This weekend, it was great to be back in Odesa and to welcome so many of our friends and partners aboard the USS Porter. A visit by a U.S. Navy ship is hugely symbolic, and this year, Ukraine has welcomed not one, but two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers: the USS Donald Cook and the USS Porter.
The USS Porter’s commanding officer, Commander Blair Guy, put it best when he said visits like these give the ship’s crew – 300 best friends at sea for weeks at a time – the chance to stretch their legs and experience local culture. I was glad to see our sailors out in the city, shopping, enjoying lunch on Deribasivska and taking in the sites. All of them commented on the warm reception they received from the people of Odesa.
But these visits are much more than that. They offer unique opportunities for joint training and military exercises, strengthening the bonds between our maritime forces, and helping improve interoperability. They also give us to the chance to share the best of the U.S. Navy with a broad cross-section of government officials, military leaders, activists, journalists, and representatives of civil society – people like Governor Saakashvili, Deputy Prosecutor General David Sakvarelidze, Members of the Rada including Oleksiy Honcharenko, Deputy Ministers from across government, our friends from the Odesa Impact Hub – even the Kyiv Dynamo football veterans. And I am particularly grateful to Admiral Hajduk for his strong leadership and his partnership.
It is no coincidence that both the brave men and women of the USS Porter and the committed reformers who joined us on-board embody the ship’s motto: Freedom’s Champion. And as I said to the group that gathered Saturday night, the Porter’s port call in Odesa is unlike any other the ship will perform in the course of this cruise, because unlike the other allies and partners the USS Porter will visit, Ukraine is a country at war. And as President Obama recently reaffirmed, the United States will continue to stand with you in your fight to protect and defend your sovereign territory and your right to determine your political and democratic future.
There is no greater symbol of the United States’ commitment to global engagement and global presence than the U.S. Navy. As U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said, “Presence is what we do. It is who we are. We reassure our partners that we are there, and remind those who may wish our country and allies harm that we’re never far away.” The USS Porter’s presence in Ukraine is yet another example of our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to maritime security and stability across the Black Sea region.
This week I was back in Odesa – twice, in fact – first with Senator John McCain, and again for the Odesa Financial Forum (if you haven’t seen my Forum remarks yet, you can read them here). But the highlight of my trip was my visit to the Odesa Impact Hub, where I met dozens of young people using an incredibly impressive innovation space to create tech startups and work on some of the most exciting social action projects underway in Ukraine today.
All too often, when people think of Ukraine, they focus on Russian aggression in the east, on economic difficulties, or on corruption. What is often overlooked is Ukraine’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit, and how young people and civil society are leveraging 21st Century technology to bring real, meaningful change to Ukraine. It’s something that sets the Ukrainian people apart, and reminds me of my home state. As a California native, I’m a big believer in the transformative power of technology. California has been hugely changed for the better through its adoption of technology that has brought people together in ways that would not have been possible even 10 years ago.
It was very exciting to visit a place in Odesa that is actively pursuing these goals, and that provides a work space for hundreds of young people working to make their city, and their country, better. Just a few examples of their accomplishments:
· The Hub’s Impact Academy, a business education program that focuses on social innovation and social change, led to the creation of a partnership with the International Renaissance Foundation to help IDPs forced to flee their homes in eastern Ukraine re-start their businesses in Odesa.
· One of the Hub’s resident NGO organizations, Vilna Osvita, is opening small educational hubs across the region, providing students with equal access to modern education methods and technology.
· The Hub’s Volunteer Service, which focuses on youth empowerment and social activism, has already united more than 650 young people, challenging them to get and stay active on projects that aim to better their community.
I was also glad to hear that impact hub – like so many other Ukrainian civil society groups – is doing its part to help people displaced by the war in Donetsk and Luhansk. These people didn’t ask to have their homes and communities invaded by Russia and it proxies, and until they can go home the generous welcome of cities like Odesa is an indispensable source of support.
All these projects are just the tip of the iceberg. The United States is a proud partner of the Impact Hub. We want to see more budding entrepreneurs, developers, and social activists meet up with those I visited with yesterday to make full use of its collaborative space. You can contribute to projects others have already undertaken, or even launch your own. As I said yesterday during my visit, I am inspired by all that you’re doing – and I know you will succeed. Keep up the good work!
