Some great photos of Kosovo here
So says RFE/RFE here
June 27, 2006 -- About 20,000 people demonstrated in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv today to protest against hikes in the prices of gas and electricity.
Protestors at the rally, which was organized by labor unions, also demanded that the government stop further increases. The government has warned Ukrainians to expect further increases in utility prices before the end of the year.
Again the photo shows plenty of blue flags and hammers and sickles and the caption says "Some of the 20,000 or so demonstrators who packed Independence Square in downtown Kyiv".
The question is, who will get the blame for the price rises and why are the protests occuring just now? OK, it's just before they take effect, but is it also Yanukovych with a show of strength? And would it have made any difference who was in power in January when the price agreement was made? Presumably if Gasprom wants world prices for gas in Ukraine for commercial reasons, it doesn't matter who is in power in Ukraine, the deal is not going to be much different.
According to Kiev Ukraine News Blog , the Party of the Regions is blockading Parliament. The report continues
Members of Ukraine's Party of Regions have blocked the rostrum in the country's parliament Tuesday in a bid to thwart a session of the Supreme Rada.
Viktor Yanukovych's party, which won the largest share of the parliamentary vote, has declared itself in opposition to the Ukrainian authorities and the new parliamentary coalition, which comprises Western-leaning "orange" groups.
"They will not let any action take place in parliament," said Yevgeny Kushnarev, a Party of Regions leader.
But according to the BBC, the action is on the streets.
Ukrainians protest over gas hike Tens of thousands of people have protested in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, against plans to sharply raise gas and electricity prices.more
A BBC correspondent in Kiev said the protests were as big as those during the 2004 Orange Revolution, which swept President Viktor Yushchenko to power. Consumers face a near doubling of gas and electricity prices from 1 July, Ukraine's trade unions say.
Russia doubled the price of gas supplies to Ukraine earlier this year.
"Many protesters came from the industrial east of Ukraine" says the caption to a photo with lots of blue banners. If Eastern Ukrainians are protesting now, then who is supporting Yanukovych? It could get quite interesting.
I can't resist scanning and posting these photos, since they are so evocative of a Soviet past.
Granta (a quarterly magazine of new writing and photography) has just published a preview of a book of photographs of Russia taken by Simon Roberts in a journey across Russia covering the (Russian) Far East (Sakhalin Island, Magadan, and Chukhotka) and the furthest west (Kaliningrad), also the Volga and the Altai Republic where Russia borders China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. In short all the places I still have an urge to get to, for reasons I really can't explain even to myself.
His photos are all taken (or printed) in rather dull colours which echo the sadness and monotony of the lives of the people in the pictures, when seen with western eyes. The photos presented are generally devoid of a natural environment, or even then without bright sun, without golden church cupolas, without healthy growing trees (you can tell I have just come back from Kiev).
Nevertheless Roberts comments:
Meeting people .... led me to think about what it means to be Russian. The idea of a Russian identity seemed to be so important to the people that I met. Most of them were so patriotic, intensely proud of their homeland's beauty and its size. The concept of motherland --rodina in Russian-- wasn't just about the enormity of Russia's landmass or about its future potential. The concept of rodina insists that Russia is an exceptionally spiritual place: soulful, mysterious and holy. ..... I wanted my photographs to explore Russia's many conflicts: economic, cultural and social, but continually to insist on its ability to be dignified and spiritual.
I know what he means, but I'm not sure he really succeeds. Where is the dignity in most of these pictures when you know enough about the background.
Here are some of them: (excuse the scanning, some of the photos extend across two pages and the book was not easy to flatten)
I think this must really be Bilibino, home of Russia's only nuclear plant providing district heating as well as electricity and as such rather a research plant. Techies can find out about the plant here. The incidence of safety problems does not make happy reading, and the failure of citizens to pay for heat and power suggests that even the scientists are not paid well. The plant is due to close soon but won't as there is nothing to replace it.
