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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Legacy of Outgoing Ukrainian President Viktor Yushenko


Regardless of which way the February 7 votes are cast... there is no doubt that Ukraine enjoys more social freedoms nowadays than previously.  The economy is in crisis, the government remains allegedly corrupt and the country has a lot of problems surely.  Either Mr. Yanukovych or Ms. Tymoshenko has a large task on their hands to try and get the IMF lending program for Ukraine back on some sort of track in 2010, and to avoid risk of even greater crises in the coming months.

With all these worries ahead, it is nice to reflect on some of the positive results achieved during the past 5 years.  The Yushchenko government was not a total failure in some areas and it is likely that history will judge him more kindly than present times.  I came across an article by Tony Halpin in the news which, in my opinion, hits upon this subject nicely.  It reminds everyone that no matter how bad things might get in Ukraine, there is still plenty to be thankful for.  See below:


VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO'S LEGACY FOR UKRAINE? SMILING PEOPLE
Despite his humiliating rejection...history should just him kindly.

By Tony Halpin in Kiev, TimesOnline (UK), London, UK, Mon, 18 January 2010

KIEV - Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s outgoing president, has tasted a heavy defeat at the polls. But despite his humiliating rejection by all but 6 per cent of the electorate, history should judge him kindly.

For all the political and economic turbulence of the past five years, Ukraine has been transformed under his presidency from just another ugly post-Soviet basket case into a country with real hopes of success as a democratic civil society.

One has only to compare political life in neighbouring Belarus and Russia to the vibrancy of the contest in Ukraine to see the effect the Orange Revolution has had.

Voters enjoyed a genuine choice of candidates reflecting a full spectrum of political opinions. Campaigns were conducted without fear that the ruling regime would send in riot police to break up election meetings and arrest opposition activists. Vigorous debates were available on every television channel, while street billboards were a riot of posters from competing candidates.

Mr Yushchenko and his former Orange ally Yuliya Tymoshenko, the Prime Minister, did not use the infamous “administrative resources” so often wheeled out in Russia to rig results.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the first round of voting was the absence of any serious complaints from candidates about ballot-rigging, given the massive fraud that prompted the Orange revolt in 2004.

Ukraine still has many problems, particularly with corruption, and none of these achievements is irreversible. But people freely speak their minds here and the fear that so stifles public life in other former Soviet republics has gone.

Which is why Ukraine matters and why the West has a big stake in the outcome of this election. The Kremlin keenly portrays its neighbour to domestic audiences as being in a state of constant chaos since the revolution because it fears the example of a thriving open society on Russia’s border. A Ukraine that works is a direct challenge to the former KGB spooks and shadowy apparatchiks who control politics in Moscow.

A trend has developed in recent years for Russians to travel to Kiev for the weekend to enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere of Ukraine’s capital, where police keep a lower profile than their counterparts in Moscow. They see that people smile more easily, service in restaurants and stores is more cheerful, that the tension they sense at home is absent in human relations.

In short, they see that Ukrainians have a stake in their society and can influence its future, and that this affects the public mood. The average Russian has no such opportunity and feels a sense of sullen resentment towards the authorities that leaves the Kremlin constantly fearful of political upheaval.

This election will determine whether the Ukrainian experiment continues or starts to degrade. It is tempting for the United States and the European Union collectively to wring their hands at the bickering that soured the Orange dream but Mr Yushchenko has left a legacy worth defending and they should be far more vigorous in saying so.

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