The parliament annulled the decision to consider the election undemocratic and hold the Central Election Commission responsible (232 deputies out of 440 voted for it).
Lytvyn's project to force the prime minister, his government, prosecutor general and the separatist governors to resign didn't pass either: only 196 deputies voted in its favor.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
The parliament annulled the decision to consider the election undemocratic and hold the Central Election Commission responsible (232 deputies out of 440 voted for it).
I've missed what they're trying to vote or not to vote for in the parliament now, but when I got to the TV room, there was a bunch of the opposition parliamentarians having a very heated argument with the speaker, Volodymyr Lytvyn.
Lytvyn was ordering them to take their seats, and at one point he said to someone:
"Shut you mouth!" ("Zakryi sviy rot!")
It got quieter after that. The session is being broadcast on most channels.
(The Supreme Court isn't on TV yet.)
Laughland's great strength is that he sees what no one else in the west seems to. Where reporters in Kiev, including the Guardian's own Nick Paton-Walsh, encounter a genuine democracy movement, Laughland comes across "neo-Nazis" (Guardian), or "druggy skinheads from Lvov" (Spectator). And where most observers report serious and specific instances of electoral fraud and malpractice on the part of the supporters of the current prime minister, Laughland complains only of a systematic bias against (the presumably innocent) Mr Yanukovich.
Volodymyr Lytvyn, speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, said today that there exists anti-Ukrainian conspiracy: the pro-government TV channels, before and during the election, were showing graphics in which Ukraine was divided into three parts, ranked regionally. "What else other than zombifying is it?" Lytvyn asked as he spoke about how the media had been imposing stereotypes on the people: the east leaning toward Yanukovych, the west - toward Yushchenko.
I remember Yushchenko showing that graphic of Ukraine divided during his interview with Channel 1 two weeks ago, one day after the debates: he talked about the danger of such propaganda, and the nonsense of it. I wonder where Lytvyn was then and throughout the time when the pro-government TV was doing its evil job. Who knows, maybe he's adopting the position of an extremely popular candidate, Yushchenko, because he is planning to run for president, too, along with Tyhypko and Kuchma - if there's a re-vote.
Lytvyn also said that the fact that leaders of several eastern and southern regions of Ukraine had called to creation of autonomies and federalization of Ukraine during a meeting in Severodonetsk was enough for the prosecutor general and the security service to look closer into the matter and give their opinion on it.
Meanwhile, Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian parliament, said "the situation [in Ukraine was] heading toward a split or toward bloodshed. [...] I see no other way the situation could develop."
Gryzlov was in Kyiv last Friday, attending the meeting between Yushchenko, Yanukovych, Kuchma, Solana, Kwasniewski, Adamkus and some others. Today, he spoke his mind after Russian parliamentarians invited the head of the city council of Donetsk to brief them Wednesday. Who knows, maybe the guy will be arrested for promoting separatism before he gets on his plane tomorrow.
For those of you not in Kyiv but able to read Russian, here's a wonderful article by Andrei Kolesnikov that appears in today's Kommersant, one of the leading Russian papers (thanks for the link, Mishah!). It's long so I'll translate just a tiny little bit:
At this moment we learned that Serhiy Tyhypko, head of Victor Yanukovych's campaign headquarters, resigned after having had enough of unkind words directed at him by Leonid Kuchma, president of Ukraine, and that he resigned not just as head of [Yanukovych's] campaign but also as the president of the National Bank of Ukraine. He said that he was leaving not just anywhere but into politics, and that he didn't like Victor Yushchenko, but he also didn't like Victor Yanukovych anymore, because the latter has been blackmailing the opposition with the country's breakup.
Isn't it all related, I thought: the re-vote and Serhiy Tyhypko's resignation? Some 20 minutes later, when the court took another break but the plaintiffs and the defendants remained in the room, I asked Stepan Havrysh [Yanukovych's representative] about his personal opinion on the perspective of Serhiy Tyhypko becoming a new presidential candidate backed by the government.
"That would be a pretty good option," said Stepan Havrysh confidently. "I like such an option. Thank you for the question. I didn't expect it."
Later, Leonid Kuchma met with the governors of south-eastern regions at his residence in Koncha-Zaspa and, in the presence of Victor Yanukovych, voiced the idea of a re-vote. He said that it'd be wrong to suspect he was saying this only in order to take part in this new election.
"If someone thinks this is my intention, then I won't run," he said.
He better holds it: the election hasn't started yet.
Leonid Kuchma, the president, has been misnamed on the EuroNews site:
The outgoing president of Ukraine, Leonard Kuchma, has said he is in favour of new elections as a way out of the stalemate over polls held on November 21.
No big deal.
One of the two Odesa city council deputies who voted against introduction of emergency state in Ukraine (proposed by the city mayor Ruslan Bodelan) was attacked Monday: Georgiy Selyanin was entering the city council building when Yanukovych supporters rallying in front of it started pushing him and poured water over him. Selyanin was wearing an orange scarf. The police and other deputies did not attempt to interfere - but he managed to escape into the building. Earlier, someone painted a black, unerasable swastika on Selyanin's car. (via Gazeta.ru)
That's a big deal.
Blogger's been acting silly again but that's okay: the admins have promised to fix it soon.
The Supreme Court is meeting tomorrow at 10 am again; the Parliament is having a session, too.
Kuchma wants either a complete re-count of the vote, or a re-vote in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, or - and that seems the most reasonable option to him - a complete re-vote. I don't see how the people accused of rigging the vote can be given another chance, but I'm not our president. Kuchma is also worried about the economy - says that the financial system could collapse within days - "like a house of cards" - and neither he, nor his government should be held responsible if this happens. I remember that two weeks ago Yushchenko was saying something as alarming about our currency reserves - and he did blame the government for it. Also, a re-vote must such an expensive thing - so if Kuchma thinks there's enough money for that, then maybe everything isn't as bad as he wants us to believe.
What the opposition wants from the Supreme Court is for the results of the second round to be invalidated and the results of the first round to be allowed to stand - thus Yushchenko would be the president, by a very narrow margin, 0.5 percent. That's a cool option, I guess, which would return the country to normal sooner than another voting circus.
The Parliament tomorrow will be demanding that the prime minister and his government resign voluntarily - or are forced to resign. They are also planning to discuss the separatist initiatives of certain regional leaders, and to recommend the prosecutor general's office and the security service to look at it closer and, maybe, to open a case against those regional separatist leaders (the most notorious now is Yevhen Kushnaryov of Kharkiv - but there're a lot more).
A few people I've talked with tonight aren't exactly sure what's going on and in which direction it is all moving. I draw my optimism from the disastrous performance of Yanukovych's team lawyer this past afternoon - those people don't know how to defend themselves properly and they also don't have enough brains to build their attack according to the law. Good for us, bad for them.
Mishah told me of his friends who are driving around, delivering warm clothes, food and vitamins to the street protesters. By the presidential administration building, they offered food to the riot police boys but they refused - however, they did accept vitamins from Mishah's friends. That's moving.
I've just posted 34 pictures from yesterday night on my fotopage, and I'm afraid there won't be any more for a while because my camera died tonight, as I was taking a picture of a bunch of white huskies with orange kerchieves on their necks, dragging a sled with a few people in it along Khreshchatyk. Must have been a nice picture but I can't see it. I guess something's terribly wrong with my camera's battery - I hope it's the battery, not the camera itself. I hope to find a replacement soon...
Monday, November 29, 2004
Yushchenko's team is recounting what seems like every single violation that occurred during the second round - but those are just some of the examples. They include: people voting with absentee ballots being driven in buses from one polling station to another (voting station and district numbers as well as license plate numbers of the buses and cars transporting these multiple voters are provided); arrest and imprisoning of voters; attacks on Yushchenko's headquarters; attacks on Yushchenko's team observers (attempts to take away a video camera of one of them); lists of voters - typos (tens of thousands couldn't vote); in Donetsk, about 1 million people more voted in the second round than in the first...
The judges look tired, interrupt every once in while, but let the Yushchenko's team guy finish. Channel 5 interrupts the broadcast from the Supreme Court midway through the questions from Yanukovych's team guy, switching live to Yushchenko's address at Independence Square. Maidan is full, people are cheering, it's snowing, Yulia Tymoshenko is seen near Yushchenko, surrounded by two men in either police or military uniform, high-ranking guys, generals or something - totally cool that they're on our side and everyone sees it. Yushchenko says the government only knows how to listen to itself, not the people, but the role of the people at Maidan is invaluable. He's still speaking now, some 15 minutes later...
Earlier, Channel 5 interviewed a Crimean Tatar, Ahmet Davletyshyn, a businessman from Alushta and member of some conflict resolution organization (have to look up its name later) - who spoke of the Crimean Tatars' support for Yushchenko and their opposition to any plans to create any autonomy on the peninsula other than the one that exists now. When asked about the rumors that Crimean Tatars want to join Turkey above all, he said it was nonsense. He also said that most people of the Crimea - inluding Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Armenians and others - want to live in peace with each other, in Ukraine, not some other state.
This female lawyer on Yanukovych's team is making such a circus out of it all: she sounds nervous and immature and more aggressive than is proper (especially compared to her opponent from Yushchenko's team), and she keeps asking him questions (e.g., If your rights hadn't been violated at the CEC meeting, would you... - a what if? type of question) and then complains she's not getting the answers - and the judge keeps telling her that her opponent should be answering not to her but to the court - over and over again, until some guy sitting next to Havrysh covers his eyes with his hand and then motions her to stop... They'll probably kill her afterwards - her whiny/bitchy tone and ignorance of the basic procedures discredit Yanukovych people as much as everything else.
