Is this to be the story?

Neal Ascherson reports from Kiev

Revolution is a staircase. In February 1848, the poet Lamartine found himself in charge of a Paris revolution, from an upper floor in the Hôtel de Ville. He identified on the staircase something as specific as a tornado: a roaring double helix formed of those fighting their way upwards and those pressing downwards. It appears whenever a society mutinies and decides to make a new world. I first saw it in the Sorbonne in May 1968, clinging to a landing-wall to avoid being sucked into the deafening vortex, the up-torrent waving despatches from the front line and the barricades, the downrush battling towards the street with rolls of posters and strung bundles of fresh leaflets. Since then, even in the little history I have seen, there has been the staircase of Solidarity’s first Warsaw strike headquarters in 1980, or of the White House parliament during the 1991 Moscow putsch.

Now it’s at Kiev, on the staircase of the trade-union building taken over by the Orange Revolution at the corner of Maidan Nezalezhnosti – Independence Square. Here is that same spiral tumult. Up struggle the deputation of nurses, the delegation of building workers in orange hard hats, the men with sacks of potatoes, the boy with a tray of bread and sausage balanced above his head. Down struggle the Turkish and Mexican journalists, the giant in a fur hat with a bundle of orange armbands, the pallid youth clutching bulletins and biting a green apple, the schoolgirls’ strike committee chanting ‘Yush-chen-ko!’ Somewhere above, a boy is throwing out poems which whirl down the stairwell and are trampled into the black meltwater on the ground floor. In dim corridors stacked to the ceiling with mattresses, young women are asleep on kitchen chairs or lying against the wall. Along trestle tables under the names of Ukrainian towns, a mob jostles to register. Over the din, I can hear the howl of pop music in the square, the cheers of the crowd, the sound of bass voices practising Slav harmonies on the next landing, the parliamentary speaker on television shouting for order. There is a reek of dirty socks and cheap cigarettes. Someone has written on the wall: ‘We are a people, not a herd.’

So this is the genus ‘revolution’ all right. But which species? Some foreign commentators, especially in London, suggest that it’s a specious species: that the Ukrainian upsurge is only one of a series of carefully staged coups (Serbia, Georgia, now Ukraine) managed with American money and planning. The American backing was certainly there, channelled through the Freedom House foundation into the radical youth movement Pora (‘Time’s Up!’); it provided tents, food, communications gear and probably cash as well. But it was not decisive, and did not obviously benefit any White House cause. I found the people on the square, young and old, sharply critical of the United States; they disliked President Bush, wanted Ukrainian troops out of Iraq and were suspicious of American meddling in Ukrainian affairs. The foreign interference which did count was the work of the election observers and, above all, the clever publication of reliable exit polls at the moment when the fraudulent results were about to be published.

There is a more hopeful definition of what has been happening. This is the ‘second round’ of European revolutions, following the grand upsurge of 1989 after a gap of 15 years. The first round carried away the external Soviet empire. This second round is setting fire to the post-Soviet systems around Russia’s borders. It began just over a year ago in Georgia. Mikheil Saakashvili said then that his country would be the first in the post-Soviet zone (the Baltic Republics apart) to follow the path opened by the nations of East and Central Europe 15 years earlier. If the peaceful uprising in Ukraine succeeds (and it is too early to know how Viktor Yushchenko will use his powers as president), others will follow. Lukashenko’s disgusting regime in neighbouring Belarus will be doomed. Opposition forces in the autocracies of Central Asia will take heart.

And Russia? At the barricades outside the presidential office I met Sasha, in charge of keeping the blockaders and the police line apart. ‘This will spread to the Russian people too. They will see what happens here, and they will begin to understand what Putin is doing to them. And the same in Belarus. If we succeed – only if!’

There is a good term for these regimes – ‘demokratura’. Most of them have democratic furniture: constitutions, parliaments, a formally separate judiciary, regular elections, guarantees of free expression and assembly. Communism, after all, has been overthrown. In practice, these institutions are manipulated to maintain the privilege of a post-Communist elite. In some demokraturas, like the Asian ones, manipulation is total and shameless. In others, like Ukraine or Russia, the falsification of elections and the use of state violence against political challengers has usually been undertaken with some discretion. The important thing is to keep your own mob in power while persuading the people and the outside world that the political process at least roughly reflects the popular will.

In Ukraine last month, demokratura hit the limits set by its own hypocrisy. The presidential election result had to be cooked, and yet there was no practical way to exclude foreign election monitors while maintaining a pretence of fairness. Worse still, with TV only partly under state control, Ukrainians had been warned to expect fraud at the final run-off vote. When the foreign observers loudly confirmed that fraud had taken place, the lid blew off.

There are two conflicting views – one hopeful, the other ‘realistic’ and dismissive – about these second-round revolutions. The hopeful version is that these uprisings (‘rose’ in Tbilisi, ‘orange’ in Kiev) begin the transition from demokratura to democracy, ‘the completion of 1989’. The pessimistic version is that these are merely succession wars – what the Germans call a Diadochenkampf – between members of governing elites and clans who stir up popular passion for their own temporary purposes. The sceptics suggest that what really matters in a demokratura change of guard is not largesse with human rights (freedoms scattered to the crowd like handfuls of small change), but the dirty trade in immunities. Putin got the Russian presidency by promising Boris Yeltsin that he would push through an act of amnesty for Yeltsin and his family despite their colossal thefts of public money. Nobody is going to send Edward Shevardnadze to jail in Georgia, though some of his greedy relations may be less lucky. Yushchenko probably offered an immunity deal to get the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, out of his way; charges against him could range from gross corruption, complicity in the beheading of the opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze, and conceivably involvement in the attempt to poison Yushchenko in September.

Demokratura certainly has recurrent patterns. Ukraine has 48 million people, while the unrecognised statelet of Abkhazia, on the other side of the Black Sea, has only about 250,000. But events there in November prefigured what was to happen in Ukraine only a few days later. There too, a presidential candidate approved by the incumbent, and explicitly backed by Putin, suddenly faced a more ‘democratic’ challenger calling for a clean and independent Abkhazia. There too, the results of the election were clumsily cooked. The electoral commission gave victory first to the challenger, Sergei Bagapsh, and then – under pressure – to Moscow’s man, Raul Khajimba. There too, the supreme court was about to pronounce for the challenger when an invading mob forced it to change its verdict. Finally, as rival bands of armed supporters occupied buildings, Bagapsh was proclaimed president – and promptly left for Moscow to make his act of fealty to Putin. The election is now to be rerun, with Bagapsh and Khajimba as running mates, and the young reformers who had backed Bagapsh are weeping in disillusion. Perhaps it’s lucky that the orange revolutionaries in Kiev have been too busy to hear about this.

It’s true that evidence for final democratic victories in second-round revolutions is still skimpy. In Georgia, Saakashvili is scarcely accountable. The general election in January gave him a vote so overwhelming that he has practically no parliamentary opposition at all – a one-party presidential democracy. In Ukraine, the compromise deal signed on 8 December leaves Yushchenko heading for a weakened presidency and shackled by a largely hostile parliament. Many of its parties and members remain the paid clients or agents of a dozen gigantically wealthy oligarchs who control politics through their ownership of privatised industries, services and media. Fresh parliamentary elections are not due until 2006.

Luckily, though, stale compromise is not the only outcome in Ukraine. Matters have gone too far: the old order is broken. This is because the protest has gone on for so long, and involved so many people. Given that the crowds packed onto the Kiev Maidan often numbered more than a hundred thousand, that they were regularly relieved by fresh contingents from their own home-towns, and that rallies took place and smaller ‘tent camps’ were set up in six or seven other cities, it’s probable that several million took part, in a nation of 48 million. The protest lasted in full strength for more than a fortnight, with five thousand mostly young people encamped night and day down the Khreshchatik – Kiev’s Champs-Elysées, running up from the Maidan as the place de la Concorde. What this means is that the Orange Revolution took on a life, spontaneity and consciousness of its own. Saakashvili was nervous about ‘stability’ after his short, well-prepared storming of the Georgian parliament; he ordered his supporters in other towns not to occupy public buildings but to get off the streets and go home. He was obeyed. But it is too late to demobilise the Ukrainians like that.

