“Sometimes I have the feeling that for Ukrainian politicians, revolution is more important that evolution and compromise is not success,”

These were the words of former Polish president and Aleksander Kwasniewski as he delivered a report on the European Parliament’s envoy to Ukraine.

I smiled wryly when I read those words:  ‘compromise is not success’, because they suggest that, after just 40 days, Mr Kwasniewski has a pretty good understanding of a Ukrainian tradition that took me three years to understand.

Now, I’m not about to steer this blog into the dirty waters of Ukrainian politics, but if you want to spend time in Ukraine,  this non-compromising attitude is something to watch out for.   In business, in politics and in many other areas of society, Ukraine and Ukrainians stick doggedly to black-and-white totalitarian tendencies.   More often than not, opposition and competition are seen as serious threats which should be destroyed.

Even those who should know better, such as the EBA and American Chamber of Commerce, two large ‘Western’ business groups engage in this nonsense as their executive directors scheme, plot and plan victory over each other at the expense of their members.  The Ukrainian press (not unlike the UK’s press)  is almost exclusively used to dictate the views of its Oligarch ownership, and if you ask a Ukrainian speaker about language, you will most probably find the same black and white logic.  I’ve lost count of the number of time that I’ve been told that there should be one nation, one official language and everyone should speak it.

Even the ubiquitous phrase “eta normalno?” (is it normal?) hints at a world-view that sees ‘normal’ behavior as right and, by definition, everything else as abnormal.

The irony is that, on some levels, I find Ukrainians to be the most tolerant people on the planet, with an ability to dismiss even the most serious tragedy by shrugging their shoulders, while at the same time they can be equally intolerant of anyone who is not ‘normal’.  This makes it a tough place to be a minority.

Anyway, I think I’ve made my point and I hope it doesn’t seem like an unfair criticism.  Of course I’ve simplified things ridiculously for the sake of a blog post, but I suspect most readers will understand what I’m getting at.

If you want to listen to a few other national stereotypes, Adam Gopnik (yes that’s really his name), shares his thoughts about the US, France, Canada and the UK here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rlsw7. Skip forward to 1 min 10 seconds to avoid the into.