Emory Report
March 21, 2005
Volume 57, Number 23


Emory Report homepage   >   Current issue front page

March 21, 2005
Democracy translates from any language

BY eric rangus

The personal stories behind the dramatic elections in Ukraine late last year were so remarkable that two languages were required to tell them.

Held Wednesday, March 9, in 208 White Hall, “Orange Revolution: The Ukrainian Elections” featured seven guests, all of whom had front-line roles in efforts to overturn the results of a corrupted election and bring a truly democratic leader to power in a nation that has seen precious little self-determination throughout its colorful history.

Packed onto a stage that included two interpreters and co-moderator Sam Cherribi, visiting senior lecturer of sociology and interim director of the Center for the Study of Public Scholarship, the panelists took turns introducing themselves, sketching out their roles in the fall 2004 Ukrainian election process and painting an optimistic picture of their country’s future.

That election process yielded three elections in Ukraine between Oct. 31 and Dec. 26, including a controversial vote on Nov. 21 that saw Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich (who was backed by Russian President Vladmir Putin) defeat former prime minister and former head of the National Bank Viktor Yushchenko (a favorite among Ukrainian reformers as well as many in the West).

The Yanukovich victory was quickly called into doubt amid allegations of ballot and voter fraud (there was even an assassination attempt on Yushchenko that left him facially disfigured as a result of ingesting poison), and mass demonstrations began in the country’s capital of Kiev. According to some estimates, millions packed Independence Square in the central city (including many of the panelists, one of whom said he “lived for two weeks” on the square), waving orange banners and wrapping nearly everything in the revolutionary color. Eventually, Ukraine’s supreme court voided the Nov. 21 election, and called for a new vote, which Yuschenko won handily.

Panelists included a lawyer, public policy and government types, and nonprofit workers, ensuring a wide range of stories about the revolution. One theme, however, was consistent: The new government offers a new beginning for a country that spent decades under the heel of the former Soviet Union and centuries ruled by one Eastern European empire or another.

“Ukraine could become a country with unlimited opportunity for young people,” said Volodymyr Horbach, assistant to the deputy of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, through an interpreter. “The
average age of people in today’s government is about 40. They replaced a generation of 50- and 60-year-olds. [Of course], I’m in my 30s, so I think even these [current] people are too old.”

While language barriers posed some minor problems—frequent translations from the panelists’ native Ukrainian slowed the pace of the discussion—the pride in their country’s move toward democracy showed through.

“We should be thankful to the U.S. and to the West,” said Oleh Savchuk, director of the Institute of the Analysis of State and Regional Policy. “These are the people who taught us what democracy is.”

Ukraine’s complicated relationship with the rest of the world, as well as its internal struggles, was a prime topic of discussion. Geography has always played a major role in the country’s history. Even now, the eastern part of the nation tends to favor Russia, while the rest of the country is more European in its interests. There also are many expatriate Ukrainians who keep a close eye on their homeland; more than 1,500 North Americans of Ukrainian descent served as observers during the December election.

“When you are inside a country and no one supports you, you might feel isolated,” said Nataliya Oliynyk, program coordinator at the Center for European and International Research and the only panelist to deliver comments in English. “But we knew people around the world supported us. We saw blue and yellow flags in Brussels, Paris and New York,” she continued, referring to the colors of Ukraine’s flag. “We felt united with Ukrainians abroad.”

Coordinated by the Atlanta-based non-profit Friendship Force International, Emory was one stop on a visit by the Ukrainian delegation that also included the Georgia Legislature and other area organizations.
In addition to Cherribi, the panel was co-moderated by George Liber, associate professor of history at the University of Alabama, Birmingham and an expert on Ukraine. He stood at the podium and began the event with an overview of Ukraine’s turbulent history.

Keeping in mind Ukraine’s national colors, Cherribi asked how orange was adopted as the revolution’s color.
Koshovyy said that, a year and a half ago, a Ukrainian sociologist conducted a study that found orange was the country’s favorite color despite the fact it was not widely used (orange was, however, Yushchenko’s campaign color). Koshovyy added there was a practical use as well.

“This color brought warmth to the people,” he said through the interpreter. “The election was held during the cold season.” The intended humor crossed all barriers.