and apt, I don't agree with the politics in his article.

Updates: there's some interest in the sequence of events. As far as I can see, the xPrez's departure was shockingly abrupt. One moment his thugs are sniping from the rooftops, the next he's run away to the Crimea, having failed to run away to Russia.

My version or speculation of this: he was always a rather low-grade thug type; unlike the deeply-dyed-in-evil types like Putin or Assad. And the Ukraine isn't a barbarous state. So the army wouldn't go into Maidan, resorting to sniping forced people at the top to take sides, and too many of them just didn't want to be on the xPrez's side. Who would want to live in a state he was dictator of?

Now the Russian thugs are making mafia-like noises - Putin's sockpuppet has been wheeled out - but Putin himself perhaps more wisely stays silent.

More like this

>don't agree with the politics
The history? ("my personal history of this United Kingdom's politics for readers too young to remember it.")

The observation? ("The essential do-gooders in any nation work to provide food, clothes, and necessary transport. They build our houses and roads, mend the plumbing, empty our middens but such folk are the most lowly paid .... most reach the peak of their earning power in their early 20s ..."

The alternate universe? ("encouraging them to modernise by putting them in contact with university research departments that were not in the pockets of global corporations.")

Dunno; sounded reasonable to me.

Young people: hmmm, my earning power peaked in my 20s (in gallons of gasoline per hour, though the dollar's inflated).

Apparenly I've come from, to quote a Keillor blurb on a recent book, "... the working poor, the people who buy day-old bread, patronize libraries, rarely go to movies, and don't need your sympathy. Just a break now and then."

Could've fooled me. I thought I was going to save the world.
That twenties enthusiasm. But without us it would have been worse. Opportunities abound, always.

So what politics would you have the Ukraine folks adopt, if not the Scottish independence kind?

[Ukraine is badly in need of honest politics, above all else. If it can also be brave, and possibly avoid overly nationalistic pols, that would be good. It also needs pols able to either reconcile the two halves of the country, or split it peacefully. In an ideal world the latter would occur (as it would in Iraq or Turkey) but in our world reconciliation is all that can be hoped for -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 22 Feb 2014 #permalink

Caveat: as this historian puts it:

the historian is the ‘Internal Affairs guy’. This is a well-known figure in popular TV ‘cop shows’ and rarely a ‘good guy’. He or she is there to suppose that the hero has lied or done something wrong and that the villains might have been wronged or be telling the truth. The character rarely turns out to be as unsettling as that but it works as an analogy. For me, the historian is not there to provide comforting truths but to question them. The historian must always be prepared to wonder whether the ‘heroes’ of history are not, in fact, the villains,

If you believe anything at all, if you want your belief to be solid, in other words, it has to be on the basis of taking it apart and putting it back together on the basis of radical scepticism.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 22 Feb 2014 #permalink

It's beginning to look like the only stable equilibrium for Ukraine is to split off the eastern/Crimea part, leaving it either nominally sovereign or absorbed into Russia proper. Whether that happens through a political solution or by Yanukovich inviting Russian troops is the more troubling question.

If Putin is smart (and he is), he'll have taken an important lesson from recent events: there's a considerable part of the Ukrainian population that is willing to fight and die. Thus if Russian troops come in my bet is that they'll occupy only the ethnically Russian part. The last thing Putin wants is another Chechnya or Afghanistan.

By Don Brooks (not verified) on 22 Feb 2014 #permalink

On honesty, the concept of Gray's slogan seems to have been adapted without acknowledgement from:
'Canadian poet Dennis Lee's Civil Elegies, in which he wrote: "And best of all is finding a place to be/in the early days of a better civilization." '

Now that's more civilised...

[The editor of the Sunday Herald and Alex Salmond were wrong to call me author of the slogan Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation'. I found it in a long poem by the Canadian author, Dennis Leigh sounds like an ack to me -W]


Russia does nothing, now, but feels defeated and damaged ; Putin replaced by even harder leader => serious trouble later.

Ukraine applies to join EU which is not very keen (compare Turkey) and tries to modify rules about free migration.
Ukraine admitted to EU => UK referendum about EU membership revolves around real or imagined possibility of immigration from Ukraine=> UK leaves EU just as Ukraine joins it.

By deconvoluter (not verified) on 23 Feb 2014 #permalink

dave s, didn't you read the page? Gray has had that attribution with details up on his page for a long, long time.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 23 Feb 2014 #permalink

Russia won't do anything until after the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, so they have a few hours at least.

Think preparing for an invasion takes a little more than a few hours - there are usually hints well before it happens even for the public let alone with access to spy satellite information. To what extent would Nato/UN/EU/US take exception to preparations for invasion? If Putin started preparations and then backed down that would look more fatally weak? Hope that stops him starting preparations. IOW hope W is right.

I'm admittedly mot a Ukrainian export. But it's rather a dichotomy choice of freedom-petrolrum former PM and authoritarian -leftist currently elected head. Who do you back?

[The people in the streets -W]

By Tim Beatty (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

Ouch, I'd failed to read the linked piece and acknowledgement has indeed been fully given. My fault entirely.

With the quirk that Leigh's "finding a place to be in the early days of a better civilization" appears to have been remembered or modified by Gray as "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation." More recently reinvented for Hillhead subway station as "work as if you live in the early days of a better world".…
Am slightly uneasy about these slogans, prefer civilisation but even that's a bit ambiguous.

