A U.S. friend made the following observation a few days ago:
Yushchenko poisoned with dioxin! Election rigged - sounds more like a novel than real life...
This got me thinking: am I surprised about the rigged election? No. Am I surprised about the poisoning? No. I am shocked but not surprised - every time I see Yushchenko's gray face on TV, it's breaking my heart, but I know we have to be grateful that he's alive. Now that we know it was dioxin, I don't want to hear any more about it - it hurts too much to know. When the poisoning was still not official, there was a "bad sushi" explanation - but who believed it?
Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that the evil campaign and the rigged election were something most of us had been expecting.
The real surprise were the people - so many of them, so well-organized, non-violent, decisive. Also, the Supreme Court's decision was a huge surprise - that the judges have managed to withstand the pressure. What also seems like the stuff of fiction is that, despite all the violations, Yanukovych has been given another chance and may still become president. He won't - but it's weird to know that such a possibility still exists.
Somehow, it all reminds me of Salman Rushdie's 1983 novel, Shame - the novel about Pakistan:
The country in this story is not Pakistan, or not quite. There are two countries, real and fictional, occupying the same space, or almost the same space. My story, my fictional country exist, like myself, at a slight angle to reality. I have found this off-centring to be necessary; but its value is, of course, open to debate. My view is that I am not writing only about Pakistan.
My view is that the book is also a little bit about Ukraine - or that Pakistan is like Ukraine in many ways. This little passage helps me understand how someone can look at what's going on here as if it's a novel: I've never been good at abstract thinking myself, but if I can read about Pakistan and pretend it's fiction, why can't the same principle apply to Ukraine?
So here's some more about the 1970 general elections in Pakistan - West Pakistan and what used to be East Pakistan and is now Bangladesh - or not quite, from Salman Rushdie:
The elections which brought Iskander Harappa to power were not (it must be said) as straightforward as I have made them sound. As how could they be, in that country divided into two Wings a thousand miles apart, that fantastic bird of a place, two Wings without a body, sundered by the land-mass of its greatest foe, joined by nothing but God ... she remembers that first day, the thunderous crowds around the polling stations. O confusion of people who have lived too long under military rule, who have forgotten the simplest things about democracy! Large numbers of men and women were swept away by the oceans of bewilderment, unable to locate ballot-boxes or even ballots, and failed to cast their votes. Others, stronger swimmers in those seas, succeeded in expressing their preferences twelve or thirteen times. Popular Front workers, distressed by the general lack of electoral decorum, made heroic attempts to save the day. Those few urban constituencies making returns incompatible with the West-Wing-wide polling pattern were visited at night by groups of enthusiastic party members, who helped the returning officers to make a recount. Matters were much clarified in this way. Outside the errant polling stations large numbers of democrats assembled, many holding burning brands above their heads in the hope of shedding new light on the count. Dawn light flamed in the streets, while the crowds chanted loudly, rhythmically, spurring on the returning officers in their labours. And by morning the people's will had been expressed, and Chairman Isky had won a huge and absolute majority of the West Wing's seats in the new National Assembly. Rough justice, Arjumand remembers, but justice all the same.
The real trouble, however, started over in the East Wing, that festering swamp. Populated by whom? - O, savages, breeding endlessly, jungle-bunnies good for nothing but growing jute and rice, knifing each other, cultivating traitors in their paddies. Perfidy of the East: proved by the Popular Front's failure to win a single seat there, while the riff-raff of the People's League, a regional party of bourgeois malcontents led by the well-known incompetent Sheikh Bismillah, gained so overwhelming a victory that they ended up with more Assembly seats than Harappa had won in the West. Give people democracy and look what they do with it. The West in a state of shock, the sound of one Wing flapping, beset by the appalling notion of surrendering the government to a party of swamp aborigens, little dark men with their unpronounceable language of distorted vowels and slurred consonants; perhaps not foreigners exactly, but aliens without a doubt. President Shaggy Dog, sorrowing, dispatched an enormous Army to restore a sense of proportion in the East.
Iskander Harappa is, of course, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; Arjumand is his daughter, Benazir. Or not quite: it's a novel, not real life, sort of. Fiction, not history.
In any case, though, if Pakistan could provide Salman Rushdie with so much material, Ukraine's got some potential, too.