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Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Guide to Ukraine's Presidential Election

Today, the people of Ukraine will head to voting stations to elect a new president. This will be Ukraine’s fifth presidential election since the country became independent in 1991. 

Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov of the Fatherland Party has decided not to run for re-election. His few months in office were marred by crisis and violence in the Crimean peninsula and in eastern Ukraine. Shortly after he took over the presidency from ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, Russia invaded the autonomous, pro-Russian Crimean peninsula and claimed it as their own territory. Pro-Russian insurgents declared independence in two different eastern provinces and have provoked the Ukrainian Army to violence. 

President Turchynov

Today’s presidential election was originally scheduled for March of 2015. However, from December to February, pro-EU Ukrainians rose up in and pressured former President Yanukovych to resign. Yanukovych left the presidency in late February, and the interim government quickly moved to schedule earlier elections.
According to many Ukrainian-American protestors in Washington, Ukrainians back home are anxious, but optimistic. 

Whoever is elected president today has a multitude of issues to address. Ukraine's eastern provinces are being torn apart by violence incited by pro-Russian insurgents. Crimea, once an autonomous province in Ukraine, was invaded by forces loyal to Russia in March and is now a disputed territory that both Moscow and Kyiv* lay claim to.   

Propaganda has been widely distributed by both the pro-Russian and pro-European factions of Ukraine throughout the EuroMaidan Revolution, and this election, provided it is free and fair, will give the international community an important look into Ukrainians' sentiments and how they've changed since Yanukovych left Kyiv in February.

Ukrainians are anxious to vote. 21 candidates have thrown their hats into the ring, but only about five of them have a serious chance at a large percentage of votes. The major candidates are as follows.  

Petro Poroshenko

Petro Poroshenko is a wealthy businessman who made a fortune in the confectionary industry-a Forbes article called him "Ukraine's Willy Wonka". He is a very influential and well-known politician in Ukraine, as he has served as Minister of Trade and Economic Development and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He is running as an independent but generally leans toward the pro-European faction of Ukrainian politics and has been endorsed by Vitali Klitschko, leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, a liberal pro-Europe party whose acronym means “Strike”. Klitschko, a retired heavyweight boxer nicknamed "Dr. Ironfist", was a popular candidate for president, but decided in March to run instead for Mayor of Kyiv, a race where he is far and away the favorite to win. 
Poroshenko is the favorite to win Ukraine’s presidency. His pro-European ideals have made him popular in Western Ukraine, and his business background has gained him votes in a country hurt badly by economic recession. As an independent, Poroshenko is not affected by Ukraine’s flawed party system as much as other politicians, and he has amassed his millions in an industry not affected by corruption unlike oligarchs that opted to go into oil. Polls indicate that Poroshenko is likely to win close to 50% of the vote. 

If he surpasses that threshold, he will be elected after one round of voting. If Poroshenko wins less than 50% of the vote but still comes in first, he will have to compete in a runoff election against the candidate who places second. If so, his opponent may be a certain woman known for her distinctively braided hair. 

Yulia Tymoshenko 

Tymoshenko, leader of the pro-European Fatherland Party, is also running for president. She ran in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election, narrowly losing to Yanukovych in a runoff. She served as Prime Minister during Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency (2005-2010) and was arrested on charges of corruption. During EuroMaidan, she was released from prison and made an emotional speech to the people crowding Kyiv’s Independence Square, praising them for their bravery and service to their homeland.

Tymoshenko still enjoys some popularity in Ukraine, but her not-so-clean record and abrasive remarks about “killing the Russians” have scared some Ukrainian voters away from her. She does not have nearly as much popularity as she did in the 2010 election, and is only expected to poll around 13-15%. 

Serhiy Tihipko: Tihipko has changed parties frequently in his political career. He was a member of the Strong Ukraine party initially. Later, that party was absorbed by the pro-Russian Party of Regions. He was later expelled from the Party of Regions and re-established his Strong Ukraine party. He is expected to gain around 8-10% of the vote.   

