Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde
And the band played on.
He’d glide ‘cross the floor with the girl he adored
And the band played on.
His brain was so loaded it nearly exploded;
The poor girl would shake with alarm.
He’d ne’er leave the girl with the strawberry curl
And the band played on.
– “The Band Played On”, Palmer/Ward.
The title track debuted in 1895, and has been recorded several times since; Guy Lombardo’s Orchestra had a big hit with it in 1941, and it’s that version I first heard. For those who understand and appreciate the complexities of time signatures, the song is unusual, as the verses are in 2/4 time while the refrain is in 3/4 time.
But the event with which the song became linked in counterculture significance would not take place for another 17 years – the sinking of RMS TITANIC, following a collision with an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Eight musicians from the ship’s orchestra continued to play – played on, if you will – on the upper deck, to preserve an appearance of normality and order until the freezing waves closed over their heads. The phrase, “And the band played on” became a metaphor for “the deliberate masking or downplaying of an impending calamity by authorities”. It endures in that context to the present.
And curiously, the song precedes the event once again, in an eerie parallel to the past disaster. The western media plays on, singing its old song of immutable power, freedom and democracy, as the probable Ukrainian presidency of Yulia Tymoshenko bears down on us. If things go as the tea-leaves of the polling now say they will, by this time next year she will be president of Ukraine.
Tymoshenko formally announced her candidacy a few days ago, although it was well-known that she desires the presidency and she has actually never stopped campaigning since the Glorious Maidan freed her from prison. But she is acting more like an old campaigner now – the article describes her as a ‘political veteran’ – and is much less given to inflammatory rhetoric these days, preferring to make her statements which are critical of the current administration mostly terse and to the point, without all the look-at-me grandstanding we have come to expect and appreciate. Curiously, her announcement for the office, together with the strong probability that she will bury Poroshenko, have aroused little interest in the western press.
You might put it down to ‘Ukraine fatigue’, and the western exhaustion and impatience associated with the abysmal gap between the west’s soaring superlatives regarding its plans for the Newest Feather In The European Cap and the grinding, grim reality of political stalemate and inertia. I put it down to western caution, based on the consciousness that Tymoshenko is the Ukrainian leader the western ideologues always wanted, and their anxiety that too-obvious western championship of Tymoshenko will queer the deal.
Contrast western rhetoric on the upcoming Ukrainian election with its daily feting of Poroshenko during his campaign for the presidency. Why, he was just what Ukraine needed to set it on a progressive path – a hardnosed local businessman, a ‘tycoon’ who had dragged himself up through the ranks by sheer perseverance and hard work. Unfortunately, he remained a businessman throughout his presidency, greatly enriching himself thereby even as his countrymen saw their savings evaporate, and became poorer. Western media talked up the old what-price-freedom refrain, put little to no pressure on Poroshenko to honour his campaign promises, and remained more or less content so long as he kept up the anti-Russia rhetoric and continued to – in principle, at least – bring his country closer to Europe.
But western anticipation of the Ukrainian elections next year seems to be sort of on a par, enthusiasm-wise, with the way it might view the unveiling of an art exhibition by Danny DeVito, or a tasting of selected organic Hudderite nettle puddings. So far there’s none of the usual freedom-and-democracy trumpeting that frequently presages another Washington red-carpet ride for a preferred Pinocchio.
Why not? Because all previous experience of the melding of Yulia Tymoshenko and political power suggests she will sell out anyone quicker than you can say “Pavlo Lazarenko”. She said all the right things after her miraculous release from Yanukovych’s jail, and announced her readiness to take up a machine gun and go kill some katsaps when Putin ‘annexed’ the Ukrainians’ beloved Crimea. “I am hoping that I will use all my connections and will get the whole world to rise up so that not even scorched earth would be left of Russia.” That sandpapery sound you hear is the rubbing-together of palms in Washington, signifying satisfaction. The only thing that puzzles me is the suggestion by the western media that Russia would be satisfied with a Tymoshenko presidency. But that’s what it once thought – according to the late and mostly unlamented Boris Nemtsov, perennial Kremlin-insider Stas Belkovsky and the usual “unidentified source in President Dmitry Medvedev’s [at the time] administration”.
