What's The Difference After Five Years?

KIEV, Ukraine -- It sometimes seems difficult to believe, but it's been almost five years since Ukraine underwent its Orange Revolution - an event that for many put the country on the world map. For others, however, the heady days of late 2004 were a big show that has ended in even bigger disappointments.

The romantic "Orange Revolution" of 2004.

How come the bandits haven't been put in jail, as Viktor Yushchenko promised during his romantic rise to the presidency? Why is Ukraine still mired in petty clan politics, with state interests taking a back seat to those of businessmen with a voice in parliament? And, most recently, the country appears to be backsliding in the one area that has seemed promising and substantive, the economy. Is it possible that Ukraine will revert to a backwater buffer zone outside of Europe and out of favor with Russia?

All of these concerns are nothing new in a fledgling democracy, which despite the protestations of its harshest critics, Ukraine can still claim to be.

It's true that there wasn't a mass round up of thugs after Yushchenko took power, but to quote the Bible: "He who is without sin, throw the first stone." The point here is that since there wasn't much of a law in Ukraine, the majority of the country's population have probably been lawbreakers.

As for those individuals with particularly ugly reputations for quashing the hopes of the people, abusing their positions in the police force or simply stealing more than is "decent', many have met their death in suspect suicides, hunting accidents or the like. This may not be justice in the legal sense, but we have come a long way since the eerie days of President Leonid Kuchma all the same.

Yes, the country's courts are still corrupt, and murder hasn't disappeared as a means of settling business disputes, but no one can honestly compare today's comical top cop Yury Lutsenko to his Kuchma-era counterpart Yury Kravchenko. Abusing the law and abusing people under the law are different in practice.

And yes, the corruption continues, but in an odd sort of Ukrainian way the venal are keeping each other in check, rather than jockeying for influence before a modern-day czar. Kuchma kept everything in his own hands, which meant all the other hands were empty and often pawing for what they could get.

Viktor Yushchenko, for all his weaknesses, is a very different man. In fact, he was likely allowed to take power precisely because of his weaknesses, which are allowed and even cherished in a democratic country.

The very fact that Ukrainians can talk and write about Mr. Yushchenko's flaws is proof enough in itself. His currents opponents for power have shown much less democratic credentials during the brief periods that they were allowed to head the government. Populism is the bridesmaid of a dictator, while trying to steal an election is far worse than the theft of state assets.

Recently, with presidential and quite possibly parliamentary elections in sight, Yushchenko has been increasingly compared to his predecessor Mr. Kuchma.

Like Kuchma, it is said, Yushchenko is trying to stay in power by changing the rules of the game. Again, we hear talk of a referendum to change the country's much-embattled constitution, proposals to create a bilateral legislature - only this time from the man who fought such initiatives tooth and nail during his rise to power: Yushchenko.

Yushchenko has additionally called for yet another round of early parliamentary elections, to be held concurrently with the presidential ones.

These proposals are indeed unorthodox and rightfully raise concerns. But to compare Yushchenko's initiatives to those of Mr. Kuchma is a gross exaggeration based on convenient historical amnesia.

Yushchenko may want dual elections, but in fact he's gotten a shorter term, with presidential elections currently scheduled four months before his five years are up. Could it be that the mild-mannered president is simply trying to keep his opponents at bay?

With single-digit approval ratings, a shrinking party in parliament and not many friends in the West or up north, can Yushchenko really be expected to take the country hostage in some sort of constitutional coup?

Kuchma couldn't get away with it, and he had much more power and opportunity to do so. In fact, Mr. Kuchma knew full well that it was time to pass on the baton but he tried to do so underhandedly and in an eastward direction.

Like Kuchma, Yushchenko also knows that he's on his way out, and therefore may be trying to soften the transition. If the president is really trying to create a bilateral parliament to have somewhere to go after electoral defeat, I say make him an honorary senator for life! Whatever his faults as head of state, he was the best man to choose at the time and paid a high price for his election.

If, on the other hand, Yushchenko is trying to restrain the ambitions of his opponents - More power to him! The country can only benefit from this.

It's economics that have brought Ukraine closer to Europe and its values - cash from industry and agriculture that has trickled down to a population that had never known what money, ownership, freedom of travel and information, etc, was.

And whoever is elected to replace Mr. Yushchenko will face a population more used to freedom than ever before. If nothing else - and he did a lot more - Yushchenko has kept the expectation of democracy alive among his countrymen.

The economy will pick up again, as economies do. Ukraine is a major exporter of steel, grain and chemicals. Under Yushchenko, it entered the WTO.

Issues such as what percentage of the vote a party will need to get into the next parliament are indeed important. But a democratic system where the president isn't czar offers enough protection to balance interests among lawmakers, who with time should become increasingly sensitive to their constituents. With the continued accumulation of wealth and safeguards of free speech, the people will not stand for anything else.

Source: Turkish Weekly


Pushkin said…
What happened after 5 years? What happened is that the "orange" colors were fake 5 years ago, because those colors were made in Washington DC and now the true colors are coming up. The people will decide in the coming elections if Ukraine will become the "burdel" and the "cheap labor force" for the western economies, or Ukraine will rise and integrate with the natural regional partners, including their own bood and soul: Russia. Perhaps the current president will win a lottery: a free one way trip to Disneyland.
Anonymous said…
The overwhelming voice of the people of Ukraine have demanded democracy & all the freedoms that go along with it. You sound like a Russky who has lost his home.

P.S.// I hear there are some great deals on real estate in Russia... particularly in Siberia!