WORLD AFFAIRS:  Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion—to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction—has just been confirmed in Ukraine.

President Viktor Yanukovych initiated the experiment in the summer of 2011, when the State Forest Resources Agency ordered 300 forestry divisions to buy 15 million hryvnya worth of presidential portraits and state emblems. Wotta way for a near-bankrupt state to be spending its citizens’ taxes, you’re probably grumbling, but that’s because you don’t get it. As the Agency head, Viktor Sivets, put it, the whole point of the sale was to “underline the state status of the forest enterprises and raise the consciousness of their workers.”

Hey, if it works in North Korea, why not in Yanukostan?

Unsurprisingly, some retrograde enterprises also didn’t get it. One manager complained that he had to buy 70 Yanukovych portraits for 12,000 hryvnya. And then he revealed just what a counterrevolutionary lout he really was: “What am I supposed to do with 70 portraits of the president, when we only have 20 rooms? Hang them in the toilet?”

Sivets insists that the enterprises got the pictures at cut-rate prices, 5 to 20 percent less than market rates. So what’s to complain about? Heck, I know a great bargain when I see one, and even I’d like to get my hands on a couple of them Yanukovyches.

Alas, Murphy’s First Law reared its head and something went wrong, and when journalist Dmytro Hnap asked around, he discovered that, while the market price for 50x37cm Yanukovych glossies was 100 hryvnya, the State Forest Resources Agency was peddling them for 300. Quite a mark-up, eh? And just when you thought the Regionnaires were finally committed to spreading nothing but good cheer, it turns out that they can’t resist making a buck even on Viktor’s smiling mug.

So what does any of this have to do with Newton?

Well, once Yanukovych portraits were set in motion as objects of adulation, it was inevitable that they would provoke an equal and opposite reaction as objects of detestation. Starting in late 2011, a series of Yanukovych billboards have been defaced—in Chernihiv, Lviv, Rivne, Kyiv, Zaporizhzhya, and Zakarpattya Provinces—mostly with huge splotches of paint.

Naturally, the authorities reacted with outrage and threatened to throw the evildoers in jail. The Donetsk mayor even wondered whether the perpetrators could be called human. Regionnaire ire was misdirected, of course. After all, the real culprit is Isaac Newton. Throw the limey in jail, I say! Indeed, let him share a cell with Yulia Tymoshenko. And take away his slide rules and never let him sit under an apple tree! That’ll teach questionably human foreigners to meddle in Yanukostan’s internal affairs.

That would be that, except that the geography of billboard defacements is worrisome. Lviv is always a troublemaker, and Rivne, also in the west, isn’t far behind. And Kyiv, well, Kyiv has always been too big for its britches. But Chernihiv, Zakarpattya, and especially Zaporizhzhya—these places are supposed to like the prez. And wasn’t Zaporizhzhya the place that recently set up a bust of Stalin?

But not to worry: the redoubtable Hanna Herman, Yanukovych’s sweet-smiling fixer, is on the job. “State propaganda,” according to Herman, is “subtle work, like jewelry making.” Hanna’s notion of subtlety may be a tad different from yours, however: “Given today’s not very simple situation in society, it’s worth considering where particular billboards should be placed. Imagine if a billboard said: ‘Christ is born. Let us praise him. Viktor Yanukovych.’ And nothing else. Then, you know, every fifth person would think twice about throwing filth at these words.”

Naturally, the other four persons angry at what they falsely believe is the Regionnaires’ thieving ways won’t think twice and are, you know, likely to aim their “filth” at Yanukovych’s saintly visage and not “at these words.”

But that’s because they probably want to confirm the validity of Newton’s First Law of Motion: every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.

Alexander J. Motyl

Ukrayinska Dumka


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