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Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Walk to the Bankova Wall
“People’s President” a No Show at Maidan Second Anniversary amid Low Participation

Orange vets were in for another let-down, as a fraction of them gathered to celebrate the bloodless victory over a regime whose election practices had attracted sympathy only from the governments of Russia, Belarus, and China.

To say that participation levels reflected satisfaction levels would be saying too little.

First of all, it took less than half of Yushchenko’s first term for the regime to partially restore itself, which is why, in all likelihood, there will be no second term for him. To add insult to injury, the guy they had put in charge to prevent the regime’s restoration gave them understand that they were not part of his holiday plan. This unpleasant episode cannot be attributed to Yushchenko‘s insecurities alone. It highlights the self-perpetuating “expectations glacier” evident in Ukrainian society since the Yushchenko>Yanukovych downturn.

After a short rally at Maidan, the battleground of the Orange Revolution, a column of approximately a thousand people moved out to the Office of President on Bankova Street. There they serenaded the “People’s President” with Ukraine’s national anthem, but all to no avail. They were refused audience.

The iron security fence separating the people from the president contained a message in itself. They could still recall Yushchenko comparing it to the Berlin Wall and vowing to tear it down. So, two years since the Orange Revolution began it’s the Wall that’s still there while Yushchenko is not. Obviously, he’s got more important things to do.

While new to Bankova, Yu said lots of nice things that ring hollow today. People from all over the country would camp outside his office, in hopes of finding a solution to problems they could not solve otherwise. They had exhausted all conventional avenues — having to deal with courts that rule in favor of the well-connected, police that cover up criminals, and social security that doesn’t cover the cost of living. So, they came straight to the “People’s President,” their last line of defense, expecting their voice to be heard.

Such citizen events supplied the inherent drama to the “Our Ukraine” brand. Yushchenko owes his presidency to the idea that if we stood up to the oligarchs, Ukraine could be “ours” as well, and not just “theirs.”

Yet the democracy-live honeymoon didn’t last long. For one, the PP soon let the wall issue die quietly, along with the open-air grievance hours. No wonder, the same happened to the brand: The people lost trust in it.

That explains Yushchenko’s agoraphobic attack. Like a mischievous child who broke a vase, he wouldn’t show up for dinner in fear of being spanked. What could be more fearsome than having to look them in the eye, them who once looked up to you with hope?

He could imagine all the catcalls he would draw for his misguided policy behavior. He feared Maidan’s feedback. But that’s the stage he should go through if he ever plans on reestablishing the communication link he has severed. That’s the barium pill he should swallow to get crony capitalism out of his system. Reinvention starts with repentance. It’s as simple as that.

Take the recent diversion scandal that features former Naftogaz top guns Ivchenko (NSNU) and Bolkisev. Just days after Gazprom pushed the button, these stewards of government property reportedly spent quite a fortune on Christmas festivities and a charter flight to western Ukraine (If the thought of going up in flames with the help of Europe’s longest pipeline arouses your public relations G-spot, Ivchenko is your man.)

Word got around that Yu was throwing a reception in Mariyinsky Palace. Shouting “hanba” (Ukrainian for shame) — an exclamation previously reserved only for Kuchma and Yanukovych — Orange vets walked the extra mile to meet with the President. Once they made it to Mariyinsky, it became apparent they were wasting their time.

Later in the evening, Poroshenko, Katerynchuk, and Yekhanurov patronized Maidan. The only problem was, it didn’t feel like Maidan. It certainly didn’t without Tymo, the Lady of Maidan.

Out in Brussels to flex her opposition muscles, she predicted the thawing of the Yanukovych Cabinet and politreforma by spring. There is no secret that the temperature buildup she based her forecast on comes from the impending three-and-a-half-fold increase in utility bills, which already reeks of a massive payment crisis. A case in point: Donetsk currently pays only 5 percent of its utility costs.

In his evening “anniversary address,” Yushchenko reaffirmed his commitment to the politreforma, at the same time reintroducing the possibility of a referendum.
Any recollection of the Orange Revolution would be incomplete without mention of how it became forum fodder for millions of netizens. Regrettably, some saw it as a geopolitical contest — the final showdown — between a hawkish Bush puppet and a dovish Putin favorite, the latter being the lesser evil. Put another way, they felt impelled to take sides between what appeared to be an expansionist Washington consensus and a defensive Moscow consensus.

Particularly, this misperception gained wide acceptance among people suffering from the posttraumatic stress disorder caused by Bush’s re-election. For them — the Western-educated hands-off-Russia crowd — taking revenge on Bush meant heaping scorn on Yushchenko and green-lighting Yanukovych.

The Orange Revolution featured not a single incident of vandalism or violence. Well, it could have. With tanks on the move to Kyiv, all bets were off. Thank God, General Popkov had the sanity to call them off. Had his loyalty to Yanukovych taken command of his mind, fratricide would have followed. In that case, the reality gap in Shcherban’s they-would-hang-me-on-Maidan imagery might have shrunk substantially, as we had a fair share of generals on our own side.

Because history hardly offers a wealth of examples of zero-casualty regime change, ours remains a rare phenomenon we should be proud of. They who raise mayhem from Seattle to Seoul may have a hard time reconciling their lifestyle with that of millions of hardworking Ukrainians, some of whom barely make ends meet. The regime Yanukovych was trying to inherit had scattered them from Moscow to Milan in search of a better living. What we’re looking at are two different types of geographic mobility — creed-driven and need-driven. Which one would you prefer?

On the one hand, few of us would wince at the idea of having Yushchenko miraculously replaced with someone of better leadership qualities. But, on the other hand, if we polled Russians or Americans on whether they would welcome a candidate with a criminal record, neither would answer yes by an overwhelming majority.

So, after weighing all the good things and the bad things, we can be sure we did the right thing: 2004 did not become 1984. Yet our work is not finished. Unless we want to face the Bankova Wall, we must dismantle the one that has swelled inside of us — the wall of disenchantment. We do that by restoring the can-do spirit of 2004.

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