Too Much Love

KIEV, Ukraine -- According to his official Web site, President Viktor Yushchenko took time off from his schedule on Aug. 9 to call and wish former President Leonid Kuchma a happy 67th birthday.

How nice, one might think.

But wait a moment. Wasn’t Kuchma the man who led the system that Yushchenko assailed last year as a “bandit” government that brutalized and robbed its own people? Didn’t Yushchenko pledge to solve the 2000 murder of opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze – a murder in which Kuchma is alleged to be complicit? Didn’t Yushchenko come close to accusing Kuchma of participation in his poisoning last year? Didn’t Kuchma actively support Yushchenko’s rival in last year’s rigged election? Wasn’t Kuchma implicated in that rigging? Didn’t Kuchma almost set the riot police on the Orange Revolution’s protestors in what could have turned into an Uzbek-style bloodbath? Doesn’t Kuchma represent everything that the Orange Revolution’s protestors took to the streets to fight?

We could go on, but the point is that it’s baffling that Yushchenko should be on the phone to Kuchma, wishing him a happy birthday.

The phone call in itself isn’t a big deal, but it speaks to where Ukraine is eight months into the Yushchenko administration. We were under the impression that the Orange Revolution represented a radical break with the past. We thought Yushchenko and his fellow revolutionaries were utterly and bitterly opposed to the rotten former regime, and that in replacing it – and reforming Ukraine – there would be no compromise, no equivocation, no quarter. We believed they took it all as personally as did the kids who late last fall put their lives on the line to protect Yushchenko’s victory and put him in office. We wonder what they think of Yushchenko and Kuchma’s apparently congenial relationship.

And we wonder if that congeniality doesn’t have something to do with the sad fact that little progress has been made on healing some of the open sores left over from the Kuchma era. Almost nothing has been done toward solving the Gondagze case; or figuring out who deserves punishment for last year’s rigged election; or punishing the more flagrant and dangerous of the “bandits” Yushchenko constantly attacked from the Independence Square stage; or even revealing who poisoned Yushchenko. Maybe, despite all the tough talk from the “orange” crew, everyone’s still a little too cozy in the Ukrainian elite. A certain urgency and passion might be lacking.

Yes, in established democracies it’s appropriate for presidents to send their predecessors birthday greetings, even when they’re bitterly opposed in matters of policy. Tony Blair probably calls Margaret Thatcher on her birthday. But Ukraine isn’t an established democracy. It’s an emerging one, with a political alignment grounded in the idea that Yushchenko represents the absolute moral and political antithesis to Kuchma. And, as far as we know, Margaret Thatcher’s goons never tried to murder Tony Blair.

Source: Kyiv Post Editorial