UKRAINE'S ORANGE BLUES - FINDING UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT YANUKOVYCH’S BOOK

13.11.11


WORLD NEWS.  I have some really swell news.

I finally managed to get my hands on Viktor Yanukovych’s bestselling book, Opportunity Ukraine. No one I know in Ukraine has ever laid his or her eyes on the volume, but I have it—my very own copy.

I’ll discuss the actual volume in subsequent blogs, but for the time being let me tell you how I found it.

It wasn’t easy. I scoured the bookstores of Kyiv and Lviv a few weeks ago, but to no avail. Silly me: why would an English-language book by its president be sold in Ukraine?

But surely it’d be available in Vienna, right? I mean, the publisher, Mandelbaum Verlag, is based in Vienna, and surely they’d have an interest in selling it there? Right?

Wrong.

I scoured the bookstores of Vienna, but with no luck. The city’s answer to Barnes & Noble, Morawa, didn’t even have the book in its computer system—which was a bad sign, of course, and led me to think I should just go straight to the source.

It turns out that Mandelbaum Verlag is located on the ground floor of an old building at Wipplingerstrasse 23, in the First District. I walked in and encountered two men sitting amid shelves and piles of books. The older one asks me, in German, if he could help me. I say that I’m looking for President Yanukovych’s book—that I’ve looked in all the bookstores of Vienna but wasn’t able to find it.

“Es ist vergriffen,” he says, “but I may still have a copy or two.”

“Sold out?” I respond. “You mean here in Austria?”

“Nein,” he says, “the books have been shipped to Ukraine.”

“Aha,” I say and ask him how much the book costs.

“Nineteen euros and ninety cents.”

I give him a twenty and he rummages in a box, where he finds five copies wrapped in plastic. He hands me one and returns ten cents. I thank him profusely and rush out, a broad smile on my face.

After all, I may be the only person outside the presidential administration to own a copy of the volume.

So what’s the book like?

Mandelbaum did their job well: the book at least looks professional. Too bad Yanukovych’s ghost writers didn’t bother with such niceties as citation, preferring plagiarism instead, but there’s at least one good thing to be said about the tome—that someone, perhaps Yanukovych himself, had the good sense to understand that an English-language volume by a Ukrainian president could be an effective way of telling the world about Ukraine. None of Ukraine’s three other presidents understood that, so Yanukovych deserves some credit for seeing the importance of reaching out.

Naturally, since his book is a Regionnaire operation, it’s not surprising they did a lousy job. Forget the plagiarism. The truly bizarre thing about the volume is that it’s intended for Western investors. Yanukovych and his minions really appear to have believed that your typical investor would actually make a far-reaching business decision involving millions or billions of dollars by reading a book. And one by a president no less.

Anyone with even a grade-school understanding of how investment decisions are made could have told the Regionnaires that investors mistrust broad smiles and vague assurances by smooth-talking honchos promising to take care of everything personally. What any investor wants and needs to know is simple: Can I make money? And is my investment safe from political and criminal predators? A president can turn blue in the face with claims that all will be well, but the bottom line for any investor is a country’s economic numbers and the quality of its legal system. After all, there are close to two hundred countries in the world. Why invest in some place whose president promises you’ll make money when you can invest in another place where other businesspeople are already making money? You’d have to be dumb—or a Regionnaire with criminal connections—to fall for that.

And it doesn’t help when the Regionnaire in question doesn’t have his facts straight. Yanukovych claims that “registering a business” takes 27 days in Ukraine, as compared to four in Singapore, 23 in Japan, and 15 in Germany (p. 247). According to the authoritative Doing Business ratings calculated by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, the only number Yanukovych got right was four for Singapore. In reality, “starting a business” takes five days in Hong Kong, 107 in Japan, 98 in Germany—and 112 in Ukraine. 

Yanukovych’s book might have attracted some investor attention if it had been a hard-hitting, honest, and self-critical memoir—a Horatio Alger story of one Donbas hooligan’s rise to the presidency of a big country. That kind of book might even have found a big publisher in New York, and it’s not inconceivable that readers—and there would have been readers for that kind of book—would have come away thinking that this Yanukovych fella must be a straight-shootin’ kind of guy.

Naturally, such a book could work only if it were honest, and that pretty much rules it out for a Party of Regions author. Alas, if Yanukovych weren’t so vain and pompous—signs, perhaps, of a deep-seated inferiority complex?—he might actually look like a nice guy. Small wonder that, like the American comedian Rodney Dangerfield, he “don’t get no respect.”

Alexander J. Motyl

 



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