The Supreme Court has allowed Yushchenko's team to bring in a member of the CEC as witness - Knyazhevych, one of those who refused to sign the final results protocol.
The judge has also allowed Yanukovych's team lawyers more time to study the materials - till 10 am tomorrow (he should've also sent that woman back to law school).
After a month of crisp (and not so) political slogans, to watch the Supreme Court session is a torture. Not just for me, it seems, but for Yanukovych representative Stepan Havrysh as well - at one point he wasn't able to get through the legalese of the judge's question and the judge had to repeat it...
Yanukovych people are trying hard to postpone it all: they've asked the court to invite heads of regional election commissions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions as witnesses - it sounded like they'd have to wait for at least 15 people - and the opposition's counterargument was that their complaint referred to violations not just in those two regions but throughout Ukraine. A pro-Yanukovych female lawyer who read that request, got too emotional later and had to apologize to the judges, yes, for growing too emotional...
Someone complained there were too many cameras and journalists in the room, and that they could not work in such conditions, and the judge asked the press to move over a bit - not because he was against them being there, but because it indeed was too crowded. What I'm not getting is why they couldn't find a bigger room to hold the whole thing in? Didn't they expect the media would be interested?
Thanks for the link, Julinka: from the Moscow Times, about the sign language interpreter and the Ukrainian TV in general...
Dmitruk said she had not received much of a response from the deaf community to her silent revolt, though her deaf father sent her a fax informing her that someone had contacted him to say he had seen the broadcast.
According to Dmitruk, a secretary at the television station fielded a call from a viewer shortly after the broadcast who asked, "Are you aware of the kinds of things your sign-language anchor is saying?"
"She told him 'Of course we know, and we support her 100 percent,'" Dmitruk said. "Of course this wasn't true. She didn't know what I had said. So she came back to tell me about the call and said, 'OK. Now tell me exactly what you said.'"
An ultimatum to Kuchma is the main political news tonight. I was surprised Yulia Tymoshenko wasn't next to Yushchenko on Friday, when he announced the start of negotiations, but now she is there, her usual self. I think her decisiveness is good, for the morale of the people in the street, at least.
But in general, I'm really confused and not sure how to take things, no longer know how to analyze the situation, even just for myself.
The crowd on Khreshchatyk was wonderful this evening; we stopped to listen to some Polish band - very moving; spent some time chatting with the guys who were scribbling their names on the wall of the post office building - as someone said somewhere, this wall looks like Reichstag at the end of the war.
Then we went to a bar and sat with a few guys from Kharkiv, and one from Lviv, and a few from Kyiv, and one from both Kyiv and Canada, and everyone had some pretty amazing observations and opinions, but in the end it just all seems too overwhelming and the only thing left to do is to wait for tomorrow's Supreme Court decision, and also to hope that nothing bad happens this night.
There aren't that many people out there after midnight - when we were passing Independence Square around 1 am, it was being cleaned and almost empty. A lot of people by the tents, but they look tired (or maybe it's just me who's tired), and Khreshchatyk at night looks somewhat too unkempt, with an air of a slum around it.
There was a crowd by Kuchma's administration building (the trucks that separated the tents and the crowd from the riot police are now gone, for better or for worse - I heard people say it's a kind of a victory, but doesn't it allow the police easier access to the crowd?). There was also a wonderful, loud crowd by the Cabinet of Ministers - the guys sitting on the hill where Yanukovych fans' tents used to be, hitting large metal cisterns with sticks, like drums, producing some very energizing sound; there were also many city names and some pro-Yushchenko slogans made of snow - I'll post the pictures tomorrow.
My favorite hypothesis for today (via Mishah) is that Kuchma is trying to let Yanukovych down by having sent him to meet with Luzhkov today - because meeting with separatists isn't good for the image of someone who's agreed to negotiate with his opponents. Or is Kuchma too weak to stop Yanukovych from being such a fool? You should have seen footage from that meeting in Severodonetsk...
A disclaimer: I've met a woman from the tents today who said that it's better not to donate money into those boxes on Khreshchatyk but instead take them to 33 Honchar St. where there's someone's headquarters. The reason I felt those boxes were safe and reliable was because I read about it somewhere and also because they were chained right next to where the people from the tents stood - and if they belonged to someone unrelated to the protesters, those guys would know... I'm not sure what to make of it.
Two more sort of disclaimers: I've mixed up some facts in the story about Tanya's marshrutka trip to Kyiv - but at some level it is totally true. It's just better to listen to Tanya telling it, I guess. Also, the guys who were flying to Kyiv via Vienna were flying from Kharkiv, not Lviv - which makes this story even more absurd...
Anyway, I hope it'll all get less ambiguous tomorrow.
I'm sure I have more stuff to write about - but I keep forgetting things and I'm really looking forward to some kind of denouement.
Two of my friends are spending this night walking around, equipped with a thermos full of tea.
Oh, and we've just learned our main slogan in Spanish, the original one, it seems (spelling isn't 100 percent correct - can't find those stress symbols): El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido! - My razom, nas bahato, i nas ne podolaty!
Sunday, November 28, 2004
I heard U2's Pride (In the Name of Love) the other day, coming from someone's car radio near Maidan. It was quite a change after five days of Ukrainian bands, very good and not so, playing day and night - and I wished Bono had come over here - man, wouldn't that be cool... Of the Russians, I'd love to see Zemfira and B-2... Anyone would do, actually... And if not, our bands are cool, too - VV, Okean Elzy, Tanok na Maidani Congo, etc. Oh, and I wish Gogol Bordello, a NYC band, came here to play on Maidan - they are currently my favorite - Through the roof! And underground! - and their lead singer is Ukrainian!
The Blogger was down again... And now it's working again!!!
I didn't go to the train station for personal reasons and also because I've been told that Yanukovych fans are now gone. A friend of mine just told me that when they were seeing their friend off Friday night (at the time of the meeting between Yu and Ya and Ku and the rest), the pro-Yanukovych rally was over by then but the guys were still there, hanging out in the underground crossing, with beer, cold, hungry and tired, but not angry or aggressive, eager to chat with the pro-Yushchenko guys... (The "East and West together" slogan that I couldn't remember yesterday night came to me in Ukrainian as soon as I turned off the computer - Skhid ta zakhid razom! - so simple...)
At Independence Square, Yushchenko said there might be attempts by the riot police to destroy the tents tonight, around 8 pm (it's 4 pm now). Hopefully, it's just another rumor (though many believe that all these rumors are based on the very real threats that keep being averted through pressure and negotiations).
The pro-Yushchenko parliamentarians have started collecting signatures for the resignation of Yanukovych as prime minister; they expect to have 150 signatures needed for the parliament to consider the issue by Tuesday. I wonder if it's possible to also start doing something to impeach Kuchma (I'm not sure how it works, though). In any case, this signature thing seems to be one of those real steps toward the victory that Yushchenko keeps talking about.
While nearly 300 pro-Yushchenko people rallied by the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow today (located on a very narrow street - it must have looked pretty impressive, even though 300 isn't that much), Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov arrived in Ukraine to meet with Yanukovych and the crazy guys who want to create the East-Southern Autonomy. First Luzhkov was in Luhansk, then moved to Severodonetsk (a town that used to have really good tennis courts and coaches in the Soviet times; Nikolai Davydenko, one of Russia's best players, is originally from Severodonetsk, though he spent much of the 90s training in Germany). Anyway, Luzhkov is here - hopefully, his efforts will end as pathetically as they did in Adzharia earlier this year.
Obozrevatel, a news site with an attitude, informative and worth checking regularly, now has news in English, HERE.
It's not too cold outside, though there was some snow earlier, and there are many many people, whole families, out there. I'm sure there'll be even more by 8 pm.
It's 5:30 am, this night in Kyiv has been as loud as the previous one. Right now, there's a bunch of guys in our backyard, singing the anthem and other Ukrainian songs, somewhat drunkenly, nowhere near as beautifully as Tanya and her friend was singing on Tuesday, but it's still very poignant - because usuallty the only thing one hears in this backyard and this neighborhood are drunken curses. Really. But I'm sure some of our neighbors are fed up by now and mad as hell. Oh well.
I'm off to take a nap. Good night all and thank you for your wonderful comments.
On Thursday, I saw Al-Jazeera's Moscow bureau chief, Akram Khuzam, just off Independence Square. It was weird to see him here - he's been quite a celebrity in Moscow, ever since the 2002 Nord-Ost hostage crisis, when he was giving interviews everywhere, in very good Russian. But to see him in Kyiv was weird - nothing newsworthy enough ever happened here, or so it seems.
When I told Mishah about this encounter, he said I should've come up to him and tell/ask about the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Jemilev and their relevance in today's situation. I feel bad I didn't think about it myself then. I was too cold but that's not a good excuse.
I haven't been following the papers for a week now - just TV and the basic stuff on the web - so maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that the Crimean Tatars - the majority if not all of whom voted for Yushchenko - are being neglected now as much as Ukraine had been just a few weeks ago, before all this news craziness began.
As I wrote earlier, on Thursday, I happened to be by the Cabinet of Ministers building at a very interesting time.
Slightly past noon, the pro-Yanukovych people (the blue) were lined up on the hill in the park, in front of their tents, and the pro-Yushchnko crowd (the orange) were gathering below, coming from all directions.
At first, there weren't too many of the orange - the cars were still driving by, most with orange ribbons on them, honking three times, as if shouting out the three syllables of Yushchenko's name. There were several traffic cops around, very polite.
