I have had a month-long vacation from writing this weekly column, as the newspaper I write for took its annual summer hiatus. I must admit that getting back into a writing rhythm is a bit difficult, not so much because there is any shortage of things to write about, but because I need to re-establish the mental discipline that the art requires, and being on vacation tends to make one somewhat creatively lethargic.
Usually, I have little trouble in picking out a subject or theme and then cranking out the eight hundred or so words that constitute my typical weekly op-ed. This week, I propose to get back into my writing routine by expounding on a miscellany of different things that have crossed my mind over the past month.
Ukraine has been on my mind a lot lately, both on a personal as well as a journalistic level. The personal side has come primarily from a recent new burst of research into my genealogical roots, made possible through the discovery of a new on-line resource that enables me to pore over old church records of births, marriages and deaths in western Ukraine that go back some 150 years. This research has greatly expanded my family tree which now is approaching nearly a thousand names.
This growing trove of information about my family both past and present has been further enhanced by the fact that a rapidly increasing number of my cousins in Ukraine now have access to and are beginning to get plugged into the world of the Internet. Now, rarely a week goes by without my getting several new friend requests on Facebook from cousins and other people with professional or personal connections. It has been quite a few years since I was last in Ukraine, and I have had a tough time keeping up with the marriages and births that keep expanding the Kish and Gerun branches of my ancestral roots. Now, through applications such as Facebook, I am beginning to learn more and more about these individuals as real people, rather than just names on a list. Making new friends is always a particularly rewarding experience.
Along with the joy of creating these new relationships however, comes the ever-present concern that I have for the struggles that Ukrainians are having to face in their day to day lives. The war in the east with the Russians continues to bring its daily output of death, destruction and displacement. Reform and progress in fighting the scourge of internal corruption goes on at an inadequate snail’s pace. The economic opportunities within Ukraine are problematic, with a large number of my Ukrainian cousins now working in Poland, Greece, Italy and other European countries. To make things even worse, the absence of competency and integrity in most of the current political establishment in Ukraine makes future prospects more than a little dismaying.
Nonetheless, there is hope and cause for some optimism. The young people of Ukraine are well educated, politically aware and continue to push for what is right, bolstered by strong pressure from the EU, the IMF and other western supporters determined to push Ukraine into being a democratic, responsible and transparent state. Ukraine will get there, though I fear it may take another generation to do so.
Sadly, Ukraine is not the only country in Eastern Europe facing political uncertainty. Poland, spurred by strong-arm politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, is increasingly edging towards right-wing authoritarianism and coming into political conflict with its EU neighbours. Hungary, led by another ultra-conservative, Viktor Orban, has seen democracy virtually disappear. Orban openly boasts about making war on “liberal democracy” and is increasingly contravening EU policies particularly those on refugees and open borders. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, spurred by similar immigration fears, are also veering towards dangerous populism. Turkey, under President Erdogan, has become for all intents and purposes, a dictatorship. The immediate future for Eastern Europe does appear to be more than a little cloudy and uncertain.
When one begins to look into what is behind these recent disturbing trends, it does not take long to discern the malevolent hand of Putin at work, stoking the flames of populism, division and disunity. But that is a subject for another day.