Dark mood in Ukraine

2009-11-19 17:01

Kiev - Battered by economic crisis and disillusioned with their leaders, Ukrainians are in little mood for a party when the country marks on Sunday the fifth anniversary of the Orange Revolution that swept the old elite from power.

On November 22 2004, tens of thousands of Ukrainians - draped in orange and hoping for a better future - protested on Kiev's main square against the results of presidential elections.

Orange was the colour of pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko, victim of a mysterious poisoning that left his skin scarred and who according to official results had been narrowly defeated by the Kremlin-backed contender in the run-off vote.

Braving a freezing winter and defying Vladimir Putin's congratulations for the winning candidate Viktor Yanukovich, the protestors in ever increasing numbers demanded a recount of what they said was a rigged vote.

New poll

Their peaceful uprising achieved its goal - the supreme court annulled the vote due to fraud, ordered a new poll and after a clear victory Yushchenko was declared president on January 23 2005.

But hopes of prosperity have been set back by the economic crisis which saw the national currency lose 40% of its value and aspirations of political stability undermined by political feuds of sometimes farcical intensity.

"Today, society is tired and this kind of popular uprising is simply impossible due to the disappointment," said leading Ukrainian sociologist Irina Bekeshkina of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation.

"The hopes placed in the leaders of the Orange Revolution have not been realised, corruption has not fallen and some people even think there is more," she added.

The political apathy means that Ukraine is approaching its January 17 presidential elections in an utterly different mood from 2004. Far from being the hero, Yushchenko's poll ratings are languishing at 4%.

Pillaged the country

"Not only have they pillaged the country and destroyed its industry but they have stolen our dream," said Viktor Stoyan, 60, who took part in the Orange Revolution protests.

Ironically, leading the presidential race is Yanukovich who after the 2004 debacle sought to reinvent his image with slick, modern campaign tactics.

His main challenger will be Yulia Tymoshenko, Yushchenko's ally in 2004 but who has become his sworn enemy after an often bizarre political row that played out in public as the country appeared on the brink of economic meltdown.

One of the unofficial anthems of the Orange Revolution was Myla Moya Vstavai (Rise Up My Dear) by Okean Elzy, by far the country's most successful post-Soviet rock band which actively supported the uprising.

The fate of its lead singer - Ukrainian heartthrob Sviatoslav Vakarchuk - has parallels with what many see as the outcome of the Orange Revolution itself.

He went into politics, won a seat in parliament for Yushchenko's party in 2007 but gave it up in disgust over political infighting a year later.

Disenchantment with revolution

A later hit by the band, Veseli Chasi (Merry Hours), spoke of the popular disenchantment with the revolution.

But Vakarchuk also said that while the aspirations of the Orange Revolution have not been fulfilled it is wrong to lapse into desperation.

"At the start we were euphoric. Now we are disenchanted. But I think both approaches are wrong. We thought we would go onto the square, choose our leaders and they would take us to a bright future," he said.

"But what is needed is that every citizen makes this country work. If we decide to wait for Moses, well we are going to be waiting for a long time," he said.

For all the disappointment, most analysts agree that the Orange Revolution imposed real and permanent change on Ukraine, particularly by creating a freer society with a lively press which regularly exposes corruption.

"There is not going to be a return to the past when we were just short of being an authoritarian regime," said Myroslav Popovich, director of the Institute of Philosophy in Kiev.

"There is a state of depression, disappointment in society. But there is no sign of reactionism, going back to anti-democratic principles."