Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Independence Day Greetings!

Greetings on this the fourteenth Independence Day in Ukraine. I write to you from L'viv where all day today there have been festivities and where tonight will be a concert at which one of my favorite contemporary Ukrainian bands will be playing, called "Mandry."

I have been doing a lot of traveling about and talking with people in various parts of the country again--namely, have been in Kyiv, Poltava, Ivano-Frankivsk, Yabloniv (a village outside of Kolomyja), and now in L'viv. My feeling about Ukraine almost a year later after the Orange Revolution that already much has changfed for the positive. However, for the most part when talking with people, you get the sense that nothing has changed. The vast majority of people with whom I talk feel rather let down and quite pessimistic. I think that this was predictable a year ago and I don't think the pessimism is justified, and there are enough people here who also think more positively and optimistically. But the rumors are true: average people have by and large become rather dissillusioned. But not entirely. I don't get the sense that people have completely given up hope. I can't do justice to these observations here as I only have a few moments to write, but once I am settled back in a major city for a while I want to post a more thought-out piece. But here's one really great thought that one Kyiv resident said to me; one Volodymyr Kish said, "The problem is that, the new government would be having a much easier time if they had not come to power via a revolution." Expectations would be much lower.

But now to be positive: things here feel more Ukrainian than they did last year. There is advertising on public billboards and on TV everywhere that proudly proclaims Ukrainianness and a Ukrainian identity, and this is a HUGE change since last year. There is more pride and joy it seems here, and Ukraine also already feels and is much less isolated from the rest of the world. I CAN NOT BELIEVE the number of tourists from the West in Kyiv and Lviv and even in the Carpathians this year. It was not like this AT ALL last year, and long time livers- in-Ukraine (native Ukis and expats and diaspora) all say that this summer has seen an unprecedented level of tourists and wanderers. (A tourist is one who dos all the typical touristy things, while a wandered or traveler to my mind is the one who steps off the beaten track.) This is good, really good, for Ukraine and Ukrainians: Ukraine feels happier, more open, and like a part of the world. This is a positive side of globalization.

So also on that note, today a fellow made a very good and topical speech on Taras Shevchenko square right in the heart of Lviv. In his speech, he reminded Ukrainians that they made the Orange Revolution happen and they therefore also have to make its legacy last. He criticized those who now are cynical or disillusioned with the progress of reforms as being lazy or being too typically Soviet-minded, in the sense of expecting the State and the political leadership to take care of everything. He urged diligence and patience. And if Yushchenko and his gang to in the end turn out not to be all that they were cracked up to be, the legacy of the OR should out live them. I am glad someone made that speech.

There are lots of things to be proud of; so far, most of them are only on the legal front (ongoing arrests and investigations into former corrupt officials) and cultural (things beginning to look and feel more genuinely Ukrainian). But the average person wants to feel the reforms in their pocketbooks. This is going to take much longer than 8 or so months. And the world economic crisis and gas prices are also hurting the reputation of the new government and contributing to people's impatience unduly. This and the fact that they did come to power with such high expectations really is the new government's greatest adversaries. But for now, I have faith that they will pull through. I am super pleased to be in a Ukraine that this year seems more proudly Ukrainian than it has in a long time!

Us'oho najkrashchoho!


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