Dear fellow travellers
Over the last couple of days, we have heard Shche ne vmerla Ukraina sung with just a little more gusto, a shade more passion, than is perhaps the norm. Hot on the heels of one of the most colourful Orthodox feasts of the year - when great baskets of apples were blessed at altars across the country - comes the twentieth anniversary of Ukrainian independence.
Following the failed coup in Moscow a week earlier, the Verkhovna Rada in Kiev (effectively the parliament of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic) slipped quietly out of the Soviet fold on 24 August 1991. The declaration of independence was ratified in a referendum three months later.
Over the last twenty years, the Verkhovna Rada has hardly covered itself in glory, earning a reputation as one of Europe's more unruly parliaments. Proceedings have on several occasions degenerated into brawls, with parliamentary delegates having to be treated for injuries inflicted by rival factions.
Earlier this month, Yulia Tymoshenko, who has served two spells as Prime Minister of Ukraine, was arrested and she now languishes in prison. Tymoshenko was of course one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution in 2004, her distinctive braided hair and sharp political acumen symbolising a fresh start for a rapidly changing Ukraine. Political opponents of Tymoshenko now charge her with illegally agreeing a contract to purchase natural gas from Russia, the terms of which were hardly favourable to Ukraine. Her supporters say that this is no more than political payback time, as the men who ousted her from office last year now struggle to clip her political wings.
So it's no surprise perhaps that there is a bittersweet ring to the Ukrainian national anthem as the country today celebrates twenty years of independence. This is one of Europe's more beautiful national anthems, always uplifting whether it is being belted out by Ruslana in Kiev's Independence Square or sung with folksy optimism at the end of the Divine Liturgy at Greek Catholic (Uniate) churches in small villages in the Carpathians. The words of the anthem speak of the frailty of Ukraine, a country so desperately in need of a good break:
“Ukraine has not yet perished, nor her glory, nor her freedom,
Upon us, fellow Ukrainians, fate shall smile once more."
From late afternoon today, Ukrainians will gather in Independence Square in Kiev, just as they assembled there during the heady days of the Orange Revolution. Yulia Tymoshenko won't be there this time to address the crowds. Ruslana, latterly a keen supporter of Tymoshenko, will be the star turn. She'll wow the crowd with 'Wild Dances' and other songs from her repertoire, and lead the faithful in singing Shche ne vmerla Ukraina. Politics will take a back seat as Ukraine celebrates its birthday.
Tomorrow, the country will wake up and realise that one long night of celebrations cannot compensate for two decades of muddy politics. Shche ne vmerla Ukraina. Ukraine has not yet perished. But she and her people deserve more.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)