As Ukraine marks the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution, the significance of the event remains fiercely contested. Meanwhile, one year on, the mood among many supporters of the revolution has clearly shifted from euphoria to dejected idealism and, in some cases, outright disenchantment.
A recent poll showed that some 58% of Ukrainians thought the leaders of the Orange movement had failed to deliver on the promises made in the Maydan – Kiev’s Independence Square – one year ago.
The revolution’s main ideals – clean and transparent government, a European direction and better living standards – have all been frustrated by a number of compounding factors, according to local analysts. These include the lack of political coherence, a complex geopolitical situation in Europe, and falling prices for Ukraine’s main export commodities, such as steel.
However, in addressing the nation ahead of the upcoming anniversary, President Viktor Yushchenko argued that the main achievement of the revolution was something quite different – freedom.
“On that day last year, everybody who came to the squares in Ukraine’s cities, towns and villages proved that as citizens they were ready to staunchly defend their main right – the right of choice,” he said.
This point is conceded by many, even those who criticise the economic policies of the new regime.
“At least we now have a meaningful choice between clear political alternatives,” one political commentator told OBG recently. “Had the former regime won, we would have probably followed the Belarusian path.”
Meanwhile, saying that slowing economic growth and political volatility are the responsibility of the Orange elite, opponents of the revolution consider themselves vindicated.
The controversial re-privatisation process which took place under Yushchenko’s watch unnerved many potential investors, while attempts to control oil prices by the previous Tymoshenko government through artificial means created shortages in fuel supplies.
According to one manager of a factory from the Donetsk region recently interviewed by OBG, “The last government led by Tymoshenko lacked professionalism. It was like that music group, ‘Greenjolly’ which went straight from the Maydan [Independence Square] to the Eurovision song contest and subsequently fell through. That was exactly the fate of the previous government.”
The latter view, held by many in the eastern part of Ukraine, also illustrates the point that the new regime has failed to heal the regional divide.
Although talk about a civil war and secession of the industrial east is no longer so common, the attitude in the mainly Russian-speaking areas of cities such as Donetsk has not changed much since the Orange Revolution.
Indeed, many people in these industrial, socially protected heartlands do not think of last year’s mass movement as a revolution, but as a battle of small oligarchs against big oligarchs.
Many in the east of Ukraine still support the defeated presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich, who has been able to capitalise on the divisions between President Yushchenko and his sacked former prime minister, Yulya Tymoshenko.
Somewhat controversially, Yushchenko was forced to rely on Yanukovich, his archenemy in last year’s election, to ensure parliamentary support for his prime ministerial candidate, Yurii Yekhanurov, after Yushchenko sacked the government back in October.
Nonetheless, those realistic optimists who foresaw the inevitability of problems within the Orange camp continue to maintain that last year’s events marked a watershed in Ukraine’s national evolution. Such people also say that the events of a year ago clearly helped to reinvigorate the democratic and nation-building process, stalled for some 15 years by an incestuous post-Soviet elite.
Now many are looking to parliamentary elections in March as a further test of how far the country has come since the revolution.
To ensure that the new press freedoms are not going to be eroded by political pressure during the upcoming political campaign, lawmakers approved a bill last week banning the state authorities from undertaking any media inspections until after the elections.
Media coverage in March is therefore expected to be more balanced, despite inevitable political pressure mounted on television channels and key dailies, most of which belong to specific business groups.
However, as various public figures begin to jockey for power and influence, many observers expect that the post-Orange revolutionary battles will likely devour more of its children. Others hope that despite this, the basic ideals of the Maydan, declared in such ringing terms back in November 2004, will survive the clash of former revolutionary heroes.