Mykhailo Dobkin is the new leader of the Party of Regions, replacing deposed President Yanukovych. Dobkin is a long shot to win the presidency because of the recent revolution, but as a member of a party which tends to be popular in Eastern Ukraine, his presence in government shouldn't be brushed off quite yet. Petro Poroshenko recently said “There are no western Ukrainians or eastern Russian-speaking Ukrainians or Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians – there is only one Ukraine, whole and indivisible.” If Poroshenko is to unite the country as he seems to want to, he will likely be consulting Mr. Dobkin on various issues. 

Oleh Lyashko is the leader of the Radical Party of Ukraine. The Radical Party only gained one seat in the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) in 2012’s parliamentary elections. His party's views seem to be relatively similar to those of the Fatherland and UDAR parties. He's expected to pull in around 7% of the vote, but it should be interesting to see if that success translates to electoral success in the Verkhovna Rada. Of course, when you control one seat out of 400, one could argue that there's nowhere to go but up. 

Last is Oleh Tyahnybok. He leads the Svoboda party. Svoboda is the Ukrainian (and the Russian) word for "Freedom", but the party is often dismissed as a fascist organization because of its nationalist platform. Its cousin, Right Sector, shares many of its nationalist views but seems to be less antagonistic to non-Ukrainians than Svoboda. He is only expected to gain about 2% of the vote. 

The Ukrainian National Academy of Pedagogic Sciences recently conducted a poll with the following results: 

Poroshenko 45%
Tymoshenko 13.3%
Tihipko 8.0%
Lyashko 7.6%
Others: 6.7%

Ukraine’s new president will have a lot of work to do. The government is plagued by widespread corruption at all levels. The pro-Russian insurgency is still wreaking havoc in eastern provinces, and questions abound as to how Ukraine will tackle the loss of the Crimean peninsula to Russia. The economy is in the middle of a crippling recession. Ukrainians in eastern provinces are skeptical and distrusting of the interim government that replaced Yanukovych. Corrupt as he was, Yanukovych had widespread support in eastern Ukraine in the 2010 election.  

In theory, the election is open to people in the disputed territory of Crimea, which is claimed by both Russia and Ukraine but controlled by the Kremlin. 

 Whoever wins this election would be prudent, in my opinion, to schedule new elections for Ukraine's legislature soon. The present Verkhovna Rada has made some emotionally charged and  nationalistic decisions in the time of crisis. The parliament voted to ban the teaching of Russian in schools (this did not go into effect, President Turchynov vetoed the measure) and ousting over thirty MPs from the Communist Party of Ukraine. 

In any case-good luck, Ukraine. You're going to need it. 

*Kyiv is another spelling of the Ukrainian capital Kiev. "Kiev" is typically seen as the Russian spelling of the city, "Kyiv" the Ukrainian spelling. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Central Asia's Cornerstone: Kazakhstan and Public Diplomacy

This is another older paper I wrote for my Public Diplomacy class. 

