Orange, Yes, But Which One?*

When we last looked in, Viktor Yushchenko had been inaugurated, Viktor Yanukovych had grudgingly conceded, and orange was the color for all would-be world-changers.

Unfortunately, while we weren’t looking, Ukraine’s cabinet was collapsing into in-fighting and neglecting to do the things that people put them in office for. On the positive side, an investigation into the Gongadze affair was making, you’ll pardon the word, headway.

On the negative side, wrangling and partisan positioning on most every issue. Key laws not being passed. Tensions between President and PM, among cabinet ministers, on down the line. (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty seems the best English-language source, but their links behave strangely. Go to the home page and select Ukraine from the “news by country” menu for a month-by-month archive. Unless otherwise noted RFE/RL is my main source for the notes here.)

At the beginning of this month, things started to break. A minister and a member of the national security council resigned, citing their unwillingness to be responsible for corruption. This capped a summer of escalating accusations and declining government effectiveness. On September 8, Yushchenko dismissed the entire cabinet, including PM Yulia Tymoshenko, his strikingly charismatic (saw her on TV from Odessa this summer–yowza, whatever people have that make them stars of the screen, Tymoshenko has got it in spades) partner from the revolutionary days on the Maidan.

As of today, Yushchenko’s candidate for stand-in Prime Minister has been approved by Parliament, after failing to secure a majority on Tuesday. The government is promised to be technocratic, so many of the issues of international concern may get addressed, while contentious domestic questions will get kicked down the road.

Now it’s a race for parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2006. The new team will try to push through consensus reforms. Tymoshenko and her allies will press for a more radical approach. Yanukovych & Co. will press their agenda. Murky elements of Ukrainian business (bizness?) and politics will stay that way while trying to find favor with those in power.

In part, this is a positive development. A revolutionary moment has passed; something like normal politics have arrived. Splits like this are par for the course in Central Europe. Once upon a time, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus worked well together. The Poles in post-Solidarity parties are every bit as fractious as their szlachta forbears. (Liberum veto how are ya.) Serbia’s anti-Milosevic coalition did not last long.

Still, it’s too bad that apparently so little was accomplished while the fervor lasted and regular rules seemed suspended.

The coming election is also likely to be divisive, with fundamental issues still open. Ukraine still seems to be searching for the boundaries of its regular politics. I hope they will be clearer after March, and that European normality will keep spreading. But it’s a long hard slog.

*Polska tak, ale jakie?

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

3 thoughts on “Orange, Yes, But Which One?*

  1. Situation in Ukraine resembles situation in Croatia between 2000 and 2003. Very little has been accomplished, former reformist allies are hating each others’ guts, Ancien regime is making steady but unstoppable comeback…

    Reformists in Croatia 2000 even used to be called Orange.

  2. Bummer.

    Anything working against that?

    Apropos Croatia, I notice that apparently the Catholic Church is hiding the general who’s wanted in the Hague. Wouldn’t be the first time, would it?

  3. Actually, I don’t see the ancien regime making any sort of a comeback. The new players are not likely to give up the power they have now – particularly to the Kuchma group. It is rare indeed for the leaders of a revolution to ever effectively govern a country once the fervour is spent and there are plenty of middle class people here who were completely opposed to Yulia – incompetent was the word I commonly heard. It is truly sad that not more was accomplished. But, a great deal was and at least as investors I deal with are concerned, this is not even a blip and is viewed as a fresh opportunity. From a legal standpoint, significant business regulatory reform took place, creating a little more transparency and a little less bureaucracy.

    From an investment point of view, the real estate industry is booming. There is a major slowdown threat looming in the overbuilt housing market. But, the commercial sector is poised for enormous growth. The same is true for the high-tech sector and agriculture.

    It is not quite the disaster here that has made it’s way into the headlines. The political moves between now and March will be interesting, to say the least. Yulia is likely to be back. She is still hugely popular.

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