When we crossed the street to approach the blue ones, a middle-aged man with a digital video camera (a relatively small one, not professional) came up to us and introduced himself as a Kharkiv TV station correspondent. He asked our opinion on what's going on, but since I was with two foreign journalists, it was easy for us to avoid having a conversation with him - he did look like a security services person compiling a file on the protesters.
Very soon, everything around was orange, and the blue crowd on the hill suddenly began to look tiny. One by one, the orange guys started coming up to the blue ones; then, more and more; until they all mixed. There were only men among the blue, while the orange had men and women of all ages in their ranks.
It was totally exciting - it was hard to believe at first that it would end peacefully, but when the orange ones started their chant, I knew it'd be okay: they were chanting "Slava shakhtaryam! Slava shakhtaryam!" ("Glory to the coalminers!" - referring to those from Donetsk region, a coal-mining region that Yanukovych used to be a governor of.) Some of the blue guys sounded indignant - "But we are from Crimea, not Donbas!" - and the orange ones standing nearby replied, laughing - "Oh, who cares now... Slava shakhtaryam!" Another chant was this: "East and West together!" (strangely, I don't remember what it sounded like in Ukrainian - I mean, I know the translation, of course, but I don't remember how to say it so it rhymes, as it did then...)
When they all merged, we climbed up to the park, too. (I fell a couple times because of my stupid Doc Martens shoes - I feel like I'm wearing skates, not shoes - and I survived only because there were enough men around - in blue and in orange - to catch me...)
Among other things, we saw half a dozen men standing in circle, one guy holding a torn half of Yanukovych's portrait, and another guy, orange, telling everyone around loudly that it's not right to tear the portrait, that the guy who held it had the right to vote for Yanukovych, that it's not the portrait that's to blame and not the portrait's owner, etc. We saw many groups like this, the orange and the blue together, discussing something totally peacefully, like old buddies. No one was beaten, though the blue ones were in such overwhelming minority that I'm still quite shocked nothing bad happened.
We stopped one blue guy, asked him if he thought there'd be civil war, as many people were predicting. He said, "No, Ukrainians don't fight, won't fight. East and West are together." He was a metallurgic factory worker from Kryvyi Rih, a town in Dnipropetrivsk region, who came to Kyiv to support his candidate, Yanukovych.
We also talked with an orange guy - he said that they didn't invade the blue guys' tent site - they "just came up to talk to them, to try to convince them, to show them which side the truth is on; everything was peaceful and quiet, no invasion or anything," he said - and I did believe him, because I saw it all myself.
A group of the blue ones lined up again after a while, and marched away, in the direction opposite from the enormous orange crowd by the Cabinet of Ministers. But some stayed and continued their chats with the opponents.
There were fires set up by the blue tents, and we all stood around them, getting warm.
My friend Tanya (the one I wrote about for the New York Times) has told me about her trip to Kyiv this past Monday.
She was planning to go by train but then changed her mind and took a marshrutka (vans functioning like buses, a lot faster and more numerous than the buses). As they set out, the driver turned on an FM station playing music that they, for some reason, call chanson here, annoying songs sang mainly by male singers, about prison and post-prison life (I hate to generalize, but I can't help myself here: people who like this type of music are perceived by many as typical Yanukovych fans).
Anyway, Tanya was sitting in the van, suffering from the loud prison music. When they reached a police checkpoint outside Zhytomyr and a cop approached the van, the driver didn't turn the volume down. The cop looked inside the van briefly and let them all proceed.
Right after they left the checkpoint, the driver turned off the radio and put on a tape of Ukrainian folk music - hutsulski kolyadky, Hutsul carols (the Hutsul are Ukrainians living in the Carpathian Mountains) - beautiful music, so beautiful that Tanya, who sings in a Ukrainian choir herself, wished she owned this tape. And with this lovely music playing loudly, they spent the next hour or so, until they arrived in Kyiv.
This is how some Ukrainians are fooling the government fools. If the driver had been playing Hutsul music at the checkpoint, the cop would have assumed people in the van were all pro-Yushchenko, going to Kyiv to join the protest rallies, and he might have been forced to turn them around and thus prevented them from reaching Kyiv. But he turned out to be one of those generalizers - he must have figured that if, by the time the van reached the checkpoint, the driver was still alive, despite the music and the volume he was playing it at, then the passengers did not present any danger to the regime.
I just got an email from my friend in Odesa. She writes that the local TV calls people who attend pro-Yushchenko rallies zombies funded by the United States. Their mayor is talking about secession, in unison with the demented governor of Kharkiv region. When I read my friend's email to my mama, she said that perhaps it's time for the wonderful Kyiv crowd to get on the trains and go to Odesa and Kharkiv, to show them we aren't zombies.
It may be hard logistically, though. Mishah wanted to come to Kyiv from St. Pete this weekend but couldn't get plane tickets - neither from where he is, nor from Moscow. Yesterday, I met a guy from Lviv who had to fly to Vienna first and, from there, to Kyiv. Mishah could've gone via Helsinki - but he doesn't have a Finnish visa.
I myself will go to the Kyiv train station tomorrow, to have a look at Yanukovych fans mixing peacefully with the orange crowd. I read about it, I saw it on TV - and, with my own eyes, I saw a totally peaceful merger of the "blue" and the "orange" by the Cabinet of Ministers this past Thursday. It's hard to believe but it does look like this country will not have a civil war anytime soon, despite some people's fears and other people's hopes.
Scott Clark has a wonderful story about his "mother-in-law, revolutionary" - I found the link through TulipGirl, a blog I have long wanted to link to but kept getting distracted. Also, there's a blog of TulipGirl's husband, Le Sabot Post-Moderne, that I should've linked to a long time ago as well. I wish I were more organized.
Saturday, November 27, 2004
I've posted yesterday's pictures on my fotopage - the photo backlog is gone for now.
Fotopages worked so fast today (and last night) that I was tempted to run outside and take more pictures, upload them on the site and then run out again to take more. But I've decided to stay home tonight, to sort things out and to try to catch up on sleep.
Kyiv's center is crowded and happy. There is certain political ambiguity after yesterday's meeting of Yushchenko, Yanukovych and the rest of the guys, but it's not affecting the crowd's mood.
I've been mentioned in the London Times, too. Cool.
There's one little error in that piece though:
"Independence Square, or Kreshchatyk as the locals call it," writes Philippe Naughton.
In reality, Khreshchatyk (or Kreshchatik, if you're transliterating from Russian, not Ukrainian) is Kyiv's central street, approximately 1 km long. On one edge of it is Bessarabka, a square with an indoor market in its center, and on the other edge is Independence Square (or Maidan Nezalezhnosti, as it is called in Ukrainian).
On weekends Khreshchatyk is pedestrian; this past week, it's been more or less pedestrian, too: only one block, from Bessarabka to Khmelnytskogo St., was open to cars, and by the end of the week, even it became kind of too packed with people to drive seriously (most drivers honk in solidarity all the time and seem to be on Khreshchatyk with no other purpose than to honk).
Beginning from Khmelnytskogo St. (a street that goes up from Khreshchatyk and used to be Lenin St. in the Soviet times, and Fundukleyevskaya St. before the 1917 revolution), there are buses that brought the protesters from the regions, and a little further, somewhere near the city mayor's office and Proreznaya St., the tents begin, stretching all the way to Independence Square (there're also a few areas with tents on Maidan as well). The tents on Khreshchatyk are set in the wide enough driving area, while the wide sidewalks (on both sides of Khreshchatyk) and the alley lined with Kyiv's beloved chestnut trees (on the right-hand side, if you're facing Maidan) provide enough space to those who showed up to support the protesters and to protest with their own presence.
I've been asked how people can donate money to help Kyiv protesters, and here's the info I've been able to find so far:
- Yushchenko's Our Ukraine site lists account numbers opened recently to collect money for the protesters
- Maidan.com.ua also lists some account numbers for wire transfers
- There's also a U.S. address for checks - payable to "MONITORING RESULTS OF ELECTION, #103695-000":
2332 W. Chicago Ave,
Chicago, IL, 60622
If you have questions, you can write them at firstname.lastname@example.org (via Maidan.com.ua)
- Finally, if you're in Kyiv, there are boxes for donations every 10-20 meters, all around the "tent town" - this is very convenient.
It's almost 6 am, Kyiv's awake - honking and shouting all night - I've never seen this city so energetic, especially this time of the year. Everything's peaceful, no incidents here - though something really bad is going on in Kharkiv right now - but I won't write about it now because it's almost 6 am...
I've spent too much time in the past two days talking it all over with friends and colleagues, and I'm really too tired to be informative now. So here's the link to the photos I took this week, except Wednesday (I stayed in writing most of that day) and Friday (I'll post them tomorrow/today). No explanations yet - I promise to write more this weekend.
(The image below is of two Ukrainians with differing views having a conversation across the street from the Cabinet of Ministers building; the guy on the left is pro-Yanukovych, the one on the right is pro-Yushchenko. More later.)
Friday, November 26, 2004
Also, The Guardian had two of this blog's entries in its online edition.
It feels wonderful but weird, sort of unreal.
P.S. A friend has just written me that the Guardian has it in its print edition as well!
Below is the piece I've written for The New York Times:
New Kids on the Bloc
By VERONICA KHOKHLOVA
Published: November 26, 2004
A family friend who has a 17-year-old son told me this last week: "Young people today are so different from what we used to be, or even from what your generation is. They don't have our fear - they don't know it. But they know their rights, and they know how to defend them. They aren't scared to."
With Ukraine now gripped in a political crisis stemming from the disputed results of Sunday's presidential election, I can see what that friend meant.
