Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Still around

I and I know others have been concerned from the beginning that the crowds would just go home because they had had enough. It’s too cold, they aren’t making money, there’s no progress, or the family needs me there, something would eventually cause them to go home. This was a concern from the beginning. When I was down on the square with my wife the Monday after the elections, my thought was that they needed to do something fast because the crowds could not possibly stay there on the square for a long time. I thought they had three days before people would have to go back to life again. They had to act and act fast, I thought, to get something done, storm the Winter Palace, the Bastille, the Presidential Administration Building, something. But they acted slowly and deliberately and didn’t seem to be in any hurry at all. To me, though, the clock was ticking away.

I was wrong about the three days though. They didn’t go home after the three days were up. In fact, the crowds got bigger and bigger and bigger. OK, I thought, so they’ll still have to reach a point and very soon when they’ll need to go home and back to their lives. For me the clock was still ticking.

And today, my wife and I sat here after the Rada voted no confidence and we both thought that that was that. This would be the signal for people to start going home and back to their lives, not necessarily because it was over in fact, but that they might feel their point had been made, the government was gone, it’s too cold, we need to make some money, etc. and they could go home. Maybe the hard core support would remain and the tent cities, but I thought the rest would feel like they could finally go home.

Well, I went downtown this afternoon to make the rounds and to see how things were. I saw that the crowds were not big near the Presidential Administration building--maybe a few hundred, three hundred tops. But they were large enough to stop things on that street. They didn’t need all that many there. To me, it still was an effective crowd.

And near the Rada, maybe the same amount. There are more places there to get in and out of—it’s next to a public park-- so more people are needed to seal it off. But there wasn’t any need for this. Their point was being made by the crowd there and the deputies aren’t there all the time anyway. So it was fine there too.

I then walked down the street to get to Independence Square. As I reached a point on the street where it crested a hill and I could see the square, to my surprise, there were as many people there at that time (3:30 p.m.) as there had been the Monday evening after the election. Maybe it was 200,000 or 300,000, or maybe it was 500,000, I couldn’t tell. (I can’t tell these things too well.) But there was as large a crowd as there had been the day after the election. And it could have been even larger.

The point is that no one has really gone home yet at all. They are as interested as ever, as engaged as ever. I stood there, on the crest of the hill, absolutely impressed. These people have done nothing I thought they would do. And I think they would tell you that they have done nothing they themselves thought they would do. But they did it and are still doing it and it is on the backs of those masses of people that this thing has been carried. And they have done all of this, a lot of them, missing paychecks because their workplaces were closed, with the threat of a military crackdown hanging in the air. I admire them and I salute them. If there are annals anywhere where heroism is set down for posterity, these people ought to have a place of honor there.


JM Hanes said...

I am very worried about what will happen when the crowds finally do go home. Let us hope that their gains are somehow consolidated before these brave people disperse. Re-voting, if that is the compromise, must take place before the powers that be can regroup, and yet can it actually be accomplished on such short notice, especially in those areas where fraud was at its worst? It would seem that, for starters, the mechanics of a new election, and the guarantors of fairness must be established and/or deployed, before the protesters decamp.

So far, it appears that only the unlikely concentration of huge numbers of the opposition has forestalled authoritarian maneuvers -- and, indeed, is also what has captured cricial attention from the wider world. I pray that no one packs up tents too soon, allowing business as usual to resume! The Parliamentary vote is worrying too -- 229, what happens when the full membership reconvenes, esp. if Lytvin is elevated/sidelined by appointment elsewhere?

I am new to Ukranian politics, but have a disquieting feeling that the real battle may be yet to come, that Kuchma/Putin has realized that above all else, no matter what promises are required, the people must be moved beyond the reach of the webcam on Independence Square before the forces of repudiation and respression can well and truly be engaged.

Scott W. Clark said...

Excellent comments and very real possibilities. I had thought that the no confidence vote would mean the end of international coverage. I don't know that that happened though. But it would be a dangerous thing.

The other problem is that this is not happening in a linear way. It resembles more a tug-of-war or maybe more apt, war. I think the government regrouped between Saturday and Tuesday, called in their chits and got some deputies back on board. That might happen in other institutions. They may have been leaking support all last week in institutions, like the military that has been the focus of a lot of attention for obvious reasons. BUt they could be doing the same thing there too.

So it is all still dangerous.

JM Hanes said...

Yes, that's so true. It's always linear in the history books, isn't it? But never in reality with so many possible outcomes still in the offing. The discipline of the crowds and their determined civility are astonishing -- and signal a kind of thoughtful preparation which, on its own, almost seems like suffiicient reason for optimism!