Say not the struggle naught availeth
Jan 28th 2010
Roman Kupchinsky, a scourge of communists and post-communist kleptocrats alike
IN THEIR freedom they had no homeland. And in their homeland they had no freedom. Roman Kupchinsky, a warrior in and out of uniform, who died on January 19th aged 65, was one of the most remarkable of those who fought a seemingly hopeless but ultimately triumphant struggle against the Soviet seizure of power in the eastern half of Europe.
Much of what he did in the cold war is still secret. The son of Ukrainian émigrés to the United States, he served with the American army in Vietnam*. Then he worked “for the government”. He campaigned for political prisoners and fought hard in the information war against Soviet rule in Ukraine. RFE/RL
But unlike many of his fellow cold-warriors, he did not declare victory and retire in 1991. He turned his fire on a new, more insidious enemy: the overlap between organised crime and ex-Soviet intelligence services, and in particular the staggering corruption of the oil and gas industry. He edited a gripping fortnightly digest on crime and corruption in the ex-Soviet region for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. (For readers who know that outfit only in its pale modern incarnation, a trip into the archives is recommended.)
Those who read his reports there, and later for the Jamestown Foundation, a think-tank, found them eye-poppingly well-informed and insightful. Yet they were only dilute versions of what he really knew. Western energy companies and governments took him into their confidence, using him as a consultant to explain the monstrous menagerie of cronyism, spookery and greed that they encountered in the wild east. He kept their secrets.
Many people enjoy the title of a “walking encyclopedia”. Mr Kupchinsky deserved it. But that was only part of it. His companionship was uproarious; his determination to outwit the bad guys inspirational. Your columnist once needed urgent help against a seemingly unbeatable enemy from that world. “Romko’s” salty humour calmed my nerves; his deep knowledge helped win the battle.
Mr Kupchinsky was emblematic of a generation that had escaped totalitarianism and found new homes in the west. Others of the same ilk can be found all over the region: Valdas Adamkus and Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former presidents of Lithuania and Latvia respectively, or Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Estonia’s serving head of state. From the past 20 years you could find plenty more, of all ages, in and around public life in the ex-captive nations.
Their great asset was binocular vision. Having lived in the west, they understood far better than most of their compatriots at home how life in the rich, free world, for good or for ill, really works. But they also enjoyed a deep knowledge of their own countries’ history and traditions—more so, in some cases, than those who lived under Soviet rule. It didn’t always work: after 1991 some returning émigrés proved to be patronising, bombastic and outright flaky. Some of them died too early: Stasys Lozoraitis, Lithuania’s top diplomat in the West, was struck down by liver cancer in 1994, aged 70, robbing his country of his integrity, charm and vision. But the best and luckiest of them have played a huge role in securing their countries’ future after the collapse of communism.
Mr Kupchinsky was one of the most formidable: equally at home in dealing with troubled bureaucracies such as the FBI and CIA or with Ukraine’s also ill-run intelligence bureaucracies, as well as the private sector, the media and think-tanks. He continued reading, writing and talking—fuelled by a prodigious intake of nicotine and alcohol—right up to his death.
What will we do without him?
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Say not the struggle naught availeth