A far more plausible explanation came from United Russia Deputy Sergei Markov: Russia was not backing Tymoshenko – it was merely trying to salvage the gas deal she signed.
While we’re on that subject, let’s talk a little more about that gas deal, because it offers an excellent preview of what sort of President Tymoshenko might make. It was tremendously disadvantageous to Ukraine, a fact few dispute. And Yulia Tymoshenko took the contracts to Russia, entirely on her own recognizance and after she had first been ordered, in a special cabinet meeting chaired by First Vice-Premier (and first post-Maidan kangaroo president of the gloriously liberated Ukraine) Oleksandr Turchynov, and in which no other minister supported Tymoshenko, to proceed no further with the matter. She then took the contracts to Naftogaz head Oleh Dubyna, together with a directive she had herself prepared, and forced him to sign the deal.
“[Former] first vice premier [Oleksandr] Turchynov then gathered a cabinet meeting to make the decisions, and no minister supported the decision. Moreover, the cabinet opposed the decision and the issue was taken off the table. The case includes the minutes [of that meeting, former] cabinet members were questioned and they conformed everything I’ve just said,” Kuzmin said.
He said that then a directive signed by Tymoshenko and obliging Dubyna to sign the contract appeared. Dubyna got an instruction from Tymoshenko that was confirmed by the directive.
Tymoshenko, presumably maintaining the impression that she had the support of her national government, concluded the deal she had been ordered to drop. Once she had the signed agreement, she amended it after Russia had signed it, to include a provision that Russia agreed to drop its charges that Ukraine had been stealing gas, which was the basis of Russia’s suspension of transit through Ukraine. Mrs. Tymoshenko also claimed Russia had agreed to furnish the fuel to run the pumping stations inside Ukraine, a codicil to which Moscow said it had never agreed.
Just before we continue, I’d like to remind everyone that this is the person who will probably be in charge of transit of Europe’s gas supplies through Ukraine, this time next year. Just in case, you know, people start saying that Nord Stream II is entirely a political initiative, is designed to rob Ukraine of hard-earned transit fees to which it is righteously entitled, and that Europe must stand together to stop the project, which is not needed in any case as Europe already has a reliable supply of gas through Ukraine. Or something like that. It seems improbable now, I know, but you never can tell.
If – or when – that happens, I hope everyone will remember what Tymoshenko’s position was on relations with Russia back before the memory hole wiped out everything about how Yulia Tymoshenko was ever anything but a fierce tigress for freedom and democracy. Because I will pretty much guarantee you that she has forgotten.
Speaking in an interview at EU headquarters ahead of planned talks in Moscow on Feb. 21, she stressed that improving relations with the Kremlin was “a matter of energy security for the European Union as a whole.”
If you’ll forgive a little bit of gratuitous interpretation here, I’d like also to point out that when Ukraine was accused by Russia of stealing gas which was intended for Europe, it was not so that poor Ukrainian babushkas could cook for their starving and freezing grandkids, or put by a little money to buy them shoes for school. It was because Ukraine was siphoning off very large quantities of gas and reselling it at very large profits. And the company at the heart of that daylight robbery was United Energy Systems of Ukraine, a private company whose president was…Yulia Tymoshenko. Funny how her name keeps coming up, like a bad penny.
Canadian neoconservative Diane Francis thinks Yulia Tymoshenko is a political tiger Mom, a democratic meteorite who will leave a scorched path of upended corrupt bureaucrats behind her as she drags Ukraine at warp speed to the pinnacle of European leadership. Meanwhile, Tymoshenko’s background suggests she is a power-mad opportunist who will dance to the tune of the highest bidder, and recognizes no law but the authority she vests in herself. In my personal opinion, a Tymoshenko presidency will do nothing at all to pull Ukraine out of its tipover, and will probably accelerate it. The west appears content to sleepwalk into a widening disaster, as Ukrainians back the election of yet another well-known wealthy oligarch to lead a country whose promises have so grotesquely failed and hoodwinked its people.
And the band played on.