Not much to celebrate then.
Kolyma is best known as the Soviet Auschwitz. Kolyma Tales (described by Amazon as among the Twentieth-Century Classics) written by a survivor, Varlam Shalamov, has many good reviews.
Who will be answerable for the lives of those who did not survive Kolyma?
Departure lounge, Magadan airport September 2004
I chose this photo perhaps because I had spent too much time waiting in Boryspil airport the other day. Not that Magadan resembles Boryspil much. But it is a standard Soviet design, which I recognise from somewhere I have been. Irkutsk maybe? Leningrad? All Soviet public buildings have those high windows, and dark ceiling tiles or dark metal structures and a few quite inadequate light fittings lost amongst them. The bufet, seating (or perhaps one should say "standing") are typical. So is the complete lack of seating for waiting passengers.
So are the vitrines (I've no idea what they might be called in English) showing off what looks like dried fish, or in the far one, nothing at all. At least the mural is not the usual socialist realist art. It looks more like it was influenced by Picasso's "Guernica".
Here too, Stalin has something to answer for, as Magadan was the administrative centre for the gulags in the region.
As Wikipedia puts it
A highway leads from Magadan to the gold-mining region on the upper Kolyma River. This is known as the "Road of Bones" because of the prisoners who died during its construction—their bones were incorporated into the road.
During the Stalin era, Magadan was a major transit center for prisoners being sent to labor camps. The operations of Dal'stroi, a vast and brutal forced-labor gold-mining concern, were the main economic driver of the city for many decades during Soviet times.
Magadan is very isolated. There is only one road in and out, and the nearest city is Yakutsk, 2200km away down a road that is only half paved.
Magadan has an enormous Cathedral under construction, and the Mask of Sorrow memorial - a huge sculpture in memory of Stalin's victims.
This, to me, looks like a scene from the "zone" in Tarkovsky's film Stalker, described by one reviewer as "Visions of Faust in a post Chernobyl-like hell".
This photo really upset me. Imagine those kids growing up there. Where is the dignity in that?
Granta should definitely be more careful with its proof reading of Russian names, as this must surely be Pyatigorsk. It's not clear to me whether this is the new casual Putin, jacket hooked over his shoulder, or whether he is really raising two fingers in a papal blessing.
Those two guys look pretty smart in their suits and ties. Must have been an important occasion.
I shall have to get the book, when it comes out.
I was just following up this article which I missed recently
Gas chief unveils plan to upgrade titanium plant By Tom Warner in Kiev
Published: May 28 2006 22:00 | Last updated: May 28 2006 22:00
Dmytro Firtash, the Ukrainian tycoon who last month revealed his ownership of RosUkrEnergo, the natural gas trader, has taken a further step out of the shadows by revealing his other holdings, including a titanium plant in Ukraine.
Google couldn't find anything on Firtash but suggested "did you mean fetish". Not the sort of thing one associates with oligarchs, but who knows with such a secretive type. Of course if it were in Britain it would be all over the tabloids, or at least someone would be blackmailing him. But then he wouldn't have the reputation for secrecy.
Update: I realise I typed Fyrtash. Not so difficult to find information when it's Firtash.
Just a little about our work, which is to get an EU system of oil stocks implemented in Ukraine to eventually give it a 90 day buffer against Russian machinations, as well as global oil shocks.
Of course, this is rather hard to do, there being no money to buy the stocks, especially now at such high prices. Mostly arguments about who should manage the stocks are what takes up our time. Of course all current stocks are state secrets, (though probably there are none, having been stolen many years ago) or commercial secrets of the refineries (mostly owned by Russia, so not interested in Ukraine's security). All information on the refineries say they are running on hardly any stocks at all, which is hardly the way to run a commercial refinery. Of course they would say that, wouldn't they, if they smell money for some more stocks without paying for them.
In practice we are doing the groundwork for a new law to set up the framework for building up the stocks, reporting to the EU and a crisis management system for using the stocks.
