Ukraine: is the future still orange?

23 November 2006

Yulia Tymoshenko, MP and leader of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc in the Ukrainian Parliament, pointed out that 21 November marked the second anniversary of the presidential election which had brought the Orange movement into power.

She said Ukraine was moving towards integration with the EU and strengthening its democratic institutions. Although there were “temporary difficulties”, this would not alter the course set by the President and his supporters in the long term.

The Orange revolution had been a unique historical development, but people had been overly romantic and idealistic about the changes that would occur, believing that it would quickly rid Ukraine of the post-Soviet elite which had blocked the country’s development.

However, just a month after the Orange revolution, many of the government posts had been given to past politicians. This showed, said Ms Tymoshenko, that having a new, democratic President was not enough on its own to bring about change. One way to resolve this and to change the current “authoritarian administration” would be through democratic constitutional means.

However, just 18 months after the revolution, a new Constitution had been adopted which had greatly reduced the President’s powers and delegated more power back to the Prime Minister.

During the Parliamentary elections in March 2006, the Orange group was unable to stand as a single force, enabling the Prime Minister and his supporters to win power again. Ms Tymoshenko described them as “the same old guard hoping for revenge” by removing the Orange group from power.

Immediately after the Presidential elections, Ukraine had hoped to become a member of the World Trade Organisation, but progress towards this goal has slowed and it now appears that the Prime Minister wants to link Ukraine’s entry into the WTO entry with that of Russia.

Ms Tymoshenko agreed that everything had not moved the way she had hoped after the Orange revolution, but suggested that Ukraine might need this temporary return to the past to rid itself of its illusions about its links with Russia. This also gave the public more time to gain a better understanding of Mr Yanukovych’s policies.

However, she insisted this would be a temporary phase and that the “democratic forces” would return to power. The public still wanted transparent domestic and foreign policies, and only a small proportion of the electorate believed Mr Yanukovych was on the right path.

She described the constitutional reform as a form of “revenge” which violated the normal political system of ‘checks and balances’. The “democratic forces” had asked the Constitutional Court to rule on whether these reforms were legal. If they are found to be illegal, said Ms Tymoshenko, the country will return to the previous model, where the President had the real power as head of state.

She insisted that the democracy fostered “in the squares of Ukraine” is still active, as society had changed and people now wished to participate directly in governing the country.

Turning to energy policy, Ms Tymoshenko voiced concern that the country was politically dependent on Russia for its supplies. However, in future, Ukraine planned to diversify its sources of supply to overcome this problem.

She added that Ukraine needed to establish a balanced, harmonious relation with the Russian Federation, as a respected neighbour, without any “double dealing” and without allowing other countries to take decisions about Ukraine’s future.

Despite the current problems, Ms Tymoshenko declared she was “optimistic”: the political forces that had worked together in the Orange revolution were coming together again, and she predicted that they would be victorious in future. Ukraine was changing, moving towards European values and ridding itself of its old fear of past elites.

She concluded by explaining that she had come to Brussels to show Europe that Ukraine was moving towards democracy and because, as a young democracy, it needs European support. She was also anxious to ensure that Europe did not lose interest in investing in the Ukraine, or in accepting the country as a prospective EU member. “We don’t want the Ukraine to fall out of the EU’s strategic plans,” she said. “We are consistent and on the right track”.