Fri, Dec 24, 2004 - Page 9 News List

A Ukrainian revolt -- the millionaires against the billionaires

If the rich are allowed to run the show after Sunday's election, the country might see a redistribution of fortunes rather than the purging of corruption

By Anders Aslund

Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" will reach its climax on Sunday, when Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko will replay their run-off for the presidency. The alleged massive fraud that was supposed to bring victory to Yanukovych, and which incited hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to take to the streets of Kiev to defend their rights, no longer looks possible. Yet Ukraine's democratic future is still not guaranteed.

Ukraine is undergoing a true liberal revolution, akin to the great European liberal revolutions of 1848, and reminiscent of Prague's Velvet revolution of 1989. Ukrainians demand democracy, freedom and the rule of law. After five years of an average annual economic growth of 9 percent, economic claims are strikingly absent, as are socialist and even social demands.

The discredited election results suggested that the country is geographically and ethnically divided, with the democratic opposition candidate Yushchenko winning overwhelmingly in 17 western and central regions, while Yanukovych dominated in 10 eastern and southern regions. However, Yushchenko did carry several Russian-speaking regions, notably the capital Kiev, and Yanukovych won most in the authoritarian Donetsk and Luhansk regions furthest to the east.

Much of the regional differences can be explained by their degree of democracy and openness rather than ethnicity. Wisely, Yushchenko launched the slogan "East and West together," emphasizing his endeavor to unite the country. Similarly, miners bussed by their managers to Kiev were soon being convinced of the "Orange" cause by the demonstrators and were quickly sent back East by their minders.

The role of business is palpable on both sides. It has been described as a revolt of the millionaires against the billionaires. The Yanukovych candidacy was supported by the three dominant business clans with rather few allies, while the business community, and even some billionaires, overwhelmingly supported Yushchenko. This is a truly bourgeois revolution.

Both the Ukrainian revolution and high economic growth rate have been caused by President Leonid Kuchma's patent habit of playing everybody off against each other, while abstaining from fair play. Ordinary Ukrainians aspire to law and order; businessmen want their playing field to be leveled. Yushchenko is careful not to

criticize oligarchs, referring to "bandits" and corruption, because smaller oligarchs support him.

Rarely has one country intervened so heavily in another country's elections as Russia did here. Yushchenko's campaign alleges that Russian enterprises were forced by the Kremlin to put up US$300 million for the Yanukovych campaign. Kiev and its airwaves were flooded with Russian political advisors, slandering Yushchenko worse than any Ukrainian did. Russian President Vladimir Putin himself campaigned twice for Yanukovich in Ukraine and congratulated him twice before the forged final results had been presented, making him look a little ridiculous.

Russia's extreme activism is curious. Yanukovych stands for a truly oligarchic state of the sort Putin defeated at home, and Yanukovych accused Yushchenko of having sold Ukrainian companies to Russian corporations. Putin's behavior is probably best explained by his dislike for democracy.

In addition, if Ukraine's new president becomes an international pariah, he can only turn to Russia, as is the case of President Aleksandr Lukashenko in Belarus. After this spectacular Russian failure, however, Putin's "managed democracy" looks anachronistic and faces the threat of a real democracy in its neighbor spreading to Russia.

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