THE ORANGE REVOLUTION WAS AN EXPLOSION OF HOPE
Kateryna Yushchenko's Address at the University of Chicago
When I asked the people, "is there anything you need?", they would answer, "Yes! Freedom."
Address by Kateryna Yushchenko
First Lady Of Ukraine
At the University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois, Tuesday, April 5, 2005
Good morning! It is wonderful to be back in Chicago. In the twenty years since I was here, the University of Chicago has always remained for me a symbol of the greatest of economic thought, a citadel of true science and research. My learning at Chicago changed the way I thought about economics, government and society, and guided me in all my subsequent endeavors, both in work and in life.
I came to you from Ukraine, a country of 48 million that is now known and respected throughout the world, a country whose people have demonstrated their deep desire for freedom and democracy, for a European economic and political system. The peaceful Orange Revolution changed the Ukrainian people, and it changed the landscape of post-communist Eastern Europe.
It was not always this way, however. It was during my studies at Chicago, in April 1986, that Chornobyl exploded. I remember sitting and studying a Finance text book, and seeing the news flash across television. I remember watching the news program "Nightline" in horror over what happened to my family's homeland.
But many of my fellow students could not understand my distress over the explosion of a nuclear reactor in a country far away. In fact, some of them did not even know that there was a country called Ukraine.
For decades, indeed for centuries, Ukraine was unknown. A part of the Russian empire, then the Soviet Union, its rich history, culture and tradition were hidden from the world. The world would be a better place if it knew more about:
- the glory of Kyiv Rus in the 10-11th centuries, when Ukraine was one of the most highly civilized countries in Europe;
- the great battles of Hetman Ivan Mazepa against the Russia Tsar in the 18th century;
- the poetry of Ukraine's greatest poet laureate Taras Shevchenko, who stood up against slavery;
- the fight for democracy and social justice in the early 20th century, which culminated in Ukraine's declaration of independence and formation of Ukrainian Republic;
- the tragic famine genocide of 1932-33, when all grain was forcibly confiscated and people were perishing at a rate of 25,000 per day, when Ukraine lost at least 9 million of its most productive population;
- the repressions of the late 30s, which wiped out Ukraine's intelligentsia;
- the courageous Human Rights Activists of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
In fact, when I was here at Chicago, few understood that the Soviet Union was already a shaky empire, with more than a dozen nations yearning to break free, with an economy on the verge of collapse, a society living in fear, and thousands of prisoners of conscience.
Then Ukraine along with all the other republics, declared its independence and abolished the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian people achieved what many generations of their forebears had vainly sought.
But 13 years of independence did not bring Ukrainians the economy and society of which they had dreamed. Instead Ukraine gained an international reputation as a corrupt state where several oligarchic clans governed a passive population.
When the people of Ukraine came to the streets in November, they were not only rejecting the brazen election fraud and the campaign of lies that had stolen their choice for president. They were not only decrying the blocked roads, closed airports and locked halls that kept the people from seeing candidates. They were not only protesting the assassination attempt against my husband. They were demanding a new form of society, a new future for themselves and their children.
Ukrainians had had enough of a corrupt political system that benefited a few families at the expense of millions. They were ashamed to be earning the lowest salaries and pensions in the post Soviet Union. They did not want to travel to foreign countries to work in degrading jobs to earn enough to support their families. They wanted a fair chance to receive an education, and an opportunity to work in their fields.
They did not want to pay bribes to corrupt bureaucrats at every level. They did now want to have the shortest life span in Europe. They did now want to be subject to biased and tendentious media reports dictated within the walls of presidential administration.
In the thirteen years of Ukrainian independence, a new civil society had been born. A burgeoning if distorted free market had bred a new middle class. Increasing access to information had shown them the great differences between their society and economy and those of their neighbors.
And, not least, a strong, honest, organized opposition showed them, that there was a way out of their current morass. Throughout 2004, my husband and his colleagues crisscrossed the country, speaking before tens of thousands, urging them to get up off their knees, if only just a few centimeters, and demand change. They had confidence in the people, they respected the people, and the people reciprocated.
The Orange Revolution was an explosion of hope. It brought together young and old, students and pensioners, workers, farmers and intelligentsia into a united whole. They fought the old system not with anger, hate and bullets, but rather with positive feelings. With music, art and laughter. The Ukrainian people did not ask the world whether they could join Europe - they proved to the world that they were Europeans.
My children and I were at the Orange Revolution every day. It was a once in a life time experience - it was something the Ukrainian people witnessed once in a millennium. Hundreds of thousands of Kyivites offered their homes to demonstrators from other cities.
Six hundred doctors donated their time, and pharmaceutical companies contributed medicine. Dozens of restaurants brought free food to the people daily. Business people contributed tents, blankets and clothes. When I asked the people, "is there anything you need?", they would answer, "Yes! Freedom."
When protestors from the opposing side came, they were met with warm food, warm blankets and warm words.
From the stage, I saw a sea of hope-filled faces and intelligent eyes. And I realized that no matter what happened, the people in front of me would never again be slaves to a system. They had changed, and the country had changed with them. These were special moments in the life of my family. These were special moments in the history of our country.
The leaders of the Revolution and the people of Ukraine took great risks to bring Ukraine to where it is today. Now it is time to try to fulfill their hopes. This means;
- Creating a competitive free market economy that encourages the growth of small and medium sized business and that sees the role of the state as a facilitator not a hindrance to business;
- Wiping out corruption at all levels of the bureaucracy and in all regions of the country and bringing the economy out of the shadow;
- Establishing a civil society based on tolerance to all religious beliefs, nationalities and languages;
- Encouraging a humanitarian society based on charity and caring for one's neighbor;
- Radically reforming the health sector, so Ukrainians have access to skilled doctors in hospitals equipped with the latest in medical technology and medicines in order to deal with such problems as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and cancer;
- Addressing a legacy of social of social ills, from homeless and exploited children, to family violence, to drugs and alcohol, to the trafficking of women abroad;
- Integrating the disabled into society;
- Investing in science and culture, to allow the talent of Ukraine to flourish within its borders and to contribute to the world body of knowledge and art.
I want to thank the United States and its people for supporting Ukraine in this important journey it has begun. I was born in America, and grew up believing in her values of democracy, freedom.
I am proud that the Ukrainian people have embraced these same values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am proud that they have set an example of peacefully change, which can be emulated throughout the world. Our freedom is our strength.