Gen-Xers Give Ukraine New Hope: Plagued by Stagflation and Government Corruption, the Ukraine Could Be Transformed by a New Generation of Politicians Pushing for Western-Style Economic Reforms. (World: Eastern Europe)

Article excerpt

Twelve years ago the darkly handsome Valery Khoroshkovsky, then age 20, was working in a small factory, perfecting his kung fu and taking entrance exams for law school in Kiev. Also entering law school that year was Yuriy Miroshnichenko, another determined 20-year-old who had great expectations for a civil-service career in the newly independent Ukraine. At a private university in the same city 23-year-old Vladimir Granovsky, quiet and soulful, was completing his degree in modern Russian philosophy and looking for hard-to-find books on Western economic theory. Fortress Sovieticus was crumbling around them that year, and all inevitably were wondering what opportunities the emerging future of an independent Ukraine would hold.

Today these three gen-Xers are successful by any standard, and they are pushing hard for Western-style political and economic reforms that they hope will transform the Ukraine from a flop-house to the powerhouse of Eastern Europe. All tell INSIGHT they are deeply concerned that urgently needed reforms won't be codified into law if an increasingly cynical electorate refuses to participate in the parliamentary elections in March and the even more crucial presidential elections in 2004.

Khoroshkovsky today is an entrepreneurial superstar -- chairman of a bank, a four-year veteran of the Rada (the Ukraine's parliament), author of a shelfful of books on economics and founder of a political movement supported by prospering young urban professionals like himself. "Resolution of the major political and economic problems in the Ukraine depends on how fast and pain less power can be transferred into the hands of a new generation of politicians," he says of the newly formed Winter-Crop Generation (Wintercroppers). Party leaders are banking that the name will dramatize their goal of leading the Ukraine out of a 10-year winter of stagflation in what for centuries was the breadbasket of Europe.

The new party already has made a name for itself by smart use of the Internet and television. It launched an Internet site this fall urging young people who wanted to run for office to register online. More than 1,200 applied to be candidates; 55 of these were selected to compete in a rigorous multilevel selection process involving self-presentation and speech competitions. The seven finalists appeared Dec. 29 at a speak-off in Kiev that all three Ukrainian TV channels covered. Each would-be candidate was required to give one-minute responses to rapid-fire questions from a panel of academics and scientists. Viewers were urged to call in and vote for their favorites, and tens of thousands did.

The prize was a seat among the top five posts of party leadership. If the new party wins a minimum of 4 percent of the vote in the March 31 elections, the Wintercroppers are guaranteed approximately 10 seats in parliament, which the top leaders likely would fill. The contest winner was Ostap Protsyk, a 25-year-old news editor for Radio Lux in Lviv.

The process was more than a gimmick, party leaders say, because in the Ukraine the electorate is disenchanted with money politics and opaque government decision-making. Some polls show that 20 percent of the voters plan to boycott the elections or simply reject all candidates. The Wintercroppers used their contest to assure young people like themselves of their commitment to meritocracy and openness.

Khoroshkovsky's agenda reads like a position paper from the Washington-based Cato Institute. His objectives are to limit state intervention in the private sector, simplify the tax code to encourage business startups and decentralize federal spending by returning at least two-thirds of collected taxes to regional governments.

Khoroshkovsky is supported in all of this by Granovsky, his close friend and intellectual comrade who worked for the World Bank in the early 1990s and won praise for setting up a model free-market forum to educate government officials. …