It is getting colder in Kyiv, so it may not be too surprising both camps are busy fueling the flames of their conflict. In a country eagerly awaiting its Supreme Court’s decision about the validity of last week’s Presidential election, the second week of popular protests in Kyiev begins with the incumbent president Kuchma’s threat to enforce martial law, and more secessionist motions passed by Eastern regional assemblies/authorities, which, although likely a consequence of oligarchic pressures and thus questionable true popular support, have caught the attention of the Yushenko campaign – as Scott’s post below indicates. In many ways, things could take an ugly turn soon.
Given the growing awareness that Mr Yushenko is a politician with oligarchic friends of his own, who is making, as the Kyiv Post stated on Saturday, “a multi-faceted attempt to take power”, and not a saint, I think it is appropriate to explain exactly what we want to express by wearing orange these days: orange is, after all, Mr Yushenko’s campaign color. But then, it seems, orange is no longer just his campaign color.
Former US National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated last Thursday, in a roundtable discussion, hastily arranged by the American Enterprise Institute, that we witness “the meeting of Ukrainian nationalism with Ukrainian democracy on a popular basis”. Well, nationalism clearly has its role, and not unexpectedly in a country featuring such a motley collection of salient cleavages. Yet for all I hear, I do not get the impression that the nationalism exhibited by the crowds peacefully demonstrating for Yushenko is of divisive, ethnically exclusive nature – while the Yanukovich camp apparently scared ethnic Russian voters in the East. Arguing that the Kuchma administration has talked up ethnic tensions to be able to act as mediator, Tarik Amar writes in a very informative, long primer at John Quiginn’s –
“[c]rucially, even in round one the opposition managed to win all Ukrainian regions in the West as well as the Centre of the country, including ? by a large margin ? the largely Russiophone capital city Kyiv. The government has always liked to pretend that the opposition?s base was restricted to the Ukrainophone West, implying that it was ?nationalist?, even ?separatist.? Some Western observers still cling to these facile stereotypes. It is Yanukovych who has been cornered in a minority of eastern oblasts. If anybody represents an above-regional Ukrainian solidarity, it is clearly Yushchenko. He speaks proper Russian as well as Ukrainian and his being a native of one of Ukraine?s most eastern oblasts and having spent his student and working life in western as well as central Ukraine cannot be matched by Yanukovych, whose biography is strictly mono-regional and whose Ukrainian is not perfect.”
So I think Mr Brzezinski’s statement is by and large correct about the nature of what’s going on. And while most Ukrainians as well as political analysts will probably have agreed even before last week that this election was a crucial event for Ukraine, I think everyone has been surprised by the hundreds of thousands of people who have turned the election into a plebiscite about the kind of society they want to live in. Let me again quote Tarik Amar –
Even if some Western minds jaded by overfeeding on ?Civil Society? rhetoric may find it old hat, for Ukraine things are at stake that were achieved in Poland in 1989: essential respect for the law and the sovereign people, pluralism, and, indeed, freedom from fear. Ukraine is facing a choice not between different policies or regions but between mutually exclusive political cultures. Without undue idealization, the opposition stands for a reasonable understanding of rules, laws, and good faith in observing them.
Wearing orange is – now – essentially about aspiring to a different standard of governance. Yet I am not as certain about the prospects of Ukrainian civil society as Mr Brzezinski, who believes it would survive even a failure of the current stand-off. I am worried by the failed 1953 East-German uprising – it’s (bloody) failure led to widespread decades-long political apathy. Despite all efforts by political activists from inside (and outside) Ukraine, Ukrainian civil society must still be weak. Thus, as every little thing may count, we have decided to display a few additional orange bits to show our support for all those in Kyiv who are aspiring – and freezing.
One more thing. Over the last few days, some reports have led to not unreasonable suspicions about a renewed confrontation between Russia and “the West” about Ukraine, including some about several Western, particularly American, governmental as well as non-governmental organisations having “meddled” with the Ukrainian elections, particularly by funding grassroots protest-organisations like the student movement PORA.
Yet “meddling” is a matter of degree – a week before the second round of the elections, the Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow quoted a Russian political consultant with the so-called “Russian club”, Sergei Markov, using the American grassroots support to justify the – far more extensive – Russian involvement in Ukraine –
“[l]ook at what the U.S. is doing here – supporting foundations, analytical centers, round tables. It’s how contemporary foreign policy is pursued. And it’s exactly what we’re doing.”
