By Tarek Fatah
March 12th, 2014
In the many trips I have had to make to Geneva, advocating on behalf of Balochistan before the United Nations Human Rights Council, I have made it a ritual to start my visit with a trip to the Gebrochener Stuhl (Broken Chair) monument before I check in at the hotel.
The sculpture was made to symbolize opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, but over the years has evolved into a meeting place for protesters of many different causes.
On the morning of Sunday, March 9, after leaving the airport in Geneva, I asked my cabbie to take me to the "Broken Chair" for a short stop before moving on to the hotel.
What I saw there was truly uplifting.
At the square, known as the "Euro-Maidan" were about 50 Ukrainian protesters, mostly young professionals and academics, definitely not from the same cut as the Kiev crowd that stormed parliament to oust politically corrupt president Viktor Yanukovych.
Across the square, waiting for their allotted time to protest after the Ukrainians finished, was a boisterous group of Venezuelan protesters.
They were exiles, refugees and students who seemed far more skilled in the art of street protesting, the kind of people who view being tear gassed as a badge of honour.
Instead of waiting, the Venezuelans came over and joined the Ukrainians, melding the two groups into one large demonstration.
Venezuela's colourful flags soon fluttered alongside the Yellow and Blue of Ukraine.
The languages these people spoke shifted from Spanish to Ukrainian to a smattering of French.
As they mingled, freedom and liberty made common cause.
Those unlikely to ever cross paths again were united in purpose, to uplift human dignity and to oppose autocratic governments wherever they exist.
May Nicolas Maduro soon follow the now-vanquished Yanukovych out of power.
I later sat down with author Bohdan Nahaylo, a British-born Ukrainian, to pick his brains about the future of his ancestral homeland, now that the Russians have taken over Crimea.
I asked if this was a fait accompli, if he saw any chance of Crimea returning to Ukraine.
"It is with sadness that I have to say I do not see the Russians leaving Crimea," he said, while sipping coffee. "I'm particularly sad that the Muslim Crimean Tatars, who were most loyal to Ukraine, will once more fall victim to Russia."
Nahaylo, who in 1990 co-authored the seminal book Soviet Disunion: A History of the Nationalities Problem in the USSR, feels there is more to Vladimir Putin's bluster than meets the eye.
"The Crimean basin in the Black Sea has only recently been surveyed and shows huge oil reserves that would have made Ukraine less dependent on Russian oil blackmail," he said. "Then there is the question of underwater oil pipelines that Russia is building. We cannot discount these factors."
Will Ukraine survive, I asked?
"Absolutely," he replied. "And it will emerge as a nation state where every citizen, irrespective of religion, language or skin colour will be an equal citizen."
Like Canada, I queried? Nahaylo, who has lectured in Ottawa and whose daughter is a Canadian, said, "Yes" in a way that meant, "No question about it".
If the scene of Venezuelans and Ukrainians showing solidarity in Geneva is any indication, then it's Putin versus the rest of the world in Ukraine.
I like the sound of that.