The Orange Revolution: A Revolution of Hope

Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VI:
"Ukraine's Transition to an Established National Identity"

Ukraine's Transition to an Established National Identity and the Orange Revolution

Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski

Remarks by Zbigniew Brzezinski former National Security Advisor and Professor of Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University delivered during Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VI: "Ukraine's Transition to an Established National Identity" Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington DC, September 28, 2005

Thank you very much, Adrian. Ladies and Gentlemen, as always I find it heart warming, gratifying to speak before a Ukrainian audience. I have done this over many years and it has been a source of genuine historical satisfaction for me to see what has happened to the Ukrainian reality, what it was some 30, 40 years ago, and what it is today. So from that perspective, it is really a "hopeful friend" line. Indeed we have reason to celebrate. Ten months ago, the Orange Revolution prevailed and that was a moment of genuine satisfaction. One could sense among the Ukrainian people, a true, ecstatic emancipation. So, it is a moment to take satisfaction, to reflect on the success. But, it is also a moment for reflection, for in any historical process, there are vicissitudes, there are turns, there are roadblocks, there are reversals and one has to be conscious of the inherent unpredictability or uncertainty of history. And that is certainly true in the Ukrainian context as well.

The Orange Revolution was a revolution of hope, of genuine hope, and of, in many respects, also abstract hope. It reflected a certain emotion, a certain desire. Perhaps for many people, it wasn't even precisely formalized, but it reflected some genuine feeling of true national identity that had now surfaced and which was defining itself in a democratic fashion. It was in a sense a moment in which a transcendent shared sense of national identity, defined in democratic content, became a common property of the Ukrainian people. It involved, in that context, also a great deal of idealism, a hope for the better, a desire to cleanse the past and to cleanse it thoroughly. It was a mood, it was a faith, it was an aspiration, it was a desire and it was also very much a determination, which the people showed, by standing, day after day, in the cold nights on the Maydan. So, it was a real commitment, a serious commitment. It wasn't just a fleeting moment, not just some casual political gathering. It was a life long commitment for many, a sincere commitment for many, and one has to appreciate that, because it tells you what was involved, and it tells you also what is at stake, a national commitment to something transcendental. In many respects ephemeral and yet vital, it is something that has to be honored treasured and respected.

Ten months afterwards, we have reason to be gratified in noting that Ukrainian mass media are free, which they were not before, that the political discourse is lively and open, that Ukraine's foreign policy, in the hands of experienced and committed individuals, is pointed in a clear, strategic direction, that Ukraine sees itself as a member of a much larger European community, of which historically it has always been, at heart, even when separated. And it is enough to read European historical chronicles to realize what an important place Kyivan Rus has been in the emergence of a Europe that is yet to be politically and geographically defined as the real Europe. And Ukraine, in aspiration, in that direction therefore reflects a larger European mission, a larger European trajectory, and that is all to the good.

But the question also lingers, and increasingly so. And it is an important question.

What is the relationship in all that is now happening between principle and opportunism?

What is the relationship between hope in its vague and defined fashion and the necessities of political life? How does one strike a realistic balance between the two?

One has to be conscious of the need for balance, because one cannot live forever on hope. But one can get indigestion from too much opportunism and therefore there has to be a balance between the two. The public, at some point, is going to ask: Were there crimes committed in the earlier era? And if there were crimes, those responsible for them be brought to account. Or are they now to be forgotten? The public is bound to ask if it has a memory, and it certainly does, because it was there at Maydan making its commitment, a vow to a Ukrainian future that is better. Was there corruption, and if there was corruption, who were the corruptors? And who were the beneficiaries of the corruption, and what about their future? The public is bound to ask: Was there nepotism and if there was nepotism, who was the beneficiary of the nepotism? And, further, is now that to be swept under the rug? The public is bound to ask: Was there misuse of public office for personal gain, and if there was, is it going to be tolerated in the future?

That agenda cannot be ignored, particularly after the dramatic intense nationwide political awakening, after the marriage between independence and democracy, after the commitment to principle. That agenda cannot be ignored, and striking a balance, therefore, between hope and realism is a complicated and difficult task. It is certainly easy for me to orate about it, and I realize that it is much more difficult to be dealing with the situation in practice. One has to respect both the hope and the imperatives of reality. But in respecting both, one has to be very careful to maintain a balance between the two and not to skew that balance excessively in one direction.

