Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 320 - (31/08/07)
A bad idea whose time had come
Communism had a lot wrong with it, albeit it was a bad idea whose time had come.
It nevertheless, educated people, being itself a bastard child of the
Enlightenment. In this it was quite different from Fascism, which deplored the
Enlightenment and aimed to stupefy people into a truculent racism.
The Ukrainians are highly cultured and revere their great poets, as do the
Russians. Moreover, as with Pushkin, Blok, Pasternak, Mandelstam and Akhmatova,
their great muses are highly political. The history of their people speaks
Yushchenko unveils Budapest monument to Ukrainian poet
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo
Solyom, in mid-August unveiled a statue of Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, in
Budapest. "If anywhere in the world people want to show respect to the
Ukrainian people, they put up a statue of Shevchenko," said Yushchenko.
Shevchenko (1814-1861) - believed by many to be the father of Ukrainian
literature - spent almost ten years in prison for criticizing the Russian
empire. His works are revered by Ukrainians everywhere, as educated
English-speakers revere Shakespeare, who of course wrote magnificent historical
plays, not just about England, but the ancient world, the cradle of civilisation.
Yushchenko was completing a two-day visit to Hungary, during which he announced
that the two nations were in talks about setting up gas storage facilities for
Hungary on Ukrainian soil.
Hungary receives the majority of its gas from Russia, transited through Ukraine,
and it suffered heavily when a dispute between Russia's Gazprom and Ukraine saw
the taps turned off.
Since then Hungary has been attempting to diversify its sources and built more
storage, and Yushchenko said that Ukraine would help in this task.
The general image of Ukraine in the West is of an impoverished country on its
last legs. This is not quite accurate. Ukraine has certainly got an immense
burden of problems from its history. But it has a great geography, being the
natural opening to Eurasia no less. It has a great future ahead of it.
Good times coming
Stroll around downtown Kiev these days, and it's hard to miss the signs of
growing prosperity. The Ukrainian capital's golden-domed cathedrals share the
skyline with towering cranes and snazzy apartment complexes. Giant billboards
plug the latest Samsung (SSNKF) MP3 players and Nokia (NOK) phones. Diners spill
onto the street from posh new eateries on Independence Square, where three years
ago hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians staged the so-called Orange Revolution
that propelled President Viktor Yushchenko to power.
To look at the scene, you'd never know that Yushchenko and his bitter rival,
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, remain locked in a fierce power struggle that
is unlikely to be resolved even after parliamentary elections on Sept. 30.
The lesson: Political instability and economic crisis don't always go hand in
hand, at least not in the former Soviet Union. Despite the standoff among
Ukraine's politicians, the economy is booming and foreign investments continue
to pour in.
Politics Stays Out of Business
Gross domestic product powered ahead by an impressive 8% during the first half
of 2007, and economists expect the strength to continue, boosted by a
surprisingly diverse economy of services, manufacturing, and raw materials.
Metals, mainly steel, account for 40% of exports, but most of the growth is
coming from manufacturing and services. Production of heavy equipment rose 22%
in 2006. And Ukraine's software houses saw their exports jump by 50% last year,
to some $250 million.
Investors see promise in the growth. The Kiev stock exchange has more than
doubled in size this year, and now boasts a market capitalization of $76
billion-a sixfold increase since late 2004. And a real estate boom has pushed up
housing prices by 60% in 12 months. "We joke that as long as all these
disputes are going on, [politicians] don't have time to interfere in
business," says Taras Kutovyy, chief financial officer at XXI Century
Investments, a leading developer that in May raised $175 million in Eurobonds to
finance new apartments, hotels, and hypermarkets.
The boom is being fuelled by Ukraine's 46 million consumers, who are opening
their wallets for everything from houses to washing machines to big screen TVs.
Consumption has been growing by double digits since 2003, as roughly 70% of
Ukrainians can now afford new cars, furniture, and other big-ticket items, up
from 40% in 2003, according to market researcher GfK Group (GFKG.DE).
