More from Tarik Amar on the Ukraine election

The Ukraine crisis is dragging on, and could still collapse into violence, but I’ll restate my view that the likely outcome is a new runoff election, which Yushchenko will win. He almost certainly had a majority to begin with, and has generally behaved in a statesmanlike manner after the election, while Yanukovich has floundered, and generally looked like the thug he apparently is.

I’m appending another eyewitness report from Tarik Amar, forwarded by Dan Hardie

KYIV, UKRAINE, NOV 29:Sitting in an Internet Café on Kyiv’s central Independence Square among plenty of foreign correspondents who seem to know neither Ukrainian nor Russian well – the exception being the Poles – I have begun to wonder about what we, the West, get to know about the current revolution in Ukraine. Making my way through the permanent orange crowd that is holding the capital city’s center for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, I went to the hard core of thE vast tent city set up on election night when the long-expected Kuchma-Yanukovych’s regime’s attempt to steal the election became reality.
The tents’ inhabitants spend most of their time standing around the perimeter of the slushiest camping ground I have ever seen, defying a freezing drizzle to talk to the crowds around them. Explaining that I am a historian and write about Ukraine, I am invited to climb across a rather symbolic fence improvised from park benches and let into the tent city itself.
There nobody hesitates for a second to answer my questions and have them taped. Many insist on having their real names recorded. For two hours I walked around in the early winter dusk squeezing through between low and tightly packed tents, some fires where shashlyk is being grilled, and a big screen constantly showing the independent, hence pro-opposition Fifth Channel.
While most tent dwellers are of student age or younger, there is a fair number of the middle-aged as well as a very old lady, huddling on a wet tent tarpaulin, covering her head with a make-shift cap made from Yushchenko-orange plastic. I asked one of the chief organizers when he began to feel that a rebellion was necessary. He explained to me that he was a lawyer trained in Ukraine and abroad. Having taken part in what he calls “the revolution of 1991”, when Ukraine was released into independence by a crumbling Soviet empire, he tells me he was disillusioned afterwards. Still, after the first round of the elections, marked already by ostentatious fraud and threats, he and others started to organize for the showdown they saw coming. At the same time, he did not expect so may people to join them. This, he tells me, is the first time that “Ukraine has stood up.”
Asked what disillusioned him most during Kuchma’s rule, his answer is quick: The killing of opposition journalist Hrihori Gongadze, and the very strong evidence that President Kuchma ordered it . Although the organiser was enjoying rapid promotion as a government lawyer, this murder convinced him that “the regime has gone so far that we cannot change it by purely legalistic means.” Civil resistance became inevitable. Once there Yuschenko becomes President, the lawyer wants all the murky affairs of the Kuchma regime to be unraveled by truly independent courts.
He also thinks that for most Ukrainians, the final straw were the “elections” in the town of Mukachevo earlier this year. It was then that the current regime staged a virtual dress rehearsal for its attempt a coup during the Presidential elections.

Volodymyr is a retired miner from western Ukraine, and insists that he has nothing against Russians or any other nationalities. In fact, he tells me without a hint of irony, he had a multinational upbringing. After World War Two, the Soviet authorities deported both his parents to Central Asia and he was born there. He played and went to school with Russians, Germans, and Kazakhs, and other nationalities. Yet, he is also clear about the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has no right to intervene in Ukrainian elections. Referring to news – by now confirmed by the very serious Russian newspaper “Komersant” – that plain-clothes Russian special forces are protecting Kuchma’s Presidential Administration, Volodymyr says they must go. He will remain peaceful, but he wants it to be known that he is not a push-over and if Ukraine’s sovereignty is attacked, he will not run but fight.

Mykola, a young history student, says that for him breaking point was reached when he looked through archival propaganda of the Khrushchev and Brezhnev periods, and found it frighteningly reminiscent of that used by Kuchma and Yanukovych. He, too, has no trouble with Russians or the Russian language but Putin’s policy during the Ukrainian elections was “not honest.” Mykola does not want to be bribed with Putin’s transparent offers of double citizenship and 90-day residence permits (most Russians cannot get those) in Moscow: “And what right does he have in general to intervene in our domestic policy?”

For Yury, too, the “very crude, very ugly” election propaganda of the Yanukovych camp was a turn-off. He points out to me that not only the voters of Yushchenko were subjected to attempts at deception and vote stealing by the regime. Again, without any sarcasm, he explains that those who were for Yanukovych were also deceived because the rigged election results made them think that they were a majority. Now they are disappointed at finding out how few of them there really are.

Yury’s girl-friend, Elena, is a young psychologist working for an advertisement agency. I want to know what she expects from life after a Yushchenko victory. What she wants most is the guarantee that she can live without politics. Being among the most visibly mobilized Ukrainians in a richly mobilized country, she insists that she does not believe that politics will stop being about power struggles and money, too. She has no difficulty believing that Yushchenko will stick to the law and respect the people. Under such a government she will be able to leave everyday politics to politicians who will keep within bounds. One thing all agree on is
put most pithily by Mykola: “the faster into the EU, the better.” Significantly,
I have not found anyone who dreamed
of EU cash raining down. Rather some were worried that integration into the EU economy might be very hard for Ukrainian companies. Yet, several also told me that what is more important is that the EU will keep demanding high standards of legality and good governance.

In general, nearly everybody I randomly picked to talk to told me about the regime’s heavy-handed methods backfiring. Where Yury and Mykola were put off beyond endurance by propaganda of Soviet crudeness, Roman, a highschool student tells me that for him everything was clear when the corrupt Central Electoral Commission announced an alleged Yanukovych victory within 24 hours, while it had taken ten days to count votes after the first round. Ira, standing next to him, tells me that her limit was passed when she went as election observer to a small village during round two. There she found that some people believed the thoroughly mendacious regime propaganda depicting Yushchenko as a “fascist.”
I don’t tell her that these stories are believed in not only by remote Ukranian villagers, cut off from all sources of information but regime media, but also by Westernjournalists who lack basic language skills and information as well as ethics. I have been emailed more than one link to some depressingly dishonest ‘opinion pieces’ in the Western press.
(Some names have been changed at the interviewees’ request.)

5 thoughts on “More from Tarik Amar on the Ukraine election

  1. Good post, John. The EU seems to have become an alternative, living model for those tired of backwards Putinism. That’s despite its reputation as being a bit heavy handed in bureaucracy in the Anglosphere – but it appears that the lack of arbitrariness is the crucial factor. I can’t see the Ukraine joining the EU in a couple of years, even if Yushchenko wins.

    But if it does, look for some sort of change in Moldavia – the poorest country in Europe. Now it will be an island in the EU sea. There are other states happy in the same situation, such as Switzerland and Norway. But they’re rich. Unfortunately, you have the same problems here as in the Urraine, with a very nationalist Russian minority in the east.

  2. Noteworthy is the absence of comment from Tarik Amar’s Kiyv interlocutors of a secessionist, or at least a federalist movement in the Eastern Ukraine. See this link

    Does it mean that the don’t know about it or that they don’t want to talk about it?

    If the former, what does that suggest about freedom of information?

    If the latter, what does that suggest about the seriousness of the threat to the territorial integrity of present-day Ukraine?

  3. I mentioned this a couple of posts down, Katz, saying that on grounds of general principle, I thought federalism a good idea.

  4. Tarik and the Ukranians are well aware of the secessionist threat but you can only write about so much in one post, particularly when you are rather busy and your access to the internet is limited. I suggested to him last night that he write something about the secessionist business and will pass it on to JQ if it arrives. He’s travelled quite a lot in Eastern Ukraine and speaks Russian, so it wd be worth hearing his take.

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