Friday, November 26, 2004

Orange for Ukraine 

Another day, another day of turmoil in Ukraine.

One of the
readers had this message: "Spread the word - ORANGE FOR UKRAINE AND DEMOCRACY - MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2004 - the date is set, the World will wear orange as a sign of solidarity and support for Ukraine and Democracy." I couldn't find anything about this initiative on the net, but it sounds like a nice idea. As another reader notes, Ulstermen (Protestant Northern Ireland) and the Dutch will have a jumpstart on everyone.

When I was on
Crane Durham's program yesterday in Saint Louis, Missouri, Crane asked me whether the situation in Ukraine will turn into another Tianamen Square. I hope not. I said that I was vaguely optimistic (Chrenk radiospeak for "cautiously optimistic"), noting that over the recent years most of the pro-democracy movements have succeeded in their goals without too much bloodshed. China in 1989 was, of course, an exception, and several other countries didn't get there without tanks on the streets (Romania, many of the ex-Soviet republics, including Russia herself). But as you look at the democratic revolution since 1989 - OK, I'm being too Eurocentric here, or considering my origins, too Centro Eurocentric; after all the democratic revolution started off throughout the world in the mid-1980s in places like the Philippines and Latin America - the Berlin Walls of this world generally fell without a shot and the "people power" has in the end triumphed over the entrenched establishments with their monopoly of violence. Most recently, of course, we have seen this happening in Serbia and Georgia.

So the odds are for the victory of democracy in Ukraine. On the minus side, none of the other countries mentioned above were as important in Russia's geo-strategic scheme of things as Ukraine is. Much is at stake in Kiev at the moment, and it's a worrying sign for the future that Putin clearly considers the maintenance of the status quo - a semi-autocratic Ukraine under the dominance of post-communist oligarchs - to be in his country's national interest, and conversely, a democratic (though not by any stretch anti-Russian) Ukraine a threat.

The media reports that
Poland is now right in the thick of things, trying to peacefully resolve the stand-off. The "Solidarity" icon and Poland's first non-communist president, Lech Walesa is already in Kiev talking to the crowds and imploring the West to help Ukraine on its road to democracy. Poland's current president Aleksander Kwasniewski is expected to fly in on Friday, after being asked by apparently both the opposition and Ukraine's outgoing president to mediate (hat tip: Tanker Schreiber for the link).

Polish-Ukrainian relations are complicated by some painful history. Anti-Polish Cossak uprisings go back to the mid-17th century, and the last hundred years has been particularly painful as Ukrainian national aspirations repeatedly clashed with Poland's dream of recreating a multi-national Polish Commonwealth, which the Ukrainians saw as merely an excuse to reimpose ethnic Polish dominance in politics, economy and culture. Much blood has been spilled and more created in 1918-21, sporadically throughout the inter-war years and then again in 1944-6; the past still casts a long shadow over the relations between the two countries.

That being said, Poland's support for Ukrainian democracy is sincere (albeit coupled with a desire for a democratic buffer between herself and the increasingly autocratic Russia) and arguably provides the best opportunity to build strong links with the eastern neighbor and thus move on (which I think the new generations, not bloodied by the old battles and not directly touched by the old hatreds, are quite prepared to do). I have a sentimental reason for wanting to see the Orange Revolution succeed - my mother's father's family comes from and around Lwow (or Lv'iv as it is now known). I don't hold any chauvinistic dreams about regaining "historically Polish" eastern lands, lost when the Soviet Union decided to extend the Ukrainian and Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republics at the expense of Poland. Arguably this was not feasible even by 1945, but the ethnic cleansing of the late 1940s has hammered the last nail; Ukraine is now home mostly to people who see themselves as Ukrainians rather than Poles or any members of any other ethnic group. And they surely deserve a chance at democracy and reform, which most of the rest of the Eastern and Central Europe took some fifteen years ago.

So, go Orange.


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