WORLD AFFAIRS.  Independent Ukraine turns 20 on August 24th. Some Ukrainians are celebrating, some are demonstrating. Most are too busy making ends meet, going on vacation, tending to their private plots, or worrying about the price of buckwheat to care too much.

Polls show that only about half the population would vote for independence today. About a third wouldn’t. And the rest don’t know. That looks worse than it is. Compared to such highly nationalistic populations as the Poles and French, Ukrainians look confused. Compared to everybody else, Ukrainians are probably par for the course. Actually, more worrisome than the large number of opponents of independence is that their percentage has remained stable over the last 20 years and that they are concentrated in the Russian-speaking south and east of the country.

Of course, most of these Ukrainians have also gotten used to living in Ukraine. They take it as a given. They don’t like it, but what the heck. Some say they’d prefer living in the Soviet Union, but, in case they missed it, the glorious Land of the Soviets collapsed a while back, so that option is, well, off the table. Others say they’d prefer living in some Russian-led entity, but, since that dream could easily be fulfilled with a cheap one-way train ticket, one can’t but wonder how seriously they mean it.

The bottom line is that most people in most places and in most times adapt to their circumstances. True, it’d be nicer if most Ukrainians felt a deep love for their prosperous, democratic country, but since their country isn’t prosperous or very democratic, their lack of enthusiasm may be forgiven.

In contrast, Ukraine’s current ruling class loves Ukraine. And why shouldn’t they? They live well—and they own the place. Unfortunately, their love is the love of the mafia. They love Ukraine because it’s an easy mark. For them, Ukrainians are just plain suckers, and you know what W.C. Fields said about suckers: Never give ’em an even break.

In an ideal world, the benighted masses would drive the thieves out of town. That almost happened during the Orange Revolution and could easily happen again. Then, supporters of Ukrainian independence wanted to clean the stables. Those who opposed or were indifferent to independence were on the other side of the Orange barricade. Now, mafia misrule has led even the opponents and “indifferents” to want to throw the bums out.

The mafia has resisted by playing the independents against the opponents. It’s also trying to pick off challengers. And it has, like any group of scoundrels, wrapped itself in the flag. But that isn’t fooling anyone. The independents can’t be persuaded by their faux patriotism, and the opponents and “indifferents” don’t care.

Might the mafia change its ways? Not if it’s left to its own devices. After all, why should thugs get religion? Might someone force them to see the light? Western democrats and do-gooders haven’t a chance. After all, they’re suckers. The only one who could out-mafia the mafia is a stronger mafia. And, unfortunately for Ukraine’s current mafia, their thuggish godfather to the north is stronger than they are.

Like Johnny Rocco, the gangster in John Huston’s Key Largo who always wants “more,” Vladimir Putin’s Russia knows no bounds on its appetites toward Ukraine. The vigorish keeps going up, the cuts keep getting larger, and the demands keep getting more outlandish. If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. If you give them a mile, they’ll take ten. Jeeze, what’s a poor Ukrainian capo to do?

The answer is obvious: go straight. Get rid of those black shirts and wide lapels, stop smoking cigars and packing heat, cut your fingernails, brush your hair, buy yourself a nice house and mow the lawn, start a respectable business, and join a country club, preferably in Brussels.

Oh, and one more thing. Declare Putin and his sidekick Dmitri Medvedev Heroes of Ukraine. They deserve it. Their thuggishness might just make Ukraine fully independent.

Alexander J Motyl


Ukrayinska Dumka


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