Hey, what are you doing inside on this lovely November eve?

I, too, have been following the situation in Ukraine — my roomate has been there for a week as an election observer — and I briefly flirted with the idea of writing something snarky and facetious about the developing situation. But I realize now this may be the wrong tack. After all, there may be a few Ukrainians who read AFOE, and whatever heartfelt words we might offer could theoretically make a tiny difference in this drama’s outcome. So here goes.

If you’re Ukrainian, and you live in Ukraine, and you’re reading this blog, I basically have one thing to say: Please stop.

I mean it! Stop surfing the web! Stop reading blogs and checking your email! Make haste, bundle up, go outside and stand in the freezing cold of the main square of whatever town or city you’re living in, all night and all the next day if need be, and let it be known firmly and clearly: We are not going to put up with this bullshit.

Indeed, I’d say the only reason you should be online is if you’re sending emails to your friends telling them to meet you at the demonstration.

If you’re still reading, just take a quick look at this: A recently declassified report of conversations overhead on Prague’s Wenceslas Square in November 1989.

This is highly readable stuff, dealing as it does with the daily lives of ordinary citizens living through extraordinary times. And despite the carping of the middle aged folks (“No wonder the young people don’t know anything…”) it’s plain that the Velvet Revolution happened because parents could not idly stand by while their (supposedly ignorant) children took the heat for doing what they themselves they had failed to do for so many years: Speak truth to power. Remember, it was teenagers — who’d never experienced anything other than totalitarianism — who stayed out all night in the bitter cold to bring down the Czechoslovak Communist regime.

Democracy, to be sure, is a messy business. Democracies sometimes make dreadful mistakes, as the U.S. recently did. But while I believe the choice of the American electorate will have dire consequences for my country, I do not (unlike quite a few others) doubt that Americans actually made that choice. This election, on the other hand, stinks to high heaven.

I’m no expert on Ukrainian politics. And maybe Viktor Yushchenko if far from your ideal president. That’s not the point; it’s no longer about who would make a better president. It’s whether you believe in the right of the people to make such decisions.

So if you’re young and Ukrainian, don’t end up like those middle-aged parents in Prague 15 years ago. Don’t leave it to your future children to fix your mistakes. And if this sounds patronizing, sorry, but I told you to stop reading a long time ago!

11 thoughts on “Hey, what are you doing inside on this lovely November eve?

  1. Hmmmmm, I think you misinterpret the situation reported on in that declassified document. I think those comments (referring to Masaryk, Benes) must have come not from middle-aged but old people (the range given was 40-80 years), and they were out on the street themselves! They even mention strikes back before 1948! As for the middle-aged, they had 1968 and Charta ’77; and I could see quite many of them in the crowds on TV back in 1989. Before you lambast the middle-aged for not doing enough, let’s also remember that before Gorbachev, the Soviet army (in 1968 also supported by its Warshaw Pact ‘allies’) was there to crush any opposition to dictature.

    As for your advice to Ukrainians, I agree wholeheartedly.

  2. I’m not getting my hopes up. Do you really think Putin’s going to let this one get away? Georgia was small, relatively unimportant, and took ’em by surprise. This one is none of the above.

    Call me cynical, but I’ve got five bucks says Yanukovic triumphs over all adversity to claim the prize.

    Doug M.

  3. Doug,

    plus – is the rest of the world *really* interested right now in “taking Ukraine from Russia”, thereby likely endangering the remnants of Russian democracy even further?

  4. Wasn’t aware that Ukraine belonged to Russia. Anymore than, say, Slovenia still belongs to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia belonged to Austria in 1931, Greece to the Ottoman Empire in 1840, or indeed the United States to Britain in 1796.

  5. As far as I remember, in Georgia Shevardnadze was initially relying on some level of support from Moscow, and he finally shrivelled away after a visit from Russian foreign minister Ivanov, who apparently told him to step aside. Nothing similar is going to happen in Ukraine.

    Can Putin be bullied by the Ukrainian street, the US, and the EU to accept at least a cancellation of the election results and a new poll, maybe with new candidates? If yes, Kuchma might follow.

  6. DoDo — good point. I was casting the net pretty wide when I said “middle aged.” What I should have said was “everybody over the age of 30.”

    I think the Soviets simply crushed the spirit of the 1968 generation, largely through the “normalization” process of the 1970s. This was tragic but expected. It wasn’t just that the Czechs were passive; it would have happened (and did happen to a large degree) in Poland and Hungary as well.

    So I don’t mean to lambast that generation, but the fact is when the time came to act, it wasn’t the ’68ers that stepped to the plate (sorry for that American metaphor) but rather their kids. It was to the credit of the older generation that despite all those stifling years they immediately knew (most of them, anyway) whose side they were on.

  7. Scott, I still don’t get what you mean by not acting – I repeat, these conservations were overheard from people gathering for a major protest! If you meant that the young acted first – well, duh! They always do.

    I think the Soviets (& vassals) crushed the spirit of the 1968 generation not with the 70s normalisation (which didn’t prevent Charta ’77), but with tanks. That’s how it worked in Hungary (1956) too (and how Americans try to make it work in Iraq, too).

  8. I’m home with the kiddos while Hubby is at Independence Square. But he sent me some photos via a friend, and they are up here:
    http://www.postmodernclog.com

    Btw, I’ve heard some news sources saying that it’s just student activists at this rally. Hubby says that is definitely not so! Even the dyedushki and babushki are out!

  9. DoDo — looks like this thread has been buried by other Ukraine posts so it’s unlikely you’ll read this! By “not acting” I simply meant that the Czechs were hardly at the forefront when it came to resisting communism during the 70s and 80s, and as a result the Prague hardliners managed to hang on until the last moment. It was Poland that was the seat of East European resistance, and it was Hungary opening the borders that precipitated the fall of the Wall. Charter 77 was a piece of paper signed by a relatively few brave intellectuals, and I wouldn’t put it on the same level as the anti-Moscow movements in neighboring countries.