On Sunday and Monday, I had the chance to return to Odesa – a cool, multicultural city on Ukraine’s coast with extraordinary potential. It was my first trip back since the fire at the Trade Unions Building, and I was eager to learn about the transformative change the new Oblast Administration has undertaken.
On Sunday afternoon, I took the advice of some of my Twitter followers and visited the shops and beaches of Arcadia City. It was great to see so many families out (and a lot of American flag t-shirts!) – but I promise you will never see me on the amazingly high water slide that has almost finished construction! I also took the chance to join the crowds of tourists and locals out walking on Deribasivska Street – one of Ukraine’s greatest people watching spots.
My Monday started with Ukrainian civil society. I wanted to hear the views of young, reform-minded leaders and learn more about their efforts to drive forward the positive change we all want to see for Ukraine.
From there, we went to the Governor’s office, where I underscored U.S. support for the Oblast Administration’s efforts to tackle the problems of corruption and governance that have been such an impediment to economic development in Odesa. I talked a lot with Governor Saakashvili about how the United States plans to support these efforts in the days and weeks ahead – providing trainers to help stand up a new patrol police, helping to form an Anti-Corruption Task Force inside the Oblast Administration, and supporting other initiatives to improve policing, root out corruption, and strengthen rule of law, including a new grants program for civil society groups.
I also welcomed the chance to visit the new public service hall – the focal point of the Oblast Administration’s efforts to create an atmosphere of transparency and establish practices that ensure a level playing field and guaranteed delivery for government services. The building’s sunny atrium reminded me of the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brandeis: sunlight is the best disinfectant. Everybody I’ve ever talked to in Ukraine has stories about the small-scale corruption that has infected the process of receiving government services. This new service center reinforces that government is meant to serve the interests of the citizens, and not the other way around. That’s the foundation that this initiative is being built on.
After meeting with the Mayor, and discussing his own efforts to support these anti-corruption efforts (which I applaud), I headed to the port, where I visited customs officials and a recently expanded grain handling facility. It reminded me of the huge untapped potential of this part of Ukraine. Every time I visit Odesa, I am reminded that it is a globally connected, cosmopolitan city. It should be a thriving gateway, not just for Ukraine’s maritime commerce, but really for all of central and eastern Europe. And I think it has the potential to re-emerge as a great global crossroads once again.
A highlight of my trip was the time I spent on-board the Sahaydachny, to pay my respects to Ukraine’s sailors on behalf of the U.S. Navy as they celebrated Ukraine’s Navy Day. The honor guard was terrific, I was moved as the band played the U.S. national anthem on the deck of the ship, and I am so very grateful for Admiral Hayduk’s hospitality.
Finally, I had the chance to visit with the members of the American Chamber of Commerce, where I previewed the U.S.-Ukraine Business Forum being held by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington next week.
I come away from this visit to Odesa with a sense of optimism. Most important to me is the sense I got from people from all over the Oblast — not just the Governor and his inner circle — but from a variety of people that there’s a willingness now to focus in a very serious way on the reform agenda, and an eagerness to partner with the international community.
But most important was the validation I heard from members of Ukrainian civil society. The belief among civil society is that this is not just window dressing, that this represents a real change in direction and change in tone by the Odesa authorities.
Everywhere I go in Ukraine I find an appetite for change, for getting rid of the corruption, for removing the barriers and obstacles to doing business that have had such an awful impact on this country over too many years. I said to the Governor that I was confident that as long as he drives forward the pace of reform, we will continue to see an active and visible presence from me and my colleagues. We see real opportunity here — we see change coming. And as long as Ukraine keeps delivering on the promise of reform, the United States will continue supporting it on its path toward a more democratic, prosperous, European future.
I got excited when I saw an email from Peace Corps Director Dr. Doug Teschner inviting me to attend the Model United Nations (MUN) Camp managed, hosted, and taught by U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Ukraine. I quickly made up my mind to take the weekend off and go to Odesa to attend and speak at the conference on my own dime and my own time. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to speak to the inspiring future leaders of Ukraine and also meet Peace Corps volunteers and camp counselors.
The MUN conference consisted of a week of activities that offered bright high school students a unique opportunity to learn about global issues, develop skills in negotiation and debate, and become friends with other remarkable individuals from all over Ukraine.
