It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE UKRAINIAN ELECTION.
1. Okay, so Jose is departing a little bit from his normal writing routine here. This piece will be relatively free of references to Jason Varitek, Mosey Nixon and the WORLD CHAMPION RED SOX!!! (Note: Though it is possible that Jose will sneak in a reference or two to Doug Mientkeiwiecz due to his Slavic ancestry.) As it turns out, Ukraine is actually someplace Jose knows a little bit about. Not only has Jose’s father worked there, but Jose has read Orest Subtelny’s excellent and extremely lengthy Ukraine: A History. Not only has Jose read Ukraine: A History, he has drank more than his share of superior Nemiroff Ukrainian Vodka . And not only has Jose drank a lot of Nemiroff Vodka, he has drank some of it in the actual county of Ukraine. You know, the one in Europe.
Jose is also the descendant of the mayor of Kolomyia, a Ukrainian city of about 60,000, so he naturally feels qualified to comment on all things Ukrainian. Never mind that his ancestor was appointed by the Hapsburgs and was not an ethnic Ukrainian. And definitely never mind that Jose also feels qualified to comment on things he knows nothing about, like rodeo, architecture and hair care. (Note: Riding a bull is insane, Boston City Hall is ugly, but not as ugly as people think and hair gel leave too much nasty residue.)
To understand the current crisis, one needs to know a little bit about Ukrainian history. The Western part of Ukraine is Ukrainian speaking, Greek Catholic/Uniate (Note: This church follows the Orthodox rites but still recognizes the Pope as the head of the church. Priests can marry and everything. It sort of makes one think about the church’s objection to letting all priests marry doesn’t it?) and was historically dominated by Poland, Lithuania, and Austria. Russian/Soviet domination came only after World War I.
Eastern Ukraine, by contrast, is mostly Russian speaking and Russian Orthodox, and it has been under Russian/Soviet domination since the 17th Century. In his book, Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington actually identified a civilizational fault line running directly through the middle of Ukraine and flagged it is a potential flashpoint.
The election controversy today is basically a reflection of this ancient divide. The current President Leonid Kuchma is Russian leaning and so is his designated successor, Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich. Electing Yanukovich ensures that Ukraine will remain well within the Russian sphere of influence. The opposition leader, Victor Yushchenko, represents Western Ukraine, and his election would begin to move Ukraine into the European sphere of influence.
All indications are that Yushchenko won the election, but the official vote counts show him losing by three percent. As a result, Yushchenko has organized mass demonstrations in the capitol, Kyiv (Kiev in Russian), and around the country. (Note: Yes, they do actually have Chicken Kyiv in Kyiv.)
Currently, the Ukrainian Supreme court is trying to decide whether to declare a winner or order a new election.
So that’s the basic historical and political context. On to the humor!!! (Note: Let’s see, it took almost 400 words for Jose to set the stage. Should Jose really be writing jokes that take 400 words to set up? Will this even resonate with an American audience? Probably not, but Jose will be huge in Ivano-Frankivsk…HUGE!!! You know, among the one percent of the population that speaks English.)
2. While Jose is interested in Ukrainian politics in and of themselves, what has really fascinated him about this imbroglio is the comparison with recent American presidential elections. For instance, did you know that in Ukraine thousands of eligible voters were purged from voting lists as convicted felons even though they had never committed a crime? Oh…wait…that was only here. But surely Yanakovich was using an American playbook when he distributed leaflets suggesting that Yushchenko would ban the bible. Oops…that was only here too. Well, let’s try this one: Yushchenko’s claim to victory rests on Western sponsored exit polls that showed him winning by around 11 percentage points. Yet when the votes were tabulated, he ended up losing by three points. Because of the wild discrepancy, everyone assumed the election had been fixed. In the U.S., Western sponsored exit polls suggested that John Kerry would be elected, though by a much smaller margin, yet when the votes were tabulated, he ended up losing by three points, so naturally everyone assumed there was fraud.
We didn’t assume there was fraud? Instead we assumed that exit pollsters are idiots? Huh.
Having demagogued enough on the 2004 election, lets talk about the juicer comparison, the 2000 election. Following the Ukrainian election, the Central Election Commission rushed to certify the vote before allegations of irregularities were fully investigated, arguing that establishing a winner quickly was of the greatest importance. As Jose recalls, the executive apparatus in the state of Florida seemed quite eager to hurry to certification as well.
The similarity in rhetoric has also been fascinating. Following the election Mr. Yanukovich, the presumptive winner, stated that after a long and contentious campaign, it was time for the country to unite (Note: Behind him…the candidate who received fewer votes). Boy does that sound familiar.
And in a final note of similarity, Yushchenko, like Al Gore before him, has gone to the courts for satisfaction. As Jose writes this, the Ukrainian Supreme Court is evaluating the fairness of the election. If the American election is any guide, Yushchenko should not be too optimistic. On the other hand, the Ukrainian court apparently holds a reputation as being above politics, a reputation that the American court no longer enjoys. Of course, Yushchenko is coupling his legal appeals with mass protests and a thus far unheeded call for a general strike, something Al Gore decidedly did not do in 2000. In the future, Jose would like to urge aggrieved American politicians of both parties to call for general strikes, because frankly, Jose could use a few days off. Hell, Jose is even considering heeding Yushchenko’s call for a general strike. Sure, the call is intended for Ukraine, but Jose can sympathize can’t he?
So in the meantime, Colin Powell joins European Foreign Ministers in lecturing the Ukrainian regime on the importance of fair elections. But if the real goal is to end this dispute quickly, Jose has a suggestion. President Bush should make Katherine Harris his special envoy to Ukraine. Now there’s a woman who knows how to resolve elections, not fairly, but fast. Can’t you imagine the dialogue between Harris and Prime Minister Yanakovich?
Katherine Harris: Mr. Prime Minister, I admire your efforts to rapidly certify your questionable victory in order to ensure a swift transition of power and national stability, but if you want to end this quickly, you need a denigrating nickname for your opponents. We used Sore Loserman. Perhaps your supporters could call Mr. Yushchenko “You Should Go.”
Viktor Yanokovich: You wear far too much makeup and look like a clown or possibly an aging prostitute.
Now that’s diplomacy.
3. Thus far the protests have been peaceful, but Jose is deeply concerned. Orange is the color of Yushchenko’s party, so the streets of Kyiv are filled with protesters wearing orange scarves, ties and hats. If Jose has learned anything from studying Irish history and Syracuse athletics, it’s that people marching around in orange are a sure sign that trouble is about to start.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE UKRAINIAN ELECTION.