Sunday, May 9, 2010

What's the Fight About?

In this past winter's presidential election here in Ukraine, much was made of the divisions between East and West, between Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers.  And the fight above, of course, was last month's egg-throwing, smoke bomb letting melee in the Parliament here about extending Russia's lease on naval bases in the Crimea.

This year, I've found political conversations almost everywhere I've gone.   It's a difficult realization that sometimes a democratic vote brings you a leader you don't want.  And the run-up to today's Victory Day celebrations (more on that to come) have brought conversations even more to the fore.  

But I was struck by an observation from a Ukrainian colleague this week.  She's an ardent Ukrainian nationalist,  someone committed to the Ukrainian language and to the idea of an independent Ukraine.   To paraphrase, she said that she used to think the fight for Ukraine was between East and West,  or between Russian and Ukrainian speakers.   But she says she now believes that the fight is not between those groups,  but is between those people who long for a return to the time of the Soviet Union and those who long for an independent, free Ukraine.  That's a big change for me to hear--the change from identity politics,  defining you by where you were born or what language you speak;  to defining the debate about Ukraine's future as one of different political beliefs, a belief in different political systems.

On a day when the sounds of the  gigantic old Soviet-style military parade come in through my spring window,  it seems something worth remembering.

Top:  Parliament photo by Sergie Supinsky/AFP
Bottom:  Rehearsals for Victory Day parade

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