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This past weekend in a little noticed ceremony Viktor Yushchenko was inaugurated as President of Ukraine. A quick re-cap of the unusual circumstances surrounding the election from Reuters:
Yushchenko, his face disfigured from dioxin poisoning he blames on secret services, was elected in a race dominated by mass protests against fraud in a first ballot that he lost. The Supreme Court ordered a second vote which he won comfortably.
Those familiar with blogs are already quite familiar with the story, as several bloggers covered the drama quite closely as it unfolded.
Yushchenko to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, at the inauguration as his final official visit:
"This would not have happened if we didn't have partners that are advocating democratic principles and shared democratic values. And I certainly include in this list the United States of America and your personal contribution."
Powell, one of the most prominent guests at the festivities, told Yushchenko Washington would do all it could "to help you meet the expectations that the Ukrainian people now have." He praised the "magnificent success on your part because you prevailed in open, free and fair elections."
A day of celebrations, as following the ceremony Yushchenko addressed a crowd estimated in the hundreds of thousands at Kiev's Independence Square, scene of massive rallies in his support after the fraudulent initial elections. Formerly a part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine is situated at a crucial point on the map of Europe, and Yushchenko will have his hands full working with Russia on his East and the EU to his west.
But for now we note a great day for democracy, to be sure.
For some reason that story didn't get the media attention that this one did:
The government of Ukraine, acting a day after an explosion killed eight of its soldiers in Iraq, announced Monday that it would withdraw its 1,650-member force by the middle of 2005.
This story, from January 10, actually refers to the what is now the former government of Ukraine. But the fact that it was a lame-duck president making the statement was somewhat downplayed in the news.
Ukraine has been moving for months toward pulling out its forces, but officials have remained vague about dates; Monday's statement, which followed a meeting between President Leonid Kuchma and his defense and foreign ministers, gives new firmness to those intentions.
A "new firmness" that lasted approximately two weeks. The new Ukrainian President will no doubt have his own timetable.
Some may dismiss the contribution of Ukraine to the Coalition in Iraq; many have dismissed the entire Coalition, so their complaints are not surprising. After all, what does a country like Ukraine have to offer a turmoil-ridden land fresh from the rule of a despotic leader?
I mean, besides the world's largest aircraft?
The largest functional aircraft in the world is the Ukrainian-'born' Antonov An-225. It can carry up to 250 tons of cargo and was built to transport the Soviet Union's version of the space shuttle from point A to point B on the surface of the earth. It is a monument to technology - though some might say to technology run amok. To see it propelled by it's six engines down a runway and into the sky is amazing. Raising a massive cloud of dust in its wake as it lumbers forward, differential airflow over the surface of it's wings seems an utterly inadequate explanation of its ability to defy gravity. To those who appreciate such things its liftoff is something to be seen. It is a head-turner, and pilots with years of experience stop what they are doing to watch it go.
There is much symbolism that could be inferred here, not the least of which is that the plane is another example of the concept that Victor Davis Hanson discusses here:
Today, China is a similar example. Like the Ottomans and the nineteenth-century Japanese, the Chinese military believes that it can either purchase or steal Western computer, aeronautical, and nuclear technology?while skipping bothersome Western notions like democracy and free speech?in order to obtain military parity with the United States. The Arab world too has sought to match Israel with MiGs, Scuds, SAMs, and RPGs?technology that it could neither design nor fabricate, but that it believed could give its autocracies the ability to destroy a democratic, highly sophisticated Jewish state all the same. Every rocket-propelled grenade that kills an American in the Sunni Triangle is either imported from the West or fabricated in the region according to Western blueprints and designs.
Yet in the long run, such imported technological expertise cannot be maintained, constantly improved, or used to its optimum potential without free citizens, secular universities, transparent government, and open inquiry. These intangible values and concrete institutions are the real engines that drive the modern Western ability to field high-tech arms and disciplined soldiers in the first place. For all the worry about weapons of mass destruction, neither Iran, nor North Korea, nor Libya, despite the purchased veneer of a sophisticated military, could ever defeat a militarily serious Western state of comparable size unless it underwent radical social and cultural democratic reform?which ironically might then deprive it of any impulse to attack the West in the first place.
The idea of a nation like Iraq producing a machine like the AN-225 seems a bit unlikely, but here you have an example of a nation that does have the capability to produce such a thing using it to help build one that does not. A nation just recently freed from the boot heel of an oppressive regime (the Soviet Union), a nation that recently experienced a free election and now seeks its place in the free world, using a tangible symbol of its own potential to assist in the amazing adventure that is the re-building of Iraq. To take that one step further, a nation still on the brink of its own future willing to participate in an endeavor to bring democracy to a part of the world that has known too few examples of freedom for the past few thousand years.
The symbolism is inescapable, unavoidable. Democracy is being delivered from a nation that has had only a brief experience with it.
Will they soon withdraw from the cause? That is their right. They have done their bit where others shied away. They have their own nation to build, and their willingness to participate in building another at this point in their history deserves nothing but respect.
William Shawcross writes in The Guardian
Tony Blair said in Baghdad in December: "On the one side you have people who desperately want to make the democratic process work, and want the same type of democratic freedoms other parts of the world enjoy, and on the other side people who are killing and intimidating and trying to destroy a better future for Iraq. Our response should be to stand alongside the democrats."
Blair is absolutely right. It is shocking that so few democratic governments support the Iraqi people. Where are French and German and Spanish protests against the terror being inflicted on voters in Iraq? And it is shocking that around the world there is not wider admiration of, assistance to and moral support (and more) for the Iraqi people. The choice is clear: movement towards democracy in Iraq or a new nihilism akin to fascism - Islamist fascism.
Where are France and Germany and Spain? On any map you will find them by looking to the left of Ukraine, and the other new eastern European democracies, most of whom are here in Iraq too. Certainly one day in the future Iraq will be safe for the likes of "old Europe" again. In the meantime they are debating among themselves; which of the new eastern European democracies will be admitted into the glorious European Union? A thrilling debate, to be sure.
Meanwhile, back in Iraq:
Yet despite almost daily terrorist attacks, most Iraqis appear determined that the election should take place. Almost 75 percent of those eligible have registered to vote.
Campaigning is most intense in the Shiite and Kurdish areas ? where the insurgents, despite a number of spectacular attacks, have failed to make an impression. Meetings are held in mosques, schools, village halls and the homes of the candidates where would-be voters are often treated to free meals. In parts of southern Iraq, big tribal tents double as town halls for the election.
Much of the debate takes place through talk on the 50 or so privately owned radio stations, especially in and around Baghdad, and in the columns of the 200 or so newspapers and magazines that have sprung up since liberation.
"We know that there are criminals determined to blow us up," says Abdul-Hussein Hindawi, head of the independent Electoral Commission. "But we cannot allow fear to shape our future. Iraqis know that they must take risks to build a free society."
In the meantime they are debating among themselves; which of the new eastern European democracies will be admitted into the glorious European Union? A thrilling debate, to be sure.
Well, ten countries have just been admitted, and if everythings works as planned Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia will join in 2007. Can't work any faster than that. :)Posted by Ralf Goergens at January 25, 2005 08:32 PM
There was another aircraft that produced the same response: the C-124 - living proof that bumblebees could fly.
GodspeedPosted by Roy Lofquist at January 27, 2005 10:02 AM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(2) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)