Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A good question

Here is a very good question I have been asked:

Forgive my ignorance but how do they feel their protesting is going to change anything?

No ignorance at all. This is actually a very good question. I was thinking the same thing after we got home from the demonstration on Monday downtown. While there though I was thinking differently. When you look into a sea of faces chanting the opposition candidates name and you hear speeches from some firebrands and you hear about the cities that are declaring for Yuschenko one by one, going down like dominoes in what seems to be the power of the movement, you can tend to think that this is a revolution and that they could just do it.

But when I got home reality hit me. People who are authoritarians rulers don't like to see crowds, but the president here is authoritarian, not a dictator--his power is in manipulating people and systems for his benefit, and he doesn't control them all--so he can't really do what dictators might do. He, for instance, has gotten a lot of mileage from playing Russia and the US off each other. That has given him some influence in both places though some would argue that he has moved more east than he has west. But his power is through systems and manipulation and that means his power is not unlimited. So a crowd gathering downtown he can really do nothing about even if he were worried about it.

A moving crowd is something to be very worried about though. And that crowd moved last night to the presidential building. There were riot control troops in full gear there about 20 deep. The crowd was peaceful though and stuck flowers in some of the shields of the troops so nothing happened. They stayed there for a while though and made demands. Some of them set up some tents to camp out, but the rest of them left. But by doing this they showed they will move and they were also able to probe the defenses of the administration, if you will. They talked with the troops there at the building, the building by the way that houses the presidential office, and found out where their sympathies lay. According to reports, they support Yuschenko, and some of them were not afraid to don orange armbands, the armbands of Yuschenko's supporters. That is good information for future use.

It was at about this same time last night when it was reported that Kuchma, the president, had called for all sides to sit down and talk. Other reports said that Yuschenko's camp had made certain conditions mandatory before they would agree to any negotiations and that Yanukovych had called those demands a framework for discussions. (Yuschenko's people today deny that they will negotiate at all.) These are not the actions of people who are confident of their power. This might be because of pressure being put on by outside forces, the EU and the US to be exact and I think the pressure is pretty intense from the US at least, or if it is because they see some of their hold slipping and they fear it tipping out of control. Of course, the cynical appraisal of this is that they are stalling for time in public, telling the West what they want to hear, while they wait for their response to form up in the woods around Kiev. (Russian spetznaz--Russian!-- forces special forces are there now with tanks and APCs on their way from other parts of the Ukraine. There should be an international outcry over this)

So which is it? Who knows. I will tell you though that I thought the weather and the fact that people were not working and not getting paid as a result and the food problems that result from having a large crowd many of which were not working, that all of these would doom this thing quickly. I thought it would be starved out financially and literally, while the cold had its way all around. I gave it three days before the crowds started to disperse and people ended up going home to survive.

But today, there are reports of a million people downtown. A million people. That is over 3 times what we saw down there on Monday. The protest is not getting smaller, it is getting bigger. Some of the food problems were solved by local businesses and the people of Kiev bringing food downtown. Collections of money have also been undertaken. And the people look like they are working this thing in shifts. My brother-in-law, for instance, goes down in the morning for a few hours, comes home for lunch and to get warm, then goes back down for a few more hours. I think most of them are doing this.

They show no signs of dispersing. It is still going strong and getting stronger.

But we will have to wait and see what happens though.


kronk said...

So, as an American, I have to ask. Why do we think that the pro-Yusch'ers even have a chance? Things seem stacked against them. And the very active involvement of the Russians and the more passive western involvement seems to make this a shoe-in.

Scott W. Clark said...

It would be one if this were the old Soviet days. They invaded and put down uprisings without much worry from the West. (Think Czechoslovakia 1968.) Their economy was not beholden to any other and they had the nukes to keep people thinking.

But it is not so simple nowadays (and Ukraine has no nukes.) What the West thinks cannot be discarded out of hand like it once might have been. Ukraine exports 20% of its production to the EU. And the US has close to $130 million in aid dollars that are pumped into Ukraine every year. These are not small things in a country of 50 million where $300 is a good wage--most live on a lot less than that, the official average being $70-- and where the GDP is the size of Honduras.

A reason why the Russian troops might be here is to satisfy the Russians. They were offered and we are their client so we let them in but have no intention of using them. This is at least a possibility. It has the weight of any of other of the possibilities.

If they thought they had a completely free hand they would have cracked down by now. But they haven't. This is reason for hope.

But of course the future is only completely certain when it is past. We'll just have to see how things unfold to figure out what is really going on.


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