Saturday, March 29, 2014

PUTIN: As a man thinks in his heart, so is he

It was a very hot day that day. I don't know how hot it was because I was in Ukraine and everything was in Celsius. I never learned the temperature there the entire summer. We Americans are pretty set in our ways, big on conformity, but only our own.

That day I was waiting outside a courthouse in a small town. But even though just a village, it had a very long street down the middle of town. This road, Lenin Street, was really just an elongated park with old full trees and mathematically placed park benches. Every town had one of these roads. It is where the Soviets held May Day parades.

My guy in the courthouse was taking forever to get some papers signed and I got bored. Hot and bored. I took a walk up this long park-street just to walk. To do something. On my return to the courthouse I stopped to wait for traffic. A man stepped alongside. He said something to me, not sure what.

"Please excuse me," I replied in Russian, "I don't understand Russian."

He just stared at me.

I realized that what I had said must have sounded crazy. Maybe even offensive. As we walked together towards my taxi he asked where I was from. Then he asked if I liked Obama. The man appeared to me to be ex-military and was fully drunk on Vodka (he admitted to this later). I could tell from his expression and tone that he really did not care for Obama. I was non-committal. He then began to ramble on about the virtues of Putin. Loved his Putin. Gave me a hammer sign to accent the great authority and strength of Putin.

This man and I finally parted ways when it was clear to him that I would not go to the bar with him. I had important business to attend to and my wife was in the back of the taxi, 7 months pregnant and very uncomfortable in the heat (they don't do air-conditioning over there). My taxi driver helped to make all this clear to the man. I am thankful. Had it just been me I probably would have hung out with the guy - and likely have ended up in jail or dead. Because that is mainly what my new friend was all about.

Anyhow, this: many people there identify with Russia such that they even think of Moscow over Kiev. Not everyone, but many. Many sit in this new national identity of being Ukrainian. They understood being Ukrainian culturally...just not nationally. They, their parents, grandparents, and on back lived as Russians. The entire landscape, every building, every holiday, every job...Russian.

It is these young people that have only known Ukraine as not being 'The Ukraine'.

It is all so incredibly deep. The land and history so solidly Russian in Eastern Ukraine. And the young people want to forge a new European identity that is completely foreign to the historical imperatives of the region. The Russian flag is a pretty new color scheme for them as well. It seems so impossible. This change would make the American Revolution seem like a simple shift in address - which it was culturally.

Personally, I hope Ukraine can do this because it is what they want. But what the pains of that separation feel like - I can't even imagine.