Is there a greater Scheme? – About Swedbank in Ukraine: Part 1

Category: by sophie engström, swedbank, ukraina, ukraine
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(Läsningstid: 3 minuter)

This is an article for my Ukrainian readers that may be interested in knowing how the discussions goes in Sweden about Swedbank’s engagement in Ukraine. I will focus some on how the debate has been going, and I will continue tomorrow with an interpretation on how one can see Swedbank’s engagement in Ukraine and what one can fear from their present and future actions.

A couple of weeks ago I had a chat with a friend from Kiev/Kyiv about the financial crisis and the effects on her own business. I was rather stunned when she said that Swedbank was considered to be one of the good banks, or even “good guys”, since they were staying in Ukraine and didn’t try to escape from the financial crisis. I was stunned, because I thought people in Ukraine (and in the Baltic states) wanted to get rid of banks as Swedbank. This was actually caused by my understanding that banks, as Swedbank, played a very important role in increasing the financial crisis among those countries.

The tone and the degree of irritation has been much greater in Sweden than in Ukraine. Many Swedish newspapers has during the past year written articles that actually focus on how Swedish banks could, or even should, withdraw their interests for Ukraine and the Baltic states. Swedbank has the greatest capital and loaning in Ukraine and the Baltic states among the Swedish banks. This have made them rather exposed for Swedish critic in media. This has been compromised with Swedbank’s rather daring attitude, for instance with buying Kommerzbank in 2007, which has been a course of irritation among media and Swedish small investors. It is actually possible that Swedbank’s action just didn’t fit with Swedish values, such as to be humble and trying to avoid all negative attraction to oneself. But the purchase of Kommerzbank could also be seen as a millstone for the bank. Swedbank is in a rather deep dip and the downward spiral never seems to end and the Kommmerzbank purchase haven’t made their situation better, but rather worse!

My interpretation is that Swedish savers have been rather critical against Swedbank’s refusal of giving up their Eastward investments, and mainstream media have not been helping the situation much. Last week the state owned television, Sveriges Television, had a reportage about a Latvian farmer family that had to leave their farm, slaughter all their animals and sell all their properties to be able to pay Swedbank back. But even so, their debt to Swedbank was still around € 96 000. These kind of stories are pretty effective in Sweden I’d say, especially because Swedes in general never wants to be villains that rob people in other countries, that possibly have a much tougher situation than ourselves. Swedes are used be the “good guys”, and being a brick in a great global economic war on high financial level, leaving many as losers and rather few are winners.

The above recounted story are however a rather fresh element in Swedish media. The main focus was previously on how Swedbank’s actions could affect Swedish investors and the labor force in Sweden, without little account on a global scale. From a personal point of view I appreciate that Swedish media has been able to change their perspective and not only showing concern for the well-being of Swedish investors and savers.

But I can also see several problems with having a negative focus on Swedbank’s engagements in Ukraine, since it could discourage other investors. Especially in regard to what I mentioned above, no Swede really wants to be depicted as the bad guy. But even so, we might also ask ourselves why Swedbank think it is so important to stay in Ukraine and Baltic states? You do not need to be too conspirotial to believe that Swedbank have a greater scheme by staying. I will therefor continue the discussions tomorrow and highlight Knut Kainz Rognerud’s book “Det stora bankrånet” (“The big bank robbery”), and how he urge that banks, as Swedbank, actually made the financial crisis greater in Ukraine and the Baltic states.

On what a naked body can do

Category: art, by sophie engström, gender, ukraine
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(Läsningstid: 3 minuter)

It was a couple of days ago I started to think about Boris Mikhailov again – the photographer, not the ice hockey player ; ) My first acquaintance with him and his photos was at a Photo Fair in Gothenburg. I guess it was in the late 1990s. The collection of his photos was not any his more wild and exposing photos, but the old hand coloured. I also saw them in Moscow a couple of years ago and got as equally impressed. It is a fascinating work. But it was a completely different story when I really fell in love with his work. It was when he got the Hasselblad Award in 2000. I had been able to grab a ticket to the award ceremony, and the so called party afterwards at the local City Art Hall.