Between the vast forests and mountains of western Siberia and the deathly hot deserts of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan lies Kazakhstan, the second largest country to emerge from the smolders of the USSR. It is a land of mysterious contradictions. In the capital of Astana, new, glittering skyscrapers are shooting up like weeds-but the country suffers from a widely corrupt government, public rifts in culture and language, and a group of neighboring countries that are arguably in worse predicaments. Kazakhstan is a relatively new country, only independent since 1992, so public diplomacy strategies are only just emerging. Given the situation Kazakhstan is in today, a comprehensive public diplomacy strategy would only accelerate Kazakhstan’s rise.  Kazakhstan has the largest economy in Central Asia, along with the highest HDI, and the country possesses vast natural gas reserves. Al Eisele claims in his article “Kazakhstan: What Borat Missed”, that Kazakhstan “ clearly ready to awaken from its role as the sleeping giant of Central Asia.” 1 If the rapid growth of the capital Astana is any hint, Kazakhstan is an ambitious nation, eager to wake up from its long sleep under Imperial Russian and Soviet rule and become the influential, wealthy powerhouse of Central Asia. To do this, Kazakhstan needs to do many things through a strong public diplomacy strategy. 
Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to a strong, honest, productive public diplomacy game plan comes from none other than Ak Orda, the enormous presidential palace in Astana. 2 The Kazakh Embassy in Washington proudly proclaims that “Democracy is on the march” and that “89.9% of registered Kazakhs voted in the 2011 Presidential Election, and 75.1% turned out for the 2012 Parliamentary Elections”. 4 Regardless of if these statistics are true, Kazakhstan is not a democracy, nor does it have much experience with democratic government. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in power since the Soviet Union imploded, and he does not permit a legitimate opposition to run against him. His government has harassed journalists that speak against him. 6 For 2012, Freedom House graded Kazakhstan’s levels of civil liberties and political rights on a scale of one to seven, where the higher the number given, the less rights the people possessed. Kazakhstan received a 5 for civil liberties, and a 6 for political rights. 6 The Kazakh people are not free, and will not become free if Nazarbayev stays in power. 
What Kazakhstan does possess in terms of public diplomacy is shady and very much influenced by Nazarbayev’s government. 3 “The government of Kazakhstan has spent substantial sums on global public relations, striving to shape an image as a modern, open and investment-friendly nation by relying on a stable of top-tier public relations firms and international advisors.” Some websites, such as, have “...uncovered evidence that suggests PR firms may have massaged Wikipedia entries in ways that cast the Kazakhstani government in a better light.” 3 
This cannot continue, as it will only magnify the double standard that is starting to emerge. Nazarbayev and hist government are trying to put Kazakhstan into the international spotlight, and it’s starting to work. “Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, has won the bid to host the International Exposition in 2017, beating out another candidate city, Liège of Belgium.” 1 While this event will likely mean a great victory for Kazakh public diplomacy, the world will eventually notice not only Kazakhstan’s crusade to bring itself into the international eye, but the corrupt, authoritarian Kazakhstani government will come with it sooner or later. Kazakhstan should be mindful of the mistakes its eastern neighbor of China has made-despite being accepted as a global force to be reckoned with, China will not be able to free itself of the evils the Communists continue to commit. Public diplomacy is aimed at informing and influencing on the international level-but the full potential cannot be realized without a free government at home. 
Secondly, Kazakhstan needs to convince its Central Asian neighbors to follow in its footsteps. Bolat Sultanov, director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies, has said that while Kazakhstan wants closer ties to the U.S. as the world's lone superpower, "we can't afford the luxury of spoiling our relationship with our neighbors of Russia and China." 