"It's clear that there is a growing Ukrainian middle class," says
Tetiana Sytnik, GfK's senior researcher in Kiev. That has attracted
multinationals seeking to sell to them. In June, PepsiCo (PEP) plunked down $542
million for Ukrainian fruit juice maker Sandora, which has 50% of the local
juice market. Two months earlier, French supermarket chain Auchan entered the
country via a joint venture with local retailer Furshet, with a view to
constructing 10 hypermarkets over the next two years.
Ukraine's new wealth is on display at Arena City, a six-story shopping and
entertainment complex that opened in 2005. The mall's 60 boutiques stock
expensive French and Italian clothing, furniture, and jewelry, and it features
dealers for Porsche (PSHG_P.DE), Bentley, and Mercedes (DAI). "People are
earning more money, and demand for exclusive cars and real estate is rising.
We can see it everywhere," says Sergei Korolyov, sales manager at the Kiev
showroom for Porsche, which is on target to sell 350 cars this year, at an
average price of $140,000-up from 100 in 2005.
And it isn't just the premium nameplates flying out of showrooms: Sales of all
new cars jumped 40% last year-the highest rate of increase in Europe-to 370,000,
as Ukrainians traded-in cheap Russian imports for pricier Western models. The
market is tipped to grow by an additional 25% this year.
Booming Bank Sector
The buying binge is being fuelled by an explosion in consumer credit. Shiny new
bank branches are sprouting around town. And in downtown Kiev, rows of portrait
artists and old women hawking souvenirs are flanked by young people in boxy
costumes shaped like houses, promoting a mortgage bank. Last year, the volume of
retail loans surged by 137%, to $15.5 billion.
Previously almost nonexistent, Ukraine's banking sector-the fastest-growing in
Europe-hasn't gone unnoticed farther west. Over the past two years, foreigners
have bought four of Ukraine's top five banks. In the most recent deal, Italian
bank UniCredit (CRDI.MI) in July announced plans to acquire Ukrsotsbank, the
second-largest Ukrainian financial institution, for $2.2 billion.
Of course, not everyone is benefiting from the economic boom. "We thought
that things would get better, and now we've lost faith," says Nataliya
Kolesnikova, a 32-year-old artist. She and her husband, a photographer,
enthusiastically joined the protests during the Orange Revolution. But they
complain that now corrupt tycoons and officials remain at liberty while ordinary
folk struggle to get by and are forced to pay endless bribes demanded by
policemen, doctors, and even teachers.
Ukraine still has a lot of catching up to do with more advanced economies in the
region. It remains one of Europe's poorest countries, with an average income of
just $3,000-half Russia's level and only 8% of Britain's. And despite average
annual growth rates of more than 7% stretching back to 2000, national output
still hasn't recovered from the chaotic economic transition of the 1990s and
remains below the levels achieved in the Soviet era. "If you compare the
situation today to 10 years ago, the progress is absolutely obvious," says
Finance Minister Mykola Azarov. "But it isn't fast enough to satisfy
There's also a risk that the political standoff in Kiev could start to take a
toll on growth if it delays passage of key legislation. "The political
crisis has derailed structural economic reforms: pension reform, tax reform,
judicial reform-which Ukraine badly needs as a post-Soviet state," Azarov
says. Still, in some areas Ukraine's government is ploughing ahead.
In early July, Parliament approved laws that lower export tariffs on metals and
toughen copyright protection. Those measures, plus others enacted over the past
year or so, should help pave the way for Ukraine's entry into the World Trade
Organization, now expected by next year.
Indeed, for all their feuding, Ukraine's leading politicians seem to share a
sense of purpose when it comes to improving the environment for business. That's
not surprising since many are closely allied with Big Business interests.
Although both the government and private companies continue to be dominated by
wealthy oligarchs, the adoption of market economics has also fuelled rapid
development of new businesses in telecommunications, real estate, and software.
Corporate managers, meanwhile, are too busy making money to lose sleep over the
long-term need for tax or pension reform. Says Porsche salesman Korolyov,
"I think people have now started to understand that politics is politics,
and business is business."