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How to Hold a Revolution

For those of you who don’t follow Ukrainian politics, here is some quick background:

Ukraine has a historic divide between European-focused western Ukraine and Russian-leaning eastern Ukraine. Those simmering tensions have escalated this week after (western-oriented) President Viktor Yushchenko announced he was dissolving the Parliament and plans to hold new elections in May. This current Parliamentary crisis is the latest in a long battle for power between Yushchenko and his chief rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. Both the Viktors claimed the other Viktor had broken the law: PM Viktor for buying influence, and Pres. Viktor for using that as a reason to disband Parliament.

Jacob and I today went out to see what we could see.

How to Hold a Revolution (in Ukraine)

1. Get yourself a good campsite.
2. Order a few thousand tents, deliver them, and set them up. (*1)
3. Bus your supporters in from all over the country.

A group of protestors from Kherson, near Odessa, were set up in tents behind the Parliament, overlooking the Cabinet of Ministers building.

*1 We saw men unloading dozens of new sleeping bags and pads from a new Toyota Land Cruiser, for example. Someone has put a lot of money into this campaign.

4. Set up loudspeakers and blare Russian pop music. Make a few speeches outside the Parliament building. (*2)
5. Sit around, drink tea, smoke, hang out in the park, and wait and wait for something to happen.

Members of Yanukovich’s Party of Regions and other protestors listen to speeches outside the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) building on April 3, 2007.
*2 The US embassy warned Americans “to be aware of their security and to avoid large public gatherings and demonstrations.” Which was kind of funny to me, since this gathering was about as dangerous as Shakespeare in the Park. The only danger we faced was (1) listening to the blaringly bad music and (2) the old women from Donetsk who wanted to smother Jacob. “His hands are cold,” they said. “His cheeks. Where is his mother?” It was a frosty 57 F.

6. Repeat as necessary.

Leonid Brustman, a computer repairman from Kherson in southern Ukraine, traveled by bus to join today’s protest. “That would be a good idea, to start an impeachment against Yushchenko,” he said. “Actually, all of them are crooked.” Yanukovich's Russian-leaning supporters filled Kyiv's parks today, setting up tent encampments and vowing to keep 24-hour vigils, tactics copied from Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution.

To me, the whole events looked queerly choreographed. The fancy banners, the rows of identical tents: this is no home-grown protest movement, this is an orchestrated political campaign. I wonder if the participants felt like pawns in a political game? Yet despite reports of students being ordered to attend, most people I saw looked happy to be there.

The protestors gathered in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) and the park around the Parliament. Meanwhile, the life of Kyiv continued as normal. One block away, the suits and ties piled out of their offices and into the evening rush hour. Two blocks away, around Arsenal metro station, the women who always advertise furniture were still advertising furniture, the lovers were doing that spring thing with their hips and their lips, and the teenage boys were doing tricks on their bikes and their skateboards.

Tomorrow there is a larger protest called. I’ll post again — if I’m done working on the taxes.

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