The author, Oleksandr Scherba, is the Ukrainian ambassador to Austria.
The events of Jan. 6 have shocked thousands of people around the world.
The first horrible images of the uprising reminded me of August 2018. At that time, America was saying goodbye to John McCain, with Republican and Democratic leaders gathered around his coffin in the famous Capitol rotunda. That sad day was also a mark of solemn respect, one among many others that take place in this sacred place called the Capitol.
In absolute contrast to this, the events of Jan. 6, 2021, have marked the lowest point in the history of the Capitol.
I am convinced that America will overcome the hatred of some Americans but, like many people around the world, I felt hurt. I have no right to judge, but I have a right to feel this pain. It hurts me to see America like this. “I loved [my country] for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for,” McCain said.
America is home to millions, but it is also a “shining city on a hill”* for billions like me, who are not Americans but believe in freedom, truth and honor. Therefore, when these people take to heart the current troubled times in America as if it were their own misfortune, please do not take it as meddling in U.S. internal affairs.
It also hurts me to see people drawing false parallels between the events of Jan. 6 and the two Ukrainian revolutions.
To begin with, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004 was 100% peaceful. The Ukrainian authorities, instigated by Russia, did everything they could to provoke violence during that year. They brought thousands of eastern Ukrainians to Kyiv, mostly miners, in the hope that they would start fighting the protesters.
However, as nobody wanted to fight, it turned out differently. The Maidan movement of 2004 was a message of peace. People shared clothes and food, and gave flowers to the police. What was supposed to be a moment of division turned out to be a moment of unity. A brief but unforgettable moment.
In 2013-2014, the Ukrainian authorities, incited by Russia, rendered it impossible for the protests to be peaceful in nature. It all started with the police beating hundreds of people to quell a protest. The next morning, instead of hundreds of people, there were thousands. Maidan square was filled with people and the images of circulated around the world. But outside of Ukraine, few people knew that the entire Maidan square space is an array of boutiques and clothing stores. None of them were destroyed during the three months of the uprising. And even when dozens of protesters were brutally killed during the third month of the protests, the movement did not turn into a violent riot.
The uprising turned into a violent clash after the Russian occupation of the Donbass region.
My opinion is simply this: There is a difference between people who feel deceived and who, therefore, are blinded by their anger, and between people who fight for freedom. The two Ukrainian revolutions were not a street brawl. They will go down in history as moments of pride.
In contrast, the events of Jan. 6 will be equated with disgrace.
Many years ago, I fell in love with the America that McCain was talking about.
In my case, it started with a student exchange program during the Soviet era, when I spent three weeks in the American outback of New Hampshire. In March 1991, we flew from Moscow, where it was snowing, to Washington, where cherry blossoms were starting to bloom. It felt unreal, as if I had gotten inside of the TV screen. When we arrived in New Hampshire, it felt different, as if I had found myself in a Mark Twain novel. There I met the most hospitable, sweet, funny and caring people I’ve ever met.
They weren’t “America First;” they cared about other people.
They changed my world and made it bigger and brighter. In order to meet more such people on my way, I became a diplomat. This is what America can do: change the world. That was the America of McCain.
I would like this America to return under the presidency of Joe Biden. I might be wrong, but as an outside observer, I think that this return is the only way to make America great again.
In the past four years, neither the United States nor any other country around the world has shown itself to be great.
The trans-Atlantic partnership has been weakened. Europe did not understand America, and America was indifferent to Europe. The antithesis of freedom, led by Vladimir Putin, has gone on the offensive. Russia attacked its neighbors and corrupted the souls of those whom it couldn’t attack. The free world began to fall apart. Putin has been able to convince millions of people that America is no better than any other state, perhaps even worse.
It seemed sometimes that he had convinced Donald Trump of this.
I hope this will change during Biden’s term.
For a brief moment in history, the shining city on the hill has disappeared under a dark cloud, but I know that this city is still there, and it still stands. Those who believe in freedom hope that this cloud will finally disappear. Those who hate freedom hope that only the wreckage will remain from this city. Americans should show that these last people are wrong.
We can start with a simple statement: Yes, America is the best. It’s time to remember what America is. It is “not a place, but an idea worth fighting for.”
*Translator’s note: The author is apparently referring to Ronald Reagan’s description of the U.S. as “a shining city on a hill.”