January 28, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: Election Observers: Oregon Live: PCV Breanne Oswill writes about the Elections in Ukraine

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ukraine: Peace Corps Ukraine : The Peace Corps in the Ukraine: January 28, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: Election Observers: Oregon Live: PCV Breanne Oswill writes about the Elections in Ukraine

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PCV Breanne Oswill writes about the Elections in Ukraine

PCV Breanne Oswill writes about the Elections in Ukraine

PCV Breanne Oswill writes about the Elections in Ukraine

IN MY OPINION Breanne Oswill
Friday, January 28, 2005

Standing on the wrong side of the revolution

B efore I'd seen a democratic revolution, I thought I knew what they were all about. And then I moved to Ukraine.

If you watched CNN's coverage of the Ukrainian revolution, it was pretty easy to figure out what to do. You cheered the good guy, Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's oppositional presidential candidate, whose young, orange-clad followers shoved flowers into rifle barrels. You booed stodgy Viktor Yanukovych, the old administration's main man, whose cronies stifled the people's will. And, when Yushchenko won, you celebrated. As they say, everyone loves a winner.

But what if the losers are your friends?

Last summer I returned to Ukraine, where I'd served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2001-2003. Only I wasn't joining the students in solidarity or the wave of international elections observers. I was moving into the heartland of Yanukovych territory.

In Sevastopol, no one was camping on the streets, you'd have been hard-pressed to find an orange ribbon, and only a close look would have revealed that an election took place, let alone a revolution. And there's a reason: Almost 90 percent of voters backed the "other guy." While pro-Yushchenko forces were celebrating in Kiev and western Ukraine, folks in Sevastopol were experiencing something different: what it feels like to be on the wrong side of a revolution.

I asked Ihor Kozak, an international observer in Kiev, why so many people had supported Yanukovych. A Canadian of Ukrainian descent, he said, "People [in eastern Ukraine] are still brainwashed. There was a lot of propaganda, and people are still afraid."

It's a common explanation but an incomplete one.

Lost in the rhetoric of "freedom" and "democracy" was an irony of Ukrainian independence. The fact is that the victory of the "good guy" has sparked fears among millions of Russian-speakers. Anxious to forge a separate identity from its powerful neighbor, Ukraine has actively shaken off any ties to Russia, making Ukrainian the country's only official language -- but at the expense of 35 percent of the population who claim Russian as their first.

Watching CNN, it's hard to understand the dearth of orange in Sevastopol. But then, we haven't had our native language obliterated from official life. We haven't seen our streets renamed and old Soviet symbols replaced with new Ukrainian imagery. We haven't felt our flawed, grand country sink into corruption and obscurity. So we can't understand that for half of Ukraine -- 13 million voters -- Yushchenko represented enough of a threat that they supported a government they knew had bled them dry.

For Igor Krutz, a Sevastopol native living in Kiev, the elections were straightforward: "It would be a betrayal to my city to vote for a Ukrainian-language candidate, especially one surrounded by Ukrainian nationalists."

While they couldn't control theft in state budgets or industries sold off at a fraction of their worth, they could control one thing: their self-identity. And they feared that Yushchenko would drag them even further from their natural cultural and political alliance: Russia.

Krutz echoed this: "People are afraid that if the nationalists come into power, Ukraine will turn into another Latvia, where half the population is treated like second-class citizens."

Roses in rifle barrels are powerful symbols. Rock concerts and smiling young children make sense. We recognize the images of a democratic revolution -- any revolution -- and since it magnifies our own political philosophy, we don't question it. But while the revolution will be televised, the real question is, will anyone listen to the losers? Because it might be easier to assume that the losers in a democratic revolution are wrong, but it won't bring Ukraine any closer to democracy.

Breanne Oswill is living in Portland again after completing an assignment with the American Councils for International Education in Ukraine.

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Oregon Live

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ukraine; Election Observers



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