It was a quick trip! I booked a flight to Odesa for Saturday morning and a day train from Odesa returning back to Kyiv on Sunday. The Embassy’s Public Affairs Office pointed me in the right direction so I could prepare a message about diplomacy, volunteerism, and development of communication and negotiation skills. Knowing how much Peace Corps volunteers give up to serve overseas, I wanted to speak about the importance of volunteerism.
I flew down to Odesa early Saturday morning and in less than two hours a taxi got me safely to the MUN Camp in Odesa Oblast. Sixty attendees, 20+ Peace Corps Volunteers, and 10+ camp counselors were in the middle of a meeting working hard to pass a MUN resolution. Participants were representing countries from Angola to Afghanistan, Cuba to Croatia, Panama to Pakistan. You could see all of the hard work and effort that was put into this camp by Peace Corps Volunteers like Lukas Henke, Natalie Gmitro and Julie Daniels.
MUN Camp participants had been at the event the entire preceding week starting at 7 AM and finishing as late as 10 PM every day. They discussed parliamentary procedures, meetings as nations, global issues, and had already taken votes on different resolutions. The camp included some fun evening events such as a talent show, “Activities from Around the World,” networking, and a bonfire.
I was given the podium on Saturday to speak to the participants about “Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Value of Helping Others by Volunteering.” After my remarks, participants spent 45 minutes asking me questions. I was also invited to attend a training session about corruption later that day. At the session, participants discussed the definition of corruption, their thoughts about corruption in Ukraine, the causes of corruption, and shared ideas about how to eradicate corruption in their country. The campers took turns roleplaying to explore what corruption looked like and how individuals could work towards making Ukraine a corruption- free society. Georgia’s success in reducing corruption was cited by participants.
At the conclusion of the corruption session, I was given a thank you note signed by the participants sharing their appreciation for my travel all the way to the camp in Odesa Oblast to speak.
A Peace Corps Volunteer showed me the way to the marshrutka stop with my most prized possession that day in my hands. The two hour marshrutka ride back to Odesa was tough but reading the thank you note made me realize it was all worth it!
Hobart Earle, an American music director and conductor who has led the Odesa Philharmonic Orchestra to new heights, was awarded the title Narodny Artist Ukrainy (People’s Artist of Ukraine) by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on June 27, 2013. Mr. Earle was kind enough to speak with the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv’s Public Affairs Section about everything from his reaction to the award, his friendship with Ukrainian actor Bohdan Stupka, and proposed architectural improvements of Odesa’s Philharmonic Hall. A more detailed blog post discussing Mr. Earle’s contributions to Ukrainian music and culture can be found here: (insert link).
You were the first and only American to receive the Distinguished Artist of Ukraine award and now, the People’s Artist of Ukraine. How did you feel when you learned you were going to receive the award, especially considering your unique status as a foreigner?
I was in Moscow, conducting recordings with the State Symphony Orchestra of Russia (Svetlanov Symphony) in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, when I received an email from a friend in Kyiv congratulating me on the award. My first thought was: “Why is he poking fun at me?” However, within half an hour, my staff had checked the website of the President of Ukraine, and confirmed it was true. I was amazed. Next day in Moscow, there was an unforgettable moment, when the orchestra gave me thunderous applause and played me a so-called “touche” on the stage of the Great Hall of the Conservatory after their inspector announced my new title to them. Of course, the title is indeed quite an honor. While in Moscow, my thoughts turned to my late friend, the eminent Ukrainian actor Bohdan Stupka. Six months ago, the last time I was in Moscow to conduct, I was accommodated in the room where he always stayed at the Ukrainian Cultural Institute (the room now bears a memorial plaque to Bohdan Stupka). Bohdan used to attend my concerts with the Odesa Philharmonic in Kyiv regularly during the 1990s, and invariably came backstage with his young grandson. Later, during his stint as Minister of Culture (end of the 1990s), he once said to me: ‘Hobart, you should be “Narodny Artist”’ and began to investigate the idea, only to be told the law stated a minimum of 10 years had to lapse between ‘Zasluzhyny’ and ‘Narodny’. So, I remembered his words and was thinking Bohdan would be pleased to see this title bestowed upon me, after so many years.
