Volume 18 Number 2
Are We Ready to Listen to All Ukrainians?
01 April 2005

Jose Carlos Leon Vargas was in Ukraine during the ‘Orange Revolution’ in December. What he saw got him thinking.

Ukraine’s diversity constitutes its richness, but it has also lain behind continuous struggles throughout the centuries. The presidential elections last December demonstrated the strength of the linguistic and ethnic divisions in this marvellous country, whose west leans toward Europe and whose east towards Russia. They also showed the need to support new democracies by promoting fair and just dialogue between communities.

‘Yu-Shchen-Ko ! Yu-Shchen-Ko !’ was the chant of hundreds of demonstrators in Kiev’s Independence Square. Ordinary Ukrainians, many of them young, wearing orange ribbons and scarves, braved the coldest temperatures to demand peacefully that the previous fraudulent election result be rerun. The international media called it the ‘Orange Revolution’, describing it as countrywide.

When I arrived in Kiev, I felt as if I was witnessing a colourful parade, with entire families on the streets. The main avenues of the city were transformed into an enormous campsite where unions, student associations and political activists gathered to reject the victory of the government-backed candidate, Victor Yanukovich. Every concert at Independence Square was preceded by a speech in Ukrainian welcoming a new era of democracy for the nation.

So I was greatly surprised, after travelling 16 hours south-east by train, to discover that there is no such thing as a single Ukrainian nation. At Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, I witnessed a completely different spectacle. Tricoloured Russian flags and blue flags abounded. Hundreds of Russian-speaking protesters were trying to keep up the morale of Yanukovich’s followers in the south-east. But where were the reporters and the international correspondents? Nowhere. The only media coverage came from local journalists who took photos of the other side of the ‘revolution’; a peaceful but passionate demonstration calling for Russian and Ukrainian solidarity.

Many things can be said about the political careers of both candidates. Neither of them is particularly known for their honesty in the past. Yet, in the middle of this commotion, Ukrainians from the west and the east gave us a unique example of how valuable democracy is. This revolution was not orange or blue, it was Ukrainian, and the fact that Ukraine is now moving towards a Western model of democracy need not prevent us from listening to those regions with a Russian background.

After their political crisis, Ukrainians need assistance in their transition; but most important, they need to be listened to. This also includes those who lost the election, for the Russian side of Ukraine has an invaluable role to play in the construction of democracy.

As a Mexican, my visit to Ukraine left me with an invaluable lesson. My country also is formed of multiple nations. For us too dialogue can be a useful tool for reducing the frictions between different ethnic groups. Dialogue means talking, but it also means listening to all the actors who take part in it. Are we ready to listen to all Ukrainians?