Some grumbled, but most Ukrainians went willingly to the polls
Sunday to take part in a civic exercise that's become increasingly
rare in most parts of the former Soviet Union - free, open, and
truly competitive elections.
Many voters leaving Kiev polling stations expressed frustration
with the political stalemate between the Moscow-friendly "Blue"
party of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and the pro-Western
"Orange" parties led by President Viktor Yushchenko and former Prime
Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which persists despite four elections in
the past three years.
But some insisted they'd rather keep casting ballots than see
order imposed upon them from above. "It's our politicians we're
disillusioned with, not democracy," said Lyudmilla Smirnova, a
Despite many nagging problems, Ukraine's fledgling democracy
remains a splash of brightness in a region where the lights are
slowly fading out. With the exception of the three ex-Soviet Baltic
states, which became full members of the European Union in 2004,
most republics of the former USSR have drifted backward in recent
years, abandoning experimental democracies for varying hues of
"Ukraine is more democratic than most other parts of the former
Soviet Union," says Vitaly Kulik, director of the independent Civil
Society Studies Center in Kiev. "It's far more open, and our civil
society develops in an unfettered way. Ukraine's sorrow is that
democracy has turned into a source of permanent political crisis."
Increasing authoritarianism in other ex-Soviet states
Russia, the giant neighbor that still exercises great influence
over Ukraine, has turned to a system of "managed democracy" under
the intensely popular President Vladimir Putin, which has produced
prosperity and order but severely circumscribed civil liberties and
"Russia is basically an authoritarian state now, with highly
centralized power and most decisionmaking concentrated in the hands
of one man," says Masha Lipman, an expert with the Carnegie Center
in Moscow. "If we define democracy as public participation,
political competition, and government accountability, then Russia no
longer qualifies as a democracy."
Next door, Belarus is run as a virtual fiefdom of President
Alexander Lukashenko, who was overwhelmingly elected to a third term
last year in what international observers judged to be rigged polls. …