Changing Colors: Ukraine's Orange Revolution

Article excerpt

Western media outlets initially hailed the presidential election of moderate reformer Viktor Yushchenko as an important step toward functional Ukrainian democracy. His Orange Revolution, a vast outpouring of public support and anger at government and business corruption, promised a much-needed political revival for the country. Much of this idealism and energy, however, has since disintegrated into political bickering. Following a split over basic policy between Yushchenko and his former prime minister and political ally Yulia Tymoshenko, the president dismissed his entire cabinet. This move and Tymoshenko's subsequent statement that she and Yushchenko are now on "two different teams" have plunged the new government into uncertainty.

Beyond the immediate issue of rebuilding the government lies a more fundamental concern: have the original values of the revolution been betrayed, or do they still run strong in Yushchenko's government? The answer to this question will largely determine Ukraine's place in Europe's future. But despite the fears of many Ukrainians and observers, it seems that the principles of the Orange Revolution are still alive and well, even if not in their original form.

The color orange, ubiquitous around the time of Yushchenko's election, embodied the democratic values absent in recent regimes as Yushchenko rallied crowds with his promises of eliminating corruption, shaping Ukraine's identity in Europe, and liberalizing the economy. When voters braved sub-zero temperatures to protest the fraudulent elections, they were supporting these democratic principles. Lubomyr Hajda of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute told the HIR that these voters were striking out against being "treated like dirt" under previous governments. They voted for the principles symbolized by Yushchenko and the Revolution, he said, not for Yushchenko himself.

After Yushchenko's dramatic victory, public opinion polls showed that trust in the government spiked to all-time highs. While these numbers have since dropped, Oxana Shevel of Harvard's Davis Center explained in an interview with the HIR that still "the people see Yushchenko as an improvement over [Leonid] Kuchma," Ukraine's last president.

The people have a right to be optimistic, as the Revolution has already brought measures of democratization. Constitutional reform will convert Ukraine's presidential democracy into a parliamentary democracy on January 1, 2006, thereby limiting the ability of the president to wield authoritarian power. Yushchenko has also eliminated visa requirements for citizens of Western European nations and the United States, drawing Ukraine closer to the western democracies. …