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.
For the first time, Ukrainians have thrown their little-brother complex toward the Russians overboard. With new self-confidence, they note that they are thinking and facing the truth, unlike their Russian brethren.
Ukraine has little choice but to turn to Europe and the West. Ukrainian exports of steel have boomed as a result of China's appetite, but sooner or later that appetite will be sated, and Ukrainian steel producers will need new markets. Europe is the obvious choice, while Russia has little but stiff competition to offer.
If Ukraine becomes a democracy, it will undoubtedly soon develop the rule of law. It is already a market economy and it is certainly located in Europe. Thus, it becomes a formidable challenge to the EU to offer anything but welcome to Ukraine.
Yet much can still go wrong. The most obvious risk is that the election will be inconclusive or that Yushchenko is denied executive power. Solidarity suffered that frustration in Poland in 1980-1981, which prolonged communist rule for a decade. Fortunately for Ukraine, its business is private, and a common view of the whole business community is that the electoral rerun must be conclusive. Otherwise, financial destabilization will threaten the fortunes of the very rich.
Another danger lies in the prominent role in the revolution of multi-millionaires. No doubt they want to dominate the new Cabinet, and with their impressive executive and intellectual skills they are dispersed over all parties. Alas, if they are allowed to run the show, Ukraine might face more redistribution of fortunes than cleansing of corruption, letting the revolutionary public down. Ideally, Yushchenko should reach out to the new professionals who have not as yet been intoxicated by the pervasive corruption of the old administration.
Nor has the old regime disappeared. Yushchenko has gained a majority in Parliament because many adherents of the old regime switched their allegiance out of convenience. They can change again, and no less than 300 of the 450 members of the Ukrainian Parliament are supposed to be millionaires. Ukraine needs early parliamentary elections, but that is constitutionally difficult to accomplish.
Meanwhile, Yushchenko was forced to accept a poorly designed political reform full of traps. The Russian threat lingers, whereas the West is more likely than not to be too passive. Fortunately, Yushchenko's camp is painfully aware that time is short and that they must act fast. Ukraine has a great opportunity, but its leaders must act radically to exploit it.
Anders Aslund is director of the Russian and European Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
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