Cazenovia When elections roll around as they have recently in our fair burg, we sometimes hear reminders of how precious democracy is and how hard-won the right to vote is.
But, as with neighborhood traffic signs we see but don’t see, we’ve heard these exhortations so often they fade into the background. To really appreciate something like our local elections, you’ve got to go elsewhere — a foreign place, say, where democracy is shaky and the right to vote novel.
Ukraine fits the bill. Ukraine is a land which, like the opening text-crawl of a Star Wars movie, is “in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s one of those places we come from — not go to. A place we left.
But sometimes we return to understand our ancestors and, thereby, ourselves.
During the two years I recently spent in Ukraine, I had many insights into why grandma ran out of that place with her hair on fire but could never stop talking about it — both her dread and her love. The dark places. And the luminous.
So I cared when recently it became clear that Ukrainian democracy, struggling to be born since the Soviet Union collapsed, has suffered a grievous blow. The blow came in the form of a seven-year prison sentence handed down to Yulia Tymoshenko on transparently trumped-up charges.
Tymoshenko is known simply as “Yulia” to Ukrainians. She served two terms as Ukraine’s prime minister and narrowly missed becoming its president in the 2010 presidential election. She lost to a former convict named Viktor Yanukovych. He’s the guy who, as president, crafted the judicial farce that just put her in jail, where she joins numerous other members of the Ukrainian political opposition whose crime is — that’s right! — opposing Viktor Yanukovych.
You can take the people out of the Soviet Union a lot easier than you can take the Soviet Union out of the people. At least that’s true with old-school bosses like Yanukovych.