Saturday, November 27, 2004

Good news from Ukraine 

...no, it's not the beginning of another regular Chrenkoff segment to rival "Good news from Iraq".

...and yes, I promise to blog about matters other than the situation in Ukraine, too. It's difficult though, when Google News lists almost 4,000 news stories - by far the most reported on topic in the world right now. Plus, I do feel strongly about it, as I indeed do about the expansion of democracy and freedom everywhere else throughout the world.

The good news is that thanks to the mediation by the Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski and the EU foreign policy head Javier Solana, both sides have sat down together and agreed to set up a working group to continue talks, and they also agreed to renounce violence in settling the dispute. Expectations vary but some outcomes possibly on the cards now include: invalidation of the second round of election (which even the Canadian observers have described as "completely and grotesquely fraudulent") either by the agreement of both candidates or by arbitration (the stories vary here; Yushchenko has told his supporters that Yanukovich has already agreed to that; Yanukovich says that we have to wait for the Supreme Court's decision on Monday). Should that happen, Yushchenko wants the third, and hopefully final, round to take place on December 12. Ukrainian Parliament, which is meeting today (Saturday), might also pass a motion of no confidence in the Electoral Commission, and replace its officials.

We're a long way yet before a happy ending, but the signs are good. Mind you, the world press is generally repeating after the Associated Press the line that "Nearly three hours of talks involving the two rivals for power in Ukraine's political crisis ended Friday night without resolving the stalemate", but God knows, surely no one was expecting that the first meeting would resolve a crisis of such magnitude.

The Polish press, closest to Ukraine, has the best coverage of events. I'll spare you links, as most of you can't read Polish anyway, but here's some observations:

Poland is quite happy of the role she's playing to try to arrive at a peaceful resolution. "Thanks to Poland, a compromise!" says one report. Lech Walesa's appearance was a huge hit with the pro-democracy crowd, and president Kwasniewski upon his exit from Friday's negotiations was greeted by crowds chanting "Poland, Poland". It's good to see that sort of good will being built up. A Lvov politician Professor Anatolij Romaniuk says that the world's response is in large part thanks to Poland's work. "Putin wasn't expecting such a strong opposition within the Ukraine and in the West." Update: Apologies for all the Polish flag waving, but Poland has had such shocking history over the last two and a half centuries that it makes me immensely proud to see the country free and independent now and playing such a constructive role on the world stage, whether it's the war on terror, Iraq, Ukraine or trying to moderate the EU. As proud as I am indeed of my new home Australia, and Australia's role as America's strong ally.

Western, central and northern Ukraine has declared for Yushchenko. That includes local governments and authorities, police and security services in these areas. In Kiev, the mayor, the authorities, police, schools and universities came out in support of Yushchenko. In Lvov, the opposition stronghold, an orange flag flies above the city hall; most military units in the area have sided with the opposition. As have 300 of Ukrainian diplomats abroad who wrote in an open letter that "the country should have a leader who enjoys the real public trust."

The government in Kiev is paralyzed by the protests; the pro-democracy protesters still keep arriving to the capital - the problem is, they're now starting to run out of government buildings to blockade.

I'm struck by the role of the Polish media - "Gazeta Wyborcza", probably the most popular Polish daily has changed its bannerhead color from red to orange in solidarity with Ukrainian pro-democracy movement. It actually is sponsoring and promoting pro-democracy rallies throughout Poland. On Friday, it distributed 30,000 copies of its election supplement in Kiev.

We often complain about the politicization of the media in the West, but "Gazeta" puts the "New York Times" to shame. The difference is, "Gazeta" is on the right side of history.

By the way: One good thing about having a blog with this sort of color scheme is that on Monday I won't have to change anything to show my solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine - Chrenkoff maintains "permanent support" for the Orange Revolution.

And another piece of Chrenkoff trivia (Saturday must be a self-indulgence day): the surname Chrenkoff comes originally from western Ukraine. The current spelling I owe to American immigration officers almost a century ago who let my great grandfather into the Land of the Free. As for the original form, no one in the family, alas, can remember, and I have spent hours on the Ellis Island database looking for all the variations. I wasn't successful, but it might have been anything from Hrynkov to Herenkov.


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