How The Orange Revolution Lost Its Juice

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians might well wonder why they bothered. The bright 2004 Orange Revolution has turned a muddy, burnt orange shade now that President Yushchenko has been forced to take his arch-foe into the heart of his Government.

Viktor Yushchenko, the hero of the Orange Revolution and passionate advocate of closer links with the West, has finally picked the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych as his next Prime Minister.

Today Ukraine’s parliament will vote on the nomination. But the outcome is all but a formality — and for Yushchenko it is a catastrophe.

For Ukraine it is a fraction better than the outright paralysis that has gripped the Government for four months, since parliamentary elections were inconclusive and the Orange parties began to feud fatally with each other.

But it is probably a recipe for future paralysis, given that the instincts of the “two Viktors” pull in opposite directions. The heart of the problem is that Ukraine remains a divided country, torn between visions of belonging to Europe and to Russia, with neither compelling enough to win over the other camp.

It is hard to overstate the shock of this reversal. Two years ago Yushchenko ousted Yanukovych, a fervent pro-Russian and a symbol of the overbearing excesses of the old regime of Leonid Kuchma.

Crowds of hundreds of thousands stood in the freezing snow through the night to protest against corrupt election results, and Yushchenko became the overnight darling of the West, his pockmarked face, the result of suspected poisoning, the symbol of former Soviet citizens’ desire to overthrow their old masters.

For Tony Blair and President Bush, more than a year into the frustrations of building a new Iraq, it was a gift: an apparent sign of the unquenchable desire for democracy everywhere.

This sudden shift isn’t exactly a blow to democracy. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions certainly has electoral legitimacy; it won 186 seats in the 450-seat legislature in March, the largest single party.

Behind him came the party of Yuliya Tymoshenko, originally part of the Orange bloc, and Yushchenko’s Prime Minister for a few heady months after the revolution. But in the end Yushchenko, with the role of king-maker, found it easier to strike a deal with his former foe than with his former ally.

His rows with Tymoshenko had paralysed the Orange bloc. Her impassive pale face, crowned with a thick, pale rope of plaited hair (a style meant to indicate her sympathy with peasant traditions), belied the vigour of her opposition.

This latest twist does not prove that democracy in Ukraine is fragile; perhaps even the reverse. But it does show that Ukraine’s European impulses are more fragile than it had suited the West to think.

That is no surprise. Ukraine remains a country deeply divided by history, culture and economy: the west leans towards Europe; the Russian-speaking, industrial east towards Russia. Yushchenko represents the west, Yanukovych the east.

The question now is in which direction the new “grand alliance” will lean. Yesterday the two Viktors issued a joint declaration that they say will direct their coalition.

They vow to seek European Union membership, co-operate with Nato and also to work towards World Trade Organisation membership. These show Yushchenko’s attempt to keep hold of the “rewards” from the West that his victory secured.

The United States said yesterday that it could do business with this team.

But Yanukovych’s influence is clear in the pledge to look at joining a Russian-backed trade zone including Belarus. Nor does the text say that Ukrainian is the “only” state language, in deference to Yanukovych’s Russian-speaking voters.

This isn’t a defeat for democracy, but it is a setback for the West’s attempt to bring Ukraine within its circle of sympathy.

The mistake was to assume that the two were the same.

Source: Times Online