For example, I have a 20-year-old friend, Tanya. When I was 16 and the Soviet Union collapsed, she was 6. Monday night, Tanya returned to Kiev, where she is a history student in college, from her hometown, Zhytomyr, where she had been observing the election.
On Tuesday morning, she, along with half a million other people, was at Kiev's Independence Square, protesting the declaration by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich that he was the winner. From there, together with thousands of other students, she marched to Shevchenko University, whose leadership had refused to allow its students to join a growing nationwide strike.
They weren't letting anyone out of the university, Tanya told me when I ran into her that evening at a huge rally outside the Ukrainian Parliament building. The students were locked inside, she explained, but they opened all the windows, and the protesters were passing them orange flags - the symbol of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, whom most everyone feels was cheated out of victory. One guy climbed the drainpipe to the second floor to deliver the flags, Tanya said, and the students pulled him in through the window. Soon after, the administration relented, the students were liberated, their classes canceled.
By the time of the rally that night, Tanya had been up and running for 10 hours in the freezing cold dressed only in a thin green coat, an orange scarf around her neck and orange ribbons tied into her braids. She didn't look tired or cold; as we set out in search of a quick cup of coffee, she made us stop by a loudspeaker and listen to Mr. Yushchenko addressing Parliament inside the building.
Then, as we moved again, she and her friend started singing the Ukrainian national anthem. They didn't sound phony; they were singing for themselves, not loudly, and in beautiful voices (both are members of a Ukrainian choir), and it moved me to tears.
An hour later, around 7 p.m., we were at Independence Square again, at another huge rally, listening to Mr. Yushchenko on the loudspeakers again. Tanya, along with everyone else, was shouting "Yushchenko! Yushchenko!" and I, standing next to her, found myself shouting too, with confidence and inspiration I hadn't felt before.
And over and over one hears the chant, "My razom, nas bagato, i nas ne podolaty!" ("We're together, and there are many of us, and we can't be defeated!") Three weeks ago, I would have probably said that this was what students shouted at their rallies, but now everyone does, and so many people mean it.
When opposition party leaders asked the crowd to stay in the square through the night, taking turns in order not to get too cold, Tanya started making plans for the next day. She intended to return at 6 a.m.; she must have been very tired and cold by then, but it still wasn't showing.
The past four days have taught me something valuable: when I'm watching the situation unfold on television, I grow tense, fearful that it's not going to end well. But when I return to the crowd, I feel elated, thanks to people like Tanya, tens of thousands of them, and to everyone else who's out there, people of all ages, hundreds of thousands of them, fearless.
And our international support has heartened us as well. Almost every international observer - including experts from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and from NATO - has accused the ruling party of widespread voting fraud. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the United States "cannot accept this result as legitimate." The only foreign leader who has sided with Mr. Yanukovich has been President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which, needless to say, hasn't done much for the prime minister's credibility.
Which brings up a joke I've heard a few times recently: a Ukrainian man shows up at work, all his clothes rumpled. When his colleagues ask what happened, he replies: "I turn on the TV this morning, and there's Putin praising Yanukovich. I switch to another channel, and there's Putin again, praising Yanukovich. So I switch the channels again, and there's again Putin praising Yanukovich. I turn on the radio, and Putin is there, too, praising Yanukovich. So I figured there was no use turning on the iron."
I'm not sure if it's a remake of an old Soviet joke. It may be. But it fits November 2004 in Ukraine beautifully: there's little use watching TV, what's happening now is available to everyone firsthand, out there in the streets of Kiev and other Ukrainian cities. And if the students have no fear in defending their rights, why should the rest of us?
Thursday, November 25, 2004
I haven't been writing about journalists and the coverage of the events here at all.
Before today, there were only two channels worth watching - Channel 5 and Era (the latter broadcasts late at night, only several hours daily). The rest were following orders from Medvedchuk, chief of Kuchma's Administration, and other Yanukovych people. Until today. Today, Oleksandr Rodnyansky gathered all 1+1 Channel journalists (except one, who's not a journalist anymore but a slut, Vyacheslav Pikhovshek) and announced that they are with the people and are not going to lie to us.
On Channel 1 (UT-1), the main state channel, 237 journalists are on strike now. Today, during the 11 am newscast with live translation into the Sign Language, the translator, Natalya Dmytruk, did not translate what the host was saying about the election results, but said (in Sign Language) the following (quote via Ukrainska Pravda):
The results from the Central Election Commission have been falsified. Do not believe them. Our President is Yushchenko. I am very disgusted that I was forced to translate the lies until now. I'm not going to do it anymore. I'm not sure if I'll see you again.
The program Dmytruk was translating into Sign Language for is the only news program in Ukraine adapted for people with hearing impairments. The audience is about 100,000 people. Dmytruk has now joined her 237 striking colleagues.
I'm still pretty busy to sit and write, but here's a tiny little bit that has moved me a lot today. At Maidan, around 3 pm, a Ukrainian singer Mariyka Burmaka was speaking - as a mother, not as a singer, she said. Her little daughter (I didn't catch the age) told her that if Yanukovych gets elected instead of Yushchenko, she'll have to change her name from Yaryna to Yuryna...
I tried to post this yesterday night, but Blogger was acting up again...
It snowed all night and all day, so Khreshchatyk is a real mess now. Very slippery, too, which is the mayor's fault (it was his idea to lay those crazy bricks/tiles/whatever-it's-called everywhere).
So many people by the tents, they stand with posters every few meters or so, facing the passer-by. On the posters there's information on where they are from (many many regions of Ukraine) and slogans, some quite funny, others straightforwardly pro-Yushchenko.
Many buses are now lined up for a whole block on both sides of Khreshchatyk - some must be from the regions, others are probably local. I was glad to see the buses - it means these people will have a place to get warm during the night. I saw a woman with a huge poster of Yushchenko pasted on her back scrawling the name of the town she must've arrived from - Vinnytsya - on one of the buses, dirty as hell.
The protesters have also moved into the Ukrainian House (former Lenin Museum) – there are about 3,000 of them inside – they can sleep and eat there, and there are also doctors there in case someone needs help.
I didn't spend much time outside today, unfortunately. But I got to Maidan at the time Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Moroz and Kinakh were about to speak, and it was really cool to feel the energy of the crowd once again.
Yushchenko talked about the ugly decision of the Central Election Commission, and then they announced they were going to appeal it in the Supreme Court - though, knowing how dependent on the government the court is, it's not gonna be easy. Tymoshenko reminded the crowd that the Georgian revolution lasted three weeks, and that here it shouldn't take longer. (My concern is the weather - I can't imagine how it can possibly go for this long in such cold... But then again, most people here love winter, it's just me who always whines for half a year and dreams of Italy or Istanbul...)
For the second day, I see Mustafa Jemilev next to Yushchenko and the rest. He is the Crimean Tatar leader, the man I respect and admire tremendously, a former dissident and a longtime ally of Ukrainian pro-independence/democratic forces. But for some reason, he is not saying anything. I think they should let him - because the Crimean Tatars' return to Crimea was a wonderful thing in many respects. Someone's told me today that in Bahcisaray, they've recognized Yushchenko as the president, making the city a little island of normalcy on the otherwise politically stagnant peninsula (I have to check this info, though - I do believe it but I still want to check it, and then I'll write more).
I'm sure everyone's heard about Colin Powell's statement, and about the Pope's little speech in Ukrainian, and I wish I could be more efficient with posting updates on the news here, but I've been busy today, and tired, and it's all so overwhelming that I can't quite catch up with it all. I really hope I'll find a few hours to finally post the pictures from the past week. I haven't taken any tonight because it was snowing and so cold I couldn't make myself get my hands out of the pockets... I hate winter - and I really admire those brave people now out in the cold...
Thanks again for all your comments, and for reading this... This means so much to me.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
The Central Election Commission announced the official election results less than half an hour ago. They were showing the meeting live and it was such a shame.
The opposition representatives (there were over a dozen of them, but Katerynchuk, Zvarych, Khmara and Tanyuk are the only names I remember) stood in the corner, squeezed between the door and the TV cameras; all the chairs were taken by the pro-Yanukovych guys. Very humiliating treatment.
When Zvarych, Yushchenko's assistant (how do we say dovirena osoba in English?), wanted to sign the protocol on the results in the Foreign Voting District, he had to put the paper on the back of his colleague and write this way. It could not be more humiliating. At some point, someone from the opposition complained that one of the pro-Yanukovych thugs hit someone from the opposition "between the legs."
The results are the following:
30,511,289 people took part in the election
488,022 of the bulletins were cancelled
15,093,691 (49.46%) people voted for Yanukovych
14,222,289 (46.61%) people voted for Yushchenko
707,284 (2.31%) people voted against both candidates
Yanukovych supporters got up and began applauding when the commission signed the final protocol. They were also shouting: Yanukovych! Yanukovych! Yanukovych! None of their faces except one were recognizable to me: Grigoriy Surkis, president of Dynamo Kyiv football team, was the only one I know. They were also waving those blue flags of Yanukovych campaign.
They discussed a few other issues but I wasn't listening. The opposition was protesting loudly from their corner but the commission members went on with their business, ignoring the protests.
At the very end, the opposition AND some journalists were shouting very loudly: Hanba! (Shame!) and Yushchenko!
And that was it.
One of the journalists had tears in her eyes, another shook her head in disbelief.
Surkis was laughing loudly, not trying to conceal his joy; most of his other comrades were just smiling. One guy tried to attach a blue flag to a TV camera.
Channel 5 and Korrespondent.net report that supporters of Yanukovych are also setting up tents - across the street from the Cabinet of Ministers building. As of 2 am, there were 10 tents, but there'll be more.
