New Year's in the New Ukraine

Next Year in Minsk
Notes from different corners of the world.
Jan. 1 2005 3:04 PM

New Year's in the New Ukraine

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KIEV, Ukraine—Rap is the music of revolutions, or it ought to be. It can be angry enough to mobilize people in the early stages, rhythmic enough to keep them marching on, and uplifting enough to celebrate to when it's all over. The song of the Ukrainian revolution goes like this:

Together we are many, we will not be defeated!
Together we are many, we will not be defeated!
Together we are many, we will not be defeated!
Together we are many, we will not be defeated!

No to falsifications!
No to machinations!
No to deals! No to lies!
Yushchenko—yes! Yushchenko—yes!
That's our president!

Together we are many, we will not be defeated!
Together we are many, we will not be defeated!
Together we are many, we will not be defeated!
Together we are many, we will not be defeated!

We are not trash!
We are not asses!
We are the sons and daughters of Ukraine!
Now or never! We have waited years!
Together we are many, we will not be defeated!

Together we are many, we will not be defeated!
Together we are many, we will not be defeated!
Together we are many, we will not be defeated!
Together we are many, we will not be defeated!

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In the past few weeks, this has become the unofficial anthem of Ukraine and the song of all righteous protest. At one of the schools, children started to chant "Together we are many …" when a teacher tried to make a schedule change that wasn't to their liking (she quickly relented). Last night in Independence Square, it was a song of celebration: The revolutionaries had already proved that they were not trash, had turned back falsifications, and had gotten their president; they had won, and now they could stress the word together over all others. We danced. There were more than 100,000 of us, possibly as many as half a million: It was the kind of gathering where even the trained eye can no longer estimate how many people there are.

Everyone was there. Even the new president, his entire team, his wife and children; and, in a most inspired move, the president of Georgia were there.

Georgia had its own revolution a year ago. It looked a lot like Ukraine's: Hundreds of thousands poured into the streets to demand an end to rigged elections and corrupt governance until the old president finally resigned. Now there were Georgian flags throughout the crowd—27 young activists had followed the president to Kiev—and the Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, spoke to the Kiev crowd in Ukrainian. "Congratulations on a great victory!" he said. "You have a great president!" The crowd went wild, not so much because the Georgian approved of his new colleague but because the display of unity of two post-Soviet post-revolutionary republics was a potent message to Moscow. Put into words, the message would read something like this: "Fuck you!"

In the 13 years since the Soviet Union collapsed (it officially ceased to exist at the end of Dec. 31, 1991), three of its 15 republics—the Baltic states—have joined the European Union. Two—Turkmenistan and Belarus—quickly restored ruthless dictatorships, while the remaining 10 countries have floated somewhere in between, gradually drifting toward restoring old-style bureaucratic tyrannies. In recent years, Russia has taken giant steps back, cracking down on freedoms inside the country, rejuvenating Soviet-era imperial rhetoric, and increasingly meddling in the affairs of its former satellites. Georgia (though its post-revolutionary year has been fraught with problems) was the first to say no to this pattern, and Ukraine has proved that Georgia doesn't have to be the exception. Now the people who organized both revolutions say they will help their allies in other former Soviet republics do the same. Many name Belarus as the next target.

Dancing in Independence Square last night, my friends and I made a date to celebrate next New Year's in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. When it turned out that the four young people with whom we were jumping around a leafless tree, holding hands and passing around a bottle of champagne, were also from Russia, one of my friends said: "It's going to happen for us, too! In a couple of years!" The young people—they must have been college students—hesitated for a second, probably because this is not the sort of thing one would presume to say to strangers in Moscow, and then shouted, "Hooray!"

Back in Moscow, there was also a street party in Red Square. This morning I found out that only people with a Moscow registration stamp in their passports were allowed to enter the square. This means that not only visitors but even people living and working in Moscow but who are registered to live in other Russian cities could not take part in the celebration. That made me even happier that I had spent the holiday in Kiev, where the overwhelming sense was one of openness. Last night, I danced with Russian college students, very young Ukrainians, pretty old Ukrainians, a homeless Ukrainian man, and lots of other people I couldn't identify. Some of them had dyed their hair orange, the color of the Ukrainian revolution. The music, of course, was not the important part, but in addition to the revolutionary rap, the undisputed hit of the night was "D.I.S.C.O.," performed by a duo that may in fact have been N-Trance itself. We sang, "She is oh-ohhh-orange!"

Masha Gessen is in Kiev for U.S. News & World Report. She is the author of Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace.

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