Our Man at Ukraine's Orange Revolution


To many New Yorkers following Ukraine's "Orange Revolution," recent victories for democracy in Kiev, however welcome, seem far-removed from their daily lives.
Not to Adrian Karatnycky.
As a senior scholar at the pro-democracy organization Freedom House, Mr. Karatnycky has worked doggedly to ensure that democracy and free, fair elections emerge as the principal victors from Ukraine's current struggle.
Born 50 years ago in Manhattan to Ukrainian immigrants, Mr. Karatnycky also represents a community of Americans of Eastern European origin involved with their ancestral lands and committed to fostering democracy in those countries. For Mr. Karatnycky, helping Ukrainian democracy is a way of appreciating family history.
"My grandmother fled the famine," he said. "She got as far as Vienna, where, exhausted, she decided to turn back. Fortunately, she took the wrong train, and ended up in Western-controlled territory."
"I've always felt a kinship with these brutalized people," he said, "because if not for an accident of history, it could've been me."
Over the past year, that sense of kinship has led to heavy involvement in Ukraine's presidential election. Since the beginning of the campaign there, Mr. Karatnycky has periodically made the 9,300-mile round-trip to meet with candidates, other members of Ukraine's political elite, civic groups, and recipients of grants from Freedom House. His itinerary typically included meetings with key aides to Mr. Yushchenko, and when the opposition candidate visited New York, Mr. Karatnycky often acted as his liaison, arranging meetings with American groups interested in his campaign, such as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Also in the past year, Mr. Karatnycky and Freedom House, along with the National Democratic Institute, have assembled 1,023 election monitors from countries of Central and Eastern Europe to form the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations, which observed the vote in Ukraine and documented fraud there.
He was also involved in a training camp for Ukrainian pro-democracy activists that took place in August. "Croatians, Romanians, Slovakians, and Serbians - leaders of the group that led civic opposition to Milosevic - taught Ukrainian kids how to 'control the temperature' of protesting crowds," Mr. Karatnycky said.
They were told how to confront pressure from the government and how to show that pro-democracy civic groups are not "part of an evil Western conspiracy."
They were also taught techniques for conducting street theater, poking fun at leaders to reduce fear of them among the general population, and establishing connections with the militia.
The results of that education, Mr. Karatnycky said, can be seen today on the streets of Kiev.
Although many of his pro-democracy efforts will benefit Mr. Yushchenko, Mr. Karatnycky said, he added that he "scrupulously tried to include both sides" in his Ukraine meetings.
"If Yanukovich had won honestly, it would have meant a more corrupt government," Mr. Karatnycky said, "but I understand that people could have supported him honestly."
He added: "I like Yushchenko. He's pro-Western, with an American wife. His father was a prisoner in Auschwitz, and the family helped save Jews in World War II. He's a good man who will bring reform."
Mr. Karatnycky's work, however, is nonpartisan, he said, and he is "really on the side of the democratic process."
His efforts in behalf of that process took Mr. Karatnycky back to Kiev as an election monitor for the second-round runoff Nov. 21. There, he said, he personally witnessed widespread fraud, particularly abuses of absentee and mobile ballots.
Before Thanksgiving, Mr. Karatnycky said, he also witnessed the protests in the capital's main square, where he saw activists, ranging from young girls to university students to Eastern Rite Catholic nuns, demanding that Mr. Yuschenko be declared the legitimate president.
Since his return to New York, Mr. Karatnycky's involvement has scarcely lagged.
Tuesday afternoon - a typical one, for Mr. Karatnycky - his schedule was filled with Ukraine-related activities.
At 2 p.m., he met with other Freedom House scholars to revisit Ukraine's civil-liberties ranking in the institution's 2005 "Freedom in the World" survey, in light of the fallout from the presidential runoff. After fielding several journalists' inquiries in his unofficial role as a go-to authority on Ukrainian democracy, it was off to Manhattan's heavily Ukrainian and Polish East Village, where Mr. Karatnycky makes his home, and where the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America has its headquarters.
At 4:30, Mr. Karatnycky met with Tamara Gallo, the committee's executive director, who is another Ukrainian-American heavily involved in the electoral process. She, like Mr. Karatnycky, went to Ukraine as an election monitor, and she has been mobilizing the Ukrainian-American community in support of the Orange Revolution since her return.
