The Hurricane and its aftermath have, rightly, seized our attention. I find it hard to focus on other news–even the growing violence in Iraq. But there is a world turning and churning out there. So, when a new (and wrinkled chapter) in possibly the biggest end-of-year story–Ukraine’s Orange Revolution”–sprang into the papers in these last days, I didn’t pay enough attention to it.
But then I remembered the extraordinary street protests in Kiev. Who could forget the riveting images of the thousands of demonstrators, many of them students, standing for hours in the city’s Independence Square in sub-zero temperatures–waving banners, chanting and protesting 12 years of corrupt misrule and what they believed was a rigged election?
But while there was something exhilirating about the democratic awakening in Kiev and other cities, there was also a good deal of rank hypocrisy on display in Washington, DC. As I wrote then: This Administration celebrates pro-democracy rallies abroad, while showing no respect for America’s pro-democracy protesters. And despite the exhiliration as The Guardian‘s Jonathan Steele noted at the time, “to suggest that [opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko] would provide a sea-change in Ukrainian politics and economic management is naive.”
Just last week, events revealed how political infighting, accusations of corruption and pitched battles over power and property have sullied the democratic hopes of those pro-democracy protesters. The skirmishes also remind us how tough it is to translate people power into viable political change.
For an insightful analysis of the past week’s developments in Ukraine–and their significance for the future of a revolution which so galvanized the world’s attention–I asked Mark von Hagen, the Boris Bakhmeteff Professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies at Columbia University, for his reflections.
“This wasn’t the future for which we froze on Independence Square lastwinter,” laments the internet site of Pora, the political party thatclaims its origins in last year’s Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Themajor source of discontent with the now dismissed government ofPresident Viktor Yushchenko has been a perception that it has becomebogged down in cronyism, corruption and counterproductive internalconflicts.
The crisis that brought on the dramatic events of last week–first thetelevised resignation of the president’s State Secretary (his chief ofthe presidential administration) with demands for the resignation ofseveral other members of the government on charges that they havebetrayed the orange revolution for their personal financial gains,then the President’s televised dismissal of the entire government andappointment of caretaker ministers, and most recently the angryresponses of two of the fired ministers (Prime Minister YuliaTymoshenko and Deputy Premier Mykola Tomenko)–was the culmination ofprocesses that were set in motion almost as soon as Yushchenko wasinaugurated in January.