Why were you first attracted to working in Ukraine, and what has made you remain here for so long?
That’s a question I’m asked again and again. And it’s been written up often (including ‘Reader’s Digest’ in 1996: see http://www.odessaphilharmonic.org/press.php?news=50). My ‘fate’ so to speak, has a lot to do with geography, and Vienna is a big part of the reason I ended up coming to Ukraine. Had I not been in Vienna during the end of the 1980s, it’s safe to say I would’ve probably not traveled further east. Indeed, I first met Bohdan Stupka in Vienna way back in 1991, during a guest performance he gave with the Franko Theater at the Wiener Volkstheater. Funnily enough, that night was the first time I ever heard Ukrainian spoken. As I began to realize I couldn’t understand every third or fourth word, it dawned upon me that what I was hearing was not Russian. As to what made me stay in Odesa so long, well, that’s also ‘fate’, although I should add, we conductors travel a lot. I conduct in many different countries each year.
What has been your favorite piece to perform in Ukraine? How do you decide which compositions you are going to conduct?
I have conducted in many different halls and theaters throughout Ukraine over the years — and as far as theaters go, the opera houses in Kyiv, Odesa and Lviv are all special. However, there’s no question Philharmonic Hall in Odesa is my favorite concert hall. There’s also no doubt it’s the best concert hall for symphony orchestras in the country. The sad thing is, the hall’s potential is still not realized, as many of the recommendations made by eminent acoustician Russell Johnson in his report on the hall ( http://www.odessaphilharmonic.org/pages.php?page=hallreport) have yet to be implemented. But the happy truth is, once they’re all done, there’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the great man’s words, “Odesa’s Philharmonic Hall can rival the great concert halls of Europe,” will be right on the mark.
As to repertoire, the OPO performs a wide range of compositions by all sorts of composers each season. We bring a very diverse offering. We recently played two world premieres on tour in Kyiv in May 2013, including a new “Double Concerto” for trumpet and trombone by Austrian composer Reinhard Suess, with friends of mine from student days in Vienna – Principal Trombone of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Dietmar Kueblboeck, and his brother Rainer, Principal Trumpet of the Vienna Symphony. I’d say my own planning is a combination of re-visiting pieces I’ve conducted in the past, and performing compositions for the first time. And, as an added plus, it’s always nice to perform with friends who you don’t necessarily get to see every year.
What role do you think music and the arts play in developing Ukraine?
No question the role is big. Ukraine is a country with a deep tradition in the arts. We’d all like to hope this role will continue to grow. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say we see a general trend toward ‘popular culture’ on the rise, a trend which was not present so much in the past. There’s no doubt that as time goes by, more and more needs to be done, since as the pace of life picks up, traditional values risk being left behind.
How do you plan on building upon your success at the Odesa Philharmonic Orchestra in the future?
We’ve built a loyal audience in Odesa over the years, and have a number of annual events that are widely followed, locally. We have a number of ideas ‘up our sleeve’ for the future, including various festivals, which the city is well-suited to host. Time will tell. A lot of the chances for future growth depend on the hall’s acoustic potential – and potential as a historic architectural monument – being properly realized. As to my own guest conducting, I plan to continue expanding this aspect of my artistic life.
When Hobart Earle, the Music Director and Principal Conductor of Odesa’s Philharmonic Orchestra, received an email from a friend congratulating him on the title of Narodny Artist Ukrainy (meaning People’s Artist of Ukraine), Earle thought he was being pranked. But just thirty minutes later, the exciting reality began to set in when Earle’s staff confirmed the award through Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s website. The honor, which originated under Soviet rule in 1922, is the most prestigious performing arts award in Ukraine and can only be granted to artists ten years after they receive the title “Distinguished Artist of Ukraine.” Considering neither title had ever been awarded to an American, Earle’s recognition has been all the more impressive.
Earle is no stranger to firsts: he was the first artist to receive the Friend of Ukraine award established by the Washington Group; he introduced the first performances of a number of classics (Mahler’s 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 9th symphonies and Strauss’s “Four Last Songs”) in Odesa; and under his leadership Odesa’s Philharmonic became the first Ukrainian orchestra to cross the Atlantic and cross the equator – and was the first orchestra to increase its status from local to regional to national funding after the establishment of an independent Ukraine.
