The Bastille Day that isn’t

This is obviously just pedantry on my part but I must take issue with this all-too-common characterization of France’s national holiday:

France celebrated Bastille Day on Friday with the traditional military parade of the four armed services, with
President Jacques Chirac presiding over the display of pomp and fanfare for perhaps the last time. (…)

The day commemorates the 1789 storming of the former Bastille prison in Paris by angry crowds, sparking the revolution that brought an end to the monarchy in France.

To begin with, the national holiday is never, ever, called “la fête de la Bastille” (or whatever translation would be appropriate for Bastille Day in French) in France. It is always “le 14 juillet”.
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Not your average Boom-bang-a-bang

Two of the topics that produced some of the most posts on Fistful last year – the Eurovision Song Contest and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution – have come together. Of course, we already knew that this year’s contest would be in Kiev but now Ukraine has chosen ‘Razom nas bagato!’ (Together we are many!) by Greenjolly, an anthem of the Orange Revolution, as their entry for the final. It should help to contribute to what will no doubt be an interesting night.

For a more serious look at the Orange Revolution, Blood and Treasure has some thoughts on ‘freedom as a brand management strategy.’

An Orange Solution, Even For Putin.


Some orange in Brussels.
About a week ago, I wondered what the chances were for an explosion when hundreds of thousands of people are smoking at a gas station. Unfortunately, now their leaders seem to have begun fooling around with the gas pump handles in truly ‘zoolanderesque’ manner.

More and more commentators seem to be afraid about Russia’s hardline stance and the possible geopolitical fallout of the Orange Revolution, while such a realpolitical approach offends others for the little concern it has for the people freezing for freedom – or, more precisely, a little democracy and approximate rule of law.

As so often, it’s a little both. And to avoid an explosion, both conceptual layers need to be given the appropriate consideration: How to make sure no one, and above all the Ukrainian people, ends up paying the bill for continuing a pointless conflict when the Orange Revolution, this plebiscite on modern governance, is actually opening up a whole range of opportunities for Ukraine, Russia, and the West, and – particularly – the EU.
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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.
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A Carnival of Hope

Maybe, just maybe, this will work out right. Positive signs abound. No major violence, police units going over to the people’s side, order among the throngs, volunteers bringing food, boots, whatever the people in the demonstrations need. Crowds in Kiev still in the hundreds of thousands. Miners in thrall to the government few and far between. Rumor and tension, of course, but songs, too, festivities.

If it works out, these are the days that Ukrainians will look back on and say Yes we can. We did.

Even here in Munich, a Ukrainian I know — one from Kharkiv, in the east, and a Russian speaker — said today, “Since 1991, Ukraine has been asleep. But now. My people. Awake.”

And if it goes well, what next?
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Ukraine digest

I’ve created a Kinja digest of blogs and websites that are covering the events in Ukraine. Should be very useful.

Update: You might want to use the “collapsed” version to get a sampling of all the blogs.

You’re welcome to suggest more sites.

Update: (Tobias, 18:11 CET) – Amidst rumors about audiotapes that allegedly prove the election fraud being released to journalists, conflicting news about regional authorities/assemblies in Eastern Ukraine demanding autonomy or secession, reports about more support for the Yushenko camp in the East (via Victor Katolyk) and first sightings of orange in Moscow (Maidan.net), there is no news about the roundtable talks between the parties and the European mediators, except a statement from incumbent President Kuchma urging protesters to go home now that negotiations will be held.

CNN has a recent summary of the events online.

Update (Tobias 18:45, CET) . The Kyiv Post has two Ukrainian political analysts assessing the situaion. Denis Trifonov, a defense consultant wih the Kyiv-based International Centre for Policy Studies blames Putin’s paleo-conservative, cold-war-minded advisors for the Russian President’s serious error of judgment –

“President Vladimir Putin should have seen it coming, but he evidently did not … The long-term damage to Ukraine’s relations with Russia has been done … and few in Moscow have grasped just how much real influence Russia has lost in Kyiv as a result of her clumsy and irrational policy.”

