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Unfiled April 20, 2007
 
Ukraine’s 1993 Moment?
Why Yushchenko is screwed. By Kirill Pankratov Browse author
 
 

I recently came across an interesting observation: Whatever changes happen in Russia, in the end it will always look like Byzantium. Whatever happens in the Ukraine, it will always look like a Zaporozhskaya Sech - a chaotic gathering of wild Cossaks, known to readers of Gogol's novel Taras Bulba.

Recent events illustrate the truth of this. In Russia, Putin's government has gradually consolidated control over most levers of power while becoming increasingly opaque and difficult to read. In Ukraine, the last two and a half years have seen massive street demonstrations, government crises, indecisive elections, and constantly shifting alliances.

But there is another side to this story. In many ways Ukraine does look and behave just like Russia, in a lighter and more provincial way. When the "Orange Revolution" happened, the West uniformly proclaimed that Ukraine had finally broke with Russia's tradition of "oriental despotism". But many Russian (and some Ukrainian) observers compared the "Orange Revolution" to the failed coup in August 1991, which brought Yeltsin to power in the wake of huge demonstrations and protests. At the time, Ukraine was largely quiet, aside from a minority of ardent nationalists. Its Communist Party boss, Leonid Kravchuk, suddenly transformed overnight into an uncomprimising nationalist, imitating an accent that passed for "conversational Ukrainian," and became the first president of the newly independent Ukraine.

Since the Orange Revolution began to turn sour a few months after Yushchenko's triumph - with his popularity plunging almost to single digits (just like Yeltsin's in early 90s) against a backdrop of government splits and economic turmoil - many analysts in Russia gloated about the coming "Ukrainian '93 scenario," referencing the violent confrontation between Yeltsin's government and the Russian parliament in September-October of 1993, which ended with tanks blasting the parliament building, and hundreds dead.

Right back at 'ya, Vic...

Alas, something resembling that stand-off is now developing, 26 months after the victory of the Orange Revolution. (The October '93 stand-off happened 26 months after the collapse of the Soviet putsch in August '91.)

On April 2 President Yushchenko dismissed the Ukrainian parliament, known as the "Rada". (Curiously, this decision was made upon Yulia Timoshenko's return from a trip to Washington.) But the Rada refused to be dismissed, citing the unconstitutionality of the presidential decree, and they threatened impeachment. The government, led by Yanukovich, who was Yuchshenko's rival during the Orange revolution, also refused to be dismissed. There began the eery resemblance to Yeltsin's decree dismissing the parliament on September 21, 1993.

You're the best, Boris...

There's nothing shocking about dissovling a parliament: it's done in democracies regularly all over the world. In Italy they dissolve parliaments as often as they call national strikes. But there's a catch. A legislative assembly is dismissed when it stops supporting a government and no party can get enough votes to form a new one. This is logical - when nobody can make a solid parliament majority, there is no way but to drop the whole thing and try a new election, putting the choice in the hands of the people.

But in Ukraine the reason for dissolving parliament was completely different: it was because the governing coalition was getting too strong. The Party of Ukraine's Regions (that is, the "anti-Orange" party), which formed the government coalition, gradually solidified its leading position since winning the Rada elections in March 2006. About a dozen deputies from the Orange camp, sensing that the tide was turning increasingly towards the Blue's favor, switched sides in favor of government. Yushchenko's circle charged that this was due to bribes, up to five million bucks per deputy. This is not impossible, of course: Ukrainian politics is not known for its crystall honesty. But don't assume that the Orangists themselves are any cleaner - they are just weaker at the moment.


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