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Ukraine’s Defining Moment

03.12.2004 11:37

I was born in 1958 in Moscow, USSR. At 15, I was an ordinary Jewish math genius, doing nothing but solving math problems my every waking moment. And then one day I went to a Woodstock-style rock concert, the first and the only such concert I have ever attended. I was away from home for just one night. I did not drink, did not take drugs, did not have sex - just observed the scene and listened to the music. When I came back, I could not bear to look at my Linear Algebra textbook: I had realized I was supposed to have a life. I came back an entirely different person. First, I quit the School for Math Genuises I was attending. Then I left home and moved in with some hippies. And then I left the USSR and came to America. I have lived 16500 days so far, but only one day really mattered: the day I attended that rock concert and decided to have a life. A song called “Juke Box Hero” by Foreigner is about me as it has these words: “He heard one guitar, just blew him away”.

I hope that you, too, had this life-changing moment, a moment when you realized what life was all about, a day profoundly different from all other days. Sometimes entire countries have such moments, and recently it happened in Ukraine. Ukraine was a country of fifty million starving, downtrodden slaves whose idea of a good day was to not go to bed hungry. And then they had a Presidential election. The candidate of power ran under a convincing, snappy slogan, “Vote for me, you scum”; the opposition candidate, nowhere to be seen, squeaked out “I exist”. As a professional in these matters, I was convinced that the candidate of power had an excellent slogan that would assure his victory: to be a successful shepherd, all you need is a long stick and a few angry shepherd dogs.

And then, unpredictably, the people just snapped. In one day, the reddest letter day of Ukraine’s entire 1000 years of recorded history, 500,000 people gathered on the central square of Kiev to sing their national anthem. Thanks to TV, millions of other Ukrainians were crying, thanking God for having lived to see this day. In God’s ranking of anthems, the Ukrainian anthem immediately took the third place, right after the Israeli and the Polish one. Europe grew by one state. Opposition leader, Victor Yushchenko, gained the status of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and John Lennon all rolled into one. A Ukrainian rap song formulated the issue of the day with the greatest precision: “We are no cattle, no billy-goats, we are Ukraine’s daughters and sons”. Ukrainians woke up a nation, unable to believe that in a far distant past of 24 hours ago they really were a herd of slaves.

There is only one thing left to learn: the extent to which Ukrainians have discovered themselves as free, empowered citizens filled with hope or whether they appointed Yushchenko as a Savior, a one-shot magic solution that will solve all their problems while requiring no effort from them. In other words, will the students who supported Yushchenko continue to cheat on their exams or will they designate cheating as “the Yanukovich thing” and stop cheating forever? That remains an issue since hope for a magic solution is a major characteristic of slaves. And yet, mere uncertainty as to whether a real spiritual liberation has indeed taken place is a giant leap forward.

On Sunday, Ukrainians are going to the polls. The question they will be polled on can be reformulated as follows: “Would you rather make love to a Hollywood star of your choice or clean a stinking pigsty?” Since not everyone is ready to pick the first option, I expect a 60:40 victory of Yushchenko, who will become a new President of an entirely new, very proud and hopeful state that will keep the name of Ukraine but will have an entirely different substance.


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