Sunday, March 26, 2006

Election Day

Others are better equipped to report on today's parliamentary elections. As of this writing, though, it appears Victor Yanukovitch's Party of Regions is in the lead, with roughly the same amount of the vote given to the leaders of the Orange Revolution, President Victor Yushenko and Yulia Timoshenko. Timoshenko had served as Yushenko's Prime Minister until late last summer, when Yushenko fired her. Politics being what it is, her support -- and more importantly the support of her voters -- then went elsewhere.


While walking down Sumskaya Street this afternoon, I had intended to point out a building to a friend. About two weeks ago, I'd noticed that pictures of Yanukovitch had gone up in the many panes of its many windows -- maybe forty or fifty smiling pictures of the Donbass-based politician, the same smiling face looking down on Kharkov's main shopping district. But today they were gone. All election ads have to be removed two days before the polling begins. That, without a doubt, is the best election law I've ever heard of.


During the run-up to the election, Yanukovitch's Party of Regions was by far the most visible group in the city, but somehow Yulia Tymoshenko's white tents and banners, though the last to appear, were somehow more conspicuous. She preached her message in Ukrainian. Yanukovitch and the others did not, though as the lady selling piroshky across from Yanukovitch's tent makes change in Rubles, it's Ukrainian that seems less the national language around here than Russian.

Me, I've tried to stay out of the fray since Day One, when I realized the political ramifications of the reusable shopping bag I'd brought with me from the states: a small, orange mesh bag. I used it once, feeling uncomfortable carrying it out on the street. I imagined people staring. Looking. Feared someone would come up behind me and knock me and all my mayonnaise to the ground.

But then three nights before the election, when I go into the big supermarket, I can't avoid the color. There at the check-stand, along with free copies of Yushenko's Our Ukraine Party newspaper, were orange plastic bags bearing his revolutionary slogan: Tak! The bagger used them without even asking. And if that had happened in America, if on the eve of election the bagger had said, "Bush or Kerry?" instead of "Paper or Plastic?" ... oh, as Bellow's Herzog might have said, someone would've been getting a letter.