By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Ukraine home gives unique perspective

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Events in Ukraine are producing a typical excess of demagoguery among partisan politicians, fanned by media reports that encourage more pontificating and less thoughtfulness. Meanwhile, as portrayed by The Onion and quoted by Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column, the American public is divided between the “wholly indifferent” and the “grossly misinformed.”

Kristof regularly returns to his family home outside Gaston, from where he attended Yamhill-Carlton High as prelude to his prestigious higher education, journalism and book-writing careers. But another family home gives him a unique perspective on what is unfolding in Ukraine.

“My father grew up in western Ukraine, near Chernivtsi,” Kristof wrote this week. “Our family house was in better shape in the 1930s than it is today. A highway that my grandfather helped build a century ago was barely passable on my last visit. Corruption is far worse today. The entire system has failed, so, of course, western Ukrainians look across the border at a thriving Poland, now firmly embedded in Europe, and see that as a far better model for the future.”

Ladis Kristof, longtime Portland State University professor, died in mid-2010. His childhood home was in Romania, later made part of Ukraine. In that one paragraph, Kristof established personal credibility in writing about that part of the world, but his column focused on agitators using these events for political gain.

“The villain here is named Putin, not Obama,” he wrote, “and we should have learned to feel nervous when hawks jump up and down and say ‘Do something!’ We tried that in Iraq.”

Our political debate surrounds allegations that Putin’s military invasion in Crimea arguably was inspired by foreign policy weaknesses of the Obama administration. Pure fallacy, wrote Kristof, although he described other serious errors in Obama foreign policy actions, including Syria and Afghanistan.

“The Soviet Union didn’t invade Hungary because of President Eisenhower’s weakness, nor Czechoslovakia because of President Johnson’s weakness,” Kristof wrote. “Russia didn’t help dismember Moldova because of George H.W. Bush’s weakness or invade Georgia because of George W. Bush’s.”

Looking forward, Kristof speculates that an independent Crimea would remove that “pro-Russian population” from Ukraine elections, further driving Ukraine “into the West’s orbit.”

“In a couple of decades,” he suggested, “Russians may well look over the border at a thriving, European Ukraine and want that model for themselves as well. So be strong, Senators Graham and McCain: Putin’s advantage is temporary.”

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.

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