Saturday, November 27, 2004

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.

1 comment:

  1. Apologies if this is not directly related to the Times or Khreshchatyk (although, indirectly through your site and the Times', I am now seeing a real-time view of Maidan).

    I just want to say that it is heartening to see how freedom-loving Ukrainians are persevering in the struggle to ensure that votes are counted properly and that fraud of any kind or extent will never be tolerated.

    I am cheered especially since I am only painfully aware that such inspiring scenes of courage and sacrifice as we see in the news daily cannot ever take place here in the city where I live: Moscow. Nor in any Russian city, for that matter. I love Russian people and the country, but it is nothing short of depressing to see the passive acceptance of ordinary citizens of the establishment's suppression of their political and economic rights. And it is not just the government at fault; with mainstream media sheepishly acceding to everything the Kremlin tells it to report, people have neither any access to independent information nor the inquisitiveness (borne out of years of being fed an official line) to seek it elsewhere.

    One of my Ukrainian friends remarked the other day how the Russian media has been mouthing only what amounts to pro-Yanukovych propaganda in its coverage of the current crisis. My Russian is very poor, but one doesn't have to be fluent to get the same idea from TV. I thus find Ukrainian media all the more heroic then for speaking out against being party to any attempt at whitewashing the election results.

    All that's happening now reminds me of our own struggles in my home country, the Philippines. Personally I have been part of two non-violent successful struggles to fight against fraudulent elections and disgustingly corrupt practices by our own politicians.

    The first took place in 1986. Then I was even younger than your friend Tanya, now a student at Taras Shchevchenko University. My friends and I were still in high school at 16 or 17, just a month away from finishing. If Americans have either the JFK assassination or 9/11 as generation-defining events, Filipino thirtysomethings and over have 22 February 1986 as our "when were you on that day?" moment. At the time, we had been at a stalemate for almost two weeks, with the government of dictator Ferdinand Marcos refusing to heed opposition demands led by the iconic Corazon Aquino for a recount. Aquino, backed by Roman Catholic prelate Cardinal Jaime Sin, announced a few days earlier a nationwide boycott of companies backing the regime (men had reluctantly to swear off drinking San Miguel beer and kids, Coca-Cola) and the start of a non-violent civil disobedience campaign patterned after Gandhi's. At that time, there were very few models to follow and each day history, as it seemed to us, was being made on the fly.

    Although the Yellow Coalition backing Aquino managed to keep tensions up for weeks following the oft-violent and dirty 7 February polls, no one knew precisely how the new phase in protest could actually force Marcos out. He had been in power for 20 years, and his grip on security forces was solid. We knew no other leader; and leaders for life were not so atypical in our part of the world. Still quite a number of Filipinos ? granted, the older generation and typically rural-dwelling who had little or no access to balanced information ? believed him to be a Godsend and genius, and thus destined to be president for as long as he saw fit. Filipino machismo also couldn't accept Aquino, a supposed know-nothing widow of martyred opposition leader Benigno who never held any administrative post apart from being mother of four children, to be the next president.

    Despite the odds, we knew the unknown and uncertain future was preferable to going back to the known and decayed past. We reasoned, with the na?et of the idealist, that if the international community supported us, with international media witnessing everything, how could we fail? Surely the regime would not hold a gun against our head and pull the trigger with so many witnesses standing by? It would be at best a Pyrrhic victory that would only serve to delegitimize even more a failing regime.

    With these troubled thoughts we headed toward the start of the third week of standoff. Aquino, trying to rally as many parts of the country as possible to the cause, was now in Cebu in central Philippines, drawing humongous crowds eager to hear how they should go about this disobedience campaign. (After all, we needed to be taught the finer points of civil protest. It doesn't really come with a rulebook.) Then, as my family was finishing a late dinner on the evening of the 22nd, we heard an impassioned appeal on the radio from the Cardinal and then Butz Aquino, the ex-actor brother of the assassinated senator and by then himself a credible opposition figure, for masses of people to go to the military and police headquarters in the center of the city to protect forces that had just then declared a mutiny. If unarmed and defenseless people barricaded the gates and put themselves between soldiers and tanks now, surely, on their way to crush the nascent rebellion, then perhaps the lives of the mutineers would be spared. That was the spark that lit the tentative tenders of the final phase of revolt.