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko are planning to take their supporters to Verkhovna Rada (very close to the CabMin) and the presidential administration building tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, I don't understand how confrontation can be avoided. Maybe those Yanukovych guys will be shocked by the numbers and determination of their opponents and will deem it more reasonable to switch sides - but that's not too likely...
At 3 am, the city's so loud you'd think it's daytime. In our backyard, there's always someone peeing - boys, not girls, of course, for it's too cold for a girl to pee outdoors now: cold and snowing. Our backyard has always been an awful dump, mainly because we're located right across the street from the Bessarabka Market - but tonight, somehow, I'm not mad at those who use us as a toilet. Many are probably on the way to or from Maidan Nezalezhnosti, and since I support their cause, I shouldn't complain: I'm sitting in my cozy, warm room, and they're out there in the cold.
Today was a very eventful day. I've just read somewhere that Mikhail Gorbachev condemned the government's attitude and said that "the Wall has fallen the second time" - and although I think that it would've been more appropriate for him to say that the Wall's fallen the third time (after all, his Wall fell as well, in August 1991), it doesn't really matter all that much: it's nice that he compared us to Berlin in those crucial times.
I spent some time at the rally by Verkhovna Rada, ran into friends there, and we walked down to Maidan after the parliamentary meeting was over. It ended roughly around the time Yushchenko swore himself in - I guess it was more like swearing on the Bible to be loyal to the Ukrainian people than swearing himself in as president - he knows the laws after all. One thing I do not understand is why he had his left hand, not right, on the Bible (this, at least, is how we saw it on TV).
When we approached Maidan, it began to snow - and it is snowing still. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko spoke at the rally, and then the crowd moved to the presidential administration building. By that time, I was already drinking tea after tea after tea at one of the bars nearby, but when I saw the footage of the riot police in full gear facing the protesters, my heart sank. Every once in while a journalist barged in and announced that, according to some very well-informed sources, the riot police were beating everyone up over there, or that the armored personnel vehicles (is that what they're called?) are approaching the city center - well, that didn't help me or anyone else to relax.
Those were all rumors, thank God. Later this evening, reports came in that the riot police are acting friendly and tolerant, and that they've declared their support for Yushchenko, and that they aren't embarrassed to put on some orange stuff on themselves. I assume it happened thanks to Yulia Tymoshenko - thanks to her charisma.
Speaking of charismatic politicians, the president of the Republic of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, is one. He spoke wonderfully - and in Ukrainian!!! - about the situation in Ukraine, and everyone who was in the bar started applauding when the footage of him was shown on Channel 5. It's the first anniversary of the bloodless revolution in Georgia, by the way, and for the past three days, there were always several Georgian flags at Maidan, in the midst of yellow-and-blue and orange ones.
There was also a football (soccer) game tonight, Dynamo Kyiv playing against Rome's Roma. We won, 2:0! (It's breaking my heart to think about the poor Italians having to play in such heavy snow, in such cold, in a country so hyped up, and at the stadium full of extremely hyped up fans. But I don't mean to say I'm not happy we won - I am very happy.)
There's so much more - but it's past 3 am and I still have to start and finish writing something else. Thank you all so much for reading this and for your wonderful comments - I'm very moved and very inspired now. Best of luck to you all!
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
The parliamentary meeting has just started; 191 deputies have registered; most or even all pro-Yanukovych people aren't there, nor are the Communists. Lytvyn, the speaker, allowed to broadcast the meeting live outside, where the crowd has gathered (at that point someone got up and left, leaving a blue (pro-Yanukovych) flag behind, and someone from the orange side, threw the blue flag over to the floor - I guess the Yanukovych people didn't want anyone outside to know what's being said). Lytvyn has also talked about the joint responsibility of the President, Cabinet of Ministers and the Parliament for the situation and its outcome, and said that it is amoral and criminal to pretend that nothing's going on (I'm sure he meant Kuchma and Yanukovych - they pretend to have a usual working day today)...
They'll spend a few hours talking - my father is taping it. So far, I'm hearing very good stuff from the Nasha Ukraina (Our Ukraine) bloc led by Yushchenko - we've won, but there were many violations, etc. Wonderful.
My cell phone and my camera refuse to work properly, and now the Blogger is having some problems... I couldn't post the previous post for a few hours, and it was the same last night... Very frustrating. And my Internet connection is so slow, I don't even want to think of posting all those photos that I have...
No new developments yet - nothing is clear yet about the parliament - a huge crowd is in front of it - and I'm on my way there as well.
You should've seen the crowd walking past our windows, along Khreshchatyk and towards the Central Election Commission... This is a wonderful time here in Kyiv.
I wanted to post this update from Ukrainska Pravda this past night, but Blogger didn't want to let me into my page... Here it is:
"The benches situation is explained in a 2 am story in Ukrainska Pravda. They are indeed dragging the benches over to near where the tents are, in order to protect themselves from violent intruders. According to the same story, part of Khreshchatyk isn't lit up (where we are, everything's as usual, but we're not right in the middle of it); there are about 200 tents over there and about 2,000 people staying in them; there're also about 1,000 people hanging out nearby - journalists and the locals, mainly (definitely no police there, ready to protect the citizens, okay?); some of the guys are asleep in the tents, despite freezing cold; and there're also about 1,000 people lining up at Institutska, awaiting the riot police storming of the tents."
Thank God, nothing violent happened during the night - though it wasn't a quiet night at all.
In the morning, another huge rally took place (150,000 people), and now there're about 10,000 by the Parliament (Verkhovna Rada), waiting for the rest to join them. It's very cold and windy again today - those people are true heroes.
One of the Kyiv universities (Kyiv Mohyla University) went on strike yesterday, but my alma mater (Kyiv Shevchenko University) didn't, until a few minutes ago, when the student protesters marched up there to have a rally right by the entrance. Somehow, it didn't surprise me at all that my university wasn't in the vanguard (the cult of plagiarism that some of my professors preached doesn't go well with being in the opposition) - but I'm glad there're enough decent people there.
The U.S. embassy staff (all except the ambassador) have announced their support for Yushchenko. Other countries' diplomats did the same. The Ukrainian embassy people in D.C. are also on Yushchenko's side - and they're now negotiating with their colleagues posted in other countries, so, hopefully, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be with the people, too.
Gazeta.ru has this wonderful headline this morning:
Yanukovych is Recognized Only by Putin
Yesterday, right after I posted an entry about Lviv City Council and left, Kyiv's mayor declared his support for Yushchenko. This is completely logical because most people in this city voted for Yushchenko, and the deputies we elected to the City Council have to listen to us (usually, though, it feels as if they were born and raised in the City Council building, and the corruption among them is something most people are taking for granted).
I have to run now but will write more later...
Something IS going on there, definitely. A few dozen cars with Yushchenko flags sticking out of their windows passed by honking furiously - from around the Bessarabka market, along Khreshchatyk, just one block before they turned up at Khmelnytskogo. The sound, actually, was so furious that if I were already asleep, I'd think it's an alarm clock and wake up screaming - maybe that's their goal, to wake us all up, to get us to join them. Man, but I'm not ready to go there all by myself - I'm nothing but a helpless girl, in a way - and I don't want to wake my parents up... (And I'm so sleepy... Which is so fucking selfish...)
Underneath our window on Khreshchatyk, I saw a bunch of guys, six or seven, all with orange ribbons and stuff, and they were pushing one of those very very very heavy benches lined up at the alley there. They dragged it away, towards where the barricades are. After they were gone, I suddenly realized that it was the only bench left standing there (there used to be quite a lot, I swear). As I said, those benches are terribly heavy and must be very useful for street riots...
I really hope those rumors/predictions about the police/thugs' attack at 3 am aren't true.
I've been writing this for about ten minutes, and it's sort of quiet right now...
We'll see, we'll hear...
I'm too exhausted to write now. Not because I was doing anything special or patriotic or revolutionary tonight - but just because I'm tired of not knowing or fearing the worst.
The rally at Maidan Nezalezhnosti was amazing - I've never seen so many people there, and I doubt anyone has. I'm also amazed and proud of how peaceful everyone was - peaceful and happy, yet very determined. There are over a hundred tents now near Maidan - and I really hope they're not gonna freeze this night. Tomorrow, there's gonna be a parliamentary session and everyone's waiting for it. Less than half an hor ago, at around 2 am, there was some commotion over there, mostly honking (I could hear from the balcony, since I live nearby), and now every once in a while I hear shouting, Yushchenko! Yushchenko! - but I can't make myself go outside again. There were rumors that the police are preparing to attack the tents around 3 am - but if that happened, the sound would be very different. The honking is normal - they do honk in solidarity as they turn from Khreshchatyk up Bohdana Khmelnytskogo St., passing the makeshift blockpost.
At some point, I walked up from Maidan to the Kuchma Administration building tonight. It's located within a five-minute walk from Maidan, and yet, it feels like a different world there. Quiet - as if the neighborhood is soundproof. You wouldn't guess anything's going on at Maidan if you're based there, not even when something of this scale is taking place - a few hundred thousand people rallying, in addition to a concert...
So I decided to take a picture of the administration building - it's fenced off (always, not just now), and there was some guy standing next to the entrance, and when I pointed the camera toward him, he ordered - yes, ordered - me not to photograph there. I got a blurry picture, regardless - but that's not the point. The point is, who the fuck is he to tell me, in Russian, what to do. I'm wearing some orange, of course, so there was some logic to his behavior, considering who he's with, but still...
