Orange Revolution takes Congress by storm
I watched a remarkable event this morning, the speech of Viktor Yushchenko before the assembled bodies of the United States Congress. All attendant pomp and ceremony was in play, as the first president of Ukraine ever to address a Joint Session of Congress was led into the chamber. Many of the representatives sported orange ties, I saw one official Yushchenko scarf and an orange baseball cap, and the ladies had many orange accessories, a bunch of flowers pinned at the lapel and the like, and Nancy Pelosi, looking positively like a bobby-soxer at a Johnny Ray concert even waved a brightly colored orange scarf in glee.
As he ascended the dais the President of Ukraine was greeted with warm and sustained applause and a number of cheers, and within a few minutes the assembled audience were cheering in unison "YUSH-CHEN-KO, YUSH-CHEN-KO", just like the crowds on the Maidan in Kyiv had done during those cold, dark nights of the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko accepted the accolades with his hand held humbly over his heart. It made me a little misty-eyed.
Yushchenko's speech began with a comparison -- he remarked that inscribed on the wall behind him were the remarkable words "E Pluribus Unum" -- (Out of many -- one) -- and he recalled that on the Maidan the echoing cry was "Razom nas Bahato, nas ne podolaty" -- (Together we are many, together we cannot be defeated) -- and he noted the similarities of those sentiments -- that people united in a common cause of democracy and freedom can overcome.
He touched on many notes of concord between the two nations, called for an end to outdated Cold War tensions, he called for more than a "thaw" in relations but an actual partnership for peace and freedom between the two nations.
He stressed the common ideals and goals of the United States and Ukraine, noting that in the nation's capital stood a grand monument to the Ukrainian freedom fighter, our poet, bard and spiritual father of our nation, Taras Shevchenko, and how on that monument are inscribed the bard's immortal words, "When shall we find our own Washington, with his just and noble law?"
In one personal moment of thanks and appreciation, he expressed his gratitude to America for nurturing among the many Ukrainian immigrants it had taken onto its sacred soil the family of his wife, Kateryna Chumachenko Yushchenko, and instilled in her not only the ideals of a democratic and free people, but also allowed her the freedom to develop her love for the country of her forebears.
In a moving tribute, he thanked her for standing by him in the darkest hours of mortal peril, as his life hung in the balance, and for being by his side through all the dangers they had faced together. Kateryna Yushchenko rose to acknowledge the sustained applause of the chamber.
His speech then moved on to practical matters. He asked for congressional action on a number of substantive and important matters for Ukraine, among them repeal of the Jackson-Vanick amendment, a relic of the cold war which imposes trade sanctions on the Soviet Union for failure to allow Jewish emigration. He asked for the dropping of trade restrictions in the U.S. as Ukraine has now also dropped all trade restrictions on U.S. products. He asked that Ukraine receive the status of a market economy which would free if from many restrictions. He also requested support in Ukraine's desire to become a member of the WTO, and eventual support for accession to the EU.
He noted that in 1991, when Ukraine voluntarily gave up all nuclear weapons on its territory, the only country ever to do so, that this generous gesture received little appreciatoin abroad, (and I might add, little of the financial support which had been promised for the very expensive process of decomissioning and transporting these dangerous weapons). He also requested help in the rapid construction of a new radiation-proof sarcophagus to enclose the now crumbling shell of the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
He ended his speech by asking God's blessings on the United States of America, and also on Ukraine.
On his way out of the chamber to sustained applause and even more cheers of "YUSH-CHEN-KO", he was mobbed by the congressmen and had to sign quite a few autographs, including Nancy Pelosi's orange scarf.
It was a memorable day for Ukrainians the world over. Hopefully, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.