When I was walking around that City Art Hall I slowly started to grasp what kind of photographer this was! I was completely stunned with his serie with the homeless, alcoholics and drug addicts. Not only was he brave, but also the people he depicted was so. At first I wasn’t very sure if I liked it or not. I thought he exploited the people somehow but I couldn’t put my finger on if I thought it was entirely bad and evil action to do so. But when I came to the last room, I was not very sure what to think at all. It was a serie with self portraits, mostly naked and not in an euphemistically way. His aging body was put in more or less obscure positions. It was something very laughable about it, as it was extremely admirable! He deconstructed his own body, and I both liked and feared. It was like his work spoke two different languages, both brutal and very subtle in the same breath. I was completely entranced by him and his way of thinking, but I still feel have problem describing why, and actually how, I love his work.

Here is an interview with Boris Mikhailov on “Specialisten”.

A couple of years ago a friend from Moscow visited me and we started to talk about Mikhailov. I think we both shared a common admiration for him, but probably in different ways. My friend told me that Mikhailov had been arrested in Kyiv (and released shortly after) due to that he and his assistant had been collecting women’s sanitary pads at public toilets. They needed it for some kind of project that Mikhailov was working on. I still don’t know if it true or not. And parts of me does not want to know either, because I fear it does not exists at all. But if it does, I am convinced that we will most certainly hear about it. It would be pretty controversial … And if it does exist, I will probably dispute with myself if I like it or not, possibly ending up entranced, once more.

Focus Ukraine

Category: 1989, eastern europe, EU, ukraine
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(Läsningstid: 3 minuter)

It is possibly that somebody have noticed that the a current focus at in Ukraine. Actually December and January, and possibly also parts of February, will have focus Ukraine. I dont want the articles to focus only on politics or/and economics, so if you have any ideas, essays, articles etc about Ukraine, that you would like to share, please send me a note or just comment on this entry.

After I wrote the short comment on the Ukraine-EU summit yesterday, I discovered that this issue actually is able to be more debated than I thought. Checking around the web I see that very few have mentioned it at all. The one that have discussed it seems to have been less critical than, at least I, desired. And after a conversations over lunch yesterday with a Swedish project leader working with Georgia, I felt I need to come back a more to this issue.

Just to clarify, I have never had any high thoughts about EUs “commitment” in Ukraine or any other country east of Berlin, actually. But I think possibly EU should learn from some mistakes before and especially by US. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, USA seemed to lack ambition with their eastward connections. As Gross & Steinheer claims in “Economic transition in Central and Eastern Europe: Planting Seeds” (2004) USA had no clear view on how to approach economical changes in Eastern and Central Europe (I hate that concept, but please give me an acceptable idea of what to use instead and I will use that!) which implied that Europe, or consequently EU, won the economic battle. Of course, this is something that could be disputed – against and for Gross & Steinherr conclusion. But we could possibly agree on that EU have an influence over Eastern and Central Europe. Regardless or not of the American influence, because it is perhaps not possible to evaluate how “little” the American influence is in that comparison.

But honestly, this is not what I had in mind to discuss, I just wanted to establish once more that EU actually have an influence, and that the crucial point is not how big the influence are but rather what is the main idea with it.

As I told my “colleague” at lunch yesterday, I am not sure EU know what to do with their Eastern connection and Ukraine. They don’t have an agenda and consequently have to jump from one tree to an other in order to try to avoid and maneuver nervous, pleading questions from Ukrainian leaders. My opposition is that an unaware influence actually can be much more damaging than having an aggressive attitude or even xenophobic and warmongering one. Xenophobic attitudes is easily raised, everywhere, evidently also in Ukraine, as Olya Vesnjanka wrote today at Deutsche Welle.

Conclusions? Well, I am not certain EU ever had any clear ideas about Eastern and Central Europe. I just think they “won” the battle economically once, due to the fact that that USA was even more hesitating and doubtful than EU. But one can call me illusionist ; ) from one perspective, and that is from the point of view that I wish EU to evaluate what the connection and commitment with eastern Europe actually is about! And answer the questions, even if the answers gets nasty and unpleasant (as in “We don’t care about the countries, but we want to suck them dry and have what reamins of their small resources”). And it is possible that this could imply that future cooperation dies. But as I said above, the todays unaware and near-sighted commitment could in the long run be pretty harmful!

