KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) – He has a family, but he has been living alone in his native Kiev for two decades.
He’s Jewish, but he considers himself lucky to have been born in Ukraine because, as he puts it, “there is nothing more exciting than watching the building of a new nation.”
Alexander Paskhaver has not just watched history; he has helped make it. He has been an economic adviser to every Ukrainian president since the nation’s independence in 1991.
His resume reads like a Who’s Who list – even though he’s the only one on it.
Paskhaver has a doctorate in economics, is the president of the Kiev-based Center for Economic Development, a senior partner at Kiev Consulting Group, the president of the Ukrainian Association of Consulting Firms, the chairman of the editorial board of the Ukrainian Economy Monitoring newsletter, Enterprise, and a member of the Coordinating Council of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine.
He says he seeks neither fame nor money – otherwise he long ago would have joined his sons who left for the United States in the 1990s.
The author of more than 100 scientific publications and dozens of newspaper articles, Paskhaver is now writing an essay on the rebuilding of Ukraine.
It’s an enterprise with which he is intimately familiar.
In 1965, as a 20-year-old graduate of the Kiev University of Economics, Paskhaver headed the department of industrial statistics at the Kiev Statistical Office. Just two years later he started his post-graduate study at the Institute of Economics of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
But when he received his post-graduate degree, he felt the effects of the tacit ban put on Jews in his profession.
“Petro Bagriy, who was then director of the Institute of Economics of Ukraine’s Academy of Sciences, called my father and said he’d like me to work at his institute,” Paskhaver recalls. “But the director could not take the decision alone. It had to be approved by a Communist Party official, who strongly opposed admitting a Jew into the academic institution.”
It took another year for Paskhaver to gain permission to enter the Institute of Economics, where he stayed for 20 years.
In 1990, in the midst of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms, Paskhaver left public service to begin dealing with the privatization of state-run enterprises. He was the chief expert of the Market Reforms Center, a nongovernmental body of the country’s leading economists, who were trying fundamentally to transform the country’s economy.
“In 1991, Ukraine appeared to be a just a fragment of the former Soviet Union’s national economic complex,” Paskhaver wrote in a recent article. “It was not self-sufficient, as the military-industrial sector dominated by far in the economy. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a crushing, depressive blow to Ukraine’s economy. So, in fact, we have been overcoming the consequences of that knock-down strike in the course of the past 16 years.”
Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of an independent Ukraine, invited Paskhaver to be his assistant on economic issues.
Almost immediately, however, Kravchuk lost the 1994 election to Leonid Kuchma. Paskhaver went on to advise Kuchma on privatization issues for five years, co-authoring the national program of privatization and a number of privatization laws.
Those were the years of greatest economic crisis in the new nation.
Paskhaver cites the “brain drain” brought on by Jewish emigration as the Ukrainian state’s gravest problem in the early 1990s. His two sons left the country due to the economic woes rather than any anti-Semitism.
Kravchuk and Kuchma were concerned by the increasing brain drain, he said, but refused to resort to any methods that would force the Jews to stay, like the Soviet Union had used for decades.
“Now our country has its own integrated national economic complex, but it was not easy to build,” Paskhaver says.
He says the controversial Kuchma was responsible for the re-establishment of Ukraine’s economy. Yet Kuchma’s regime, which Paskhaver acknowledges was corrupt, was doomed.
Paskhaver believes much of the public’s disappointment with Kuchma reflected the inflated expectations of Ukrainians.
“The people need heroes, like De Gaulle,” Paskhaver says, referring to the former French leader. “So they disliked Kuchma, as he was not inspiring.”
Paskhaver says he is confident that 50 years hence, historians will appreciate the contribution of each of Ukraine’s first three presidents.
He says Kravchuk will be remembered as the father of the nation, a man who used skillful political intrigue to hammer out independence. Kuchma will be recalled as the founder of the national economy, and the current president, Viktor Yuschenko, will be remembered as the builder of the Ukrainian political entity.
One of Yuschenko’s first acts as president – after a turbulent election campaign in which Yuschenko was poisoned and the results of a first runoff, which favored his opponent, were canceled after thousands of demonstrators who dismissed it as rigged took to the streets every day for weeks to press their case – was to dissolve Parliament and restore the country’s balance of powers.
This was “something the more ‘authoritarian’ Kuchma never dared to do,” Paskhaver says.
Paskhaver first met Yuschenko in 1991 during a business trip to the United States. Even then, Paskhaver says, Yuschenko was impressive.
“Compared to the other dull and corrupt officials, he seemed a shining star,” Paskhaver recalls. “So I and the others who knew him then believed him to be a promising politician, someone the country really needed.”
This fall, Yuschenko pledged to fight a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Ukraine. In October he met with Jewish leaders to assuage their fears and affirm that commitment.
Paskhaver acknowledges that anti-Semitism exists in his country, but he says it is but one form of widespread xenophobia.
“We [Jews] look different and thus strange to them [Ukrainians], just like all other ethnic groups,” he told JTA. “However, they would more eagerly tolerate us than, for instance, Czechs, one of their fellow Slavs, according to recent polls. The less peple know about their neighbors, the stronger is the prejudice towards them.”
After decades spent proximate to power in Ukraine, Paskhaver urges patience when it comes to Ukraine’s struggles, particularly with a democratic, free society.
“Ukrainian society is developing needed democratic traditions,” Paskhaver says. “It is not going very smoothly, but there is no way to learn freedom and democracy other than through practice.”