Friday, November 26, 2004

Appealing to the east

In a speech yesterday, Yuschenko talked about 150 or so Yanukovych supporters who were standing guard near one of the government buildings in downtown Kiev on Tuesday. They were from the eastern part of the Ukraine. He said they were cold and hungry and that some of his supporters, who had taken up positions near that same building, had given them food, some warm clothes and had tried to make sure they were taken care of. He said that on Wednesday, those Yanukovych supporters were no longer there. And then he said, “I call upon the Prime Minister to send us trainloads of these people. We will feed them, take care of them and they will find out what the truth is.”

Yuschenko’s tone has been pitch perfect on this. He has included the people of eastern Ukraine in everything he has said. He calls them friends and, in a speech I can’t find right now, appeals to them to find out the truth of what is going on. In it he argues that their right of choice was taken away from them by the blackout news organizations imposed on any information about him. No one is blaming them for supporting Yanukovych, he said; that is their political right. But they were defrauded by the government too in that they had no real choice in the election.

This is a striking thing. He could take power on the backs of the eastern Ukrainians by making them the focus of hatred. And what makes it much easier to do is the fact that train-and busloads of toughs—I keep thinking of them as “strikebreakers”-- keep coming in from the east. But he has steadfastly refused to do this. And the real ironic thing is that he was born in the east about 20 miles from the Russian border in the first place. So he calls the east the home of his birth and says in effect, “I am one of you.” This fact, so he says and I believe, has not been told to the people of eastern Ukraine. They think he is an ultra-nationalist from the West bent on taking away eastern culture.

If they avoid any split, I think it will be because of a certain magnanimity on the part of Victor Yuschenko. This is no insignificant thing.

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