Friday, March 11, 2005

Yanukovych and the national hero

The following should have been posted yesterday but I couldn't get on the blogspot server. Here it is:

Yesterday was the anniversary of Shevchenko’s birth. Taras Shevchenko is considered to be a national hero of the Ukraine. He lived in the 19th century and was part philosopher, part poet, part educator and he was also an artist of some repute. It would be hard to equate him with anybody from US history across the board but he bears some resemblance to Jefferson. He shared with Jefferson that sort of Everyman quality, an ability to be good at a number of things and was even involved in politics. A Renaissance man is what we he would be considered now, if anybody considers such things. But the thing that keeps him in the hearts of the people is that even though he lived in Russia for some time, he still wrote in the Ukrainian language and wrote of freedom, freedom, that is, from the Czar. Many of his poems were made into Ukrainian songs. We went to a concert a year or so back and heard a group sing some of these. Many Ukrainians can recite a poem or two of his by heart.

In Kiev, a university is named after him and there is a park with a monument in the center of it dedicated to him. And the Russians count him as one of their own also and erected a monument to him in Moscow. So he is a significant figure for Ukrainians and Russians alike.

Which brings us back to yesterday. On this anniversary yesterday, there was a pilgrimage to the monument of Shevchenko by the likes of Tymoshenko, Moros and other political figures to lay flowers in honor of the day and of the man. (Yuschenko is out of town I believe or he would have been there too I suspect.) Tymoshenko spoke there and said cryptically that the time had come for the words of Shevchenko to come true. (He wrote about Ukrainians improving their lives so it may not have been a reference to Russia, though, since it was Tymoshenko speaking, it would be hard to discount that.)

Meanwhile, in Moscow, the loser of the 2004-2005 election for the president of the Ukraine, the man who some consider to be the head of the opposition in Ukrainian politics, Victor Yanukovych, laid a wreath at the monument to Shevchenko there. When he laid the wreath, he said a few words in Ukrainian. His wife was by his side but, interestingly, said nothing.

This man has got to have some of the worst political instincts ever. He’s got a real tin ear. He is considered to be the Russian’s Ukrainian and the easterner’s man in Kiev. All of this is on the strength of his Russian credentials. But he goes to Russia and speaks Ukrainian at the monument of a national hero. Maybe he has gotten a hold of an advisor who wants him to triangulate. It worked for Bill Clinton why not for Yanukovych?

All I can think of is that he might have thought, if he thought at all, that he was killing two birds as the saying goes. He can show how pro Moscow he is by going there. That secures his base and keeps up his ties with the motherland. (I wonder though how welcome he is there these days.) But he can also appeal to the Ukrainians in the West and in Kiev by laying a wreath at Shevchenko’s grave and by making some remarks in Ukrainian. But I guess he doesn’t know that by speaking Ukrainian he alienates his own people in the east and by appearing at the monument in Moscow he alienates the people in the West. It would have been better for him to appear at the monument and speak in Russian which would claim Shevchenko for the Russian speakers. That appeals to his base. Or he could have appeared at the monument in Kiev and spoken Ukrainian there to appeal to the West. But he could not appeal to both.

Of course he might have been there and just taken the occasion to lay the wreath. But that plays into the prejudices of a lot of people here. They think he is in the pocket of Moscow anyway and appearing there confirms this.

Anyway, the people I spoke to just laughed about it when they heard what he did.

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