    Without questioning, we called friends and relatives, prepared provisions to stay the night in the streets and hurled ourselves as far as our car and later our feet could take us to the now crowded avenue between the two headquarters (fittingly enough, called the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue ? Epiphany of the Saints). And there we held, arm-in-arm, taking turns, singing, crying, laughing, cheering, sharing and dancing, for the next three nights. It was like a fiesta, where so much love went around. All the same, we knew what it meant to be at demonstrations; we especially in Manila were no strangers or newcomers. In fact, since Senator Aquino was assassinated in 21 August 1983, we learned the science of protest on the streets with each gathering crowd. My family, formerly passionate in its support for the regime, was roused from its blind support by the senseless murder of Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Marcos' main rival. And so, in those cool nights of February, we were more than aware that we were no longer in the minors. This was for real, and people might very well die. Still, we threw ourselves bodily into our cause. Fortunately no tanks did come to visit the two or three sectors we posted ourselves at. The closest we got to gunfights was when my father took my brothers and me to oppose an attempt by government troops to take over a radio station that had declared itself pro-opposition. Most of the fighting took place inside the TV compound: we discovered we were way in over our heads. Fortunately, pro-opposition soldiers managed to hold off. One uncle, however, found himself four-deep in a crowd trying to push back an armored personnel carrier (APC, as we learned to call them with the false flourish of pundits) from advancing to one of the camps.

    We were lucky, in many ways: the US military, then permanently based in central Luzon, flew "persuasion flights" to keep government planes from taking to the sky to bomb the revolting camps; Marcos, dramatically on TV, rejected a proposal by his Chief of Staff to rush the camps, something that would most certainly have caused bloodshed; and the media kept our cause alive in the world's living rooms and kitchens with the first known saturation coverage of a global crisis. Thus our struggle had a happy ending. On 25 February, Marcos was spirited away on a US Army helicopter first to Clark Base and then off to Hawaii, where he spent his exile until he died in 1989.

    Our second, a more controversial experience, took place in January 2001, when millions of citizens, who could no longer take the blatant corruption and incompetence of the Estrada administration, exploded in peaceful but unrelenting street protests. Granted, Estrada was the legitimately elected president. But for most of the two and a half years he was in office, he gambled and drank our fortunes away, let his cronies take over business or ?win? lucrative contracts without competition. We were seeing our future being purloined just yet again and we were not going to stand up for it. There had been a number of provocations until we acted, but the massive attempt at cover-up of major corrupt activities was the final straw that triggered popular indignation and fury that eventually swept the regime away in favor of another woman president.

    In that sense, we Filipinos feel profoundly for your cause. Indeed we see many parallels: massive cheating by a corrupt regime; an ensuring stalemate; attempts by Western countries to intervene; international media coverage; and, least of all, our yellow being your orange. But of course, one can only draw so many analogies. For one, we did not have to stand courageously in the streets braving the elements. Also, we did not have to contend with a powerful neighbor propping up the administration.

    But in the end there is no backing down. It's been done before. There have been examples of worthy protests prior to yours, Georgia in 2003 and Serbia in 2000 being the successful ones, Myanmar in 1988 and China in 1989 being the unsuccessful ones. In our case, we thought we were the first (we really weren't: Portugal's Carnation Revolution predated ours by 11 years). And with the Supreme Court decision and the Parliament's declaration, you indubitably have momentum.

    I was just in Kiev in July and was very impressed not just by the city, but also by the warm people. Ukraine and its people are free: they have the power and the right to chart the country's destiny ? it is no one else's. More than anything it should encourage everyone that their cause is right and just. I can only pray that everything holds until justice prevails.

    One link I followed led me to a commentary by BBC's Damian Grammaticas (vaguely sounds like same fellow who cast aspersions on the wisdom of our second upheaval in 2001 -- in fact the Philippines is mentioned). His news was encouraging: he said the protests were approaching critical mass. Here is a quote:

    "The way the crowds build until they reach a critical mass, so large that almost nothing can stop them. The mass senses it has enough power to face down the state. You can feel it in the air.

    "In Kiev on Friday that tipping point had almost been reached. I watched as squads of police cadets marched down the hill in double-quick time to join the protest. People lining the pavements greeted them with cheers."

    The rest of it is here:

    Let me end by paraphrasing Ninoy Aquino: "Hindi kayo nag-iisa" (You are not alone)