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Published:April 6th, 2007 16:14 EST
Ukraine Turns Blue

Ukraine Turns Blue

By Krzys Wasilewski

Do you remember Ukraine? In 2005, this Eastern European country captivated people's minds and hearts when, in the middle of the freezing December, hundreds of thousands of students and workers alike took to the streets of the capital to protest against frauds in the presidential election. The Orange Revolution, as it was soon dubbed, ousted the autocratic government and paved the way for a democratic change. Two years have passed but Ukrainian politics is stuck in the same place as it was during that memorable December in 2005. World news services are reporting from Kiev, the capital, showing the city flooded with masses of angry people demanding the country's leaders to finally step down. The only visible difference is in colors: as two years ago orange dominated Kiev's landscape, now the streets, squares and buildings of this ancient city have turned blue. Orange represents the united supporters of the incumbent President, Viktor Yushchenko and his former political ally-turned foe-turned friend again, Yulia Tymoshenko. Deep blue, on the other hand, stands for the Party of Regions – led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich with strong ties to Ukrainian oligarchs and Russia. 

In December 2005, Yanukovich was also prime minister, who had just been announced president-elect by the electoral commission. The Russian leader, Vladimir Putin – himself with a dubious stand on democracy – was the first and only foreign head of state to congratulate the winner. It soon turned out that the election had been rife with fraud, corruption and violence. For a former communist apparatchik like Yanukovich such allegations couldn't have been any obstacle, but facing mounting international pressure, he had to agree on giving despised democracy another chance. With hundreds of observes from around Europe, there were no miracles in voting booths this time and the West's favorite, Yuschenko, notched up victory. Some exalted politicians in Brussels (are there any other types of politicians in the European Union?) began to develop theories that Ukraine was joining the EU and NATO in a few years' time, with her people enjoying all the goods of Western civilization. Yet, the future had something else in store.

In the parliamentary election, which followed the revolution, the Orange coalition won by a small margin. The great loser from the presidential election, Viktor Yanukovich, had mobilized his staunch electorate on the east of the country and took a solid second place. President Yushchenko appointed Ms. Tymoshenko prime minister, and everything would have gone beautifully, had the two revolutionaries not quarreled over political spoils. Within several months, the Beautiful Yulia, as Ms. Tymoshenko is called (her long, blond hair and stunning good looks are as expressive as her political views), returned to the opposition bench while Ukraine had new-old prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich. A new man in charge meant new policy – Ukraine turned its back on the European Union, suspended its talks over joining the NATO and tightens its ties with Russia.

Nothing happens twice, wrote one Greek philosopher. Ukraine is an exception. When Yanukovich began to buy votes in the parliament and his majority miraculously rose to 300 – the number which would guarantee him rejecting any presidential veto as well as grant him power to change the constitution – Yuschenko's patience had run out. He dissolved the parliament and scheduled new elections for mid-May, 2007. If he had expected it to be a smooth transition of power, he couldn't have been more wrong. In response to the presidential decision, Yanukovich brought an action against it to the

Constitutional Court
simultaneously threatening to use his parliamentary majority to erase the post of president from the constitution. Facing the growing opposition from the old nemesis, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko had buried the hatchet and took their adherents to the streets, like in the good old days two years ago. But they miscalculated their strength. Instead of turning orange like before, Kiev has now been flooded with henchmen wearing blue shirts and waving blue flags. However corrupted and autocratic the reign of Yanukovich and his camaraderie’s had been, Ukrainians regularly received their meager wages, pensions or subsidies. For an elderly person from the deep countryside, who was brought up in the warped socialist tradition, stabilization means much more than the number of paragraphs the beloved leader had flouted. In contrast, Yushchenko's manner of rule has lived up to the highest democratic standards, but it lacks any spectacular success and is often perceived as ineffective and chaotic. Given the choice between bread and freedom, Ukrainians choose bread.

 

The only positive signal sent by the Ukrainian authorities is that the both sides have refused to use military force. Were it to happen, however, Ukraine would find itself on the brink of civil war, as it was in Russia in 1991, when a similar dispute between President Mikhail Gorbachev and Vice President Gennady Yanayev ended with the latter sending tanks to the streets of Moscow. According to the Ukrainian Constitution, president is commander-in-chief, but his orders must first be approved by the National Security Council, where Yanukovich holds firm majority. Although the military coup scenario seems very unlikely, once the unleashed mob begins to sense its power, the president and prime minister alike may have no alternative to deploying soldiers on the streets.

Painting himself as a responsible statesman, Yanukovich has called for foreign politicians to help defuse the volatile situation. In one of his speeches, he asked the Chancellor of Austria to visit Ukraine and conduct negotiations. The problem is that the Chancellor of Austria, an intelligent and bright man as he is, has very shallow understanding of the complex mosaic of Ukrainian politics. To simply identify the right country on a map or recite few petty statistics – a technique widely used by European politicians when they want to gain some points - may prove to be too little to bring peace. Two years ago it was European Union pooh-bahs along with the Polish president (who shares with Yanukovich the same communist past) that managed to gather the two antagonistic parties at one round table and reach a compromise. Now, Poland has a new president and the EU is in crisis itself with the European Constitution in tatters and its politicians struggling desperately to win voters back home. The only country that seems to be genuinely interested in Ukraine is Russia which will not miss any chance to restitute its empire.  The crisis in Ukraine is not only an exclusively Ukrainian problem. The country placed between Western and Easter Europe - or more precisely – between the European Union and Russia, has played an important role in supplying the West in Russian gas and crude oil. Should Moscow succeed in its long-time attempt to retake control over Ukraine, the European Union will become even more dependent on the Kremlin's good or bad humor.