From One Revolution To Another

LONDON, England -- If the Arab world is looking for advice, the Ukrainian experience suggests they must be wary of politicians bearing empty promises.

Ask any Ukrainian about the recent people-power revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and your question will be met with a blank stare or a scowl. "We are not really following what's going on," one youthful international relations scholar from Kiev told me.

The reason is obvious: Ukrainians were once the upstart darlings of pro-revolutionary visionaries the world over. Before Facebook, Twitter or Gene Sharp became household names, Ukrainians turned out in droves donning their bright orange garb to bring down their pro-Russia overlords who had illegally stole an election in 2004.

Yet six years after the so-called orange revolution, Ukrainian politics remain mired in corruption. The loser from that people-power revolution, a twice-convicted felon named Viktor Yanukovich, is now president of the country, a position that today carries greater powers than it did previously.

You'd be hard-pressed to find an orange banner anywhere in the capital. "The orange revolution was not a real revolution," a tour guide from the information agency told me recently. "It was a simulation."

Indeed, Ukrainians can be forgiven for scoffing at the sight of hopeful young Egyptians and Tunisians overturning their regimes through peaceful protest. Since 2004, the orange coalition has been fractious and corrupt.

YouTube footage of physical brawling in the Rada, Ukraine's parliament, is not uncommon. The parliament, according to Ukraine expert Taras Kuzio, has become "a rubber-stamp institution" under Yanukovich.

In response to annulling what he saw as his 2004 electoral victory, the president has defanged the powers of the supreme court. Even though the economy has seen improvement since the orange revolution, this has come at the expense of political freedoms.

Journalists fear retribution for speaking critically about the Yanukovich regime, while some, like Kharkiv-based editor and reporter Vasyl Klymentyev, have disappeared (much as their colleagues in Belarus tend to do).

Corruption is more endemic now than even during the Kuchma era, so much so that the European Union temporarily froze a $100m assistance plan to Kiev. Not without reason has Ukraine been downgraded by Freedom House from "free" to "partly free."

The country is no longer seriously considered an aspirant to join NATO or the EU (though it remains unclear if it ever was). No wonder a recent debate on civil society held in Kiev between Hanna Herman, deputy head of Ukraine's presidential administration, and a pro-opposition journalist ended in a shouting match.

So what lessons does Ukraine's post-orange revolution experience hold for the Arab world's new leaders? The first one is simple: don't make too many promises.

As Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko recently told, "Over the years of so-called orange rule, the chiefs of various factions of the orange leadership promised everything: to return people's money which was left in Soviet banks, to stop the draft, to raise pensions – which they did for a certain period of time but then inflation ate it up – to get into the European Union."

The result was they were voted out of office in 2010, legitimately and with nary a tear shed.

Second, be wary of counter-revolutions. Political infighting is virtually inevitable during times of transition, and anti-democratic forces – religious, communist or otherwise – will lurk in the shadows and play on perceived notions of instability to secure their power bases and attract recruits.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, elections do not a democracy make: "[D]emocracy must be rooted in the rule of law," opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko wrote recently on al-Jazeera's website.

"During and after the orange revolution, I was constantly speaking about the dangers of the unrealistic hopes," Andriy Portnov, a historian and editor of, told me recently in Kiev. "Ukraine lost its chance, I am afraid, for many years."

No wonder news programmes and newspapers in Ukraine are largely devoid of coverage of the so-called Arab Spring. Let's hope events in North Africa do not follow the same tortuous path as the post-orange revolution experience.

Source: Guardian UK