Interestingly, according to the article, after claiming that only fraudulent exit polls funded by the West led to the outbreak of protest, Ukrainian pro-government analyst Mykhailo Pohrebinsky, who advises, among others, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, said that it is now

“‘very likely’ that the election results will be reversed and that Yushchenko will become president thanks to an ‘illegal revolution.'”

Update: (Tobias, 19:29 CET) I don’t know what in the Russian attitude makes them think so (the article is not really clear in this respect), but The Economist now believes Putin is already hedging his bets.

Given the high stakes, the international pressure on Ukraine’s leaders has been strong. As well as the pressure from America and the EU, a key determining factor will be the attitude of Mr Putin. He would risk serious difficulties in his relations with both Europe and America if he were to back Mr Yanukovich in repressing the protests. Towards the climax of the Georgian revolution last year, Mr Putin seemed to lose patience with Mr Shevardnadze, perhaps contributing to his downfall. Does his wavering response to the Ukrainian conflict mean he is already hedging his bets?

Update: (Tobias, 21:20 CET) So that’s what it’s all about 😉 – according to the (conspiracy) theory of Sergei Markov, a Russian political scientist with alleged close ties to the Kremlin, published by MosNews.com (via chrenkoff), former President Carter’s Polish born National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (the guy who lured the Russians into Afghanistan) is behind Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, and he wants to weaken Europe as well Russia, and drive a wedge between Putin and Bush –

[T]he original plan is for Poland to impose its patronage over Ukraine. Polish politicians are seeking more influence within the European Union, currently dominated by France and Germany, and to achieve this, they want to become patrons of the whole of Central and Eastern Europe, the Russian analyst said.

Markov said the United States would benefit from a Yushchenko victory as it would weaken Germany and France on the world arena and also split Ukraine and Russia. He also added that ?the majority of the representatives of the Polish diaspora in the United States hate George Bush and want to cause a quarrel between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin?.

Glad we know that now.

An Orange Song Of The Heart

The TulipGirl quotes a letter from her friend Lena, wishing that everybody could truly understand the nature of the hope hiding behind the headlines talking about an Orange Revolution.

In (some of) Lena’s words

“Quite recently I didn’t believe that my people able to resist to violence and humiliation. 2 month ago I guessed that I live in the worst country in the world. I was oppressed when I could not see a dignity in my fellow citizens, that I could not see the willingness to freedom and happiness in them. I considered that there is no passionaries in my country, and even when they appear all the rest start make propaganda: “they just have nothing to do” or “they just want to take the power”. And for me there was obviously the main difference between Ukrainians who says “What can I do?…” and for example Americans who says “Just do it! …

November, 22 I started to be really proud of my co-citizens. Now I can see that them are not passive mammals who want just to dig comfortable burrow, to generate they own posterity and to finish life in poverty, pretending that there is no another way. Since November, 22 there was not a crowd on the main square of my country. It is the PEOPLE. It is the NATION. Love, faith and hope filled up a whole space of capitol of my country and warm these people who spend the nights on the frost snowing street instead to lie down on the sofa and watching the “pocket” TV channels and chewing sausage?”

When I thought about a title or quote that might express what I think Lena was referring to in her letter, I remembered the chorus of an old song by John Farnham, called “That’s Freedom”.

It’s a song of the heart

A race in the wind

A light in the dark

That’s freedom

It’s a reason to live

And after the rain

Rekindle the spark

Let freedom ring

Of course having high hopes is dangerous when the risk of failure is immediate and the consequences may be grim. And we all know how hard it is to make a leap of faith sometimes.

Yet without this kind of faith no one would ever jump. And nothing would ever be achieved. For all the obstacles on the way to a brighter future, to a united and democratic Ukraine, to me, Lena’s words are the spark. The most promising sign yet that the Orange Revolution has, in some sense, already succeeded.

For some more emotional context, Brama.com now hosts a private short film called “The Revolution, a film by Tristan Brotherton, for nobody in particular” (10mb, wmv) which I did not link yesterday due to bandwidth considerations.

Calm Before A Storm?

This is an intersting night. Checking news sites and blogs one last time before getting some sleep – reading about Mr Yushenko’s declaration that the “struggle had only just begun” and rumors about a $21,6m bribe to the head of the election commitee, I can’t fight the impression that the quiet winter night the live stream from Kiev is showing me as I am writing these lines is indeed the calm before something even stormier than what we have witnessed by wire since the election’s preliminary results were announced.

