Written by: Taras Kosiuk, Yevgeny Matyushenko
UNIAN sat down with Myron Spolsky, one of the leaders of the Ukrainian scouting organization Plast, an entrepreneur who has once moved from Canada to Ukraine and observed how the Ukrainian state and society have been changing over the years of independence.
Mr Spolsky told his story of his settling in Ukraine, the Plast organization, as well as the pressing problems of dragging Ukrainization, corruption, and boosters of public discontent that have been bringing major changes to the country.
You’re Canadian-born, but with Ukrainian roots and you’ve decided to come and stay here in the late 1980s. What caused such a change, what was the reason?
I came here originally on a project involving the millennium of Ukrainian Christianity. We planned and organized a series of concerts in Winnipeg, Canada, where I lived. We wanted to do something different from traditional Ukrainian concerts – our plan was to introduce Ukrainian academic music to Canadian audiences, which had not been Ukrainian academic music, it was not until that point performed by Canadian orchestras and soloists up to that point. This included – music by Skoryk, Stankovych, Kyva, Liatoshynskyi and so on. We had a series of three concerts during a one week period, we brought Nina Matvienko, and that was her first visit outside the Soviet Union to a non-Soviet bloc country. It was a very successful series of concerts, it was named by all of the major Canadian news media as the most successful and most innovative series of concerts that year in all of Canada. That started a process of Canadian audiences understanding things Ukrainian and a process Ukrainian music being performed by Canadian orchestras and Canadian performing ensembles.
So you set everything up?
I was travelleding to between Winnipeg and Kyiv, setting up the coming tour, signing the performers’ and composers’ contracts, and finding the music. Ukrainian class called an Academic music was not available in traditional music libraries, where normally you would find the music from. So you had to come here, go to the Musical Fund, then located on Sofiivska street, arrange for the shipment of the score to Canada directly, instead of waiting for publishers in New York to contact Moscow. Moscow may or may not want that music come from Ukraine, but would send the music of Russian composers and drag it till the last minute till it is too late, this was the traditional thing.
And you decided to stay?
Yes, I ended up staying here. The first time I’ve arrived here on January 9, 1988, and a week earlier Gorbachev announced his new policy of “perestroika” and “glasnost.” Everything was changing, society was changing, and it was interesting to me. But originally I had no intentions to stay, I thought I would see how things go and I would go back to Canada and resume my life.
After you stayed, how did you start off here? Was it business right away?
Virtually, yes. I have registered my first company here in September of 1988. As I didn’t have permission to do it in Kyiv, I did it in Tallinn, Estonia. I started in a trade business. There was another Canadian, who had a pizza business, and he asked me to come to organize a trade business with him, and that is what I’ve started doing.
What kind of Ukraine did you see?
“What kind of Soviet Union” – will be more appropriate. It was very backward in many respects: socially, economically, the infrastructure, mentality, and I think we are still feeling the effects of that. You had one social level which was the “nomenklatura”, which were the people who ruled the country, and their children and families were part of one social class, which had certain privileges that included studying abroad, travelling abroad, serving in the Soviet diplomatic missions and trade missions in other countries, they were growing up and living a lifestyle of a relative privilege. I think we tend to forget that because it was a very different stratum of society. And then we had the rest of society, earning 120 rubles per month and living covering their basic needs, but there’s nothing available other than the basic needs. If you had family outside Ukraine they would send you parcels and you would sell them on a “black market”, among friends. You would have this kind of accumulation of wealth “under the table”, and it occurred throughout society. So it is not unusual that we have a system of oligarchs and people who have privileges and we seem to have entrenched their privileges in society. We saw a system that was economically bankrupt, bonds were not being repaid, and of course the currency changed periodically – when people were given by the authorities one hour to change the money and the house was full of cash, of course. All that was a unique experience. Politically, we saw utter corruption, present in every respect, everything based on who you knew, how you knew them and what kind of gift you could provide them with: money, chocolate, alcohol, but money was always welcomed.