Surprised by the Ukraine-EU summit

Category: by sophie engström, EU, ukraina, ukraine
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(Läsningstid: 2 minuter)

I have to admit I was really surprised when I opened my weekly issue of one of the leading newspapers in Sweden this saturday and found a small note about the Ukraine-EU summit. I was not as surprised by the actual agreement. Of course there where no real change in order to improve the relationship between the Ukraine “the EU’s closest cooperation and trade partner”, as the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said, and EU. I think, that even though I am a sceptic, pessimist a real misanthrope in these circumstances, I am probably not alone when say that one of the priority issues during the Swedish Presidency, The Eastern Partnership, is perhaps a real fiasco. It has actually been so little talk about this priority, so I started to imagine that they perhaps had moved it out from the priority list… Anyway, I wonder, really wonder, what the chairman of EU, Mr. Reinfeldt, and Chairman of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, hopes to achieve when their main focus is to pressure and lecture Ukraine, pointing on that Ukraine’s reforms are too slow or not democratic enough? The only achievement I can see is that they follow wishes from IMF like little doggies? • woof woof •

I am especially worried, because it seems like EU has run out of any creative ideas about how to cooperate with, for instance, Ukraine. And it is possible that this inanity actually affect the relationships in a many negative ways. I can’t say I have any constructive ideas right now on the issue, but I at least do know that even though the EU leaders congrats themselves, the whole agreement is painfully worthless.

Or? Any objections?

Pingviner mot allt – en lönsam kombination?

Category: by sophie engström, literature, ukraina, ukraine
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(Läsningstid: 2 minuter)

Den rysk-ukrainske författaren Andrej Kurkov har uttalat sig om det förestående ukrainska presidentvalet. För den svenska publiken har han gjort sig ganska känd för de båda burleska och absurdistiska romanerna “Döden och Pingvinen” samt “Pingvin försvunnen“.

Andrej Kurkov, bild från wikipedia.

På frågan om hur han ser på förestående val svarar han till Deutsche Welle att han inte har särskilt stor tilltro till kandidaterna eller till deras politiska ambitioner.

– Det största problemet för Ukraina är att det inte finns några politiska partier, ingen ideologi. De olika partierna företräder bara olika finansiella grupperingar, säger han vidare till Deutsche Welle.

Andrej Kurkov fortsätter med att peka på att oavsett vilken av de starka kandidaterna som vinner valet, Viktor Janukovitj eller Julia Tymosjenko, så kommer Ukraina att närma sig Ryssland. I förra veckan noterade jag att det finns en möjlighet att Rysslands premiärminister Vladimir Putin har satt sitt pund på Tymosjenko, då de lyckades förhandla fram en ovanligt gynnsam gasuppgörelse inför nästa år. Men igår hävdade Putin till Reuters att han absolut inte stödde Tymosjenko i valet. Man kan kanske tillägga att även om han stödde Tymosjenko så skulle han aldrig erkänna det. Det vore politiskt oklokt, och inte alls lika slugt som Putin ibland lyckas agera.

Det är svårt att avgöra om Kukov har rätt. De ukrainska politiska klimatet är allt annat är lätt analyserat, men faktum är att Kurkov har rätt i att mycket tyder på att Ukraina kommer att ändra kurs, något österut då, efter valet. Frågan är bara om det i egentlig mening kommer att påverka relationerna med EU? Enligt min bedömning kommer de inte nämnvärt påverkas. Relationerna med EU är inte intensiva särdeles, och Ukraina har dessutom visat prov på en ganska korrupt ekonomi i förberedelserna inför (herrarnas!) fotbolls-EM 2012 som landet står värd för, tillsammans med grannlandet Polen.

