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Ukraine’s Fateful Choice

22.12.2004 11:35

Johnson’s Russia List, #8512. 22 December 2004

To the final round of the Presidential Elections Ukraine comes deeply divided. But this division is not between supporters of Yushchenko and those of Yanukovich, not between Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers, not between Eastern Ukraine and Western Ukraine, and not between powers-that-be and the opposition. The word “Ukraine” means “borderland”, and indeed Ukraine lies between Russia and Poland: Ukraine is now choosing between the Eastern Slavic and the European civilization.

And what a momentous choice this is! Indeed, the previous choice of that magnitude was also made in this same city of Kyiv, when a Kyivan ruler chose to convert to Orthodox Christianity, and that was in 988, more than a thousand years ago!

The pivotal question here could not be more fundamental as it happens to be this: “How do you turn a human into a better human?” And, to our amazement, we discover that Christian tradition gives two diametrically opposite answers to this question. One theory holds that good human beings live by the results of their productive labor, are fair and kind, and are self-sufficient, so as not to inconvenience anyone and to provide assistance to others when needed. In other words, partners in a Wall Street law firm are good. But Jesus Christ was not one of them: He died on the cross, wearing nothing but a loincloth. From that, comes another theory: a human being gets better by overcoming a challenge, by proving to be stronger than an obstacle, by committing a heroic deed. If so, goodness can be defined as ability to overcome suffering, which means that suffering is a precondition of achieving goodness.

Indeed, Jesus was capable of miracles, and yet He consciously allowed Pilate to get Him crucified. Why? Because if He had not died on the cross there could have been no Resurrection. And that brings us back to the person of Pilate, the facilitator. Would there be any Christians today if Pilate were to have said, “Mr. Christ, you are guilty of nothing, you are free, I apologize for the inconvenience.”? No. And from that it follows that Christian behavior consists of acting like Pilate so that someone would have an opportunity to suffer on the cross.

Eastern Slavic civilization is founded on this behavior. A saleslady insults a customer because she fully expects to be insulted when she boards a bus. Having first impersonated Pilate to help someone, she then impersonates Jesus by suffering from an insult herself and then getting over it; it makes for a good day.

Now we are ready to discuss the December 20th Presidential Debate. Yanukovich stole three million votes, he undersold Krivorozhstal, and brought the country to the brink of the civil war. For these momentous, soul-cleansing crimes, he is justly loved and respected by a sizable part of the Ukrainian population. Please do not think that I am joking and if you do, please reread the previous three paragraphs until you understand that I mean this very seriously.

And so did Yanukovich. Confronted with having committed these crimes, Yanukovich felt no need to deny them, but stated that he is a religious man who had forgiven his detractors. In effect, he was saying, “Yes, I am Pilate. Without me, there would have been no cross, no Resurrection, no glory. I have fulfilled my religious mission of being there to help. Please vote for me: Christ accepted Pilate’s power to crucify him.”

Are you with me? Look, there is nothing bad in insulting a Ukranian: you are supposed to challenge them so that they, in turn, could overcome the challenge. If you are in power, you are expected to steal, lie, intimidate, and torture. And then people would respect your role as they repeat the phrase that lies in the foundation of their civilization: “Jesus suffered and He bequeathed us to do likewise.” Thus, Yanukovich came out of the debate respected and loved by his, bruised and abused, constituency.

But Yanukovich is now in the minority and will lose the election. In Ukraine, a new breed of citizen has appeared. Their backs are straight, their eyes are bright, and they are filled with hope. Instead of causing suffering to their neighbors, thus giving their neighbors an opportunity to elevate themselves above it, these people have discovered the win/win, a joyful, respectful, mutually beneficial cooperation. Their color is bright orange, an absolutely alien color here, a color that only the youngest Eastern Slav children have dared to use, before turning to red of blood, blue of an empty hope and gray of life. These new citizens dress well, they smile (a crime in this part of the world) and demand their legal rights. Look, every time you smile you are forgetting the suffering of Jesus, and what legal rights did He have? Do you remember His trial? How dare you to claim the rights He did not have?

A popular Ukrainian rap song describes this election’s options with great precision: “We are no cattle, no billy-goats, we are Ukraine’s daughters and sons”. By referring to the Revolution as the “Orange Plague” (i.e. a pandemic disease that threatens to destroy an entire civilization) Yanukovich is profoundly right: Eastern Slavic civilization is being rejected, in disgust, by the new Ukrainian Europeans who demand, and will get, their rights, their dignity, the joy of productivity and cooperation, and a very bright future for all.

All of this could be put in a worldwide prospective: America is trying to give a western-style democracy to Iraqi Muslims, some of whom flagellate themselves with bunches of bicycle chains until their backs are black and blue. And many Jews in the world, not all of them immoral, eat pork. Reformation is on the march, and, as a reaction against it, so is the religious fundamentalism. Yanukovich can thus be seen as a Ukrainian ayatollah of sorts, and we should fervently hope that he will be soundly defeated.

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