Like Nick in his summary below, many people are beginning to try to put the events into perspective ( for example The Economist, PBS), to broaden their historical and political knowledge of Ukraine, to locate similar events that may shed some light on the the driving forces of the orange revolution (working title): what are the underlying interests, what are the fundamental trends, and what are the chaotic elements in this situation – where the rules have run out, and the locus and balance of power can be tipped by any rumor. The Carnegie Endowment’s Michael McFaul stated in an interview today “that somebody has to blink now or there’s going to be war”. Who knows. But what are the chances of a fire when several hundred thousand people are smoking at a gas station?
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? bas les barricades!

Claudia and Scott have already noted that this day marks the breach of the Berlin Wall (and, as Claudia notes, a lot of other important events in German history). Let me chime in with my felicitations to the German people, and a couple of thoughts.

In 1989, the German Democratic Republic saw a revolution. The citizens of a state that claimed to be run for and in the name of the People took to the streets to remind their government that ‘We are the People!’ At first the state responded in the usual way (truncheons to the head, etc.) But in the end it surrendered, and down came the wall. The breaching of the wall is surely one of the great icons of revolution, worthy to stand next to the storming of the Bastille, the ‘shot heard round the world’, the arrival of Willem van Oranje and subsequent flight of James Stewart.
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Book Review: “European Integration 1950-2003: Superstate or New Market Economy?”

Once upon a time, there was a large, intellectually hegemonic, somewhat totalising ideology rooted in a heterodox school of economics. Its advocates proposed to make massive changes to the structure of society and claimed that only such a revolutionary realignment could alleviate the contradictions and failures of the existing order and save the world from stagnation and misery. They claimed that their programme would produce immediate results, and that the only reason it wasn’t immediately implemented was because entrenched interests were manipulating the public against them.

Ultimately, advocates of these principles did gain power in many places and were able to implement elements of their programme. Some came to power through revolutions of various kinds that granted them the near-dictatorial powers they needed to make the changes they believed necessary. Others were able to convince electorates and even elites that theirs was the way of the future. They turned public dissatisfaction to their advantage, especially during economic downturns when people were willing to turn to new solutions and elites feared that the masses would turn against them.

And, they had some arguable successes, but no unambiguous ones. In some places, particularly those where effectively unlimited power had shifted to them, they often maintained highly inequitable regimes which grew harder and harder to justify, faced ever growing public disaffection, and turned to more oppressive and manipulative means to sustain control. This undermined their movement, but despite the best efforts of their enemies was not quite able to kill it off.

In states where more democratic methods had been used, the need to compromise with established interests and to sustain public consent forced them to accept measures often contrary to their initial programme. Their ideological identity tended to shift over time as winning elections grew more important than ideological purity and as the drawbacks of real power became apparent. Actually being held responsible for results forced many members of this tradition to accept their enemies’ interests as at least partially legitimate, and compelled them to less radical legislative programmes.

In some of those nations, these radical parties became increasingly manipulative and difficult to distinguish from their former enemies. But, in a few places, the necessary dilution of their programme brought about an ideological synthesis that appeared successful, and this success in turn showed that the radical programmes they had once advocated were perhaps unnecessary. In the end, ideology had no real hold on them, and the models and methods that seemed to work became the political and economic programme that they were identified with. Their former allies who operated more dictatorial regimes were easily repudiated.

But others were unable to accept that option. They included dissidents who had been burned by the growing authoritarianism of their own failed revolutions, or who were simply unable to accept that their early ideological purity had become superfluous. They were isolated and powerless, only able to function in the states where their former allies had become moderates, leaving them without meaningful public support. They fumed at the world’s unwillingness to go the way they wanted, and increasingly recast the history of the world in terms of their own ideological predispositions. The past became, in their minds, an unending conflict between an ideologically pure vanguard and scheming established interests, a story of their courageous champions betrayed by back-sliding traitors. Ultimately, the world moved on and these radicals virtually disappeared outside of intellectually protected milieux like privately-funded think tanks and universities.

Of course, by the now the astute reader will have recognised that I am talking about the history of neoliberalism.
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