Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

I met a traveler from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,

And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Like the traveler in the poem, Nicholas Kristof looks upon the works of Stalin as he relates the story of his travel to the Ukraine, and finds that it, like many parts of the old Russian/Soviet Empire, is worse off now (in terms of physical and social infrastructure) than it was in the 1920s. Upon returning to his family's ancestral home, he comes into contact with Stalin's works, and despairs:

I got my car stuck in the mud of a so-called road here. Way back in the 1920's, it was a smooth highway, but it has now disintegrated into a rough path ? and when a bridge collapsed recently, motorists were left to forge through a muddy bog as embracing as quicksand.

That's the special accomplishment of the former Soviet Union: it not only repressed and impoverished its citizens in its seven decades, but continues to do so today, posthumously.

The woes of this little village of Karapchiv are, to me, a particularly poignant window into all that went wrong and still goes wrong in the late U.S.S.R. ? for in an alternate universe, it would have been my home. My father's family, ?migr? Armenians, lived here in what was then Romania, now a short drive south. Then the Soviets seized this land in 1944 and sent my father fleeing on a long, bumpy journey to Oregon.

So my heart pulses with competing emotions as I stand in front of the Kristof family home here (actually, it's the Krzysztofowicz family home, for my father shortened the name after arrival in the U.S.). I can't help admiring, even coveting, its long-lost grandeur, but it's also decrepit and sad, uglified in that Communist combination of peeling paint, sagging roofs and gardens gone wild.

The home had plumbing when it was built in 1908, but the pipes have been removed. Now it serves as a village office and as a home for several families, but it has neither a toilet nor an outhouse ? people just disappear into the wooded grounds.

Another family home is now the village school, which is a much better use for it than housing me, and I'm sure the Communists did us a favor by evicting us and pushing us toward America. The old system, in which a few wealthy families like mine exploited vast numbers of peasants, was unsustainable and, frankly, a pretty good argument for Communism.

Digressing slightly, I notice that since Kristof writes for the NYT, it seems that we of course get the obligatory apology for communism (so not to offend the delicate sensibilities of their target audience), as though compelled labor and brutal subjugation by feudal landlords were "pretty good argument[s] for" compelled labor and brutal subjugation by communists. This apology doesn't work for a number of reasons- the feudal system had lasted for centuries in the Ukraine (subsistence agriculture in the rich land there is certainly sustainable, given the high infant mortality and low life expectancies of feudal life), and the landlords at least had a property right in their serfs and land, giving them an interest in at least maintaining a base level of productivity. Also, the landlords didn't a) intentionally starve millions for fun and politics, and b) didn't run around killing people left and right, for fun and politics. There's really no excuse for communism.

After throwing the obligatory bone to his NYT constituency (it must be reflexive, since he wrote the piece for CNN), Kristof gets to the point of the matter:

But Soviet Communism rotted both initiative and pluralism, poisoning the land for the future.

Slaughtering all of the kulaks, dissidents, and productive people rotted initiative and pluralism. Who knew? (Certainly not Eric Hobsbawm. But even if he did, he wouldn't care.)

Here in Ukraine, the depression after the fall of the Soviet Union lasted for 10 consecutive years of falling G.N.P., resulting in a total economic decline of 59 percent.

Georgia endured an even sharper fall, 78 percent. By comparison, in the Great Depression, the U.S. suffered a 27 percent decline in output.

We in the West cheered when the Soviet Union tottered and died. But we've moved on, while erstwhile Soviet lands remain wretched, with ordinary people commemorating not new freedoms but deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis and drunkenness. Life expectancy has fallen in Ukraine since the heady revolution we applauded.

For its part, Ukraine is now ruled by a thug, Leonid Kuchma, whose opponents have a way of being victimized by mysterious car crashes. Four prominent journalists have died in Ukraine under puzzling circumstances over the last three years, including Georgy Gongadze, whose beheaded body was found after President Kuchma was secretly taped saying of him: "Drive him out. Throw him out. Give him to the Chechens."

The soviet experiment destroyed civil society and killed anyone with any sense of self-sufficiency or entrepreneurial spirit (those few that remained either turned their abilities towards evil, or towards escaping to the west). To make a market economy go, social institutions must exist, such as a general belief in the rule of law, property rights, trust that your neighbor is not out to defraud you, etc. Without a civil society in place after the collapse of the soviet masters, its no wonder that the result in many of the "Newly Independent States" was economic collapse and a return to despotism. The NIS have seen the socialist utopia, and it is Hobbes. In the Ukraine, the dead hand of the state is ever present:

Here in Karapchiv, work is so elusive that it is possible to hire a person for $1 a day. The village's leading entrepreneur, Anatoly Marianchuk, who employs 12 people in his lumber business, complains that the government still strangles businesses with taxes and arbitrary rules.

"The problem is the state," he said. "If you start a new business on paper, then they want to tax you immediately, even before you do anything."

[cheapshot]Gee, is this Ukraine, or California? Hmm...[/cheapshot]

And yet, there are hopeful signs that the worst is over. The depression that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union has ended everywhere, and Russia is now booming along at more than 6 percent this year, Ukraine at almost 5 percent ? both much faster than the U.S. or Western Europe.

Karapchiv has had a building boom for tiny outdoor chapels, a tribute to the new religious freedoms. I stayed on the couch of a villager who, like others, has found construction work abroad, enabling him to afford a solid home, and a light and toilet paper in his outhouse.

And even that road where I got stuck is getting attention. A new bridge is under construction over the mire, so someday Karapchiv may even regain the level it enjoyed in the 1930's ? and rise up from there.

The next generation, by economic necessity, is learning how to build their own civil society, and with that is coming growth and development. Stalin's statues, like Ozymandias', have been hacked off at the knees, with their heads lopped off and tossed in the scrap heaps of his fallen empire. Perhaps, after looking upon his works and despairing, in a generation we can look upon new works, and rejoice.

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Gee, is this Ukraine, or

Gee, is this Ukraine, or California?
Is there difference, comrade?