The demonstrators say that they have discovered a new country, a Ukraine they can be proud of. ‘Before, we were a people not a nation,’ several people said. In this new country, which they are still exploring, they will catch up with ‘other European nations’. Once, an older European nationalism understood this ‘catching-up’ as matching rivals in armaments, steel production, colonies. Now, what’s envied is not missile batteries or hydroelectric dams but something called ‘normality’. Among the smoking field-kitchens of the Maidan, on night trains, in cafés in other cities, I asked Ukrainians how they imagined this beautiful normalness. They said things like this: ‘To be normal means not to have a criminal as a prime minister’; ‘It means to have votes which aren’t falsified, to pay for what you want instead of bribing for it, to trust the currency, to get ahead on merit instead of by corruption, to have natural resources run in the public interest and not by selfish dinosaurs’; ‘It means that those who steal from the state, even presidents, must stand trial’; ‘It means having a clean country’; ‘Thirteen years since independence and we still don’t have the confidence to be a real, normal European nation. Until now.’

Again, traditional nationalism has been concerned with ‘unity’ – usually meaning ethnic homogeneity and the demonising of minorities. These people too, a few generations back, believed in ‘Ukraine for Ukrainians’ and some took part in terrible crimes against Poles and Jews. Now, though, ‘unity’ means overthrowing artificial barriers, the ignorance and jealousy which allowed their rulers to play off western against eastern Ukraine, and to foment threats of secession in the largely Russian-speaking coal basin around Donetsk. The great Kiev protest functioned as a street university, in which people from all over the country met, debated and discovered what they held in common. Back in 1980, Lech Waleçsa used to tell Solidarity: ‘A Pole must be able to talk to a Pole!’ Among other things, ‘normality’ and ‘unity’ mean that Ukrainians should learn to talk to Ukrainians.

In the tent city I met Yuri, a young charity worker from Nikolaev near the Black Sea. That wasn’t Yushchenko territory, but a decayed industrial city which built ships and aircraft engines for the Soviet military. Some 60 per cent were ‘recorded’ as voters for Viktor Yanukovich, the prime minister and the candidate favoured by both President Kuchma, and – with loud endorsement – by Putin. Smiling as a rare interval of sunshine lit up the snow and slush, Yuri described the way absentee votes were processed to corrupt the count. But as soon as the results were announced, a protesting crowd gathered outside the Nikolaev town hall, and some 1500 people set off with Yuri to join the revolution in Kiev.

Yuri was one of the first to show me that the movement was out of its box and under nobody’s orders. ‘This is for Ukraine, what we are doing. It isn’t for any politician, not even for Yushchenko. Even Yushchenko will be dealt with by the people if he betrays us.’ I kept on hearing it. Maxim is a Kiev businessman in his thirties, a member of Pora who has been acting as quartermaster and billet officer for the tent city. ‘A hundred years ago, like last week, I was doing well in systems integration.’ Then he said the same as Yuri. ‘The people on the Maidan, the people here, they are not obeying any politician. It’s Ukraine they answer to. They will turn on Yushchenko if he lets them down.’

Superficially, the spectacle on the Maidan looked like a personality binge. Few human beings who are not dictators can have heard their name chanted by so many, so often, for so long. The human ocean stretched out of sight, waving its forest of long-stemmed flags, swaying to thunderous Ukrainian rap, bellowing ‘Yush-chen-ko!’, cheering every speech or scrap of good news. Most nights, their man came in person to thank them for standing firm and to report. On 3 December, the day the supreme court annulled the election result, the stage turned into the setting for a victory party. Yushchenko, a tiny blonde daughter hugging his leg as he tried to hold onto his notes, told the crowd that without them, without the Maidan, nothing could have been done. Then the rock band exploded, the lasers swept round the skyline and on the giant screens the Yushchenko family and team began to dance.

The crowds danced too, laughing and crying. Today they love Yushchenko for his very awkwardness, for the ruined face which an assassin’s poison inflicted on a once handsome man. Now, with his scars, he is no better than anyone else with an orange ribbon on his sleeve – ‘one of us’. And yet I didn’t meet anybody who was uncritical about him as a leader. The loyalty is conditional.

Soon the crowd began to call: ‘Yulia, Yulia!’ But she chose to stay away. The mass may feel less affection for Yulia Tymoshenko, but it’s her leadership – more aggressive than Yushchenko’s – that turns them on. She may look like Princess Leia in Star Wars, with her hair coiled in braids, but this is a real warrior queen, a millionaire oligarch who once had Ukraine’s gas industry in her purse, who has a Russian warrant out for her arrest, who urged the crowds to besiege the parliament and warned her opposition comrades that any hesitation, any delay, any sign of compromise could be fatal.

Tymoshenko is a revolutionary romantic. She didn’t just praise the crowds for standing firm in snow and frost-winds. She reified them into a single imaginary monster, with its own will: the Maidan. ‘So far,’ I heard her say, ‘the Maidan feel that the things they wanted have happened, but if they feel that the people’s will is not being fulfilled, nobody will be able to stop or manage them.’ Or: ‘The Maidan are sure that the only person delaying this process is President Kuchma.’ Not surprisingly, it turns out that only Yulia can interpret the monster’s voice. ‘The leaders of the Maidan want me to tell you that they respond only to the interests of Ukraine. If Kuchma doesn’t sign the new electoral law at once, the Maidan will not tolerate it. Even if Yushchenko tries to stop the Maidan, he will not succeed, for it’s not politicians they obey.’

She was right and she was – probably – wrong. In calling for ultimatums and threatening direct action, Tymoshenko was following a sound instinct. If the opposition had acted Georgian, storming the parliament and the presidential offices, the police would almost certainly have disobeyed any orders to stop them by force. Yushchenko, who has already declared himself the legal president, would have taken power at once, without the grubby compromises involving the reduction of presidential influence sold to him by the departing Kuchma. The business of ‘making a new nation’ would have started with a rush, frightening many powerful figures into compliance.

But the monster Tymoshenko invoked did not really exist. The Maidan was not carnivorous. Storming buildings did not come naturally to the hordes in the streets. They were steady, faithful and physically tough. (How could people who had spent almost two weeks sleeping rough in the slush rise every morning with such exultant energy, tramping off up the Kiev hills in singing columns as if each successive day was the first day of their protest?) But their lack of aggression was impressive. At the barricades outside the presidential office, I watched four young women in orange scarves singing to the riot police. And behind the black helmet, visor and shield, I saw a policewoman smiling and swaying to their rhythm. What would have happened if somebody had ordered the police to break up a crowd, or seize one of Yushchenko’s lieutenants? Or if special forces had broken into an anti-regime TV station? None of these things happened, and nobody expected them to happen.

There was a lack of aggression because there was a lack of fear. For the first time in my experience, men and women who had gone into the street to overthrow a regime seemed not to consider that they might be fired on by security forces, that there might be a state of siege and a military putsch, that there would be mass arrests and persecutions if they failed, that foreign tanks were massing on the frontier. A young policeman I met from Lugansk, near the Russian border, insisted that his colleagues had seen Russian Spetsnaz special forces arriving in the region – that was a widespread rumour. But Olena, a psychologist caring for the boys and girls at one of the barricades, said: ‘There is some homesickness. There is some depression; they are very exhausted now, and sometimes they think it’s not getting anywhere. But fear? No, that’s not something I come across.’

In a country with a history like Ukraine’s, this fearlessness is new and wonderful. Always a battlefield between occupiers and a corridor for contending armies, Ukraine has seen itself as perpetual victim, its options limited to a gambler’s choice between one conqueror or another. But now, faced with a regime they despised rather than feared, millions of people poured into the street. They had been profoundly insulted by what had been done to their votes. They would have the wrong put right, and nobody would shoot them for it. That confidence, and that touchy civic honour, are surely part of what it means to be ‘modern’ and ‘normal’.

So the Maidan was never going to burst with impatience and storm the Kiev ministries on its own. In that sense, Tymoshenko’s strategy was mistaken, and perhaps she privately knew it was bluff. Her own party, Hromada, voted against the final compromise deal, on 8 December, but she must have realised – as endurance out on the freezing streets at last began to sag – that there was little chance of winning a better one. She was up against the ‘national character’: a young green oak which is immensely strong and resilient, but slow to take fire.

‘If Pole and Ukrainian start an argument about history,’ a Polish historian said to me the other day, ‘we will both finish that argument in Siberia!’ In the city now called Lviv, in the western Ukraine, it’s clear what he meant. Here they did argue, about whether this sinister old metropolis was the heart of Polish culture or the fortress of antique Ukrainian virtue, and they did indeed both wind up in Siberia. The Poles were deported in 1940, after the Soviet Union annexed Galicia. The Ukrainian intellectuals and patriots followed them in 1944-47, as Stalin took vengeance on those who had collaborated with the Germans as a lesser evil.

It has been Lemberg and Leopolis, Lwów and Lvov, and now Lviv. This is the last great unrestored Habsburg city. Under the domes of Catholic, Greek Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, the walls are leprous, the unlit side-streets pitch black, and the small blue trams (bought second-hand from Prague) whang their bells as they leap over broken cobbles. The first latte cafés and Western chain boutiques are already open, and in ten years’ time this old baroque capital of Galicia will be a painted and pedestrianised honeypot for tourism. But meanwhile suppressed memories of atrocity haunt the archways and courtyards. The Poles persecuted the Ukrainians, the Ukrainians slaughtered Poles and Jews; the NKVD in 1941 murdered Ukrainian nationalists, the Nazis made the Jews dig up the nationalists and then shot them in the same mass grave, the Ukrainians (some of them) put on German uniform and fought the Red Army and the Poles in a guerrilla war which lasted until 1947.

Fearless candour has not paid off in Lviv’s past. When I was there, the orange ribbon was everywhere; the region had voted 91 per cent for Yushchenko and the mayor was giving press interviews for freedom and democracy. But the happy public smile turned out to be rather forced.

The Writers’ Union is a suite of crepuscular saloons, undecorated for generations. Was it in these rooms that left-wing Polish writers fleeing from the Nazis in September 1939 took refuge, finding the city already under Soviet occupation? Among them were famous talents: the novelists Tadeusz Boy-Z´elens´ki, Jerzy Putrament and Julian Stryjkowski, the poets Aleksander Wat and Wladyslaw Broniewski, and many others. Here, for the first time, these innocent radicals came face to face with the reality of Soviet Communism and its cultural police. What followed was one of the most pitiable moral surrenders in the history of literature. Poets and novelists, scrabbling to survive as the arrests began, vainly denounced one another and wrote odes to Stalin before they were swallowed by the Gulag. More terrible things happened in the city in those years, but nothing more squalid.

It’s quiet there now, so cold that the writers wear hats and scarves at their desks. Asked about the election and the public rebellion, the elderly poet Roman Kaczuryvki told me that nothing except ribbons had changed in Lviv. ‘We wanted some changes – especially the officials who take orders from Kiev and not from here. We would like to sack and replace the chief of police, the head of customs and excise, the chief tax officer, the director of forestry. But they are all still there. As for Mayor Bunyak’s opposition credentials, the regime had already appointed him head of our local electoral commission, which tells its own story. Bunyak promised that Lviv would have hot water 24 hours a day. But we still only have it for six.’

Postup (‘Progress’) is the most intelligent paper in Lviv. When I called at its offices, its line was enthusiastically Orange; the editors even produced a free-sheet for distribution on the Maidan in Kiev. But university students told me that Postup had previously been ‘too favourable’ to Yanukovich’s campaign. A fire-bomb this August, which gutted the main newsroom, may have helped the change of perspective.

The journalist Jurko Banzaj was ultra-radical. ‘Everyone down to the taxi-drivers in this place should be sacked! But how can you do this, when everyone just changes coat? Look, we need a Moses to lead us through the desert, and Yushchenko is no Moses – merely the best man we have, with a lot of dubious characters in his entourage.’ Corruption paralysed everything in Lviv, Jurko said. It was not just that the only taxes paid were illegal ones. It was the fact that all services insisted on bribe and ‘black’ cash payment in advance. Jurko had wanted to set up a small computer business, but the up-front bribes demanded by the health and safety office, the water board and the electricity firm were completely beyond him. Those on salaries struggle to survive. His sister-in-law was in a factory painting Christmas toys, and earning about £7.50 for a six-day week.

Like most west Ukrainians, Jurko has peasant relations. But the countryside is emptying, as men leave for migrant labour in countries which themselves provide labour to the West: Portugal, Poland, Italy. He knew a village near Lviv where the school roll had fallen from 20 to seven in five years. His grandmother used to raise a few pigs and sell the pork for 20 pence a kilo. Now the rising price of pig-feed makes it profitless, although the middlemen are selling pork at £2.50 a kilo on the Lviv markets. Farm production falls away, scarcity drives up urban food prices and the villages – the shrines of cultural identity, for western Ukraine nationalists – dwindle and die.

The wide, tree-lined avenue at the heart of Lviv has carried many names. Currently, it’s Freedom Prospect. At one end, a crowd of Greek Catholics was singing hymns and queuing up to kiss a 20-foot wooden cross wreathed in roses. At the other, in front of the luscious opera house, a much larger crowd was listening to the daily Yushchenko rally – a pop concert alternating with booming speeches. One square man in leather jacket and black fur hat followed another: ‘Our Ukraine is becoming a new nation’; ‘We are many, and they won’t divide us’; ‘Shame, shame to the thieves and bandits’; ‘Yush-chen-ko!’ Sometimes the crowd whistled, sometimes they cheered, but as the winter night fell they did not go away.

At Postup, another journalist had said to me: ‘Our trouble is we are so extreme. Everything has to be black or white. And in the same way, huge enthusiasm blazes up like this, then subsides entirely so that old bad things and people can crawl back.’

Is this to be the story of the Orange Revolution of 2004? Those who took part still feel that something has changed for ever, in their country and in themselves. But no movement to embody and enforce the will of the Maidan has emerged. The Pora group, although it helped to direct and organise the first eruption of protest, is too small and vague in its aims to do this job. Apart from a loose parliamentary coalition called ‘Our Ukraine’, a President Yushchenko would have no political troops of his own. During the ‘orange weeks’, the word has been that ‘the people’ will return to the street and depose him if he betrays their hopes. Will they? And will they return to save him, if those who tried to murder him four months ago try again?

His most important appointment will be the chief prosecutor. Since the fall of Communism, corruption has become systemic. It is how Ukraine works. It is a sort of service industry in itself, stretching from the billionaire oligarchs who own Ukraine’s resources, through the clientship and clan networks of local power, down to the millions of underpaid bureaucrats and policemen who must extort bribes to feed their families. The result is an unreal economy. A huge labour force in the Donbas still digs coal that can’t be sold, while the black earth of Ukraine, which used to feed the Soviet Union and much of Europe with its bread wheat, is neglected (in Odessa recently, I saw something once inconceivable: an American freighter unloading wheat).

All ways of tackling this are dangerous. Yushchenko could follow Putin’s example in Russia, and use the police to terrorise the oligarchs into flight or submission. But the cost of that would be dictatorial lawlessness. The super-rich of Kiev and Donetsk are clever. They got their wealth scandalously but not often illegally. Another course is to raise pay in the state services, while making a truce with the oligarchs. Most of them will come and pay court to the new regime in Kiev, offering party funding, private aircraft, even schools and hospitals in return for being left alone. But even if they ceased to own Ukraine’s political class, they would still be able to blackmail a government by threatening to provoke a banking or exchange crisis. Worst of all, such a truce would demoralise the millions of Ukrainian democrats who think Yushchenko, although no Moses, is worth fighting for. As the head of the national bank and later prime minister he was undoubtedly part of the Kuchma machine in the 1990s, but his supporters hold that he was a technocrat and not seriously tainted. New cosiness with penitent oligarchs could quickly change that feeling. Were a crisis to come, were the old gang to feel strong enough to strike back at him, Yushchenko might turn to the Maidan for support and find it empty.

Somehow, the new president will have to keep in touch with this host which sprang out of the Ukrainian earth to rescue their self-respect – and his candidature. This means that thousands of his supporters must swallow their dislike of ‘politicians’ and enter politics, at the local and the national level. By himself, he will not be able to ‘complete 1991’ (make Ukrainian independence a reality) or push through the political and economic reforms which will bring Ukraine into ‘normality’ – as defined by the European Union.

Yushchenko’s best foreign ally is not the United States but the EU. And that in practice means Poland. Thousands of Poles poured across the border to join the Maidan, and their buses formed a shuttle service for demonstrators between Lviv and Kiev. President Kwas´niewski dominated the round-table negotiations which drove Kuchma to retreat, and Poland enjoys being conspicuous in Brussels as the noisy advocate of Ukrainian interests. Yushchenko can count on America to support him, but not to save him. ‘We don’t want to exchange Putin control for Bush control,’ said a young TV journalist in the tent city. ‘The Americans don’t care about our young country, which nobody knows about. Maybe all this is just part of a bigger conflict about oil between America and Russia, which we are not meant to understand.’

Her doubts were not in tune with the tent city motto: ‘I believe! I know! We can!’ As revolutions go, this one overthrew no class, shed no blood, but left an indelible marker. This indistinct, politically retarded society has found its way to a sense of maturity, a confidence about its right to truth. Maybe the best moment came right at the start when the woman signing the TV news for the deaf suddenly began to make unexpected gestures. ‘This is all lies,’ she signalled. ‘I will not do this job any more. I resign.’