According to a Ukrainian custom, a woman rejects an unwanted suitor by handing him a pumpkin. So it was that pro-democracy supporters said "no" to corruption and autocratic rule by dumping pumpkins on a street in Kiev Sunday - and voting for the reform-minded Viktor Yushchenko for president.
These pumpkin-rolling Ukrainians, along with 52 percent of their fellow citizens, succeeded in overturning a rigged election Nov. 21. In backing Mr. Yushchenko in a vote that this time was far fairer, they have proven to the world that they want to join the march of newly free nations.
And it is a forward march, despite backsliding, most notably in Russia. Over the past 15 years, the number of electoral democracies has risen from 69 out of 167 states (41 percent) to 119 out of 192 states (62 percent) - more elections, more democracies, more rights.
This is according to Freedom House, a nongovernmental organization which keeps an annual tally of the globe's "free" nations. The group, which announced its count last week, found that freedom progressed the world over in the past 12 months, with 26 countries (such as Ukraine and Georgia) showing gains, and 11 nations (such as Belarus and Armenia) registering setbacks.
Freedom has moved ahead in some surprising regions, like the Middle East and North Africa. There, where Saudi Arabia ranks among the worst in civil liberties and political rights, some modest gains have been made. Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Qatar showed improvement in such areas as women and family rights, as well as press and academic freedoms.
In the last century, world wars and the cold war led to the defeat of despots responsible for killing or oppressing millions of their own people, and those in conquered lands.
At the dawn of this new century, global terrorism represents a different kind of challenge. But the answer is still the same: more freedom, more democracy, more rights.
Exactly how these freedoms come to be is still the challenge for today's political leaders. President Bush has tried to impose freedom militarily, first in Afghanistan, with pretty good success, and then in Iraq, where the jury is still out.
Ukraine illustrates what can happen when the surge for freedom bubbles up from within. While the US and other countries helped the democratization process by providing funds, training, and people for election monitors, pollsters, judges, and others, the Ukrainians themselves led their own "orange revolution."
From the rise of democracy in Asia and Latin America in the 1980s, to Eastern Europe from the late '80s on, countless examples show how important it is to have "the people" themselves want and push for freedom.
Next month, Iraq will have its first elections, and embark on the road to greater determination of its own destiny. For democracy to survive against suicide bombers, Iraqis will have to want it as badly as the Ukrainians did.