According to Ms. Gallo, it hasn't required extraordinary effort. Ukrainian-Americans have become a more cohesive and active group since last year, she said.
"The 70th anniversary of the famine, and the campaign to get Duranty's Pulitzer rescinded, really brought people out of the woodwork," she said. Walter Duranty was a Moscow correspondent for the New York Times whose work has been largely discredited as Stalinist propaganda.
This year's election, Ms. Gallo added, was another example of Russian interference in Ukraine that mobilized immigrants and descendants of immigrants.
These two descendants of Ukrainian immigrants, Ms. Gallo and Mr. Karatnycky, spent the hour coordinating their immediate pro-democracy efforts. Those include getting the top of the Empire State Building illuminated in orange; tying orange ribbons across New York tonight in solidarity with protesters in Kiev, and seeking to arrange a meeting of leaders of the Ukrainian community with President Bush.
To Mr. Karatnycky, the international outpouring of Ukrainian pro-democracy sentiment is the fruit of seeds planted long ago. Mr. Karatnycky served as president of Freedom House from 1996 to 2003 and as executive director from 1993 to 1996. In those capacities, he helped create in Ukraine a network of think tanks, civic organizations, and other organs necessary for a functioning democracy - including exit polling, media monitoring, and votereducation organizations. Without that framework, he said, it is much less likely that Mr. Yanukovich's fraud would have been revealed, or that millions of Ukrainians would have taken such a vocal interest in their country's political destiny.
In a speech Tuesday evening at the Knickerbocker Club, which was sponsored by the Hudson Institute, Mr. Karatnycky speculated as to what that destiny might be. Ukraine, he said, "is a real test case for democratic hegemony." President Putin of Russia, he said, "was sold a bill of goods that he could reconstitute his own mini-KGB empire." A victory for Mr. Yanukovich, another ex-KGB agent, in Ukraine, Mr. Karatnycky explained, would be a "Putin miracle."
Yet Mr. Karatnycky continued to express optimism that the eastern parts of Ukraine, now holding autonomy referendums, would not secede. Nor does he envision the "Putin miracle" materializing. Mr. Yanukovich's best hope of staying in power, Mr. Karatnycky said, will be to try to wear down the protesters through various stalling tactics. But Mr. Karatnycky said, "The protesters have paralyzed the government. There are no ministries open for business. There are a million-and-a-half people demonstrating in rotating shifts. They can always assemble swarming crowds."
Those signs, he said, point to a victory for Mr. Yushchenko. "He has already sworn an oath of office," Mr. Karatnycky said. "And there are no indications that the military will act. They have said, 'We want a peaceful resolution, it's not our place to intervene.'"
Mr. Karatnycky also reported that the KGB is "cooperating nicely" with Mr. Yushchenko, in that it has turned over evidence on tapes and wiretaps demonstrating collaboration between the Yanukovich campaign and Moscow in an attempt to rig the vote count.
"I think the 'orange revolution' will win this time, and I can't conceive of a set of circumstances under which Yushchenko won't be president of the country," he said.
Similarly optimistic is Radek Sikorski, executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Sikorski, too, was an election observer, with the International Republican Institute. Born in communist Poland, he is another longtime advocate of democracy for Eastern Europe, particularly through his work with the Polish Solidarity movement.
"When I was in Kiev last month," he said, "the atmosphere very much reminded me of Solidarity in the 1980s - people rising up to their feet, saying, 'We won't give in to your corrupt schemes any more.'" Ukrainians, he said, "are full of hope and foreboding at the same time."
He added that they look for backing from the West, and that even symbolic gestures help.
"That's why it was so beautiful to have Lech Walesa there, giving them support," Mr. Sikorski said. "It says, 'If he can do it, we can.'"
If they indeed "can" - if democracy triumphs in Kiev, and if Mr. Yushchenko is victorious - Mr. Karatnycky said he will by no means stop observing events in his parents' homeland.
"I think for the next few years it will be very important to build support for this reformist regime, and to help civil society keep even a reformist government honest - because even they can drift from their agenda," he said.
"It is always important to help civic life, to ensure that the media deepen their independence, professionalism, and objectivity," Mr. Karatnycky said. "These are the things I'd like to keep doing."