Saturday, February 26, 2005

More Former Communist States on the Verge of Orange Revolution

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine's pro-democracy ‘Orange Revolution’ may be about to sweep eastwards as three more former communist states hold elections in the coming days.

Opposition parties in Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are cloaking themselves in orange, hoping to "do a Ukraine" and remove unpopular governments in parliamentary elections.


Ukrainian Orange Revolution

Like Ukrainians, opponents in these states complain of living under the yoke of tyrannical governments little changed from the days when they were part of the Soviet Union. They are optimistic that the elections will see the old guard swept from power.

Tajikistan goes to the polls today and Kyrgyzstan tomorrow, but opposition in the two countries has not enjoyed the same support from America as Victor Yuschenko’s party did in Ukraine.

What is missing from central Asia is American aid. Washington poured in help and expertise for the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. American money financed newspapers, think tanks and parties.

In both Georgia and Ukraine, PR experts advised on strategy, and Americans trained opposition youth groups in non- violent resistance.

In the case of Ukraine this paid off handsomely, with the youth group Pora - the name means ‘It is time’ - setting up the so-called Tent City protest in the heart of Kiev.

But in central Asia, America fears the beneficiaries of popular discontent may be Islamic parties who are hostile to the West. Kyrgyzstan has also helped America build an important air base for flights in and out of Afghanistan.

Observers also see problems in making the Orange Revolution exportable.

"If you are talking about these central Asian countries it depends on the level of the people," said Olena Viter, the executive director of Ukraine’s School for Policy Analysis. "The middle class was the main player that was interested in this revolution. But it was not only in the elections. There was a very long process before."

But Kyrgyz opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva, of the Ata Jurt party, said the people were "absolutely ready" for a Ukraine-style change. "We’re not talking about a revolution but about the peaceful, calm and constitutional transfer of power," he said.

What has galvanised them was the sight of opposition supporters in Ukraine refusing to take no for an answer. On November 21, when the government rigged elections, hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Kiev.

Despite the intense cold and threats of attack by police and troops, Ukraine’s protesters remained on the streets of the capital. After three weeks of deadlock, the government buckled, called new elections and saw opposition hero Yushchenko elected president.

Two weeks after Ukraine’s revolution, neighbouring Romania followed suit. Opposition champion Traian Basescu won an election against former communist Adrian Nastase, amid streets awash with orange banners and flags.

Some see the Orange Revolution as a "second wave" bringing democracy to former communist nations which have yet to break with the past.

Best placed to see change is Moldova, which goes to the polls on March 6. It is sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, and controlled by Europe’s last ruling Communist party.

Further east, the opposition faces tougher obstacles. In Tajikistan, tax police shut down the main opposition newspapers last summer. They have since reopened but face continued harassment.

Neighbouring Kyrgyzstan has a much stronger opposition but they, too, have hit problems. The government is demanding each candidate pays a $768 registration fee - a fortune in a country where the average annual wage is $345.

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