Ukraine a Year after its Revolution: What Has Changed and What Has Not?

By
Erin Trouth Hofmann

Democracy "in Ukraine—despite the disappointments of the past ten months—is far ahead of where it was two years ago, and actually not in bad shape at all," said Paul D'Anieri, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kansas, at a 14 November 2005 Kennan Institute lecture. He argued that the Orange Revolution in November 2004 inspired excessive optimism about Ukraine's future, while the September 2005 crisis in which President Viktor Yushchenko fired his government has inspired excessive pessimism. Ukraine, he contended, faces a number of serious challenges that will not be overcome quickly or easily. Nevertheless, "political power in Ukraine has been hugely diffused over the past year…and no matter what else you think, it seems you have to regard that as progress."

According to D'Anieri, many people, both within and outside of Ukraine, had a great deal of faith in Yushchenko and believed that he would be a more effective and more democratic leader than his predecessors. However, "there has been, to put it lightly, considerable disappointment with Yushchenko's performance in office," he said. In D'Anieri's view, the most serious problems of Yushchenko's first year as president include: his failure, and even apparent lack of will, to push the parliament to pass reforms that would allow Ukraine to join the WTO; his reluctance to enforce the law and make his cabinet ministers give up their parliamentary seats; his anger at negative press coverage of his family; credible allegations of corruption among his main supporters; and his recent deal with Viktor Yanukovych to gain the votes of the Party of Regions for the new prime minister, which decreased Yushchenko's credibility among Ukrainians.

The greatest success of the Orange Revolution, D'Anieri contended, was not electing Yushchenko as president, but changing Ukraine's political institutions. In order to get then-President Leonid Kuchma and his supporters to accept him as president, Yushchenko made a deal that changed the constitution. D'Anieri argued that these changes will have a profound effect on Ukrainian politics.

First among these changes, executive power will be split between the president and prime minister, which D'Anieri argued was necessary to curb the excessive power of the president. However, power was divided in such a way that the president and prime minister are more likely to be rivals than partners, leading to infighting and stalemate, which may trigger calls for further constitutional revision. Second, the parliament will be elected entirely by proportional representation, and there will be no more independent deputies. This is a very important reform, according to D'Anieri, because independents tended to support whomever would offer them the largest bribe. Third, Ukraine adopted an imperative mandate, which means that seats in the parliament will belong to parties and not to individuals. D'Anieri explained that this reform could strengthen the parliament and facilitate coalition building, but might put a great deal of power in the hands of a few party leaders.

The Orange Revolution also changed Ukrainian society. According to D'Anieri, a powerful civil society has emerged. Since the success of the pro-Yushchenko protests, many Ukrainians see themselves as people who can organize and effect political change. D'Anieri contended that civil liberties and freedom of the press have expanded to the point that it will be difficult for any future leader to take them away.

However, some aspects of Ukrainian society have not changed in the past year. Ukraine is still a divided society, D'Anieri contended. The regional division between east and west is the most noticeable division, but he added that there are significant ideological divisions in the country, even among those who supported the Revolution. Corruption and a limited rule of law remain serious problems that the new government has so far failed to address, he added. While it is unlikely that the upcoming parliamentary elections will be stolen by one particular party, according to D'Anieri, it is certain that officials will use administrative resources to add votes for their party of choice.

D'Anieri identified three possibilities to address these persistent challenges. First, Ukraine needs a leader who is able to garner substantial support in both the eastern and western regions of the country. Currently, he stated, Yulia Tymoshenko seems to be the figure most likely to gain support across Ukraine's regions, but there are other concerns about her as a leader. Second, Ukraine needs a larger constituency that supports economic and political reform. Finally, Ukraine needs an anti-corruption campaign. "Getting rid of corruption in Ukraine would take generations at best," D'Anieri acknowledged, "but it's time to start."

Democracy will not be the solution to all of Ukraine's problems, D'Anieri warned. In fact, democratic systems—especially proportional representation systems—tend to discourage drastic reforms, but are far better than the alternatives. "Democracy may not bring economic reform, and it may not bring close relations with the United States, because that may not be what the whole of Ukrainian society wants. Ultimately, I think we as Americans need to respect that and live with it," D'Anieri concluded.

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