Very close to the administration, there were two buses with commando-looking men in them, all dressed the same, in dark-blue jackets, brand new, with neat black collars made of artificial black fur, and in black military boots. They looked quite menacing, even though they didn't say a word to me, as I passed by, on my own and wearing orange. Those guys definitely represented some kind of special forces, but they didn't carry any distinguishing marks on their clothes, nor did they have any weapons visible. They just looked weirdly out of place so close to where hundreds of thousands peaceful people were demanding a fair election and listening to cool music. They weren't some thugs brought here to riot, they were probably there to guard Kuchma from the crowd, in case something went wrong - but the look of them was still disconcerting. And that guy's obnoxious order not to take pictures just reinforced this feeling.
I'll write more tommorow. Really. If something extraordinary happens at Maidan, I'll hear it - it'll wake me up. For now, it's a lot of young people freezing in the tents, and a bunch of them walking around, yelling Yushchenko! Yushchenko! - and I'm going to take a nap. Somehow I feel that I'm more positive during the day, and when it gets dark, I feel somewhat uneasy about everything.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Lviv City Council has recognized Yushchenko as the legitimate President of Ukraine and will report to him from now on. That's way cool. I hope Kyiv City Council does the same - the sooner, the better.
I had to spend some time at home, to recharge my camera - the battery keeps dying after slightly more than an hour of use and I can't replace it because I've no idea where they sell the battery I need here... I can't control the quality of my pictures, unfortunately, but I do have some nice ones from yesterday and today, and I hope to be able to post them later tonight.
I'm on my way back to Maidan Nezalezhnosti - reports say there're 100,000 people there now.
Many, many people still at the Independence Square. I heard a few tell each other how worried they were that no one would show up in the morning (I overslept and in one of my nightmares hardly anyone was at the rally). My mama went there around 9:30 am: says there were already twice as many people as last night, mainly men, but then women appeared, too, and students, and kids. Lots of people, which is very, very encouraging and inspiring. Everywhere, even on the subway, there are hundreds of people with something orange on them, or with Yushchenko's campaign flags.
Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Moroz and others spoke at the rally. Yushchenko said they'd be trying to convince the Central Election Commission to cancel the results in those voting districts where over 10% voted at home (normally, it's old people, but there're never as many of them) and over 4% voted at places other than where they're registered to vote (that's one of the easy ways to counterfeit the votes).
Yushchenko's face looks terrible - too swollen, but a woman told my mama that she'd seen him up close and he didn't look as horrible as he does on a TV screen.
National strike has been announced, and now Khreshchatyk is blocked off for traffic from the Independence Square to Bohdana Khmelnytskogo St., and tents have been set up right in the middle of the street. Not too many tents yet, but there'll be more. There're almost no police around - and the cops I've seen look pretty friendly and genuinely curious about what is being said around them.
The latest results:
Some 40,000 people at the Independence Square - Channel 5 is showing it live. (I'm on my way there...)
I can't get through to the Central Election Commission site, but Ukrainska Pravda is reporting that, as of 10:50 am, 93.2% of the votes have been counted; Yushchenko-46.91%, Yanukovych - 49.3%...
More later, inshallah...
I was tired and cold when I came home around midnight; now I'm just tired.
We voted, then we walked around for most of the day. After the polling stations closed, there was a pro-Yushchenko rally/concert at the Independence Square, and we stopped there twice, between going somewhere to get warm. The crowd was pretty huge, though not as huge as Nov. 6 - but it was Saturday, not Sunday, then, and it was a lot warmer, and that rally started around noon, not after 8 pm. Still, I've seen quite a lot of kids tonight, and just a few drunks, and people looked happy and decisive, despite the cold. And despite the uncertainty. What I didn't like was some of the music they played (too inferior to be inpiring) and some of the politicians they invited to speak (again, too inferior to be inspiring). (Or maybe I'm just too tired of it all and thus so cranky.)
Back home, I watched TV for a while. Channel 5 was too trustworthy, so I decided to check the other channels, those that exist solely to prop Yanukovych, in order to gain perspective. What people were saying on those other channels was so disgusting and distorted that I realized how disgusting it would be to return to this country if Yanukovych wins. And, possibly, unsafe. Strange that it occurred to me only now - perhaps because we're really close to finally finding out who our next president is going to be.
Channel 5 had a beautiful moment when Mykola Veresen, a renowned journalist and one of the hosts, was talking to Dmytro Korchynskyy, a Che Guevara-style politician, a presidential candidate who got 49,641 (0.17%) votes in the first round, a careful hypocrite who calls everyone to arms but stays home himself, an unsinkable piece of shit, a man whose hateful rhetoric is often wrongly ascribed to Yushchenko, to mess things up.
Anyway, Korchynskyy was saying this: he and his party are against Yushchenko, they are the true opposition, and it will be to them that we all should run to when Yushchenko gets elected and, half a year later, disappoints us with his pro-American ways. During this last tirade, Korchynskyy turned to Veresen, who was looking at him with obvious contempt.
That was a mistake no politician should ever make. Veresen let Korchynskyy finish, and then said, very calmly and with a shade of a smile: "Normally, it's the politicians who run to us, the TV, not vice versa."
I think it was so beautiful - one of those retorts that the person it's directed at has to take a minute to digest, and when the whole meaning of it sinks in, he/she goes numb and speechless, and has very few reasons left to go on living in general. Beautiful.
I don't want to write about the preliminary results yet - it's too early and I'm too tired. Just one thing: in my voting district, according to the Central Election Committee, 11,256 people (25.98%) voted for Yanukovych and 29,749 people (68.68%) voted for Yushchenko (64.7% of the votes have been counted so far). That's encouraging - and not surprising, because in the first round 40,978 people (56.37%) voted for Yushchenko and 13,381 (18.4%) voted for Yanukovych. More neighbors in the enemy camp than I would've ever wished for, but that's okay: they have the right to vote whichever way they like, and I have the right to consider them assholes.
Speaking about assholes, someone hacked the site of Obozrevatel, a pro-Yushchenko Internet publication, this afternoon. When I went to their page, there were only two lines there, black on white, in Russian:
ZABERU YA BULLETEN DOMOY,
HUY VAM A NE GOLOS MOY!
(A rough and unrhymed translation: "I'll take my bulletin home with me, you'll get a dick instead of my vote.")
Later, the site was restored.
It's almost 5 am now. Yushchenko has asked his supporters to gather at the Independence Square at 9 am. I'm not sure I'll make it. I'll try but there's a chance I'll oversleep...
The latest results:
65.64% of the vote counted
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Today's Washington Post has an interesting article: Funding Of Election Monitors A Concern. (Thanks for the link, Julie!)
Honest or not, election is a terribly expensive pastime...
Hundreds of U.S. and European monitors are traveling to Kiev to observe Sunday's runoff, including some funded by the U.S. government through the State Department and the Agency for International Development (USAID). Together, they have dispersed $7.9 million to help Ukrainian and American pro-democracy groups monitor the elections and $13. 7 million for "activities related to the presidential election."
One of my best friends works at a Kyiv museum for a salary of approximately $50 a month. I've known quite a few people who couldn't dream of ever making more than $400 a month in this country. Please trust me, they are all educated, hard-working people - and they aren't some crazy exception in an otherwise rich country.
So it's quite mind-boggling to read about "a group of Democratic former congressmen" who came to Ukraine to observe the first round of the election and will most likely be here tomorrow, observing the second round and receiving $500 a day from "a Washington-based lobbyist who is a registered representative of the pro-Russian candidate in the race, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych."
Robert M. Carr, an 18-year Democratic House veteran from Michigan" said this about the financial side of his involvement in the democratic process in Ukraine: "They didn't buy my judgment; they bought my time to reach a judgment.
In an e-mail sent last week to former congressmen, Carr solicited members for a new delegation to monitor the runoff election. He said in the note that all expenses would be paid for a five-day trip, including business-class airfare and "the best possible hotel accommodations."
"In addition, a $500.00 per day stipend will be earned," he wrote. He did not mention the source of the funds.
As for my Kuchma Administration friend - the one I felt I couldn't stand and told him so last Saturday - it's his birthday today. I called him, wished him all the best and explained myself:
"I'm not sure I mean this as an apology, but I did have a bad aftertaste this whole week, and I do realize I acted impulsively, even though I meant every word I said then."
He told me he understood and invited me to his birthday party. But, as I wrote earlier, I'm not ready yet to be friends with him again.
This episode with my friend reminds me of what happened between my father and his best childhood friend sometime around 1990.
It was the time of anti-Communist, pro-independence rallies; the time when they began using our current flag, blue-and-yellow, replacing the old Soviet Ukrainian one, red-and-blue; the time when I was skipping my high school classes to mingle with the crowd supporting the hungerstriking students at what used to be October Revolution Square and is now Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti).
At that time, they also stopped arresting people for bootlegging foreign films, and it became possible to show them to relatively large audiences totally legally and even get paid for it. So one evening, my parents and my father's old friend went to one of those "video salons" whose main features were a VCR, a medium-sized screen or just a regular TV set, and a voiceover translation read by one ubiquitous guy, always the same. When I asked today what they were watching that evening, my mama couldn't remember but my father did - Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
On their way back home, they didn't discuss the movie. They talked politics. My mother was saying that the Communist Party bosses had been bullshitting everyone for too long and didn't deserve their wealth and comfortable lifestyles. My father's friend replied that it was actually possible to achieve the affluence of the party bosses: one just had to work really hard and be patient. My mama laughed loudly at this. Her irreverence angered my father's friend and he cursed mama as hard as he could. That was an unacceptably rude and very unexpected, uncommon reaction, and my father demanded that his friend apologize to mama. He refused, and my father had no other choice but to discontinue this old friendship.
