As discussed in the course, after 1991, Ukrainian politics underwent a major transformation. The country began to transform from a communist to a democratic form of government, completely replacing Soviet ideals. The new system was mainly comprised of three groups: national-democrat politicians, oligarchs, and former Communist party members. Each group had different priorities and often had competing agendas. Consequently, the transition was slow, coupled with significant levels of corruption and crime.
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Even in the 21st century, the country of Ukraine is still experiencing political turmoil. One of the most prominent examples is the Orange Revolution. This consisted of a series of political events and protest that occurred between November of 2004 and January of 2005 following the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. I found this topic particularly interesting because, as a child, it was one of the first times I had heard about Ukraine on the news. At the time, I did not understand the significance of a true revolution within the country. However, with the background I acquired in the course, I was better able to interpret the event.
I think that this story is relevant to all individuals, not just citizens of Ukraine. It reminds us that we have a voice, and that even in hard times, we can make an impact. However, it also serves as a reminder that democracy is an ongoing process. Although one revolution may have the potential to change the political course of a country, it takes ongoing dedication to prevent administrations from slipping back into routine practices.
The Orange Revolution began in response to Ukraine’s 2004 presidential elections. After a long and bitter campaign, the remaining two candidates were Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko. However, neither was unable to surpass the 50 percent support threshold required for a win in the first round of the Ukrainian presidential elections. Consequently, they advanced to a runoff election.
Viktor Yanukovych was the government-backed candidate and the hand-picked selection of President Kuchma. At the time, he served as the Prime Minister of Ukraine and previously served as the Governor of Donetsk. Earlier in his life, Yanukovich had been incarcerated for robbery and assault, and he had also been accused of having ties to the mafia. In addition to the support of the current regime, he was also backed by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. This relationship led to the support of the Russian speaking citizens of Eastern and Southern Ukraine.
The second candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, had a clean image and served as both a former head of the Ukrainian National Bank and a former Prime Minister. He leaned toward Western ideals, and his platform promised hope and change. His progressive ideas and charisma drew in thousands of supporters, many of whom dressed in orange, his political campaign color, to hear him speak.
Unfortunately, the runoff election was marred by widespread voter fraud. These instances included absentee ballot abuse, ballot stuffing, misrecording votes, and even voter intimidation. There was also a significant change in the turnout figures from Russian speaking citizens in Eastern Ukraine (D’Anieri 23). Furthermore, investigators found that Serhii Kivalov, head of the Central Election Commission (CEC) had leaked access passwords to a secret Yanukovych team who intended to ‘count’ the vote instead (Wilson 1). By the end of the election, the CEC affirmed Yanukovych’s victory by a margin of 49.5 to 46.6 percent (Wilson 116).
On Monday, November 22, 2004, Yanukovych was pre-announced as the election’s victor (Wilson 125). Supporters of Yushchenko, adorned in the orange color of the campaign, lined the streets of Kyiv to protest. This response was based off of both foreign and domestic election monitors’ reports of corrupt voting practices. Their main evidence was the nonpartisan exit polls, the KIIS-Razumkov poll. These polls were conducted by a few of Ukraine’s independent academics, and showed that Yushchenko should have won by a margin of 52 to 43 percent (Wilson 2). This argument was made easier to believe due to similar corrupt practices during the first round of the elections.
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Yulia Tymoshenko, one of Yushchenko’s most visible supporters, appealed to voters in a televised media announcement, stating that the events occurring in Eastern Ukraine and at the CEC were a ‘massive falsification’ of their rights as citizens. She invited supporters to gather in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square, to protest the corruption. The Democratic Initiatives center began printing the exit poll data to declare Yushchenko as the victor and, by midmorning, between 200,000 and 300,000 people had joined the crowd of protestors (Wilson 125). Over the next few days, busses and trains began arriving from western Ukraine, bringing in tens of thousands of supporters, and on November 23, 2004, the crowds marched in front of the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, wearing orange and carrying orange flags and signs.
The revolution consisted of a series of non-violent events including public protests, strikes, and organized sit-ins. In addition to using public protests, supporters turned to other media outlets. The internet-based newspaper, Ukrayinska Pravda, published its messages across the country, and online forums allowed supporters to share strategies, discuss policy, and plan demonstrations. Additionally, they partnered with the pro-opposition Fifth Channel news station, to live stream a direct feed from the events (D’Anieri 36). This camera operated twenty-four hours and serviced to prevent violence and provide a buffer between police and protesters. Coordinators even banned protestors from consuming alcohol to further reduce the likelihood of random acts of violence
Finally, on December 4, 2004, the Supreme Court invalidated the official results and ordered a revote be held on December 26. This event was conducted under both local and international scrutiny. The preliminary results showed a change in vote +5.39% to Yushchenko and −5.27% from Yanukovych. On January 10, 2005, the CEC officially announced Yushchenko as the victor of presidential election. Officially, the Orange Revolution came to a close during late January, as citizens celebrated the new president’s inauguration.
Lasting Impact of the Revolution
Although the country had previously faced anti-regime protests, they had never been organized on this large of a scale. These protests represented a major democratic breakthrough for Ukraine; many citizens who had previously accepted activities of the state became political activists. Once individuals were able see beyond their individual fears, they were able to see change as an actual possibility. They were also able to perceive the impact that the masses could have against corrupt political leaders, media controls, and other domestic issues.
Unfortunately, the lasting impact was not as significant as many had hoped. Yushchenko’s party failed to implement many of the intended to reform government and improve the quality of life in Ukraine. Once viewed as a beacon of change, Yushckenko finished fifth in the 2010 elections with approximately five percent of the votes (Marson). By reminding voters of Yushchenko’s failures, Yanukovych was able to return and win 2010 election.
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