I would never claim that “the West” or any of its constiuent parts would be above the use of electoral manipulation; particularly, in situations where it had a clear idea where it wants to go and what to expect, how to direct, and what to achieve through any political movement.
Yet, as opposed to Russia, whose motives with respect to Ukraine are clear – if there is one truth about the American and European involvement in Ukraine, I think it would be that there is no strategy, simply because there isn’t a monolithic or even prevailing view of Russia anymore. Absent any real strategy, Western support is likely to have actually achieved what it was supposed to achieve: create process awareness.
It was the latter that brought the people to the streets, not some handbook of popular opposition, pollsters, political consultants, or stickers paid for with money from Washington or Brussels. And that is one more reason to wear the ribbon.
Long Live Ukraine! (Slava Ukrainy!)
by Valeriy Panyushkin
Special correspondent for Kommersant (Moscow)
26 November 2004
posted on gazeta.ru
[translated by Lisa Koriouchkina for UKL]
I am in Kiev. I saw people rejoicing. I saw a city square full of people wearing orange scarves and jackets. One cannot glance over a sea of people . I saw cars honking in rhythm with the slogan “Yushchenko! Yushchenko!” It is happening not only downtown but also on any street of the city. And it happens not only to encourage one’s supporters but to express one’s joy as well. There are people on top of cars waving flags and shouting. My feelings of joy of revolution were mixed with jealousy over the fact that I would never see anything like that happening in Moscow. And I prayed to God that I would live a little longer to see something similar to what is happening in Kiev take place in Moscow.
Exuberant city. Peaceful, smiling, kind, united people. But most importantly – they are free. Free! Free! I experienced jealousy and pride for the fact that I am standing among these free and peaceful people. And these people were not forcing me out despite the fact that I came from Russia, a country whose minister of Foreign affairs is low enough to make an official statement about NATO’s geopolitical claims to Ukraine.
Listen, you, minister, come here, to Kiev. Go to Maidan and despite any orders from Kremlin, you would not be able to utter a word about NATO’s geopolitical claims. There are many more of these people – young men and women, children and elders, – than a Minister or a President of Russia could ever imagine in their wildest dreams when they think about a category “people”. They might be fragile in body, but they are strong in spirit. And do not deceive me that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine. They are here. But if even one of them ever makes a single shot, as a citizen of Russia I could never clear myself from shame and will never be pardoned for this sin.
Yes, I realize that my statements are full of pathos. And pathos is not used in Russian journalism. But you should understand me because I am in the heart of a revolution while you are stuck in boring Moscow offices. Come here, go to Maidan – and you will understand me.
For the last five days every meeting at Maidan begins wi thaprayer. And they sincerely pray to God to grant them freedom. This is a revolution that neither Vladimir Putin nor Viktor Yushchenko can stop. Only God can.
Vladimir Putin can spill blood here. He can spill a lot of blood. But before giving an order about military actions, a president of Russia should have come to Kiev, to Maidan and breathed in this air. It is stronger than any army. One could send even the most cynical bastard from President administration to Kiev and he would return wearing an orange scarf.
With his genuine soft-heartedness and inclination towards compromise, Viktor Yushchenko could consent to negotiate with Leonid Kuchma or Russian representatives. However, Maidan will not accept negotiations. People will not leave Maidan until and unless Viktor Yushchenko is pronounced President of Ukraine. The fact of the matter is that it is not about Yushchenko. It is about freedom.
No, I very well understand that politicians in Moscow cannot comprehend how the whole people could be drawn to the city square not due to the PR technologies but to defend their freedom. But do come to Kiev, go to Maidan and you will believe it.
I have not been happier in my entire life. I have not experienced greater love than the feeling I experience towards every single person I meet on Kreshchatik.
God damn it, how can I make the officials in Russia believe that they cannot win here in Kiev but can only cover themselves with shame? How can I make them believe that freedom does indeed exist if they believe TV anchor Mikhail Leontiev’s lies whom they paid to lie in the first place? There is no way I can make the officials in Russia believe that freedom exists. But come to Kiev, go to Maidan before Manezh Square turns into Maidan.
I understand that my enthusiastic words are not in line with Russian journalistic style, but you should try to understand me. I stopped by the hotel to write this column while the city is rejoicing behind the windows of my hotel. I am sitting in the hotel room scared that some bastard in Moscow gives an order to shoot.
But I will finish this article, go back to Maidan and will stop being afraid.