November 6, 2009

Home from the East

I'm home again from an absolutely fascinating tour of post-communist Eastern Europe and can start writing about it as soon as I get my interviews transcribed.

After leaving Romania, I was supposed to visit Chernobyl and the apocalyptic ghost city of Pripyat outside Kiev, Ukraine, but the trip was cancelled at the last minute. The Chernobyl Administration wasn't letting anyone into the area for reasons that aren't clear to me and may never be – perhaps because of a radiation leak, or maybe for more mundane reasons.

So I went to Crimea instead, the part of Ukraine that may be lopped off and reattached to Russia if Vladimir Putin decides to go on another Georgian-style adventure.

Traveling from the eastern edge of the European Union into Ukraine is educational, to say the least. Romania, Hungary, Poland, and other formerly Eastern bloc countries have largely recovered from communism, but much of Ukraine outside Kiev is still ruined. It still hasn't fully recovered from Soviet collectivization, the genocidal terror-famine, the Stalinist purges, and dekulakization. Kiev is a magnificent city and Crimea is a jewel, but large parts of the countryside feel haunted and doomed.

Stand by for photos and stories.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at November 6, 2009 1:10 PM
Comments

It's too bad you didn't get to see Chernobyl, but Crimea is fabulous, or at least it was when I was there back in 1992. The bus ride from the airport in Simferopol to Yalta was spectacular, because you have to go through the mountains, which drop off steeply to the sea.

I've always wished I could go back there.

Posted by: Ted S., Catskills, NY Author Profile Page at November 6, 2009 6:21 PM

Lenin's not mad at MacDonald's but himself for leaving his wallet at home so he couldn't buy the Kid's Value Meal.

Posted by: Pat Patterson Author Profile Page at November 6, 2009 11:29 PM

Too bad about Chernobyl -- but that Yalta at night picture was fabulous!

Communist popularity was, is, based on the common 'hate the greedy rich'. Much like one of the sources of support for Obama, and one of the sources of support for your fav president, FDR*.

The horrible cement block apartments look a LOT better after they get some insulation and new paint.

Too bad you couldn't stop by Bratislava, nor Vienna, when (relatively) near.

(*Who was president during much of the starvation time but, in 1933, had other problems).

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at November 7, 2009 7:27 PM

"It still hasn't fully recovered from Soviet collectivization, the genocidal terror-famine, the Stalinist purges, and dekulakization."

The countryside in Western Ukraine is in much better shape. Did you make it to Galicia? Also really collectivization, the famine and dekulakization were one and the same policy, not three different policies. World War II didn't help either - no country suffered as much as Ukraine - and they got scorched earth policies when the Soviets retreated and then again when the Germans retreated. And in WWI and in the Civil War the Ukraine was one of the main battlegrounds. Come to think of it, the country is actually doing pretty well considering the 20th century they had.

You can find plenty of evidence that Romania has not recovered from Communism if you stay longer next time. The country is very scarred and will stay that way for a long time. If you measure a country by what it would have been without Communism than you can't say Poland and Hungary have recovered either.

Posted by: Ivan N Author Profile Page at November 8, 2009 5:07 AM

Ivan,

It's all relative. Much of Romania, especially Bucharest, looks thoroughly chewed up by communism even today. By comparison, Hungary and Poland look untouched by it.

After spending a week in Ukraine, though, Romania looks light years ahead. (The capitals of the two countries are exceptions, however. Kiev seems in better shape than Bucharest, at least on the surface.)

I expected the countryside in Galicia to be in better shape than elsewhere for a host of reasons, but it oddly wasn't -- at least not on the road from Sambir to Lviv. It's all terribly backwards even there.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at November 8, 2009 5:30 AM

"Kiev seems in better shape than Bucharest, at least on the surface"

That's probably because the Ukraine has been infected by Russia's awful tradition of bureaucratic centralization - a tradition that predates Communism and will apparently survive long after Communism is a faded memory. Kiev hoovers up all of Ukraine's wealth in a way that Bucharest doesn't do in Romania. When I was last there 8 years ago Kiev arguably looked wealthier even than Warsaw, at least if you measure wealth by the number of Mercedes and BMWs on the streets and the jewelry on the women.

Posted by: Ivan N Author Profile Page at November 8, 2009 1:44 PM

"Also really collectivization, the famine and dekulakization were one and the same policy, not three different policies."

I'd say, "not two different policies". I exclude famine as a policy for it was a result of collectivization-dekulakization.

Interesting. I never heard the term "dekulakization".

Michael, do not regret not being able to get into Chernobyl. Just feel lucky. :)

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at November 9, 2009 5:18 AM
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