There’s relatively little media attention being paid to recent events in the Ukraine (compare this to elections in South America these last few years). Still, among my Ukrainian friends, there’s a nervousness and an energy and, for the first time since the hope of the collapse of the Soviet Union turned to the disappointments of the transition, a feeling that change will come.
It is, quite simply, the Berlin Wall tumbling down again.
The story is basically thus: Viktor Yanukovych, the current Prime Minister, is a candidate backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin has recently gone on a binge of “helping” candidates in former Soviet regions win elections, quietly re-creating a Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Against him is Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-West opposition leader. Yushchenko was alleged defeated in the election, amid tremendous reports of voter fraud (similar to that found in many American urban areas where democrats dominate, except far more brazen). Ukrainians have taken to the streets of Kyiv, the capital, in huge crowds waving the orange banners of the Yushchenko campaign.
Vaclav Havel, the great Czech statesman and leader of the Velvet Revolution that overthrew communism in Czechoslovakia, has made two statements to the Ukrainian people. Here are the English versions, courtesy of Radio Free Europe:
Allow me to greet you in these dramatic days when the destiny of your country is being decided for decades ahead. You have its future in your hands. All trustworthy organizations, both local and international, agree that your demands are just. That is why I wish you strength, perseverance, courage and good fortune with your decisions.
Allow me to address you once again in these turbulent yet hopeful days. I am currently far away in Taiwan. But even here, I can feel the breeze blowing of your civic will, responsibility, and desire for freedom. It very much reminds me of our own Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989. Despite the announcement of official election results, may the course of your protests remain peaceful. I know based on my own experience how important it is to not allow oneself to be provoked into violence.
At the same time, I appeal to all of you who work in the mass media: Do not allow yourselves to be intimidated, and write the truth about events in your own country.