More from Tarik Amar on the Ukraine election

by John Q on December 1, 2004

The Ukraine crisis is dragging on, and could still collapse into violence, but I’ll restate my view that the likely outcome is a new runoff election, which Yushchenko will win. He almost certainly had a majority to begin with, and has generally behaved in a statesmanlike manner after the election, while Yanukovich has floundered, and generally looked like the thug he apparently is.

I’m appending another eyewitness report from Tarik Amar, forwarded by Dan Hardie

KYIV, UKRAINE, NOV 29:Sitting in an Internet Café on Kyiv’s central Independence Square among plenty of foreign correspondents who seem to know neither Ukrainian nor Russian well – the exception being the Poles – I have begun to wonder about what we, the West, get to know about the current revolution in Ukraine. Making my way through the permanent orange crowd that is holding the capital city’s center for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, I went to the hard core of thE vast tent city set up on election night when the long-expected Kuchma-Yanukovych’s regime’s attempt to steal the election became reality.
The tents’ inhabitants spend most of their time standing around the perimeter of the slushiest camping ground I have ever seen, defying a freezing drizzle to talk to the crowds around them. Explaining that I am a historian and write about Ukraine, I am invited to climb across a rather symbolic fence improvised from park benches and let into the tent city itself.
There nobody hesitates for a second to answer my questions and have them taped. Many insist on having their real names recorded. For two hours I walked around in the early winter dusk squeezing through between low and tightly packed tents, some fires where shashlyk is being grilled, and a big screen constantly showing the independent, hence pro-opposition Fifth Channel.
While most tent dwellers are of student age or younger, there is a fair number of the middle-aged as well as a very old lady, huddling on a wet tent tarpaulin, covering her head with a make-shift cap made from Yushchenko-orange plastic. I asked one of the chief organizers when he began to feel that a rebellion was necessary. He explained to me that he was a lawyer trained in Ukraine and abroad. Having taken part in what he calls “the revolution of 1991”, when Ukraine was released into independence by a crumbling Soviet empire, he tells me he was disillusioned afterwards. Still, after the first round of the elections, marked already by ostentatious fraud and threats, he and others started to organize for the showdown they saw coming. At the same time, he did not expect so may people to join them. This, he tells me, is the first time that “Ukraine has stood up.”
Asked what disillusioned him most during Kuchma’s rule, his answer is quick: The killing of opposition journalist Hrihori Gongadze, and the very strong evidence that President Kuchma ordered it . Although the organiser was enjoying rapid promotion as a government lawyer, this murder convinced him that “the regime has gone so far that we cannot change it by purely legalistic means.” Civil resistance became inevitable. Once there Yuschenko becomes President, the lawyer wants all the murky affairs of the Kuchma regime to be unraveled by truly independent courts.
He also thinks that for most Ukrainians, the final straw were the “elections” in the town of Mukachevo earlier this year. It was then that the current regime staged a virtual dress rehearsal for its attempt a coup during the Presidential elections.

Volodymyr is a retired miner from western Ukraine, and insists that he has nothing against Russians or any other nationalities. In fact, he tells me without a hint of irony, he had a multinational upbringing. After World War Two, the Soviet authorities deported both his parents to Central Asia and he was born there. He played and went to school with Russians, Germans, and Kazakhs, and other nationalities. Yet, he is also clear about the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has no right to intervene in Ukrainian elections. Referring to news – by now confirmed by the very serious Russian newspaper “Komersant” – that plain-clothes Russian special forces are protecting Kuchma’s Presidential Administration, Volodymyr says they must go. He will remain peaceful, but he wants it to be known that he is not a push-over and if Ukraine’s sovereignty is attacked, he will not run but fight.

Mykola, a young history student, says that for him breaking point was reached when he looked through archival propaganda of the Khrushchev and Brezhnev periods, and found it frighteningly reminiscent of that used by Kuchma and Yanukovych. He, too, has no trouble with Russians or the Russian language but Putin’s policy during the Ukrainian elections was “not honest.” Mykola does not want to be bribed with Putin’s transparent offers of double citizenship and 90-day residence permits (most Russians cannot get those) in Moscow: “And what right does he have in general to intervene in our domestic policy?”

For Yury, too, the “very crude, very ugly” election propaganda of the Yanukovych camp was a turn-off. He points out to me that not only the voters of Yushchenko were subjected to attempts at deception and vote stealing by the regime. Again, without any sarcasm, he explains that those who were for Yanukovych were also deceived because the rigged election results made them think that they were a majority. Now they are disappointed at finding out how few of them there really are.

Yury’s girl-friend, Elena, is a young psychologist working for an advertisement agency. I want to know what she expects from life after a Yushchenko victory. What she wants most is the guarantee that she can live without politics. Being among the most visibly mobilized Ukrainians in a richly mobilized country, she insists that she does not believe that politics will stop being about power struggles and money, too. She has no difficulty believing that Yushchenko will stick to the law and respect the people. Under such a government she will be able to leave everyday politics to politicians who will keep within bounds. One thing all agree on is
put most pithily by Mykola: “the faster into the EU, the better.” Significantly,
I have not found anyone who dreamed
of EU cash raining down. Rather some were worried that integration into the EU economy might be very hard for Ukrainian companies. Yet, several also told me that what is more important is that the EU will keep demanding high standards of legality and good governance.

In general, nearly everybody I randomly picked to talk to told me about the regime’s heavy-handed methods backfiring. Where Yury and Mykola were put off beyond endurance by propaganda of Soviet crudeness, Roman, a highschool student tells me that for him everything was clear when the corrupt Central Electoral Commission announced an alleged Yanukovych victory within 24 hours, while it had taken ten days to count votes after the first round. Ira, standing next to him, tells me that her limit was passed when she went as election observer to a small village during round two. There she found that some people believed the thoroughly mendacious regime propaganda depicting Yushchenko as a “fascist.”
I don’t tell her that these stories are believed in not only by remote Ukranian villagers, cut off from all sources of information but regime media, but also by Westernjournalists who lack basic language skills and information as well as ethics. I have been emailed more than one link to some depressingly dishonest ‘opinion pieces’ in the Western press.
(Some names have been changed at the interviewees’ request.)



Tom T. 12.02.04 at 12:18 am

Who are the Western journalists he mentions who are denouncing Yushchenko?


Mac Thomason 12.02.04 at 12:57 am

Brits, mostly, I believe. Daniel Drezner had a link to some of them a couple days ago.


cheem 12.02.04 at 1:31 am

The Guardian carried a piece by John Laughland pretty recently denouncing the massive support for Yuschenko by the Western media and governments. Laughland’s exploits and that of his organization, the British Helsinki Human Rights Group, have been well-documented in the past by this blog and others. The Guardian has a good summary right now.


Carlos 12.02.04 at 3:14 am

I’ve read that there is a substantial ethnic russian minority in Ukraine. ¿What do they think about this? I mean, it’s very interesting and all, but it’s the same opinion over and over. ¿Nobody voted for Yanukovich? I’m all for democracy, but these things are usually more complicated than “we good- they bad”.


Guy 12.02.04 at 6:15 am

I haven’t heard anybody claim that “nobody voted for Yanukovich” — in fact, in all likelihood he got a substantial fraction of the (legitimate) votes; he might have even won without the election rigging (though I doubt it). But “a lot of people voted for me anyway” isn’t an excuse for stealing an election.


Guy 12.02.04 at 6:19 am

By the way, insofar as “western journalists denouncing Yushchenko”, check out this slimy article by Jonathan Steele.


Dan Hardie 12.02.04 at 12:22 pm

Carlos, Tarik hasn’t said ‘nobody voted for Yanukovych’. His earlier post- check out John Quiggin’s recent postings- did discuss the level of support for Yanukovych and the Russian-speaking Ukranians in some detail. Tarik speaks Russian fluently and has travelled in Eastern Ukraine. The point is not that ‘nobody voted for Yanukovych’- millions did. Millions voted for the Conservative Party in the last British General Election, and, er, they lost. The point is rather that even the Ukranian Central Election Commission is admitting that at least 1 million votes were not counted, or voters illegally disenfranchised, and the number may well be 3 million. Yanukovych got a big chunk of votes but nobody outside his own camp and John ‘I love Le Pen’ Laughland is prepared to say that he won the election.


Giles 12.02.04 at 3:24 pm

I think the russians only make up 17% of the population so they’re more a large minority than a substantial one.

Still this is the sort of sized minorities that existed in most of ex yugoslavia so the potential for trouble is obvious. But more importantly its worth remembering how Germany’s overt support of Slovenian indpendence (even though it was justified) started the whole ball rolling.

Too much overt support can be dangerous.


abb1 12.02.04 at 5:26 pm

By the way, insofar as “western journalists denouncing Yushchenko”, check out this slimy article by Jonathan Steele.

What’s so slimy about it, could you elaborate, please? Looks OK to me.



roger 12.02.04 at 6:24 pm

Surely CT is missing an opportunity to quote Eddie Limonov, the notorious Russian writer/flashman, about the Ukraine. Limonov’s column, badly badly Englished (it sounds much like Boris on Bullwinkle) wrote the following definitive description of the election:

“Myself I am absolutely cool about choice of leader for Ukraine. Both: Yanukovitch and Yushchenko are big huge swine-looking bureaucrats, both ex-prime-ministers. Their political orientations (Yanukovitch is supposedly pro-Russian and Yushchenko supposedly is pro-Western) so volatile, that they cannot be trusted those both men. Even if Yanukovitch today is posing as pro-Russian and pro-Putin man, who can stop him become pro-Western after winning an election? Nobody can stop. He didn’t signed an agreement with his blood, giving his soul to Russia. Those Ukranian gentlemen cannot be trusted. Actual President Mr. Kuchma was during his political career in turn pro-Russian, Pro-European, Pro-American and Pro-Russian again. The choice between two swine-looking bureaucrats is not so exciting. Ukranians have not choosen between say, Che Gevara and Yanukovitch, between capitalist development and Revolutionary way of life. So, what is all that hustle about? Coal miners better to drink their Ukranian vodka “Goritka,” stay home and fuck their huge wives. Do it for next elections, brothers.”

Go here to read him:


nic 12.02.04 at 7:44 pm

abb1, maybe it’s not slimy, but it certainly is embarassingly in adulation of Putin:

Putin has been clumsy [!] but to accuse Russia of imperialism because it shows close interest in adjoining states and the Russian-speaking minorities who live there is a wild exaggeration. [!!] … Many Ukrainians certainly want a more democratic system. Putin is not inherently against this, however authoritarian he is in his own country. [!!!] What concerns him is instability, the threat of anti-Russian regimes on his borders, and American mischief.

Putin’s overtly authoritarian tactics are dealt with briefly in 3 huge understatements, the US interests in terms of shady mischief and near bribing and dirty imperialist tactics. The EU, who has exactly the same position as the US, is clearly being corrupted by the American influence. The crowds of demonstrators, not representative of natiowide sentiments, since presumably the only sentiments that count are those of the pro-Putin side. Glad to hear it’s that simple…


Guy 12.02.04 at 8:01 pm

Nor is there much evidence to imagine that, were he the incumbent president facing a severe challenge, he would not have tried to falsify the poll.


Guy 12.02.04 at 8:01 pm

Nor is there much evidence to imagine that, were he [Yushchenko] the incumbent president facing a severe challenge, he would not have tried to falsify the poll.


abb1 12.02.04 at 8:43 pm

Well, Russia has interests in Ukraine, Europe has interests in Ukraine and the US has interests in Ukraine. They all are trying to advance their interests, everything else is accidental. It could’ve as easily been the pro-western guy who is manifestly more corrupt and then he’d have been supported by the west and then the Russians would’ve been demanding a new election, and so on.

What Steele is saying there, if I understood correctly, is that the Russians have a very legitimate and serious concerns about Ukraine; for them, perhaps, this looks something like the Cuban missile crisis for the Americans, well, maybe not that dramatic, but still…

The US/Europeans could’ve easily reduced the tension by offering a reasonable compromise, like ruling out NATO expansion to Ukraine or something; instead they are just pressing ahead all the way, pedal to the metal.

I think this is a reasonable point. Look at the US-Cuba situation – do you want something like that between Russia and Ukraine? I don’t.


nic 12.03.04 at 9:12 am

Abb1, what about the Ukrainian voters? They do have interests in their own country too. Seems to me that’s not in the category of “everything else, accidental”. I’d say it’s in the category of primary importance, that’s why the condescending attitude of someone like Steele is so annoying.

Steele is saying Russia has more legitimate interests than any other party. He chooses to define them as legitimate. He doesn’t qualify what those interests are and how legitimate they are, except by describing them in terms of Putin wanting to protect himself from “anti-Russian” forces on the borders. How is this not imperialism? Why can’t a Ukrainian majority, if it is established it is a majority, be legitimately in favour of being more independent from Moscow?

Those who want to retain closer ties to Putin’s Russia will have their motives; but so do those who don’t.

The US/Europeans could’ve easily reduced the tension by offering a reasonable compromise, like ruling out NATO expansion to Ukraine or something

But why? How would that not be treating Ukraine like a pawn? If there is a significant interest from within Ukraine in joining NATO, why would the US and Europe have to concede to Putin’s imperialism by taking a decision that would be so dramatic? I don’t see the parallel with the Cuba crisis. It’s the Ukrainians who have to deal with this situation, and I don’t see why anyone has to go to preach to them about it like Steele does.

Turkey entry in the EU is also supported by the US. With *far* stronger pressures and intereferences than here. Still, the question has to be considered on its own merits. Not everything the US favour has to be less legitimate than something else.

It could’ve as easily been the pro-western guy who is manifestly more corrupt

But it isn’t. Even assumning one candidate is only marginally less worse than the other (sound familiar?), you can’t just dismiss his supporters like that.


cloquet 12.03.04 at 5:07 pm

You have to be careful with your sources. Look what happened to Dan Rather.

I thing Volokh would agree here.


Tarik Cyril Amar 12.04.04 at 4:52 pm

to abb1: You are mistaken: neither the US nor the EU have been pushing their “interests” (please define what you are talking about here) in Ukraine, as you say, “pedal to the metal” – In fact, no EU politician made any substantial statement on elections in Ukraine, except asking for fairness (which I hope you agree even they have a right and an obligation to do) BEFORE the elections, neither did any of them turn up in Ukraine and told people they would immediately get EU accession and residence permits in Paris and Berlin if they vote for Yushchenko. Putin of Russia, however, has done exactly the equivalent of this. So pray, explain, how are the all the same in your view bare of realistic differentiation? AFTER the massive fraud and an attempt at a coup by the Kuchma-Yanukovych regime, EU leaders (Chirac, Schroeder, Solana) have been extremely (disappointingly) cautious not to upset a brazenly neo-imperialist Russia. It is true that some EU parliamentarians have now dared to go to Ukraine and openly take the side of clean elections and – horribile dictu – wear orange scarves. Again, AFTER the election fraud and the coup attempt. Putin’s dour banging on about non-intervention in Ukraine (can you see?) is a little absurd.
In general, truth does usually not lie “in the middle” (of whatever)although some like to pretend to often underinformed “balance” by applying what for want of better words I would like to call vulgar Aristotelianism. Do make a close, factual study of USA, EU, Russian policy before and after the election and preferably do so “pedal to the metal” to catch up on a part of the world of which you know little.
Your allusions to Cuba I have found fascinating. I think, there is some such parallel but entirely different from what you want to believe: Putin has entirely unneccesarily brutally antagonized the majority of the Ukrainian electorate by giving cover for a coup against their vote. He has also antagonized the real President of Ukraine, i.e. Yushchenko. Now, you say that the West should have made reassuring moves to help Putin get over his imperialistic hang-ups (why? Are you patronizing Russians as in need of what Truman would have called babying?). Please, tell me in some detail: why could Putin not make the reassuring move (for the Ukrainians and the West) of taking a reasonably NEUTRAL (not more) position. You do have to know – as you probably do not – that Yushchenko is not a “nationalist” and would have had no problem working well and as equal partners with the Russians, too. And here comes the real Cuba parallel: I would guess that many people around Putin also know this and they know that Putin unnecessarily chose a course of maximum risk and confrontation – and lost, and did so humiliatingly publicly. Rings a bell? That was exactly Khrushchev’s positions after his very own Cuba project blew up. And he didn’t survive that defeat politically much longer. Get it?


cloquet 12.07.04 at 7:35 pm

What did you find out about your sources?

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