Nationalism or even localism is undoubtedly a source of pride. In the linked Herald essay, Gray provides a list of productive work now stopped in Scotland: with some oddities. Denny don't seem to have built the first hovercraft, though they did build the first successful turbine steamer, Singers' Clydebank sewing machine works was an outpost of an American corporation building for the local market. Greenock's Tate & Lyle was an amalgamation of the Liverpool and London Tate with the Greenock and London Lyle, with origins in the slave and sugar trade, closed by the shift away from imported sugar cane. National boundaries don't always help much.

Good luck to the people of the Ukraine, possibly two nations rather than one in the sort of uneasy coalition formed by arbitrary national boundaries. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? We can hope for better.

Come on, write in clear sentences.

[My hovercraft is full of eels -W]

By Funny how (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

It's a conundrum. that's for sure. The leftist, elected prime minister was driven from office by the free market, western, natural-gas (but cuter) multimillionaire. I prefer western to Putin because they are seemingly more responsive to their people. But the coup of an election the west certified as valid seems a bit hypocritical. How "right-wing" the revolutionaries turn out to be seems to be paramount.

By Tim Beatty (not verified) on 25 Feb 2014 #permalink

[The people in the streets -W]

Yeah, me too. I just hope each city/region has the same people. Ukrainians deciding who goes and who stays is a lot better than proxy votes by tanks from the west and east. Heck, draw a line and make two countries if they can't agree. Better than a bloody civil war over lines on a map drawn by people 5 generations ago.

By Tim Beatty (not verified) on 25 Feb 2014 #permalink

Some of "the people in the streets" are the pro-Western party's associated militia, who apparently are displaying Nazi-style regalia, blatting about ethnic purity, and bashing in the heads of anyone they suspect of supporting the legally elected government. Think I'll wait a year or two to see how this plays out before cheering for the noble mob.

Reports today have the Russians maneuvering on the border. Where is Alex Salmond when you need him?

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 26 Feb 2014 #permalink

Russians maneuvering on the border? Are they going to invade Moscow, Ayrshire?

The beeb merely reports scuffles in Crimea. Goes to record player and puts on The Siege of Sebastopol (John Fahey's version).

Update: The Graun covers the Russian maneuvering with reports from Sevastopol,d Kiev and agencies, the LATimes covers it and also has an update reporting suggestions that the readiness maneuvers were unrelated to events in Ukraine.

The Torygraph seems more concerned that Cameron's replies at PMQs "risked a backlash from climate-sceptic Conservative ministers and MPs by insisting that humans are responsible for climate change." Always keen on lashes, whips etc.

The Crimea, with a large Russian population and home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet at Sevastipol has all the makings of Danzig.

[What, the start of a giant wikipedia edit war over its name?

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 26 Feb 2014 #permalink

Well, the new guy looks impressive at first sight. He has no illusions about the awful state that the country is in, and isn't sugar coating it. How many new PMs start their term by telling the people "Welcome to hell"?

Granted, not quite as eloquent as "blood, toil, tears and sweat."

By Don Brooks (not verified) on 26 Feb 2014 #permalink

To quote the Graun, "Armed men have seized the government buildings in the capital of the Ukraine’s Crimea region and hoisted a Russian flag over a barricade. . . . Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 in the Soviet-era by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev."

As for the siege of Sevastopol and parallels with the SNP, see the blockade and debt info at…

[If I could be sure that's what the population (as opposed to a small number of armed men) want, I'd be arguing for the xfer of the Crimea back to Russia. But for the moment I'm (weakly, ignorantly) in favour of the place remaining united -W]

Yes, the situation is messy and unknowable Hope it comes out well.

On something completely different, the beeb has a rather over-dramatised heading for interesting research on something I've noticed with spruce forests:

Here, it's quite common on dampish mornings to see clouds rising out of the forestry spruce plantations. It can look quite dramatic from the Clyde. May contribute to the area being coolish, will that change now that big mature forestry areas are being felled?

...split it peacefully. In an ideal world the latter would occur.

Because that worked so well with India (and Pakistan)?

[We in this world have a habit of applying the wrong examples, and thereby multiply stuffing things up. India-Pak worked badly, for many reasons, but if we apply your "logic" it remains forever an barrier to the splitting up of all countries anywhere? By that token, the fact that Czecho and Slovakia did split peacefully is forever an example of why it will work -W]

@William #25 - Division can work when there are neat geographical separations. That wasn't the case in India and it isn't anything like the case in Ukraine. Take a look at the map in this story, for example:

Ethno-Linguistic map of Ukraine

[Ah, that's better, now you're making an argument. I don't really buy it though: the "here's one map" thing is more of a cheap headline that a truth. And indeed their second map -… - is better, IMHO. Regardless of all that, though, division can only work with goodwill on both sides. Left to themselves the E and W Ukraine (to crudely simplify) might work this out; but they won't be left to themselves. Apart from us fiddling, you have Putin who will maliciously stir up trouble -W]

This is where Russia gets its long-wanted warm-water port, right?
"Russia, on the other hand, by a freak of circumstance, unfortunate for herself and other nations, had her sea-communications in Europe land-locked and partially ice-locked, and the effect of these great geographical disadvantages was manifested in the Crimean War...."

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 02 Mar 2014 #permalink

I was wondering if there might end up being a referendum in Crimea and possibly other regions. I didn't think anyone would think it reasonable to have one while Russian troops are roaming around at will.