I have recently read the statement entitled: Unity [or Unification….I know this has be translated in different ways in different translations]…."Unity and Collaboration for the Sake of the Future". That document was just signed the other day. It is rather interesting incidentally that the original version of that document, submitted by President Yushchenko, simply emphasized mutual understanding for the sake of the future. In its final agreed form, it came out as "Unity [or Unification] and Collaboration for the Sake of the Future". The change in the title is a nuance, but nuances in politics are important. The original version was a commitment to a mutual understanding. The accepted final version implies two sides agreeing to unity or unification on behalf of a common understanding. There is a difference between the two, and of course, that may be necessary in the political context. But the question does arise whether some of the 'agenda of hope' implicit in Maydan is not going to be obscured by the imperatives of political realism, which exists and which has to be recognized, as I repeat. But when for example the document promises that political repression is inadmissible and bringing pressure to bear on political opponents is inadmissible, is that an affirmation of a commitment to democracy and to cleansing? Or is that an implicit guarantee of amnesty? Which is it? It has a bearing on how the public will interpret the document. The importance to stress here is that in the difficult and complicated Ukrainian reality, one has to be very careful not to engage in unrealistic idealism, which eventually creates ferment and confusion, but not to lean also the other way, in order to be realistic and generate thereby a degree of opportunism which then leads to public disillusionment, disappointment, apathy and loss of hope. That to me is the central issue and that also means to me that it is particularly important that those who where genuinely and sincerely committed to the agenda of Maydan, irrespective of their personal and political differences, still remain committed to that agenda. Because it was that agenda that mobilized, ene
rgized Ukrainian people and really gave them for the first time in fifteen years an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to independence. Those of you who are Ukrainian Americans know very well that independence came to Ukraine very quietly, very peacefully, very bureaucratically. It was only on the Maydan that the Ukrainian people demonstrated their determination to be free on a collective, national basis and that is an important historical moment. It is also a fact that those who wish Ukraine ill would like to see the Orange Revolution discredited and the Orange Coalition permanently destroyed. They didn't like it when it appeared, they opposed it when it struggled, they have watched suspiciously its entrenchment in power and they have been delighted to see it fragment. I found it amazing that a foreign ambassador, I emphasize, foreign ambassador, could hold a press conference in Ukraine, in order to applaud Ukrainian decisions regarding Ukrainian changes of government, as if it was his business to determine what is right and wrong for the Ukrainian government to do. I know some neighboring countries of Ukraine…I won't tell you which, but you can probably guess…in which, if a Russian Ambassador made such a move, the next day he would be packing his bags or perhaps waiting for them to be delivered at the airport in Moscow, having arrived there the night before. That is food for thought, because it suggests that there are major interests interested in fragmenting the new spirit of hope in Ukraine, disintegrating it, reducing it to the level of banality, inducing cynicism and disappointment.

Many of you perhaps know that a movie is being prepared for release in a neighboring country, one might say a very interesting movie. It is going to be a movie that is, in effect, a pornographic film, but with a political content. It is going to star a lady with rather unusual hairdo who is going to appear in the nude….I am talking seriously…and she will be shown engaging in a rather affectionate relationship with another individual who bares a striking similarity to a president of a certain Caucasian country. This again tells you how some of those others feel about what has been happening in Ukraine and that makes it all the more important that those who have been in the Orange Coalition, in spite of specific tactical or bureaucratic differences, do not translate them into permanent hostility, mutual accusations, escalating antagonism, self destructive conflict. I noticed that the former Prime Minister has recently given an interview in the Moscow Echo newspaper, in which is deplorable language is used, and that's not helpful. I have noticed that the new Vice Premier in the new government, who to my knowledge was not part of the Orange Coalition, has now given an interview attaching the former Prime Minister of to financial malfeasance, to paying bribes. One could go on and on about the issue of inciting mutual accusations. These, I repeat, are self destructive. They contribute to the discrediting of Ukrainian political leadership. They demoralize the public. They undo what has been accomplished so dramatically in the course of recent times.

