Presidential lexicon vs the lexicon of diplomacy

As the countries which base themselves on the Rule of Law await what will happen in the “show trial” of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, there are a few things that I like the readers of this column to think about for at least the time that it takes to read this opinion over maybe at the water cooler with colleagues if possible. Some of these ideas have been reflected by others, such as Hryhoriy Buzenko writing for ORD, but these were not necessarily aimed an Anglophone audience, and it is due time that that audience begin to understand the fundamental difference between their world and a contemporary Ukraine.

From my piece entitled “A vindictive form of justice,” I would like to use my concluding words of that piece as a launch pad. I wrote: “How the regime must be rejoicing that they have nearly achieved victory in silencing their two strongest opponents, who once insulted, and investigated their questionable behavior and have a great deal of dirt on them all for certain. In their world, vengeance has always been more important than justice. In their world there are no civilized rules.”

It may not be as much civilized rules that are issue here, but two different civilizations and two different lexicons of those civilizations.

Firstly, I have known Yuriy Lutsenko personally since about mid-1993, and one thing I know for certain, he likes to joke. Unfortunately for him, jokes and being made fun of are not something that individuals with a questionable past, such as Ukraine’s incumbent President take very kindly to.

Secondly, over the centuries, the international diplomatic community has developed its very own lexicon and terminology in order to send signals to one another.

And while these always ring very clearly in the ears of the schooled and experienced diplomats or state delegates, it really does not seem to be the case for Yanukovych and Co. Many observers have noted that the lengthy, veiled statements and indirectly expressed implications by his European counterparts are simply not understood on his end, and the intended ‘warning’ messages lack any level of strength sufficient enough to exert the slightest form of political pressure. Diplomatic etiquette, just like intellectuality and politeness in general, is also something that his ilk of individuals does not take fondly to. To them it is all a demonstration of “weakness” and of an inability to do anything about whatever it is that the West is “deeply concerned about” in Ukraine.

Thirdly, for those who understand some Soviet history, it is no secret that after Stalin starved those in Ukraine to death, including in the Donbas region he carried out mass internal migration programs to turn Ukraine in a different type of land and to work in the mines of Donbas. A very large proportion of those sent to Donbas were simply criminals who had already developed their own cultural norms, their own lexicon and their own “ponyatiya” or notions between what is right and wrong. The significance of the impact of this criminal sub-culture on the social norms of the population of these regions should never be disregarded when doing any kind of analysis of Ukraine’s current ruling ‘elite’ and its actions.

As one Ukrainian observer noted, on one of the many sites I monitor regularly. The recent conflict between the authorities and a Kyiv-based company called ProstoPrint is based solely on the difference in lexical understanding, and the fact that most people from Donbas can’t take a joke, especially if they are the brunt of it. It was simply because of the lexicon and there its criminally twisted “notion” between what is right and wrong which caused major problems for ProstoPrint. Without going into lexical details for the Western reader, the problem with the ‘scandalous’ T-shirts that were sold on Kyiv square at a stand led to violent raid of the ProstoPrint offices on September 6, 2011 by special police forces, was not the content of what the T-shirts said, but rather how that content was interpreted by the authorities, who looked at it through their usual prism of convict sub-culture terminology, and saw in the harmless phrase too close of a rhyming potential to what is considered a major insult in criminal circles, which, if not ‘adequately’ retaliated against would be perceived as a blow to the reputation of the insulted individual, who in this case happened to be the President. Hard to grasp, really, but the owner of ProstoPrint, Denis Oleinikov has already left the country with his family out of concerns for their safety.

Finally, does all that mean now that in order for the EU to exert more pressure on Yanukovych, their statesmen/women need to start addressing the issues during his visits with an increased, almost gangster-like bluntness? Could be, yet while there has been a noticeable escalation in the EU’s rhetoric with regard to the Tymoshenko trial and the state of democracy in Ukraine in general, it is still far from enough for Yanukovych and Co. to even feel the slightest amount of political pressure. Actions always speak clearer than any words, be they blunt or veiled.

This Thursday in Warsaw, Volodymyr Ariev and Andriy Pawlowsky, members of Ukraine’s opposition have called upon the governing bodies of the European Union to switch from talks with Yanukovych, which he – quote – “does not understand” – to starting concrete action. Among the demands voiced were: the enforcement of a travel ban for key members of Yanukovych’s cohorts beyond the borders of Ukraine, including those who head institutions of the Government. The blocking of foreign accounts of all business owners, judges and administrators that support the incumbent regime, as well as a call for a general boycott of the Euro-2012 football championship, were amongst the methods suggested by the opposition’s representatives in Warsaw.

It seems to me that the powers that be in Ukraine need some tough love and to have their ears boxed by the international community. The pussy footing around and diplomatic language is clearly something they don’t understand and are unlikely to understand for the reasons outlined above. We all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but it is time for those who care, both in Ukraine and beyond its borders, to start setting up some roadblocks on that road.

Vasyl Pawlowsky
Independent Consultant

  • Anonymous

    Very true. If diaspora Ukrainians would once again massively stand up against what is going on in Ukraine today, Ukrainians would feel support. But how committed are we to stand up and show our disgust, massively, publicly, visibly and well organized in front of, for example, the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa.