Rukh's first congress: 10 years ago
The 10th anniversary of the founding of Rukh, the Popular Movement of Ukraine passed quietly, with barely a murmur, both in the diaspora and in Ukraine. In Kyiv, the two antagonistic camps laying claim to the mantle of Rukh held separate commemorations, while the rest of Ukraine barely paid attention. When noted in conversation, if noted at all, the topic of the 10th anniversary was tinged with sadness.
This situation stands in stark contrast to the days of Rukh's founding congress on September 8-10, 1989, held in the main auditorium of Kyiv's Polytechnic Institute. The event, which was bitterly opposed by conservative Communists who thwarted its planning for more than a year, was a time of great emotion, joy and celebration for many in Ukraine. Thousands of people who could not be in the auditorium gathered throughout the weekend to stand in the park outside the building to listen to the congress proceedings as they were being broadcast over outdoor speakers. Later some of the more than 1,000 delegates, attending the congress in Kyiv as representatives of the regional chapters of Rukh, recalled with awe that as they walked out of the proceedings late in the evening on Saturday, September 9 - not long after the official announcement of Rukh's establishment was made - people still waiting outside the auditorium lined the sidewalks leading to the subway station about a half mile away and shouted their thanks and gratitude to the delegates walking by, tossing flowers at their feet.
Years after its founding, historians and politicians alike have acknowledged the critical role of Rukh and, in particular, the role of certain Rukh leaders, in developing and sustaining the drive for Ukraine's independence. However, at its founding congress the role of Rukh as the catalyst and emblem of Ukraine's independence was only embryonic. In fact, Rukh was established officially as the Popular Movement of Ukraine for Perebudova, and supported Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's plan to restructure the Soviet Union.
Rukh's charter did not call outright for independence, a position that was adopted only a year later at the second congress, but did note the need for "national self-determination" and "sovereignty." The first paragraph of the founding document stated that "Rukh is founded on the principles of humanism, democracy, glasnost, pluralism, social justice, internationalism; it emanates from the interests of all citizens of the republic, regardless of their nationality. ... Rukh's activity is an all-embracing promotion of conditions conducive to a dignified life, ... development in Ukraine of a democratic and humane society." Eyewitnesses recall that the auditorium was often filled with jubilant calls for "yednist" (unity), "rivnopravnist" (equality) and democracy - "true rule by the people," as the Rukh charter stated.
Rukh's goal of unity and equality among all the people of Ukraine through the establishment of a fair and just democracy was echoed in the messages brought to the congress by representatives from Poland's Solidarity movement and the popular fronts of the Baltic states. "We are experiencing together the end of the totalitarian system," said Adam Michnik of Solidarity, who spoke on the opening day of the congress. "We are glad that now, on this historic day, this solemn moment for Ukraine and for all of Europe, that there are Poles in this hall ... that Solidarity is with you, that Poland is with you. May fortune be with you! May God give you strength! Long live a democratic, just, free Ukraine!"
At a regional conference of Rukh prior to the founding congress, Ivan Drach, who was later elected as the movement's first head, explained why the term Rukh - which means movement - was chosen as the name of the new organization rather than the term "front" - as had been done in the Baltic states.
"Rukh has an internal energy different from that of a front," he said, "It has a different philosophical and moral sense. Within it one can sooner find a place for a Skovoroda, a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King. ... The word rukh is also closer to reality and to eternity. A movement can exist with opponents. A front immediately denotes opposition. Rukh elicits hope. ..."
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, September 12, 1999, No. 37, Vol. LXVII
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