1 President Nazarbayev calls it "multi-vector diplomacy-a balancing act designed to position Kazakhstan as an even-handed ally of Russia, China, the European Union and the U.S.” 1 This is a reasonable and strong goal to pursue, but priorities should be made to achieve it. Kazakhstan’s public diplomacy in the region needs to follow the cornerstones of patriotism, reconciliation, forgiveness, and cooperation. Rifts still exist between Russia and Kazakhstan, and understandably so-before independence in 1992, Kazakhstan answered to Russian Imperial and Soviet rule for hundreds of years. In reality, Kazakhstan's relations with Russia take top priority, as was evident when Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made his first official foreign visit to Kazakhstan in May 2008, shortly after his election, and declared, "Astana did not become the first foreign capital I have visited as President of Russia by chance." 2 Kazakhstan already has two official languages in Kazakh and Russian, and in order to make relations with their northern neighbors even stronger, Kazakhstan should implement  a cultural plan to encourage a clearing of the air between the two countries. 2 Kazakhstan is understandably still wary of the Russian government, but this can be fixed through public diplomacy. Kazakhstan should strive to encourage an international dialogue focusing on  between Russians and Kazakhs in both nations to establish a new beginning in relations. Dwelling in the past is not going to help, and an old saying goes “You can’t hate someone you know a lot about.” Cultural identity is very important and the Kazakh people have seen the implosion of the Soviet Union as a wonderful opportunity to start speaking their Kazakh language again. While this is obviously a positive development, the Russian language and the Since Russian is already an official language in Kazakhstan and the nations already enjoy close, stable relations, Kazakhstan should make an effort to promote their Turkic culture within Russia by sending their people over to Russia through programs similar to the Peace Corps and scholarship programs like the American Fulbright program. Many important Russian cities lie near the Kazakh border and the countries share numerous partnerships, especially in space travel and the energy business. If Kazakhs can find a way to become friendly with Russians on the public and the governmental level, the countries will accomplish great things. (And if both countries are able to make the transition to real representative democracy in the near future, this may be significant symbolically as Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev are similar in many different ways. Both came to power in a time of uncertainty, restored stability and economic prosperity, and have now become authoritarian in nature.)  
Kazakhstan has already set out to open its borders to the world, and while their relations with Russia are probably the most important, the country also needs to think on a global level-and this can be accomplished through a few objectives: Encourage the  people of Kazakhstan to not only expand their knowledge of the Russian language, but the Chinese and English languages to expand those countries’ awareness of Kazakhstan through joint partnerships and programs organized by both countries.  Kazakhstan’s proximity to China may not have been of extreme importance in the past, but now that China has emerged as a superpower, Kazakhstan needs to work on opening its business to Beijing.  This has already been realized by the Kazakhstani government. “Kazakhstan's leaders are also very aware of the rising power of China, which is paying premium prices for Kazakhstan's oil and natural gas, helping it build pipelines and roads while eyeing the country's vast empty spaces near China's western border for establishing Chinese colonies.” 3 
Along with this, Kazakhstan has work to do at home. Astana, the rapidly expanding capital, is hosting Expo 2017, a business forum between Kazakhstan and South Korea, and the 2011 Asian Winter Games. 2,5 The city is effectively becoming an ambassador in itself. The fact that Astana is not extremely well known as a city helps in this case-the general “up-and-coming” attitude is making Astana the first step into this mysterious Central Asian country, and if it continues to expand, tourism will increase and help drive people to the city for various reasons. 
Kazakhstan is a country with great potential, but it is held back by a government that despite the massive expansion projects and economic prosperity (Nazarbayev is now trying to implement a huge project in expanding the Kazakh economy into various service industries), is corrupt, authoritarian, and undemocratic. While the economic prosperity. While Nazarbayev’s ambitions will likely make Kazakhstan rich, the Kazakh people need to realize that their nation’s full potential will only come when his style of government changes in favor of a free, representative democracy. If and when that happens is up to the Kazakh people who would do well to implement strategies similar to those they aim to use in their public diplomacy to educate themselves on how to create a democratic republic. 