And the push is for both the EU and Ukraine to have some progress when they meet in October to discuss the memorandum of understanding on energy that they signed in more hopeful days last December.
Looks like Russia is not going to have it all its own way this winter, despite Gasprom having got its foot in the door in Britain already according to the FT. (subscription only)
Today it reports that Turmenistan has broken with tradition and is asking for almost world prices for gas, thus undermining the winter Russian- Ukrainian deal. Depressing that none of the Ukrainian leaders are interested in the gas deal but Yulia, presumably because they are have a share of the deal and dont care about Ukraine.
On June 21, the government of Turkmenistan announced that it proposes to steeply raise the price of gas it sells to Gazprom: from $65 per 1,000 cubic meters at present to $100 in the second half of 2006. The volume of deliveries would remain constant at 30 billion cubic meters. Turkmenistan is giving Russia six weeks to sign a sale-purchase contract for the remainder of 2006 at the Turkmen-proposed price. Failing that, "Turkmenistan will stop the supplies," according to Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources Minister, Gurbanmyrat Atayev, quoted by the Turkmen Ministry of Foreign Affairs communiqué. Atayev confirmed the six-week deadline and stoppage threat in a meeting with a European Parliament delegation the same day in Ashgabat.more
There are some talks of the EU sitting in with Ukraine on any next negotiations for gas. I'd love to be a fly on the wall. And who would they choose? Someone from Ruhrgas or Winterhill, who are already in bed with Gasprom?
It's a strange feeling blogging from an airport by wireless.
It's even stranger when you look up and see a couple of sparrows skidding on the stone floor, next to you, next to the bar. Clearly the building is not so airtight. I think the photos I took on my mobile phone will not be useful. Here is the only one worth using. You can just see one of the sparrows perched on the steel framework.
Now at last the flight is called.
This could have been the most boring day spent in an airport yet, beating the 10 hours in Sheremetevo 10 years ago with nothing but one bar of chocolate to break the boredom. I rationed myself to one block every hour and was thankful I had a seat.
Today it was just bad management. I could only change my flight to the evening Gatwick flight. I had nowhere to leave my luggage in Kiev, at least without paying 50 Euros to extend the privilege. So I went to the airport at the same time as one of my colleagues, arriving at one for an eight o'clock flight.
It's very loud in the loung with flight announcements all the time, in three languages and for each partner on the flight. The coffee bar, snack place was pretty unappetising. Somehow I slogged it out all day with my two books, Orman Pamuk's White Castle and a book on the history of glass. Mostly I dozed as I had had a rough night what with the heat, the mosquitos and a very dusty flat.
However when the flight was announced as delayed due to non-arrival of the airport I was pretty pissed off. My ipod battery was flat and my phone not much better. No games installed yet on my new computer.
But they checked us in and the flight is only an hour late. I remembered that there were power points upstairs so I did a surreptitious charge of my phone and ipod for half an hour and felt much better. Can't say the same about the chicken baguette from the irish bar, which is the only place for food and drink on the airside. Disgusting pieces of reconstituted chicken in soggy rolls.
Then I remembered there was supposed to be wifi, and amazingly there was. A free public one which lets me write this, and a more secure one which no doubt you have to pay for.
So now I can read the blogs I haven't had time to read all this week.
Small note from a day's watching of adverts in the waiting lounge: this is the first time I have ever seen an advert promoting better childcare. A very sad little girl clutching her teddy has been parked in a corner, while her mother talks incessantly on her mobile and the father is in an armchair in front of the telly with a bottle. The end of the advert says something like "play with your children". Rather a sad anecdote about Ukrainian family life.
And now to find out about Tymoshenko. The word is that our minister (Fuel and Power) has been dismissed and sent to manage Odessa municipality where he apparently comes from. Another case of "spending more time with my family". No word yet on who Tymoshenko has replaced him by, but he was always going to be the scapegoat for the gas deal last winter with Russia.