The Orange Revolution

The following is reprinted from a November 2004 issue of PE Week Wire:

Following a speaking engagement in Arizona a few months back, I had an opportunity to meet Michael Bleyzer, a PE Week Wire reader and CEO of Ukraine-based private equity firm SigmaBleyzer. Since then, we’ve kept up correspondence – due, in part, to this Q&A in the November issue of Venture Capital Journal. Fascinating guy working in an emerging market far less trendy than either China and India. Right now, however, private equity has taken a backseat to political struggle in the Ukraine, and Michael emailed me an eyewitness account. Per my request, he subsequently agreed to share the email with his fellow Wire readers. So without further ado:

As you likely know from the news, we are in the middle of the Orange Revolution here in Kyiv. I can tell you that this is one of the most incredible experiences of my entire life to be here during this time. We have been spending a lot of time on the streets and on the main square – Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square).

It is difficult to describe what is going on here. No news footage on your TV screens can express the feeling you get being surrounded by a million people. The most amazing thing — which I believe will have worldwide sociological implications for a long time to come — is how incredible this crowd is.

When you think of a crowd unhappy about something, being cheated by politicians, betrayed by the system – you expect a bunch of angry, agitated people. Well, think again. This is the happiest, friendliest, most incredibly loving and supportive group of people I have ever encountered. People are smiling, singing, laughing and offering help and support to each other. You don’t see any police anywhere, not a single policeman in sight – imagine that. According to the mayor’s office in the city of Kyiv – there are no reports of any crime in this huge metropolitan area. Crime has stopped! Everyone is a friend, everyone is a neighbor, everyone is a brother. I do not know how long ! this can last, but we are in the middle of some kind of miracle.

It is cold out there. Most nights the temperature gets well below zero Centigrade (which is in the teens for those of you that only know Fahrenheit). But the tent city that was built in the middle of Kyiv and now has hundreds if not thousands of tents is very warm indeed. There are mountains of warm clothes everywhere on Khreshchatyk (the main street of the city), which were donated by Kyivites. Food, hot coffee, hot tea are abundant and free everywhere. But you do not see any alcohol – this is the most sober one million Ukrainians you will ever meet. The crowd is completely self-organizing and improving its collective behavior continuously. Every new day brings new elements of better organization, improved conditions, improved communications and general functionality…

It has become clear to any observer that this crowd is bound to win. There is absolutely no way to stop this crowd without a massive blood bath, which is almost impossible to imagine to take place in the center of Europe, with all the world’s TV cameras [present]. Over the last 5 days, the opposition has been winning continuous victories every single day. The score for the first five rounds is clearly 5-0. The crowds are growing and demonstrations are now taking place all over the country. More and more famous athletes, actors, artists, high-ranking military and police officers are joining the opposition. When Ruslana, the most famous Ukrainian singer, and heavyweight champion Vladimir Klitchko joined Victor Yushchenko on the podium, the crowd went wild. The following day brought Leh Valensa, senior officers of SBU (former KGB) and Police, several formerly neutral “oligarchs” and finally a major breakthrough at the end of the day – the rebirth of free media in Ukraine.

Prior to that, only Channel 5 was broadcasting 24 hours a day directly from Maidan and giving complete coverage to all the events. And of course, our Volia Cable was proudly delivering its signal to some 1.5 million viewers in Kyiv despite all the pressure on them, including several horrible days in July when some of our key managers had to spend 10 days in jail. One other channel (Era) was doing the same, but only a few hours a day.

All major channels had previously been completely ignoring the millions of people on the streets, never reporting it and instead showing cartoons, classical music concerts and exotic travel destinations. We knew that most journalists from the major channels had either been fired by then or had gone on strike because they refused to continue broadcasting lies. As a result, all news programs on National channels 1 and 2, Inter, 1+1, Noviy, and others simply ceased any and all operations. For 3 days in a row, most of Ukraine, which only has access to the major channels, had no TV news. Imagine that – the very day after a major election – no news for three days, no morning news, no evening news, no news at all! All these channels simply had no creative staff left to produce bogus news. All fired or on strike.

Thursday night it all changed. The management and owners of all of the major channels gave in to the demands of their striking journalists and allowed honest news reporting for the first time in the history of independent Ukraine. Some of the channels like National Channel 1 and 1+1 began their evening news broadcast on Thursday with a group shot of all journalists standing together and one of them reading a statement from the creative staff in which they swore to report honest news and honest news only! This was one of the most unbelievable sights I have ever seen. And then the miracle happened – they showed a direct feed of a million proud Ukrainians on Maidan in Kyiv to the whole country. If there are defining moments in the birth of a Nation, that was certainly one! I am so proud to be able to witness it with my own eyes, in spite of all the tears that covered them at that moment.

Today was another exciting day with the extraordinary session of the Ukrainian Rada currently ongoing. It started over four hours ago and is being shown live on a number of TV channels all over the country and also to people on the streets. We are all glued to the television screens. The Rada already voted to consider the runoff elections invalid, express non-confidence in the Central Election Committee and several other major items.

They are still debating, but are making good progress. Things are looking up! The Orange Revolution continues!

Michael Bleyzer
Kyiv, Ukraine
November 27, 2004