1. Eisele, Al. "Kazakhstan: What Borat Missed." The Huffington Post., 19 May 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

  1. "Kazakhstan." CIA World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, 5 Dec. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
  2. TYNAN, DEIRDRE. "Kazakhstan's Pricey, Sometimes Shady International Re-Branding Effort." The Atlantic International. The Atlantic Magazine, 23 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
  3. "Kazakhstan: More Going on than You Think." Kazakhstan: More Going on than You Think. Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 1 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
  4. "Kazakhstan: Freedom in the World." Kazakhstan: Overview. Freedom House, 4 May 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Somewhere Back In Time: Booth Goons

This is an older piece I wrote, but any hockey fan who was frustrated by the recent lockout may relate to this. Wrote this piece for my Intro to News Writing and Reporting class during the NHL Lockout. It may seem strange to see me writing about myself in the third person but it worked better in context. 
With the NHL Playoffs underway, I thought this would be a good article to resurrect. 

Booth Goons

In an era of NHL animosity and greed, two college radio broadcasters find solace in calling club hockey for their university

“There goes Terhar down the boards, left to right, he’s got O’Reilly open, a two on one, shoots, SCOOOOORES! HE SCORES! Max Terhar puts the Colonials up five to four late in the third period!”

There aren’t many butts in the seats. There’s no horn emitting the familiar, deafening BWAAAAAAAAAA when the home team finds the back of the net. The press box? An ominously sticky folding table sitting at the top of the bleachers. But for Kyle Menyhert and Rob Bartnichak, broadcasting George Washington Colonials club hockey is a fun, exciting, and even relieving way to enjoy the sport they love when the professionals are plagued with ownership greed and cancelled games.
“I knew I wanted to work in some type of media outlet during my time at GW.”
Kyle Menyhert joined WRGW radio this past September, with ambitions of working in both the news and sports departments. During the general body meetings, he approached the director of the sports department, expressing interest in talking about pro sports, including hockey.
“I pulled Nkwa [Asonye, WRGW Sports Director] aside and asked him about some type of work pertaining to pro sports. Nats, Redskins, Caps, the three sports I knew the most about.” he explained. “At the time, I was just trying to pitch ideas and get a better idea of what I might be doing as a job. But I noticed an expression on his face that said ‘Hey, this might work!’ ”
It did. Asonye spoke to the hockey team and worked out a deal to get hockey integrated onto GW Radio. Menyhert was given the position of play-by-play. “I was extremely excited when I found out”, Menyhert said.
Now, hockey is not a very big sport at GW. Unlike most of the GW spectator sports, it is not played at the Division I level. The club team does not get much publicity. Despite the success of the Capitals, Washington has always been known as a football town, devoted to its beloved Redskins. But that doesn’t matter to Menyhert or his color commentator Rob Bartnichak.
“We get to watch and follow a sport we both love, get to cite experience farther down the line in our lives, and all for free. I can’t complain.” Bartnichak contentedly exclaimed.
A native of New Jersey, Bartnichak provides analysis for the broadcast, reflecting on details of how plays are set up, strategies for different scenarios, and other bits of analysis and helpful information for the audience.
“This is my first year not playing hockey in the fall and winter. I miss it, of course, but it certainly helps during the broadcast. Playing the game gives you a much more complete perspective on the game you’re watching.” Bartnichak explains.
Menyhert is a kid in a candy store.“It’s a great atmosphere, and one that is still relatively new to me, watching it up close. Though I watch it on TV, I never played hockey as a kid, and I’ve only been to a few games. Everything was new to me when I started, and I took it all in, probably with a stupid-looking grin on my face. The Capitals logo at center ice, the crisp, cold air, the buckling crunch as two players bashed into the boards inches from me, the staccato slaps of sticks against ice-I love it.”
It’s a serious business as well, however, it’s not all fun and games. The two of them enter the arena carting along a large black box of equipment, which inevitably turns into a tangled mess as they rummage around for the right wires and cords. “Our equipment is not the most consistent, and it can be a pain sometimes, whether it’s a misplaced cord, a faulty internet connection, or that stupid Magic-Jack system acting up, there’s really never a dull moment. Luckily, most of the problems are fixable.” Bartnichak attests.
On top of being a fun, relatively painless experience, this job fills a void. Menyhert supports the Boston Bruins and Bartnichak follows the New Jersey Devils. Unfortunately for millions of hockey fans across the US and Canada, the league is in a lockout. Games at the very earliest won’t start until December (Hockey season usually starts in early October). The turmoil and lack of agreements between the players and owners make it look bleaker and bleaker every day. Speculation is mounting every passing day that this lockout may cancel the entire season.
“To be honest, it’s not the same. And I miss seeing my Bruins play. But being able to broadcast games is a new experience all its own. And it’s good, quality hockey we see. It’s almost a relief, a relaxing sensation, when you know, even in the face of a professional sport marred by greed and turmoil, that you can still find great satisfaction in the sport outside the professional level.”
The games can be heard online and admission is free to the Kettler Iceplex. If you’re a hockey fan in the DC area disillusioned with the lockout, this is the place where you can find your hockey fix. Look for the two guys sitting at the top of the bleachers calling the game while you’re there.