Now, it is quite natural for democratic coalitions at some point to dissolve. There is nothing unique about that and nothing particularly shocking about that either. Think back to a neighboring country, namely Poland, which, after the Solidarity coalition came to power, saw a rapid split up. There was a so called "war of the top" between Walesa and Mazowiecki, in particular. They even directly competed. But, please note, they remained united on fundamentals, totally united on fundamentals, even though occasionally embittered, occasionally quite angry. Again, I repeat, they remained united. That is why recently, in Gdansk, we have the celebration. Yushchenko was there and others… Americans, Europeans, Poles, Ukrainians….celebrating the 25th anniversary of the revolution that was and is successful, genuinely successful and secure. This is something that Ukrainians have to keep uppermost in their mind. That is the duty, in my view, of the Ukrainian leadership. It is the duty of the Ukrainian people to communicate to their leadership their expectations and it is the duty of the leadership, and particularly evocative leadership, leadership that has a personal dimension to it, to reach out to the people, to address the people, and to speak to their hopes….and not simply sign pacts of unity and collaboration which provides assurances that some of the hopes will not be fulfilled. That is important!

Many of you here today represent the Ukrainian Diaspora, the Ukrainian Diaspora of the United States and Canada. I know many of you and you have always stood for Ukrainian independence, you have always been committed to it, even when it looked remote. I think you have a particular responsibility today to monitor very closely what is happening in Ukraine, and to be very clear in communicating to the leaders you respect, and whom we all wish well, what their duty is and what their larger perspective ought to be. And it is important for the leaders there to communicate with you, but also to communicate with the people. The future of Ukraine should not be shaped on the basis of agreements reached by seemingly irreconcilable groups, concluded in closed rooms, but without the Ukrainian people being addressed or engaged in the process. If they could freeze for 21 days in the Maydan in order to have freedom, they should be consulted and engaged. It is as simple, as basis, as fundamental, as that.

I also think it is important for the Diaspora, and those of us in America who wish Ukraine the best, to monitor closely what Ukraine actually is doing on some of the concrete issues. Has the voting agenda for Ukraine membership in WTO been passed? Has it been passed in total? It is very important that Ukraine be in WTO this year. There are good reasons for it to be there this year and not next year. I'd be remiss not to point out how much more difficult for Ukraine it would be to get in next year… also for very good reasons, and if you don't know what those reasons are, you would do well to ask and find out, because it is in Ukraine's interest that you know. Is that being done? If the political conflict between the different groups becomes too antagonistic, that shared objective could be forgotten, and that is no good. Is Ukraine really moving forward as fast as it can towards European Union. The Ukrainian EU action plan is to be evaluated in the first quarter of next year. To my understanding, not all of its goals have been met. Will they be met? They had better be met, if Ukraine plans to move towards Europe. The Rada is still looking to pass some 23 laws pertaining to NATO and Ukraine's prospects for NATO; it may not be a prospect in the very immediate future, but it is, nonetheless, a prospect of importance to Ukraine's future. Is progress on this going to move forward, especially on the basis of that agreement regarding Ukraine's future reached between different and often irreconcilable political parties? The Diaspora can be important in monitoring this progress or noting the lack of progress. And, we in America who were sympathetic to Ukraine should continue to strive to remind all that Ukraine's future is important to the future of Europe, and that Ukraine, if it becomes indeed a successful member of the European community, predetermines the future of Russia, in the sense that Russia then has no choice but also to be a member of that community.

We have a stake in all that has been pointed out; we really do. However, we also have to be realistic in saying to the Ukrainians that as much as we would like Ukraine to be a success, we can go on without Ukraine. But Ukraine cannot go on as Ukraine without success, and that is really up to the Ukrainians. It is not to be decided by foreigners; it is certainly not to be decided by actions which are then applauded, or not applauded, by a
foreign Ambassador from a neighboring country. It is something that the Ukrainians have to determine to do on their own, because this is what they want as a people. They proved ten months ago that they are a people, that is, a nation, and I think particularly now they have to remind their leaders that it is they who will decide the future of Ukraine.