Monday, November 22, 2004

Independence Square

There are reports that people are gathering downtown at Maidan Nezalezhnostiy. Upwards of 50,000 people are there right now. This is significant because today is a work day; it is only a day off for students. (It might be students down there but I doubt that they make up the bulk.) This is all after Yuschenko has been making his case for being president based on his parallel vote count.

I was there last night with some friends. When we walked out of the subway station onto the square—it is called “Independence Square” for reasons I might get around to explaining—we were hit with the sound of loud music. There was a stage, large speakers booming, laser lights and Slavic rappers rapping away.

This was a surprise to me because I had expected to see some sort of revolution or, at least, the beginnings of one. I know of course some in the US think that music freed the Soviet Union—specifically, the Beatles music, so the argument goes—and maybe they would think that this was the way to hold a revolution, but to me it just looked like a concert in support of Yuschenko. (This music argument allows people to say that what was an indulgence actually had some cosmic consequences. All the time spent listening to the Beatles was actually time spent helping overthrow the Soviets. Gives some purpose to a life spent in what some parents considered at the time to be waste. But I digress.) But, with some apologies to the my-music-freed-the-world people, it is hard to see how strumming a guitar would hold up all that well in response when the guns or clubs come out.

I wasn’t thinking this way while I was down there last night, though. There was no reason to. There were no police anywhere that I could see. And, although I was expecting to see some military and armored cars, there were none. (Earlier in the day, President Kuchma had declared that there would be no revolution and that if one started Yuschenko would be arrested. Sounded to me like a pretext to arrest him anyway if they could justify it.) There were supposed to be some tanks under camouflage netting around the Central Election Commission a few blocks away-- in case, I suppose, the rebels got a hold of some jets and came strafing down the main thoroughfare. These had been shown on TV. (The camouflage netting on the television was green. I guess it was green to blend in with the jungle that must have just sprung up in what had been the cement canyons of downtown. Commander of rebel squadron:" Just aim for the splotch of green. It will be the only splotch of green for blocks around.) What I saw was a concert and people enjoying the concert. No revolution anywhere I could see. It didn’t seem to me to be serious at all.

After a few minutes of this, I asked one of the guys I was with, “Where’s the revolution?” He gestured toward the crowd and toward the stage with a bit of a smile on his face. He understood what I was saying. A little later, the crowd started chanting, “YU-SCHEN-KO, YU-SCHEN-KO…” as if it were a football game. The chant petered out after about 30 seconds and when it finished, I turned to the same guy and said, “That must have been the revolution.” He laughed and nodded his head. We counted a couple of more “revolutions” before I left.

But I may have been premature in thinking that there is nothing serious in the events downtown. There are rumors the military has been ordered to Kiev. If true, that might be simply a precaution by the authorities. But who knows. (The rumors include reports that some units have refused.) The only way to know for sure what will happen here is when it happens, if it does.

And there are other reports of buses loaded with workers from eastern Ukraine—Yanukovych land—on their way to Kiev escorted by police. The argument is that they are coming as some sort of strikebreakers to take on the people down at the square. If this is true and they are coming here for that purpose, they will need a lot of people and a lot of buses. A couple of thousand won’t do to deal with the numbers in the square right now. But maybe they can get a stamped document from the government that officially declares each of them to be, in reality, 73 people. That might just do it.

So it might end up being serious down there today or tomorrow or the next day, I don’t know. But I have stopped joking about it anymore and think that those people down there could end up being instrumental in Ukranians declaring their real independence, an independence from the corruption that is a holdover from the Soviet system. That would make them heroes.

That is, if it happens.


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