Däremot tycker jag att Kurkov gör en fyndig reflektion när han menar att väljarna är hjälplöst uttröttade till leda på allt vad some heter politik och vill inte rösta. Det är bara några få ambitiösa unga valarbetare som verkligen bryr sig om valet, säger han. Kurkov menar också att om man verkligen vill ha folkets stöd så bör man vara en sann antagonist och helt enkelt döpa om sig till “Mot Allt” och då också vara emot allt. För det är just så folket känner.

För den som läst någon av Kurkovs romaner känns humorn igen – politikern “Mot Allt” skulle kunna befinna sig i hans litterära kabinett. Det märkliga är väl bara att “verkligheten” tycks har hunnit ikapp honom. Jag ser därför i en inte alltså för avlägsen framtid hur pingviner strövar med slokörad husse på standen till den isfria Dnepr.

Sociala medier i kampen mot valfusk

Category: by sophie engström, sociala medier, ukraina, ukraine, web 2.0
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(Läsningstid: 2 minuter)

Under förra presidentvalet 2004, som senare ledde till den orangea revolutionen, rapporterades det om det flera oegentligheten. De första uppgifterna som kom ut om valfusk och förhindrande av valprocedur var ofta via internet. Detta ledde till att man valde att stänga ned en server som användes av en organisation som bland annat ställde sig bakom den nuvarande presidenten, Viktor Jusjenko. Idag är nästan alla överens att kommande presidentval i januari MÅSTE gå rätt till. Denna gång får inte internationella övervakare rynka på näsan åt den ukrainska demokratiska viljan.


Ett försök att stärka valprocessen är Internviews-Ukraine’s Twitter projekt. Vitaliy Moroz, från Internews-Ukraine, säger till Olya Vesnjanka för Deutche Welle att Ukraina ofta har varit arena för innovativ och kreativ journalistik, och avser aktioner som de jag nämnde ovan, samt att Livejournal användes som en politisk debatt och nyhetsrapportering under förra presidentvalet.

Tanken med Internews-Ukraine’s projekt är att utbilda journalister (och gärna bloggare) runt omkring i Ukraina, till att skapa ett twitter flöde som synliggör oegentligheter under valkampanjen 7-17 januari. De också lyfter fram de politiska frågorna även om de är väl medvetna om att kan inte kan ha en politisk debatt på Twitter, eftersom siten bara erbjuder 140 tecken per status uppdatering!

Journalisterna i projektet ska därför inte bara få utbildning i hur de rent tekniskt twittrar, exempelvis från mobil, utan också hur man kort, endast några tecken, uttrycker saklig och begriplig information. (Helt uppenbart är att undertecknad borde gå en sådan kurs, då jag verkligen har svårt att uttrycka något sakligt, kärnfullt och framförallt kort 😉 ) Allt material som twittras ska sedan smalas upp av en större portal som samlar blogginlägg, twitter, bilder från exempelvis Flickr, på en och samma sida. Jag föreställer mig att den eventuellt kan se ut som piratpartiets Live-ström.

Om detta kommer att motverka att presidentvalet 2010 blir lika smutsigt som förra, låter jag vara osagt. Men faktum är att förra valet kanske “räddades” just av att de som kritiserade situationen under valet faktiskt använde sig av ny teknik för att sprida information!

För den som är intresserad kommer jag att under december månad publicera en liten artikel med intervjuer med några dem som stod bakom förra presidentvalets flashmobs och spektakulära serverflyttar.

The world interpreted by Peter Day and BBC

Category: eastern europe, ukraina, ukraine
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(Läsningstid: < 1 minut)

Listening to BBC World Service and Peter Day’s interview with Borys Luzhkin, I get if not irritated but at least a bit tired. He introduce the interview by asking Luzhhkin how he could be such a great entrepreneur when he was born and raised in Soviet Union. *sighing* When I look around me I often see much more creative, ambiguous and innovative people outside Western Europe and US, and when I come to Kyiv, for instance, I often get stunned with new ways of thinking and developing, for instance, in media, such that is required of an entrepreneur. In general, I believe it is Western Europe (and etc) that is rather retarded and not very creative in that respect. Yes, sorry, Peter Day, that even includes you : )))