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President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma who is also Commander in Chief and Ukrainian state leader viewing the parade.

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General Kuzmuk, Minister of Defense of Ukraine.

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Big guns boomed, military orchestras played marches very loudly, soldiers in neat uniforms of many branches of the military forces goosestepped through the newly renovated main street of Kyiv, Khreshchatyk. There were young cadets, huge paratroopers and marines, border guards, national guards, plus a lot more, handsomely marching in the street. They were followed by freshly painted tanks, armoured vehicles, trucks pulling rockets, small and big. And in the sky above flew helicopters and fighters of the Ukrainian Air Force in nice formations. President and other leaders of the state stood at the governmental stand waving and saluting. The crowds cheered. The military parade marked the eighth anniversary of Ukraine’s independence.
The next day the press unleashed a spate of criticism. Everything seems to have come under attack: the ceremonious parade looked so reminiscent of the Soviet times; pompous celebrations did not look proper at the time when the country is in dire straits; so much money spent for the fireworks when there are so many beggars around, and so on in the same vein.
Probably, some of the criticisms had a good reason to be expressed. Whether one agrees with the critical remarks or not, one thing clearly stands out as very important: we’ve learnt to express our opinions in the press openly, and not clandestinely, as we used to do it, in the kitchens, in whispers with the telephones unplugged.
Frankly, I went to see the parade with a sort of a chip on my shoulder. My generation of forty-year olds has an engrained allergy to ostentatious celebrations, parades and ceremonies. People were actually forced to attend them for creating an effect of "massive support" given to "the wise policies of the communist party," to "the flourishing Soviet economy", to "the peace-loving course of the Soviet foreign policy." We walked in columns through the Khreshchatyk Street, carrying preposterous posters and slogans. The announcer in a special voice reserved for such occasions read out the absurd appeals in the official jargon of the day to love the communist party ever more, to work better, to get bigger yields and harvests, and the throngs shouted "hooray!" without actually hearing the words of the appeals. Everybody was eager to get home quick and have a drink.
When I arrived and stationed myself to view the parade, I looked around and with a great surprise discovered that most of those who came to see the parade were young people. And, evidently, they were not forced to come, they did it on their own free will.
As far as the criticisms are concerned… Well, one has to have a right to criticize, doesn’t one? As far as I know, not a single constitution in the world in addition to the usual set of guaranteed freedoms (freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of etc.) has a provision for the freedom to be discontent. I think this important provision has been just overlooked. A lot of things in "a normal society" depend on whether each citizen has the right to express his discontent openly and publicly. We, Ukrainians, were denied this right for so long, and that is probably why we like to express even the smallest of our discontents so vociferously. We are just learning how to do it in a civilized manner.
Some of the critical remarks were: why should we demonstrate our military might? Who are we going to fight or threaten? In the Soviet times such demonstrations were meant to "scare the imperialists." But now?
I think I’ve found part of the answer to the question of why we should have military parades. In our subconsciousness we are still fighting against all those mistakes and all that nonsense that were part of our recent past. Tanks and planes may come in handy, too.
About ten years ago, during my stay in Munich, Germany, I chanced to meet an itinerant French painter. He seemed to be a clever man of wide erudition. At one point in our conversation he asked me where I was from. "From Ukraine? Oh I know. Taiga everywhere." I tried to explain that we, in Ukraine, did not have any "taiga", in the south of the country we even have subtropical climate. "Aha, so you grow bananas, right?" I was dismayed to realize that for the whole world we were "a banana republic overgrown with taiga", situated in the middle of nowhere.
In fact, we ourselves knew very little about ourselves, we knew very little of our past, of our culture. Only now we have begun to recover from our almost total loss of memory. We have begun to realize that we are not "Little Russians" as we used to be called, that we are not just "part of the Soviet people." We are a nation with many-hundred-year old history.
Recovering from the amnesia, we look around and begin to recognize things, which have always been there.
The Kyivan state of the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries was mighty enough to earn respect of all the neighbors who thought they were honoured if their rulers married sons and daughters of our rulers. And, as a matter of fact, not only neighbors.
In later centuries, many countries of Eastern Europe used the Ukrainian language as the lingua franca, similar to the way Latin was used in Western Europe. Chronicles were written, monasteries flourished, schools were established, culture progressed. Yes, Ukraine failed to preserve its independence in the Middle Ages but it was resurrected in the 17th century only to be overwhelmed by the Russian Empire in the next century. In the 19th century, the Ukrainians were downgraded to "Little Russians", but the moment the Empire collapsed Ukraine hastened to declare itself independent. Alas, there were too many forces fighting within Ukraine for supremacy and they could not withstand the Bolshevik invasion. The Bolsheviks aimed at suppressing the Ukrainian language, culture, moral values, but ahead of anything else they wanted to eradicate all memory of the past, to turn us into blissfully ignorant cogs in the machine of the Soviet empire.
They say that a person who is recovering his or her memory after amnesia, for a stretch of time behaves in a childish manner. Children, as it is well known, enjoy celebrations, parades and fireworks. Viewed from this angle, the parade on the Day of Independence should not have been criticized, among other things, for having done some damage to the asphalt in the street, or the fireworks for having used so much valuable powder. I think it is somewhat wrong to say that we celebrated the Day of Independence — we celebrated the Day of Recovering Our Memory.
Ukraine began as a sovereign state, then it lost its independence only to recover it and lose it again. Now we have gained independence, once and forever.

By Andriy Hlazovy
Photos by Yuriy Buslenko,
Oleksiy Semenenko

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