- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

VIENNA, Austria — Eastern Europe’s lions in winter have rediscovered their roar.

When Ukraine descended into postelection chaos this week, the most stirring pleas for a peaceful resolution came not from Washington but from Warsaw and Prague.

Communist-era freedom fighters Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel have emerged from the shadows to offer Ukraine’s opposition some poignant and very personal counsel born of their own struggles for democracy.

“I opposed the Soviet Union and I opposed communism, and I came out victorious,” Mr. Walesa, the founder of Poland’s Solidarity movement and his country’s first democratically elected president, told a huge crowd that massed on Kiev’s Independence Square. “Ukraine has a chance.”

Mr. Havel, a dissident playwright who led the Velvet Revolution that toppled communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989 before becoming president, made an impassioned plea to Ukrainians to keep their protests peaceful.

“I know from my own experience how important it is not to let oneself be provoked to violence,” he said.

Their appeals to hearts and minds in Ukraine — whose border became the new frontier between East and West when the European Union expanded in May — underscore the eagerness of the European Union’s ex-communist newcomers to contain any trouble in the old Soviet neighborhood.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski arrived in Ukraine on Friday to help mediate talks between the government and Western-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who contends that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych stole Nov. 21’s presidential election.

Lithuania, which became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, also sent its president, Valdas Adamkus, as a mediator.

“We cannot stay away from what now is happening in Ukraine,” Lithuania’s parliament speaker, Arturas Paulauskas, said in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

The shuttle diplomacy reflects how “Poland and the Baltic countries, from their own history, still fear a possible expansion of Russia,” Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper noted this week.

The standoff in Ukraine between the pro-Kremlin Mr. Yanukovych and the reformist Mr. Yushchenko has created an imperfect but potent parallel to eastern Europe’s anti-communist uprisings of 15 years ago.

Although leaders from around the world have reached out to Mr. Yushchenko, the expressions of solidarity from former Warsaw Pact nations have had a special resonance.

“Walesa, Walesa,” the crowd in Kiev shouted Thursday at the sight of the 61-year-old former shipyard electrician who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and now spends most of his time on the speaking circuit.

Mr. Havel, 68, stepped down as president of the Czech Republic in February 2003 and has been in and out of hospitals with chronic health problems.

Last week, though, both flashed a bit of their old form.

Mr. Walesa, standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Yushchenko, sounded like he was back in Gdansk, the Polish shipyard where he led a strike in 1980.

“Twenty-four years ago, I was in the same situation as you are now,” he declared. And he urged demonstrators to “please take care of each other and also think of tomorrow, because tomorrow your emotions and enthusiasm are needed to bring Ukraine to a place where it deserves to be.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide