putin winking
© AP
Uncle Volodya says, “When people complain of your complexity, they fail to remember that they made fun of your simplicity.”
Nolan Peterson, perennial Ukraine optimist and is-the-glass-half-empty-or-are-you-not-listening-to-me guy, feels like the country has turned a corner. Yes, by God, things are looking up. Ukraine might not be able to look forward to EU membership, but hey! It has visa-free travel, so if you have enough money for a vacation, you can go to the EU and see what it would be like to live there. Ukraine might not be able to look forward to NATO membership, but there are a few NATO troops in Ukraine training the country's soldiers so that they can get a feel for what it would be like to be a NATO soldier, sort of. I mean, apart from getting paid, and stuff.

And the country's GDP growth might be an anemic 0.2%, the Balance of Trade might have been relentlessly negative for more than a year, so that Ukraine is digging itself into a deeper hole every month by buying more than it's selling - worse yet, nearly all of it with borrowed money - and the Government Debt to GDP ratio might have more than doubled from Yanukovych to Poroshenko. Running the economy is like juggling flaming tar. But never mind that. Sit down for a minute, because Mr. Peterson has big news, the kind of news that is going to make you want to pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile. You're going to want to jump in the air - proof, incidentally, that you are not a Moskal - and click your heels together.

Ukraine now has Christmas.

Yes, isn't that great??? Petro Poroshenko the inspirational leader, moved by a compulsion to give his countrymen a gift that all could enjoy, signed it into law - December 25th is now a public holiday, just like it is in the west! Now Ukrainians can experience - vicariously, at least - the joy of sharing a holiday with the west: not like those bearded Orthodox wierdos. In fact, that's what makes it the best! Russia doesn't have it!!

You might think I'm being sarcastic, but I assure you I'm not. Establishing an ever-more-obvious difference between Ukrainians and Russians who share the same genetic makeup is sufficiently important to Mr. Peterson that he put it in the headline. In Ukraine, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And a lot less like Russia.

I suppose we should have expected this, because it's the kind of thing westerners - especially Americans - do in their eagerness to spread their culture of consumerism. The Moscow Times, a western-oriented newspaper with an American editor, based in Moscow, mounted a spirited campaign for a couple of years to get Hallowe'en to catch on in Russia, and was scathing in its denunciation of the government and the Orthodox religion for their resistance. I don't really understand why this is so important, but it just seems as if the 'democracy activists' believe if they can get foreign populations to adopt western commercial holidays - which virtually all of them now are - they will respond more readily to exhortations to throw themselves into the kind of ridiculous spending frenzy holidays in the west imply, and docilely allow themselves to be managed by corporate advertising.

Holiday surveys in America predict the average American will spend between $950 and $1,200 on Christmas shopping this year. Some can afford it. Quite a few can't.

Well, in that respect, Americans and Ukrainians are already just like brothers. You can sort of tell from the throngs of eager shoppers you can see in the picture accompanying Mr. Peterson's smug article. At first glance, I would say Santa has his work cut out for him. According to state statistics, the average monthly wage across Ukraine in July 2017 was $276.00 USD. Right off the top of my head, I'm going to predict the average Ukrainian will not be spending a minimum of $950.00 on Christmas, because that represents almost three and a half months' wages.

A big part of consumer research in the west is dedicated to finding out where people spend their money, and then developing advertising which will persuade them to spend it on targeted products instead. So what do Ukrainians spend their money on? Well, mostly - some 94% - goes on food, transport, essential goods and communal services. According to a popular Ukrainian news site, Ukrainians have only 6% of their wages available for savings. Or...er...Christmas shopping. Gee; what a dilemma.

Say; you know, maybe there's a lesson here. Maybe Ukrainians don't need to be herded into aping westerners' consumer habits quite yet. Perhaps they don't need to be pawns in a one-upmanship game where western ideologues take a poke at Russia and then giggle behind their hands, waiting for a reaction. Maybe they need help breaking out of a system in which the country's 50 wealthiest citizens control 85% of the nation's GDP - because their president sure as hell isn't going to help them there. Maybe instead of just blindly pumping money into the country without any accountability, so that much of it ends up in wealthy citizens' offshore accounts and shell corporations, they need local agencies distributing aid money directly to small businesses and farmers and tradesmen under conditions of strict oversight and monitoring. Maybe the grinding noise of being crushed by poverty is making it hard for them to hear the jingling of sleigh bells and the prancing and pawing of each little hoof, if you get my drift.

Instead, westerners busy themselves thinking up ways in which Ukrainians can show that they are different from the dirty Russians, which plays into the fantasies of a tiny fraction of the population, and those the most ideological and least stable. Instead, westerners invent barriers which caused Ukraine to lose the Russian market for its goods which was more than a third of its GDP. In their minds, western ideologues are still missionaries, going amongst the heathens to save their souls for the real God. And he'll likely have them soon enough: Ukrainians' life expectancy has faltered and stumbled, and they are dying faster than new Ukrainians can be born. If it were happening in Russia, it'd be 'a death spiral', because the Russians are our enemies and we like to think about lots of them dying. We don't talk that way about our friends, though, so it's a big mystery, although Ukrainians themselves have a pretty good idea why.
"This is a serious problem for the country," Alex Ryabchyn, a member of Ukraine's Parliament, told The Daily Signal. "People are dying due to bad living conditions, declining environmental standards, or the war. Another problem is that the most active workforce is considering emigration..More people are dying than are being born in Ukraine. In 2016, every birth in Ukraine was matched by 1.5 deaths, according to a January report by the State Statistics Service of Ukraine.
Where did we learn that? Why, from Nolan Peterson; the same guy who thinks a little ho-ho-ho is just what Ukrainians need to chase away those winter blues.
"They are Man's and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

Charles Dickens; A Christmas Carol