What Liberals Must Learn From Ukraine's Orange Revolution

It was an election so electrifying it seemed to unite the country more than divide it, turning the busiest of people and pop stars into volunteers, working for a reform-minded politician who stood for healing, unity, and greater liberalization. It had catchy songs and iconic fashion statements, and just like the Obama machine in 2008, it went on to disappoint the very people it promised to fight for.

In 2004, Ukraine experienced the Orange Revolution: protest camps filled the capital, Kyiv; millions peacefully demonstrated in the bitter winter months to overturn a corrupt, Kremlin-pressured election. Five years later, Viktor Yanukovych, a laughable presidential candidate and the Russian-backed foe of the Orange Revolution, is now president of Ukraine, due to the global economic collapse -- a tsunami for the country's already fragile economy -- and years of in-fighting that plagued the ruling liberals.

Why should we, here in America, who donned Shepard Fairey T-shirts and saved the posters for our grandchildren, care about a country with some of the worst luck in recent history? Because if we don't stand united for the "lesser evil" than the "straight-up evil" is coming for us.

In the 2010 Ukrainian election, outgoing president Victor Yushchenko couldn't put the disillusionment behind him and campaigned against his former Orange Revolution ally and prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a fashion muse and fiery orator, urging Ukrainians to enter "against all" in the ballot box. (Alas, this is something I hear liberal friends fantasizing about writing come November, in the midterm election). The New York Times reported that, based on early exit polling, this may have influenced as much as six percent of the vote.

Now Yushchenko, once the great hero of the Orange Revolution, is now seeing his pro-NATO, pro-EU efforts dissolve, along with freedom for the press. Yanukovich, or Mini Putin, Ukraine's new president, is threatening to rewrite history to make the Soviet years seem less horrifying, so Ukrainians can feel better about going back to being a Russian satellite state. And we all know, from the assassination of journalists, political opponents, and police violence used to break up demonstrations for civil rights, Russia's leaders are still in a Soviet state of mind.

Here's just one example of the growing threat to free speech in Ukraine, (which includes the kidnapping of a journalist and the brutal beating of another):

On September 8, the Security Service in Ukraine arrested Ruslan Zabilyi, a young historian and director of a museum in L'viv, a nationalistic pro-West, pro-democracy city in Ukraine near the border of Poland. Tymothy Snyder in the blog of the New York Review of Books writes:

On September 8, the Security Service (SB), under new leadership appointed by the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, arrested in Kiev a young historian named Ruslan Zabilyi, the director of a museum in Lviv devoted to the occupation of Ukraine by the Nazis and the Soviets. He is charged with intending to pass state secrets to foreigners. On September 13 and 14, SB agents searched the offices of the museum's research staff, confiscating two laptops containing archival documents for a planned exhibition on Ukrainian resistance to Soviet rule; authority over the museum has been transferred to the Institute of National Memory, which is now directed by a communist.

According to the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Zabilyi was seized on the street by six plainclothes SB operatives, held without a warrant or an arrest order, interrogated for fourteen hours, and forced to surrender his computer and external hard drives. Though Ukrainian law is confusing on these issues, the basic case against Zabilyi seems to be that he was intending to transmit documents from archives to foreigners.

But that could never happen here. Right? Well, it depends on how much you pay them.

Who helped Mini Putin come to power and smooth out his messaging? Why a GOP lobbyist, of course; we cannot let the party of Reverse take control of Congress this Nov. 2. If you've seen Alex Gibney's brilliant and empowering documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money, on the mega-lobbyist who put democracy up for sale, and you regularly read unbiased news, then you know that the leaders of the Republican Party, way more than the Blanche Lincoln's among us, are the party of unchecked greed, the party of fear, the party of business-above-all else, and guess who shared those values?

In 1932-33, Stalin raised funding to modernize the newly established Soviet Union by having his military seal the borders of Ukraine and export the country's grain abroad, to get the capital he needed. The result? An estimated 14 million of his own citizens, the majority Ukrainian, starved to death in an artificial famine. My grandfather survived Stalin's man-made famine as a child and many decades later, before his death, wrote about it in his memoir. Now Ukraine's new president is trying to downplay one of the largest mass murders in human history.

Not only did Stalin get to raise money, he could torture the nationalistic Ukrainians into submission. His legacy can continue in the form of Orwellian denials by the latest sworn in boot stomping on a human face. Ukraine's Kremlin and GOP-backed president dismisses the famine as old history, nothing to do with the Soviet legacy that's still squashing human rights in Russia, under Putin's KGB-like rule, and now threatens to undue democratic progress in Ukraine.

Progress takes time. As Matt Berninger, the lead singer of The National, and an obsessed fan of The West Wing, told me in our interview over the summer, "Seeing the consequences of apathy and being passive was very clear to everyone when Bush won twice. This is what happens if you're not constantly pushing for the things you believe in."

This midterm election is critical, and the Democrats, especially the passionate and fearless Barbara Boxer, are doing more in Washington, D.C., than is reported by the mainstream media. As an intern in Washington for Senator Boxer in 2002, I was nearly moved to tears watching her use her allotted time to verbally silly slap Paul Wolfowitz, a sloppy architect of the sloppy and needless war in Iraq, in a Senate hearing. Young interns for conservative representatives nearby me shook their heads and hissed under their breath at her pointed (and accurate) remarks; they obviously overlooked the fact that Bush's Wars have led to an increase of government and government spending, bloated the deficit, and that their anti-government Republican party had been hijacked by some weird hyper-greed brigade that pushes for absolutely worthless government spending just to pocket yacht-sized commissions.

For the next month, put aside that we didn't get medicare for all, that Howard Dean should have been the nominee in 2004, that Gore should have stuck up for Clinton in 2000 instead of distancing himself and choosing turncoat Lieberman as a running-mate, and all the other stupid Orange Revolution-like hangovers of the Democratic Party over the last couple decades.

Progress takes time, and we might as well enjoy the process. This fall, celebrate the courage of your convictions and grab a friend, and check out an event that gets your balls to the wall: