As events continue to unfold in Ukraine, it is helpful to examine the words of one of the revolution’s key players: Yulia Tymoshenko.
On February 21st legislators voted to release former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from a prison hospital, where she was serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power. One day later, on February 22nd, she gave the remarks below.
By way of background, ten years ago, in November 2004, a rigged election gave victory to pro-Russian Viktor Yanokovych. The election campaign featured corruption, murder, the poisoning of the opposition candidate, pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko, and international concerns about the stability of Ukraine, even worries about the country’s independent future. The polling results were not accepted by millions of Ukrainians. Popular protests began a process that eventually forced a second election won by Yushchenko. The protests were a grassroots, democratic, citizen’s revolution demanding rule of law, accountability, openings to the West, and honest elections. The events became known in the media as the “Orange Revolution.” The orange scarf came to symbolize the revolution (I proudly have one hanging over my desk).
Now, a decade later, a new revolution is underway. Yanokovych is again at the center of the controversy. This revolution may not be successful, although the tide of events seems to be turning favorably for the protestors. However, the future is still in doubt, especially if Russia sends in troops or the civil war breaks out. Crimea has already been annexed by Russia.
This is not to say that she is an angel. Tymoshenko has played rough in Ukrainian politics, often finding polarization a convenient response to the challenges facing Ukraine. She is not a saint. But she is the most visible member of the opposition leadership.
With the speech below we rewind the clock by several months. Appearing on February 22nd at “Maidan Nezalezhnosti" (Independence Square) in Kyiv in a wheelchair because of health problems, Tymoshenko made a passionate speech to between 50,000-100,000 protestors. This speech could not have been more dramatic. Like Nelson Mandela or Aung Sang Suu Kyi, she made the biggest speech of her career upon release from years of confinement. The size of the crowd, the international audience, the historic moment, and the emotion of revolution gave this speech an immediacy and spontaneity lacking in most major political remarks.
Sadly, unlike Mandela or Suu Kyi, this speech will not be remembered as great. The speech did not influence events; it reacted to them. She did not lead the revolution; she was rescued by it. History provided a singular opportunity for greatness. This speech only offered some of the clarity, vision, inspiration, and persuasion needed at that moment.
But, given the circumstances, this was a very good effort, perhaps more for its visual and emotional appeal than for content.
However, there are some lines that will be remembered, such as the one scorching the Internet: “Heroes will never die.” There is also a haunting, perhaps prophetic line: “You cannot leave Maidan before we do what we came here to do.”
If both sets of remarks could have been given by Tymoshenko, then the speech would have been really, really good.
These remarks were published on the web site for the “Kyiv Post”. This media source deserves much credit for quickly making the speech available. Most news organizations quote from the speech. It is valuable to have the entire set of remarks.]
(Creative Commons licensed photos by Mstyslav Chernov and Veronica Khokhlova)
I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Go here to see more details and what previous participants say. Please join me!