Yushchenko: ‘Orange’ Hero Who Lost His Shine

KIEV, Ukraine -- His face pock-marked from poisoning, Ukraine’s president upon being elected in December 2004 stood before tens of thousands of supporters in Kiev as the embodiment of their hopes for a better future.

Yushchenko: said he was an economist, not a politician.

Inaugurated as Ukraine’s third president after the “Orange Revolution” street protests reversed the results of rigged polls, a triumphant Viktor Yushchenko vowed to end corruption, implement reform and bring the country into the EU.

But he ended Sunday’s first round presidential polls in a humiliating fifth place, unceremoniously exiting his bid for re-election with just 5% of the vote amid widespread disappointment with the Revolution’s failure to bring real change.

What went wrong for a man hailed as a hero five years ago?

Rather than concentrating on Ukrainians’ desires for improving day-to-day government efficiency and ending corruption, Yushchenko saw his presidency as a grandiose historical mission to place the country at the heart of Europe.

As he set out a goal for the ex-Soviet state to join Nato, relations with Russia plunged to their worst level since the country won independence from Moscow in 1991.

He spent much energy on historical issues close to his heart, insisting that the deaths from starvation of 7mn Ukrainians in the 1930s under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin should be recognised as genocide.

Such a focus was hardly surprising from the former central bank chief who shows an interest bordering on obsession in Ukraine’s heritage and makes a point of climbing its highest mountain Hoverla every year.

As Ukrainian politics lurched from one crisis to another, the urgent challenges facing the country were left unanswered.

Yushchenko’s attention was diverted by a bitter personal row with his one-time ally turned nemesis, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in a bickering divorce that vividly illustrated the rupture of the “Revolution”.

Stuck in a bitter power struggle over the right to be Ukraine’s true number one, the pair exchanged daily insults and accused one another of being criminally responsible for wrecking the country.

Such hatred meant Yushchenko spent the election campaign seeking to destroy her character and dredge up muck from her past, ironically boosting the campaign of his defeated 2004 rival, pro-Russia candidate Viktor Yanukovich.

“Yushchenko’s biggest achievement was to get elected in the first place. His first big mistake was then not to govern as he campaigned,” said Ukraine expert Andrew Wilson of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Yushchenko’s main interests outside work are said to be bee-keeping and collecting Ukrainian folk art, and he adopted an aloof pose of intellectual superiority in the chaotic world of Ukrainian politics.

“I am not a politician. I am an economist. I do not like politics,” he said as the campaign ended, describing himself as a “black sheep”. He has yet to comment on the results.

The 2004 poisoning that ravaged Yushchenko’s face was initially blamed on agents working for Russia.

With the case still mysteriously under-investigated, his supporters and several medical experts have blamed deliberate dioxin poisoning while others insist on a natural explanation. His face has now largely recovered.

Source: AFP


John Kantor said…
Not tackling day-to-day problems and corruption are mistakes - but Ukraine will never be anything but a Neo-Soviet client state unless it follows Yuschenko's path.