Five or six years later, though, they made it up. My father's friend comes to our place regularly now, to watch football with my father, and my mama always makes tea for the two of them. My father's friend doesn't like Communists anymore; his niece and nephew are both married to French citizens and live in France; and in this election, he is voting for Yushchenko.
I've just realized that I met my Kuchma Administration friend around the same time my mother's dissident spirit maddened my father's friend: it was still five years before Kuchma became our president. I don't regret having called my friend on his birthday today, just a week after I told him to go to hell and just one day before the crucial election: I'm somewhat unprincipled, I guess, but if that makes me a friendlier, more peaceful person, why not? Moreover, I know for sure that neither my friend nor I will ever consider voting for the Communists - and that's a good beginning.
I've heard the following prognosis again today: the election takes place, one of the candidates gets elected with just a slight advantage over his opponent, then the observers announce that there've been way too many violations, the results get cancelled and the new election is scheduled for spring 2005 - Yushchenko can't run for the second time, while Kuchma is free to do whatever he wants, which, most likely, would be to push someone truly loyal to him into power, someone we've heard very little or nothing of yet.
Today, someone was talking about this scenario on Channel 5; I also heard about it before the first round, and in the past three weeks, and I read about it in a few papers, and I even remember my friend at the Kuchma Administration talk about it.
If nothing else, this would be such an unforgivable waste of money.
The weather is horrible. It's snowing and is very very windy. A few days ago, it snowed for the first time this fall, but the snow melted right away. Now it looks like there'll only be more and more of it. But it's not as cold now as it was around this time in 1998: on Nov. 19, the temperature was -17 degrees Celcius (I remember it because it's Mishah's birthday).
I hate winter. I don't understand why I was not born somewhere in Italy. I don't understand why we can't choose our birthplaces.
Yanukovych's Friday night address on Channel 1 (UT-1) started with a flop: for one minute (60 seconds) there was either no picture but some sound, or no sound but some picture, or the sound of Yanukovych with a wrong picture, or the picture of Yanukovych opening his mouth - with no sound coming out of it... That was beautiful. My papa has taped it. Whether it was intentional or not, no one knows. But they'll have to fire some people on UT-1, no matter what, at least for a while, until Yanukovych loses the election. Maybe they were sending out a signal - we aren't as bad, as subservient to the government as you think we are, look, here we're fucking it all up for him, etc. Maybe not. Maybe it was an unintentional error made by some guy responsible for the technical aspect of it all. But it was beautiful nevertheless.
After half an hour of bullshit, there came a huge disappointment: Andriy Shevchenko, our football (soccer) superstar, endorsed Yanukovych in a pre-recorded statement on UT-1. That was disgusting and disappointing and confusing: Sheva is bigger than life; he plays for Milan and lives in Italy, his wife is American and they've just had a baby boy, he's rich, loved and famous not just here but in Italy as well - so no one can really force him to declare his sympathy for a presidential candidate who sucks big time... And yet, it's hard to believe he did it voluntarily. Oh well - shit happens. Fuck Sheva.
On the other hand, the Klitschko brothers, our wonderful boxers, announced their support for Yushchenko a few days ago - that's way cool.
And my friend told me about how The Simpsons are being translated here, into Ukrainian: they manage to squeeze in some pretty dissident stuff. It would make for an awesome story, and I hope my friend will write one, and then I'll post a link!
Friday, November 19, 2004
There's one issue I'm really tired of: the language issue as it relates to Ukraine. A non-issue, if you ask me, and I'll write about it now only because I haven't yet said anything about it here, on this blog.
So my friend wrote (on Daily Kos) that "the two halves of Ukraine don't even speak the same language." And The Russian Dilettante wrote this in a recent post about Ukraine:
Were I a citizen of Ukraine, I would vote for Yuschenko, that's for sure -- like most educated young and young-ish Ukrainians. As I see it from up North, Yusch's problem is that Western Ukraine supports him all too ardently. The West is the most economically backward, the most rabidly chauvinistic and anti-Russian bit of Ukraine that almost managed to hijack the Ukrainian nationalist cause without a slightest right to represent all of the country.
That scares moderate and/or Russophone and/or bilingual Ukrainians. (Not to mention the West is Uniate while most of Ukraine is nominally Orthodox.) If Western Ukraine belonged to Poland now as it did before 1939 and Molotov--Ribbentrop, Yuschenko would have two or three million votes less there but easily five more in the center and East of the country.
For quite a while, Yushchenko has been trying hard to get rid of this perception of Ukraine as a divided country: very sweet of him, I guess. He keeps repeating that Putin never addresses people from Russia's Western regions as 'zapadnorossiyane' (West Russians) and those from the East as 'vostochnorossiyane' (East Russians) - he just calls them all 'rossiyane' (Russians). A similar approach should work perfectly well here in Ukraine, too.
Regarding the language issue, he said this in an interview (in Russian) with Gazeta.ru in September:
Unfortunately, the current government hasn't been able to form a clear policy on Ukrainian, Russian or other languages. Our current prime minister [Yanukovych] writes with mistakes in both Russian and Ukrainian. But on the eve of every election, Ukrainian politicians begin to exploit the language issue. Leonid Kuchma used this slogan when he was running for president in 1994: "I'll make Russian the second official state language." So what? Who remembers this promise now?
As for my view on this, I always emphasize that in a democratic state there should be created the conditions for development of various cultural traditions, and this includes the use of different languages. Citizens of any European country are fluent in three or four languages, and we are still being overly dramatic trying to decide in which language we should communicate - in Russian or in Ukrainian? As a result, we speak Russian with mistakes and need a dictionary to speak Ukrainian.
Yushchenko's Ukrainian isn't perfect, by the way, and I've only noticed it at the big rally Nov. 6 (before that, I hadn't bothered to pay attention). Or perhaps the Ukrainian language that Yushchenko speaks is typical of someone who was raised in Eastern Ukraine, not Lviv (he keeps reminding us that he was born in a village 40 km from the Russian border, as close as it gets). The thing is, everyone understands both Ukrainian and Russian in this country, and most people speak either language with regional accents.
I have to admit that I also used to think that Yushchenko was not neutral ethnically, that he was more Ukrainian, so to say, than Kuchma and many other politicians. Yulia Tymoshenko, on the other hand, lacked this ethnic/regional coloring, and I'm really glad she's on Yushchenko's team. (Tymoshenko is also a very smart and good-looking woman, which is a kind of an asset if you're a politician. And another reason it's totally cool she's with Yushchenko is because our opposition is united, much like the Georgian opposition was last year, and unlike the Russian opposition: the Georgians won, the Russians bickered until they lost.)
(I have to digress now and say a few words about Yulia Tymoshenko: I used to say, half seriously, that if she ran, I'd vote for her: not because I believe she could bring about major changes - no one can right away - but because she'd be so so so good for the image of Ukraine - like Benazir Bhutto was for Pakistan. How many people outside of Pakistan knew about Benazir's corruption? Very few. And how many people associated Pakistan with the jihadis and a military dictatorship during Benazir's rule? Again, very few. Most were charmed with her, a brave and beautiful woman, a true democrat, blah blah blah, and Pakistan was considered a better country than what it is now. The same with Tymoshenko: if she became our president, the whole world would be sort of breathless, in love with her and, possibly, with all of us. Wouldn't it be nice.)
I have mixed feelings about The Russian Dilettante's post. On the one hand, I'm grateful to him for one of his perceptions of Yushchenko's electorate: "most educated young and young-ish Ukrainians." I consider myself one of those. But I think it's a contradiction to follow it up with a disclaimer: "Western Ukraine supports [Yushchenko] all too ardently." This other perception of half the country as "the most rabidly chauvinistic and anti-Russian bit of Ukraine" is, at best, a generalization. It's like saying that the majority of Russians who voted for Putin in March this year and for his party last year are rabid chauvinists because they didn't want to see the non-Russian opposition leaders ruling their country: after all, Irina Khakamada is half-Japanese, Boris Nemtsov is a Jew and Grigoriy Yavlinsky is a Jew originally from Lviv, Western Ukraine. Maybe this is indeed part of the reason Putin, a Russian, is so popular in his country, but it's still not as simple as that. Nor is it as simple in Ukraine.
Also, according to the Central Election Commission, Yushchenko received more votes than Yanukovych not just in West Ukrainian regions but also in Kyiv and Kyiv region, Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Poltava, Kirovohrad and Sumy regions - Eastern Ukraine. It's either confusing or quite telling, depending on where you're looking at it from.
The Russian Dilettante's conclusion that "moderate and/or Russophone and/or bilingual Ukrainians" are scared of those West Ukrainian chauvinists doesn't agree with me on a personal level. Russian is my first language; my English is better than my Ukrainian; I've tried to study German, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Armenian, Urdu, Turkish, Latin, Romanian, French and maybe something else as well - more or less unsuccessfully; my favorite cities in Ukraine, besides Kyiv, are Lviv (West) and Odesa (South), and my least favorite cities are Luhansk and Donetsk (East, both) - oh, and I'm totally in love with Uzhgorod, a tiny town close to Hungarian and Slovak border (West), where people speak every language possible, not just Russian and Ukrainian. What's my point here? My parents and I speak Russian at home; my husband and I speak a mix of Russian, English and Ukrainian, depending on the mood we're in; I have friends who speak Ukrainian, and I have friends who speak Russian, and I have friends who speak English - and we understand each other perfectly. I am voting for Yushchenko not because I want us "Russophones" or us "bilinguals" to vanish or something. I vote for Yushchenko because, first, I respect him and, second, because I'll be terribly ashamed if Yanukovych becomes our president. I know that of those 11 million people who supported Yushchenko in the first round many have a similar view, if not the same (though with many I would probably not want to be friends, no matter who they vote for, but that's life).
