Enter The People. Why We Are Wearing Orange.

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.

Update: (By Doug Merrill) Another reason, this time from a Russian point of view, published last Friday:

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.

8 thoughts on “Enter The People. Why We Are Wearing Orange.

  1. Kiev is not so much a russophone as a bilingual city. That makes a big difference from eastern regions, where most city dwellers have only studied Ukrainian as a foreign language in school.

    It’s also not a much of a news item that Yanukovych managed to scare some Russian speakers. There’s no language on earth whose speakers he wouldn’t scare. It’s much more remarkable how Yushchenko’s campaign let itself be turned into a handy scarecrow for the same constituency. Even its main slogans weren’t tranlated. When people gather at pro-opposition rallies in strictly russophone cities, they can only make speeches in Russian, but their chants are all in Ukrainian. In a way, it’s been remarkable to see Ukrainian make the transition (in Ukrainian-Russians’ eyes) from its traditional place of a bumpkin cousin of Russian to the language of civic courage, but from a political standpoint, I think it was a big tactical mistake.

    There’s a letter from Lugansk waiting in Maidan’s translation pipeline that points this out from first-hand experience. A lot of people in the east were led to believe that a Yushchenko administration would make mastery of Ukrainian a prerequisitve for making a living.

  2. Michael, interesting info! On the other hand, Neeka’s blog mentions what Yushchenko told in some recent interview: the governing parties promise making Russian a second official language for some time now, but didn’t deliver, while in his European role models it is normal to have 4-5 official languages [he must have meant Switzerland].

  3. I don’t share Tobias’s and especially Nick’s scepticism about the separatisms. (Nor the idea that this is just the oligarch’s will. As there was a reported turnout of 150,000 at a pro-Yanukovych protest in Donetsk in the last few days, you can’t deny popular support on the other side.) In Donetsk, there will be a plebiscite about autonomy on December 5. Since Crimea already has one, Yushchenko’s threats go too far, and could inflame the situation.

    It is easy for a separatist movement in Eastern Europe to gain momentum, happened many times. Unfortunately, many in the West will afterwards believe that what separated never belonged together.

  4. Today’s Grauniad quotes a woman in Donetsk as saying that she “didn’t want to be a nuclear waste dump for the west”. Does that suggest that the ‘t othersiders have been putting this about?

  5. DoDo,

    That sounds plausible. But I think Yushchenko made himself unnecessarily vulnerable. He was taking a heavy beating from a negative ad compaign on Ukrainian TV, designed by Russian advisors (whose tactics are actually a legacy of the oligarch-sponsored Eltsin reelection.) In addition, since domestically produced programs in Russian have been banned from Ukrainian TV, many people were probably tuning in to Russian channels, whose journalistic standards are hitting lows unseen since the soviet days. I don’t believe eastern Ukraine even has an agressively independent print press comparable to Russia’s. For one reason or another, Yushchenko’s grass-roots campaign didn’t make a lot of inroads in the east. All the more reason not to lose his chances to hit back. It looks like the language question may be the top election issue for many if not most eastern voters. I’ve looked over a semi-transcript of the pre-election televized debate (in which Yanukovych switched to Russian for closing statements), and the only related comment from Yushchenko I could find was his dismissal of the language question as “populism”. Sounds like a bad campaign move.

  6. Michael, I agree with what you say – except I believe economic fears are another, just as important issue for them. (Yet again, I wonder whether they forget that Yushchenko paid out workers when he became PM, or could it be that it escaped my attention that payouts weren’t on time again later in his PM-ship.)

  7. DoDo,

    Yes, according to one report, personal finances got significantly better on Yanukovych’s watch, at least in Donetsk (Yushchenko supporters believe that it was a result of their candidate’s long-term policies.) The letter from Luhansk I mentioned is up on Maidan’s English site. Things in Luhansk in general have not been going well today.

    Whatever else one can say about Western media, they have an unfortunate tendency to mass their foreign correpondents in capitals. It’s nice to have sources like Maidan around.

  8. Michael S. is right that in many respects Kyiv is rather a bilingual than a Russiophone city. Yet, in my personal experience, people in Kyiv are usually bilingual, but a majority still gives noticeable preference to Russian in public space, while switching effortlessly and without any other problems into Ukrainian if addressed in it. So, on this point, my formulation was right only in so far as it highlighted the – real and not unimportant – fact that the opposition has succeeded well in environments where Ukrainian is not dominant. That Yanukovych’s language is scary in any language is not news, true, but maybe only for those whose Ukrainian and Russian is pretty good. So it seems sensible to state this perhaps trivial but outside Ukraine not well-known fact in an English-language publication. Michael S.’s further point that the opposition has allegedly made a big mistake by somehow scaring Russiophone Ukrainian citizens further east is most likely mistaken: in those eastern regions of the country where such fears have been raised, it was the government’s propaganda version of what the opposition allegedly stands for that created these fears. Consider simply who controlled the media there even more tightly than in central and western Ukraine (the only alternative to government-line tv, the 5th Channel, was switched off precisely in Donetsk and Dniepropetrovsk oblasts for most of the election campaign) and you will see that this interpretation makes more sense.

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