From Viktor to Viktor: Democracy and Authoritarianism in Ukraine

Article excerpt

Abstract: The Orange Revolution has not led to the creation of an effective government or of democratic checks and balances. Therefore, contrary to many hopes, after the 2010 presidential election Ukraine is backsliding into "soft" authoritarianism. However, the failures of the regime to deliver socioeconomic promises have united the electorate in different regions of the country in their growing criticism of the authorities.

Keywords: authoritarianism, Orange Revolution, Ukrainian-Russian relations, Viktor Yanukovych

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For political scientists, Ukraine is an extremely interesting case study. The country balances between the West and Russia--while maintaining an official aim to join the European Union--its political culture has both pro-European and post-Soviet components, and it appears to be the CIS state that is closest to Europe politically. Ukraine stands in contrast to many other former Soviet republics in that it gained its independence peacefully and without interethnic conflicts. Despite the turmoil, since 1991 political developments in Ukraine have evolved so that until recently the country's most important decisions were reached by compromise. Ukraine became the first country of the CIS in which democratic elections, held in 1994, altered both the composition of the parliament and the presidency. Ukraine's 1996 Constitution was the result of a compromise between the president and the parliament, as opposed to Boris Yeltsin's "revolutionary" approach, which involved an armed assault on the Russian parliament in 1993.

Ukraine has been poised to build democracy, a free market, state institutions, and a modernized nation simultaneously (which has been referred to as the "quadruple transition" (1)). None of this can be achieved overnight, and it has demanded compromises with the country's post-Communist nomenclature. The drawback to Ukraine's system of power-sharing and political compromise was that it preserved the influence of the Communist past, which, in comparison with Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic countries, was not radically restricted.

These dilemmas and contradictions were reflected in the 2004 nonviolent Orange Revolution, which brought into power the pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko. But Orange governments (2005-2010) ultimately proved to be ineffective. This created background for a backlash: the 2010 election of President Viktor Yanukovych (who did not manage to win despite of falsifying elections in 2004). He quickly reneged upon the constitutional reform of 2004 (which restricted the power of the presidency) and returned to the constitutional model of President Leonid Kuchma. Therefore, it can be concluded that the Orange Revolution has not led to creation of its intended democratic checks and balances. The question arises: was the Orange Revolution an aberration, and would the country revert to a Russian authoritarian model?

This article begins with the analysis of why the previously discredited Yanukovych was elected president and how despite democratic rhetoric and arguments for stability (which at the beginning soothed Western leaders and analysts), he started to build Russian model of "stability" which he openly praised during his first official visit to Russia in early March 2010. (2) Then, I will analyze the limitations faced by Yanukovych in building an effective authoritarian regime.

Setting the Stage: The Orange Legacy and the Reemergence of Viktor Yanukovych

Ukraine was deliberately polarized in the 2004 presidential election campaign. (3) Throughout the 2004 election phase, the Kuchma administration did everything possible to prevent Viktor Yushchenko, former prime minister and leader of the center-right Our Ukraine bloc, from winning the elections. Its main strategy was to present Yushchenko as a radical nationalist who would "oppress" the Russian-speaking population, whereas Viktor Yanukovych, prime minister and representative of the Donetsk clan, was portrayed as a friend to Russia. …