Finally, the reason I'm so sick and tired of this languages issue is because I really believe that languages shouldn't be politicised this much. Languages are for reading, for making friends, for communicating. Languages are one of the most enjoyable things in life. Sometimes I wonder: would it be easier if Ukraine had 400 languages to choose from, like India? (Which reminds me - I should find out how many languages there are in Russia. Must be over a hundred.)
Thursday, November 18, 2004
I guess I'm just terribly nervous about the upcoming election. Not even nervous but getting too impatient to concentrate on writing.
In the past week, I've only written a few emails, all related to the election. One of my friends thought the debate on Monday was a disaster for Yushchenko (because he picked in his nose, spoke in long sentences and didn't look straight into the camera) - and I thought it wasn't a disaster (because Yanukovych said too many lies, and was dorky and Soviet in general, and everyone understood this). Another friend, among other things, wrote that "the two halves of Ukraine don't even speak the same language" - which is such a generalization.
Anyway, Yushchenko is speaking on Ukrainian Channel 1 in a few minutes, and I gotta run to the other room to catch it. All I wanted to say is I can't concentrate on anything because of all this politics.
P.S. I've talked my mama into hanging a piece of orange cloth out on our balcony today, in addition to the windchimes made of orange feathers that we already have there.
P.P.S. What's kind of sad is that this past Saturday I told my friend who works at Kuchma's administration and votes against all that I didn't want to see him again, that I was sick of his hypocrisy. I don't think I was very rational when I said it. Impulsive. I did mean it - and I didn't. But I'm not ready yet to make it up with him.
This is a totally meaningless post: so much is going on everywhere - in Ukraine, in Russia, in Iraq, in the States, here in our apartment between the two cats, in the book I'm reading - and I don't feel like saying anything. I wish I could think in writing, I wish I could connect my head to the computer and let all my thoughts flow directly here, or into some electronic depository first, so that I could edit the bullshit out and then post the rest. I also wish I had a good camera implanted into my eye - there're so many pictures I'm missing, either because I'm too shy to get the camera out of my bag, or because I'm not fast enough...
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Kosya was nervous all day - whenever I tried to approach him, he'd hiss at me in this wild, wild way, not typical of him at all. I got really tired of it at some point and, since the young cat (still nameless) was doing everything to enter the room where Kosya was, I decided to let him in and see what'd happen. He tried to hunt Kosya's tail at first, then made a few friendly, curious attempts to come close - but Kosya was hissing non-stop, perhaps imagining that he was being attacked by some huge beast. But when the young one lay still (extremely close to Kosya), Kosya was relatively calm and acted as if he was alone in the room.
By the end of the evening, Kosya must have realized that whatever this other creature was, it didn't act too aggressively and wasn't dangerous, so he decided to find out more about it. He jumped off the couch, did a little loud purr and a meow, and walked in the direction of the young one. But when they were right next to each other, the young one jumped up and hit Kosya softly in the face. That was so disappointing - Kosya was being friendly now, but the young one didn't trust him anymore.
When mama took the young one with her for the night, Kosya napped very briefly and then went looking around again, with that same friendly purr and meow. He didn't find anything but, eventually, reached the bathroom: after examining his toilet, he decided he didn't want to use it anymore, as it smelled of the other cat. I had to spend quite a while, trying to convince him to change his mind, and finally he did.
I'm getting very upset when Kosya's cranky because it reminds me of the time when he himself was a little intruder, 12 years ago, and our first cat, Katsosha, was very distressed and displeased. Katsosha died at the age of 16, on Nov. 23, 1993, and I'm still grieving his death, because I grew up with him (we brought him from the Republic of Georgia in 1977, when I was 3) and he was like a human being. I wasn't in Ukraine when he died. And even though Kosya is the most precious cat in the world now, I still believe that if it hadn't been for him, Katsosha would've lived a few years longer. So now it all reminds me of that time, only Kosya has taken Katsosha's place.
We would really like for the young one to stay - but it would depend on whether he and Kosya become friends.
Kosya has a hobby: the toilet we humans are using. He can sit near it for hours, waiting till someone comes in and flushes it for him. Since he's blind, he's probably drawn by the sound of the water and an occasional splash that ends up on his paw - I'm sure he doesn't even realize it's water; he probably imagines it as a kind of a mouse or a bird, and is trying to catch it. (A toilet in this part of the world is different from its US counterpart: it flushes like a waterfall, not like a vortex, and is thus a lot more fun for my silly blind cat.)
Tonight, Kosya spent over an hour by the toilet - and I was running from my room to flush the water for him all this time, every three minutes or so. I was doing it because it was making Kosya happy and careless. Whenever I tried to take him to my room, he was beginning to hiss, and that was breaking my heart. So I helped him play with the toilet until I felt he was getting exhausted; then I dragged him away to my room, despite his protests.
Cat people are crazy.
Monday, November 15, 2004
But Yanukovych does deserve some credit for not bringing a gun or a knife to the studio, for not ordering his bodyguards to get rid of Yushchenko right there and right then: despite having been criticized harshly on the country's primary TV channel - the channel everyone has access to and which is NEVER critical of the government - Yanukovych didn't even throw a glass of water at his opponent, as Vladimir Zhirinovsky did once during a live show with Boris Nemtsov. And it's really funny to read about the events in Gaza now - those people can't even bury Arafat peacefully (just imagine what their debates would be like)...
Today, for the first time ever, we've had TV debates between the presidential candidates. (In Russia, they did have debates this year as well - but Putin refused to take part, and then won the election.)
Yushchenko's performance was solid and impressive; he spoke with ease and was quick to come up with valid, specific counterarguments. He had some very interesting stats regarding the work of the current government (headed by Yanukovych, the other presidential candidate) - I'll cite them here when I find the debates' transcripts.
Yanukovych was making an effort to smile as some likable, average guy, but his spite toward Yushchenko was obvious - beneath that smile and in most of his statements. He chose a retrospective approach, blaming Yushchenko for Ukraine's problems most of the time and emphasizing more than once that for most of the 13 years since independence, Ukraine has been in a miserable condition - and the way he said it made me suspect he didn't believe independence was a good idea at all.
I'm sure there were others, but the most spectacular slip that Yanukovych made during the debates was when he said he wanted the citizens of Ukraine to feel unsafe, pochuvaty sebe v nebezpetsi - and the host corrected him, saying, "Viktor Fedorovych, you meant to say u bezpetsi, safe." Too stupid to be true, too true to be funny.
According to UNESCO, half of the world's 6,000 languages "occur in only eight countries: Papua New Guinea (832), Indonesia (731), Nigeria (515), India (400), Mexico (295), Cameroon (286), Australia (268) and Brazil (234)."
And the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has the translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into over 300 languages.
It's all so overwhelming, and I really wish I could learn all of these languages - every single one of them...
I've just finished reading Chingiz Aitmatov's The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years - a wonderful novel.
It's a story of a man who lives and works at a God-forgotten railway junction in Kazakhstan's region of Sary-Ozek, in the Stalin years and afterwards - a story of how one man's sense of honor and dignity can make a difference at a time when the individual is worthless, sacrificed for the sake of the faceless collective.
The novel was published in 1980 - except for one chapter, detailing torture and the subsequent death of one of the characters in 1953, an innocent victim of the monstrous regime. Such a straightforward approach to the subject was unlikely to please the censors, and Aitmatov kept the chapter in the drawer until 1990. I'm not sure whether the English translation includes this chapter - my 1989 Russian-language edition doesn't.
There was one thing that almost forced me to quit reading: I was really enjoying the story set in rural Kazakhstan when, all of a sudden, it was interrupted with science fiction. The inserts about the peaceful, perfect aliens coming into contact with the warring, imperfect humans read more like a variation of socialist realism than science fiction: scientific realism or socialist science fiction, a pamphlet about the evils of the Cold War, very out of place and annoying. But, knowing the extent to which everyone was fed up with the insipid socialist realism content and style at the time this novel (about a working-class man) was written, mixing genres like this and spicing it up with a silly alien story shouldn't seem too unreasonable. In any case, this absurd distraction is tiny and can be easily ignored.
The best-known part of the book is the one that retells a Turkic legend about mankurts: slaves who were tortured with extreme cruelty until they lost their memory, turning into mindlessly obedient human robots. Although I myself did not know the term mankurt before I read the book, I've been told that it was very popular during perestroika - and is still used in Central Asia, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, to define a person who doesn't remember his roots and history. (In Ukraine, you'd hear the word janissaries a lot more often than mankurts, though.)
The novel has provided me with an almost physical understanding of how it was possible for the majority of the Soviet citizens NOT to know the horrifying scale of the atrocities taking place in the name of Stalin: fighting for your life on a daily basis in the middle of nowhere, in the desert, doesn't leave you any time to try to learn about what's going on elsewhere, makes you content with the lies you're being fed, makes you believe those lies with very few reservations.
The novel has also confirmed to me the fact that, in a way, Stalin was merely a portrait on the wall, and that most of the millions of the atrocities done in his name started in a very mundane way, with someone telling on someone else - neighbors telling on neighbors, co-workers on co-workers, relatives on relatives, etc. Ourselves vs. ourselves. (My favorite explanation of how this mechanism worked is Yuri Dombrovsky's The Keeper of Antiquities and The Faculty of Useless Knowledge: the best writing about the horrors of 1937.)
Aitmatov's novel is unforgettable, and I'll probably translate a few of my favorite passages and post them here later. Also, I look forward to starting his other novel tomorrow, The Place of the Skull.