The streets of Kiev are alive with fire, as protesters clash viciously with riot police. But as the car bounced through Kilcormac on the way back to Birr, I was told of a more relevant war. Communist ideals versus capitalist – on a local Irish level….
And just like in Kiev, this fight has been going on for months. And just like in Kiev, the focal point of the drama is the main square. People are getting very excited; pulses are permanently raised. Particularly at the mention of parking spaces….
The local traders are strongly opposed to losing customer car-parking spaces if the local councillors get their way, with a design for a new Socialist-style show-piece square. The councillors want big open spaces – think Red Square on a budget.
And just like Red Square in Moscow or Independence Square in Kiev, this new open space would come at the cost of car-parking. Those communists had no time for parked cars in their showpiece squares…
I heard of the grand-plans briefly before Christmas, but I hadn’t paid it much attention. Proposals like this are ten a penny – and us Spud-Heads love a bit of righteous indignation. But as I ventured back down to the Midlands for the first time in 2014, I realised what was mere indignation in 2013 had quickly evolved into proper wide-eyed panic. What was once just an idea now looked on the verge of becoming reality.
To me it all seemed very simple – particularly after a week of watching Russia Today. Even though it’s been raging for months, until very recently we haven’t heard much about this ongoing Ukrainian battle on RTE or Sky News. Russia Today was the only news channel devoting any significant – albeit biased – coverage to what is increasingly looking like a bleak civil war situation in The Ukraine.
The trouble all started a few months back – just like in Birr – when Ukrainian President big Viktor Yanukovich looked like he was about to cosy up to the West – and turn his back on Mother Russia. This would have paved the way for Ukraine to eventually join the EU – and give two fingers to the Ruskis.
The Russians weren’t happy to put it mildly – little Vladimimr Putin was foaming at the mouth. He was understandably keen to hang onto the perceived loyalty of 46 million former Soviet citizens. And he doesn’t like being given two fingers. Over anything….
So just as the Ukrainian’s historic deal with Europe looked on the verge of being signed in November, little Vlad made a quick phone call to big Viktor – and suddenly the whole thing collapsed. Big Viktor gratefully accepted the expensive engagement ring little Vlad had bought him, without even making him get down on one knee.
I have travelled through the Ukraine, and even before these recent clashes it was a bitterly divided nation. A massive chasm exists between the east and west of the country, in both geographical and metaphorical senses of the words. In the eastern half of Ukraine the citizens speak Russian, and are extremely keen to hang onto their age-old ties with the former communist Soviet Union.
In the Western half of the country they speak Ukrainian – and are eager to be part of the forever capitalist European Union.
So when the Ukrainian president did his sudden reversal, wide-scale protests began.
We didn’t hear much about it here, far too busy watching pop-stars get arrested from the comfort of reclining couches.
And it’s easy to espouse Socialist values from the comfort of those reclining couches. But just like Mick Wallace – the somehow ‘socialist’ Celtic-Tiger property developer – it’s an ironic fit. Socialism is a lovely idea in theory, but in practice history has consistently shown us it doesn’t really work. It goes against basic human instincts, and that’s always going to be a losing battle.
I have been to, and lived in, many former communist countries. Bar the odd bit of novelty nostalgia for the tourists, nobody has a good word to say about their country’s communist past. Old women sell granny-knickers and cigarette lighters on cold city streets in an attempt to make ends meet.
A taxi driver in Kiev explained it all very simply to me one day as he waved his hand at a flock of pensioners. He said the reason those pensioners were out on the ice-stricken streets flogging their wares was because they never had a chance to build up any savings under the communist regime. Then suddenly the free-market exploded almost overnight, but the once-adequate state pensions didn’t adjust for inflation with the new capitalist age. Therefore anyone pushing towards retirement was suddenly in serious trouble, without sufficiant time for stockpiling…
What used to cost a ruble in communist times – like a taxi journey or a haircut – overnight started to cost 10 or 20 rubles, as the younger generations were suddenly allowed make money. And so pensioners roam the streets hawking oranges…
Other friends of mine in Budapest have parents who dared to question the party-line in communist times, and were resigned to the sidelines of their professions as a result. Another drawback to the one-party system. Some of them are still out there on those sidelines, sitting in crumbling Soviet-era apartments. On couches that definitely don’t recline….
Yet our reclining couched-Marxists will tell you that the system just hadn’t been implemented properly. Surrealist musician Frank Zappa said that any system that doesn’t allow ownership is a “system with a fatal design flaw.”
Is there a fatal design flaw about to happen in that square in Birr? Or will change be a good thing, just like those town councillors insist?
I don’t know, time will tell. But one thing’s for sure – you won’t hear about it on Sky News.
Just like in Kiev….