Indeed, in a career marked with international awards and sold-out performances, Maestro Earle is perhaps best known for elevating Odesa’s Philharmonic Orchestra to international prominence. In August 1996, Reader’s Digest journalist Lucinda Hahn charted Earle’s impressive achievement of transforming a regional group of musicians into an internationally-recognized orchestra. The article’s headline suggests the enormity of the task: “Maestro of Their Dreams: He promised to turn a disheartened band of musicians into a world-class orchestra, but even they doubted him.” Hahn noted how at the end of a performance in one Ukrainian town, shortly following the end of the Soviet Union, Earle closed his show of American songs by turning to the audience and declaring in Ukrainian, “We really can’t leave without playing a little Ukrainian music!” – at which point his orchestra played Ukraine’s unofficial national anthem as the crowd erupted with excitement.
That’s what makes Earle’s recent award so fitting: while he brings international attention to Odesa’s classical music scene, he also brings Ukrainian music to the world – and to Ukrainians. In a telephone interview after his award was announced, Earle gave back credit to the country where he’s built his musical empire, noting that “the great thing about Ukraine is that a lot of people are involved in the arts.” Asked what advice he would give young Ukrainians interested in pursuing careers in classical music, Earle responded, “It’s important for musicians to learn other languages because it’s the key to learning other cultures… there’s no question that learning German gives you better understanding of how German music flows.”
Earle’s encouragement of global learning and commitment to expanding the international reputation of Ukrainian music helps him serve as a successful cultural ambassador between the United States and Ukraine. In fact, Earle conducted a performance at a 2012 gala concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of U.S.-Ukraine relations. After the performance, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John F. Tefft – a classical music aficionado himself – publically thanked Earle on stage.
While Earle begins a well-deserved summer break from traveling the world with his orchestra, he keeps his eye on the future, looking for new ways to improve the Odesa Philharmonic Orchestra. With an internationally renowned orchestra, a loyal Ukrainian audience, and an infectiously optimistic attitude, Earle’s future as the newest People’s Artist of Ukraine continues to look bright.
Want to learn more about Hobart Earle and the Odesa Philharmonic Orchestra? Check out the following links:
In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote of the bustling port city Odesa, “I have not felt so much at home for a long time as I did when I ‘raised the hill’ and stood in Odesa for the first time.” On Tuesday June 18, Ambassador Tefft returned to the city about which Twain spoke so glowingly, to join local government officials of Odesa and a Raytheon representative in unveiling a plaque honoring the opening of the first U.S. Consulate in Odesa in 1830 (Raytheon donated the plaque).
Designated as a porto franco, or “free port,” in 1819, Odesa offered numerous opportunities to develop trade relationships and was positioned as an ideal candidate for joining the growing number of global cities that held U.S. Consulates. The provisions for such consulates were outlined in an April 14, 1792, act of U.S. Congress in hopes of promoting U.S. commercial opportunities abroad and providing support for American sailors throughout the world. Consequently, many of the earliest consulates were directed by prominent businessmen who, although they were unpaid and not required to hold U.S citizenship, generally had strong business interests and strategic networks in their regions.
In response to Odesa’s growing commercial potential, U.S. President Andrew Jackson appointed Charles Rhind, a prosperous New York merchant, to both spearhead the new Consulate in Odesa and help negotiate a treaty with the Ottoman Empire to expand trade access for American ships in the region. Both of Rhind’s endeavors were successful, and after a brief term as Consul, Rhind relinquished his position to wealthy Greek businessman John Ralli. Ralli assumed duties as U.S. Consul for nearly thirty years until his death in 1859, thereby making him the longest-serving U.S. Consul at Odesa and a symbol of the United States’ commitment to fostering international trade with Odesa.
For the rest of the 19thcentury and up until 1918, when the beginning of the Civil War in Russia and Ukraine prompted the U.S. to withdraw its presence from Odesa, the U.S. Consulate continued to encourage exchange between U.S. merchants and local traders. While the official U.S. Consulate in Odesa concluded its services in 1918, Ambassador Tefft and his predecessors over the past 21 years of U.S.-Ukrainian bilateral relations have often visited Odesa to continue U.S. connections with the city and provide a reminder of the strong economic partnership between Americans and Ukrainians, which will hopefully continue to prosper in the future.