BRAMA, Nov 18, 2004, 1:00 pm ET|
The Color of Freedom and Oranges
by Yuri Andrukhovych
[Translated by Michael M. Naydan]
Today in the short amount of time between now and November 21, we are not simply in the middle of the first and second rounds of the Ukrainian presidential election. This year's election is a true choice, and this choice-forgive my strident formulation-is historical. The opposition of the two Viktors-with nearly equal chances of winning, the opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko and the current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych-is really the opposition of fundamental social values, of tendencies, and of orientations: the democratic vs. the dictatorial, civil society vs. authoritarian clan rule, and a European future vs. a Russian imperialistic past.
I would not have voiced these words if over the past several weeks I had not been witness to a colossal social mobilization in support of the future. The capital of my country Kyiv, as though by the wave of a magic wand, has turned into a beautiful European city. Its inhabitants are united by a certain ubiquitous affability and gentleness, embodied in orange and fiery yellow colors. Everyone smiles to everyone else and understands one another beautifully with the slightest of intimations: stand tall and prevail. From the orange ribbons, banners, scarves, and sweaters, the city has noticeably come to look younger. The weather has even lent a hand to all this-it has been a wonderfully warm, sunny autumn.
The city has come to look younger, most of all from the orange and fiery yellow students. They pass out leaflets, campaign on the streets, hang posters where it is permitted and not, paint walls and fences with orange spray paint. Their message is the same: "Yushchenko-YES!!!" They organize street happenings and concerts. They quickly and with ease assemble thousands of people for demonstrations-their discipline and organization are quite conspicuous, the way the sea of orange banners on our city squares and streets is conspicuous. And not just in Kyiv-but the greater part of Ukraine has been inundated with this pleasant flame.
Orange and fiery yellow are the colors of Viktor Yushchenko. For those Ukrainians who are fed up with the grayness of post-Soviet life controlled by the clans, he personifies the hope that government can be honest, and its actions open. In this campaign he has had to endure countless problems: massive discrediting on all the national TV channels, vicious attacks in the press, surveillance by the secret police, endless impediments in moving around the country and in meeting with the electorate, at least two attempts on his life, the second of which substantially disfigured his previously handsome and expressive face. A month ago he stood at death's door and was barely brought back to life by doctors at a Viennese clinic. Now he simply has to prevail-completely in accord with the logic of the obstacles that he has overcome and with his first name.
The name of his opponent is also Viktor. This clumsy, heavyset Prime Minister- prosecuted twice before for criminal activities-is a representative of the most aggressive of the clans, the Donetsk one. Right there in the extreme east of Ukraine, in a practically intact inherited form, the "Soviet aesthetic phenomenon" has been preserved: communist monuments on the backdrop of depressing post-Soviet landscapes, and hence-the total oppression by the authorities of any social movements. Thus the natural element of candidate Yanukovych-opaqueness and isolation from the public, entirely in the spirit of the old communist leaders or mafia dons. It is difficult for him even to speak-not only Ukrainian, but even his native Russian. His writings are rife with mistakes and he never interacts with the press. Until only recently he had refused to participate in any live television debates, referring to the fact that he was busy "working a lot for the people." In his campaign he relies on homo sovieticus-a zombified, listless population, terrified bureaucrats, humiliated pensioners, innumerable police (a force three times larger than the military), and outlaw elements. I am not exaggerating or making false accusations-during this entire campaign our so called "organs of jurisprudence" have been acting in close concert with organized criminal elements, and you can discern the former from the latter just by their uniforms, and not always. Candidate Prime Minister Yanukovych relies exclusively on fear.
In addition, he is relying on Russia, on Russian political technocrats and the Russian president. He already has promised Russia so much of everything (a gas transportation system, agricultural abundance, a rejection of European integration, and a military-political union), that the very existence of the Ukrainian state in the event of his victory finds itself threatened. For his great debt he would be simply controlled from the Kremlin and isolated from the civilized world as a clumsy puppet-a kind of Lukashenko-2, however different from the first Lukashenko by the essential admixture of criminal activity and prison time. With his help Russia is attempting to restore the past. Perhaps it is not accidental that his colors-white, blue and red-are the colors of the Russian flag.
Candidate Yanukovych also relies on money. To say that there is a lot-is to say nothing. It is undoubtedly a lot, because there is enough of it for everything-for the buying off of voters, for the increase of pensions, for the payment of criminals and the police, for the massive falsification of voter lists and bulletins, for tens of thousands of billboards, for the stars of Russian pop music, for free beer and vodka. His campaign is to the accompaniment of "inveterate swindlers"-the same name as one of Moscow's pop groups. You can characterize his entire cohort this way. It is quite interesting that indigenous Ukrainian rock has come out in favor of Yushchenko-representatives of the independent stage, oriented toward the creation of authentic and sincere, mostly non-commercial music. I imagine that in their choice they have acted entirely instinctively, in accord with the primary instinct of freedom for every independent artist.
It is precisely this instinct, emphatically, that continues the stream of open letters and appeals formulated in Ukrainian creative circles in support of Yushchenko. Artists, who express their position vocally, are, certainly, far from uniform in their treatment of Yushchenko the politician. But they are uniform in something else: in the necessity of the triumph of Yushchenko. This would be the incontrovertible path of democracy and, correspondingly, the opportunity for cultural diversity and polyphony of voices. The victory of Yanukovych would be the final triumph in our cultural space of a primitive unidimensionality: of tiresome Russian pop music, innumerable Russian TV serials, in which the "good bandits" destroy the "bad bandits," of empty talk shows and so called "evenings of humor." With regard to "high culture," the return to old Soviets standards with patriotic decorations, army marches, films of the Stalin era, choirs, orchestras, and the cult of the personality of Father-Dictator.
I do not want this nightmare to become a reality. I don't want to live in the land of a president Yanukovych, where new Ukrainian music and literature once and for all will be confined to a ghetto or simply destroyed by so called "economic levers." I will not be able to endure the daily television news stories about the next disgraceful deal with Russia. I simply cannot endure this feeling of living in a country that before your eyes is becoming foreign to you, of being brutally estranged from it. This is quite personal-these 2004 elections. Half-forgotten pathos-filled phrases come to mind about "the fate of my country that became my fate."
One of my opponents rebukes me for my being politically engaged. He asserts that a good writer is obliged to "work normally under any kind of government." I agree with him that a good writer is obliged to write well under any kind of government. But that does not mean that he must reconcile himself with any government-even more, to silently follow the blackest scenario of the death of freedom.
Perhaps the last weeks of orange hopes are before us. Perhaps "they" will win-at the cost of new falsifications, manipulations, scare tactics, and violence. However this ends, I am deeply grateful for my time and for these October-November days, during which a new European nation has been reborn.
Yuri Andrukhovych (website)
is a celebrated contemporary Ukrainian poet, prose writer and essayist.
Born in Ukraine, he is credited with a revival of Ukrainian poetry in the mid 80's
and founding of the Bu-Ba-Bu (Burlesque-Blaster-Buffoonery) group for poets. More about Andrukhovych...