‘Why don’t you visit Euro 2012 and protest for us?‘ Ukrainian novelist Yuriy Andrukhovych
by Sophie Cooke
The diamond-encrusted presidential toilet is perhaps the most appropriate symbol of Viktor Yanukovych’s regime. Milan Kundera’s description of totalitarian kitsch as ‘the absolute denial of shit’ never found fuller expression than in this image. The famed toilet sits in a lavish mansion, at the end of vast halls of Italian marble, in an estate the size of Monaco. There is a private yacht club, riding stables, and a small zoo. The name of the Ukrainian president’s personal estate is Mezhyhiriya.
Where did President Yanukovych find the money to pay for the construction of his insanely lavish mansion? Part of it, apparently, has come from his literary endeavours. According to his latest tax return, he was paid $2 million for as-yet unwritten memoirs by a small Ukrainian publishing house, Novyi Svit (New World), based in Donetsk. It is unlikely that Novyi Svit was impressed by the performance of Yanukovych’s last publication with them: Opportunity Ukraine had to be removed from bookshops due to plagiarism allegations. Perhaps a clearer explanation of its excitement over the author can be found in the fact that the director of the publishing house is an employee of the Yanukovych administration, as pointed out by Alexander Motyl, professor of political science at Rutgers University, in his blog for World Affairs: (http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/alexander-j-motyl/yanukovych’s-shady-royalties). Of course, one must still wonder where the little publishing company found the $2 million with which to pay the president.
Serhij Leschenko is a Ukrainian investigative and political journalist; deputy editor of the opposition newspaper Ukrainska Pravda. He has been pursuing Yanukovych’s money trail. According to his recent article for OpenDemocracy, the presidential estate of Mezhyhiriya is officially the property of Tantalit – not, so far as we know, the erotica imprint of Novyi Svit, but a completely separate private firm also located in Donetsk. Tantalit is 99.97% owned by another company, Euro East Beteilungs GmbH, which is registered in Austria. And Euro East is in turn 100% owned by another company, Blythe (Europe) Ltd – whose registered address is in London, at Formations House, 29 Harley Street (http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/serhij-leschenko/yanukovych-luxury-residence-and-money-trail-that-leads-to-london
In other words, while British politicians were discussing whether or not to boycott Euro 2012 matches in Ukraine because of alleged corruption, the Ukrainian president lived in a private palace whose deeds are registered through a British firm based in Westminster.
Cases of property tax evasions using loopholes in British law have recently made UK headlines. But the case of Mezhyhiriya is far more serious. As Leschenko points out, the ostentatious villa complex sits on land that belongs to the Ukrainian people: privatised but never paid for. The scent of theft hangs over it.
Ukrainian writers have not failed to protest against corruption in their country. Earlier this year, the famous dissident writer Yuriy Vynnychuk was the subject of a police investigation – ordered by the Office of the Prosecutor General – for reading his new poem ‘Kill The Bugger!’ to an appreciative crowd in Kyiv. A tongue-in-cheek satire of the old Soviet poems that urged workers to rise up and kill their corrupt oppressors, the poem casts Yanukovych and his culturally repressive Education Minister, Tabachnyk, in the role of today’s corrupt overlords.
Vynnychuk was not surprised by the harassment. Besides being a writer, he is also the editor of oppositional newspaper ‘Post-Postup’: the Ukrainian equivalent of ‘Private Eye’. Every week, he produces sharp political satire aimed at the government. But, says Vynnychuk: ‘Now the most popular newspaper, ‘Express’, and my ‘Post-Postup’ which is published as a supplement to it, are under the wheels of state prosecution. The authorities intend to close us. They are trying to bring all the media under their control.’
Respected author Yuriy Andrukhovych has a novel suggestion. Rather than boycotting the current matches in Ukraine, he wrote on his blog, ‘Why don’t you visit Euro 2012 and protest for us? There is just a chance they won’t dare hit you with batons or fire tear gas at you.’
Kill The Bugger! by Yuri Vynnychuk
(translation: Sophie Cooke and Halya Shyyan)
The time has come when each of us
faces the choice times give to us:
now gangsters and liars govern,
con-men and pig-herds fill Parliament.
They have ground the state down to powder,
drunk from our veins like vampires;
now their leader, pelted with egg,
draws us on to the cliff-edge.
A gangster before: he’s a gangster now
but of a better class, the kind that are allowed.
It’s not fur hats he’s nicking, but public millions now -
Kill the bugger.
For flogging the country to ones who aren’t its friends,
along with Taras’ Testament;
for bringing us Tabachnyk, and other Moscow shamans -
Kill the bugger.
Tabachnyks are the governors of this sleazy witches’ ball,
their kind has risen like a star above the spoils.
Once more, we’re Little Russian khokhols -
Kill the bugger.
Ukraine will not lie back:
miner from Donbas,
lift your steel pick-axe
to kill the bugger.
We have no more holy purpose
nor any other hope!
Go ask God for forgiveness
and kill the bugger.
When they serve us on a plate
to a Kremlin whose saliva is already in full spate,
it will be too late: rise up and kill!
Kill the bugger!
Sophie Cooke is the author of two novels: The Glass House and Under The Mountain.