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Ukraine Marks One-Year Anniversary of Orange Revolution

  • Lisa McAdams

Ukrainians are marking the one-year anniversary of the start of weeks of mass public protest against election fraud, which ultimately led to the collapse of former President Leonid Kuchma's government and propelled President Viktor Yushchenko to power.

President Yushchenko is urging people to celebrate the anniversary of the event, known as the Orange Revolution, despite reports of growing disenchantment among average Ukrainians.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has declared November 22 a new national holiday, known as Liberty Day. Mr. Yushchenko says that is because he believes freedom is the main accomplishment resulting from all those long, cold days, when tens-of-thousands of protesters camped out in the streets of the capital, Kiev, alleging massive vote fraud and calling for new presidential elections.

The protests, televised around the world, became widely known as the Orange Revolution for the [orange] color opposition protesters selected to use and wear as a symbol of their desire for peaceful political change. During the protests, the snow-swept city was awash with orange, from flags to placards. Some demonstrators even died their hair.

Kiev-based independent analyst Ivan Lozowy says, these days, the average Ukrainians' sentiments tend to allign more toward gray or disenchantment. However, he says that does not mean Ukraine's revolution did not bring about real change.

"We've seen some positive changes, I think small improvements, certainly noticeable improvements in terms of mass media freedom, freedom of speech, that's much acknowledged," he said. "You see opposition of all stripes and colors constantly in front of you, in papers, the radio and on television and that's good. I think there's been some improvement in civil society [and] a slight relaxation for business. This is all to the good."

So why all the skepticism? Mr. Lozowy says the main change promised by President Yushchenko and his team - to halt corruption - has failed to take place.

"Ukraine, in my view, hasn't experienced any really significant, or even many noticeable changes, in terms of this prevalent corruption. And, that's very bad," he said. "And, this is the area where most of the work remaining must be done. Unfortunately, the worst of it is, I'm not seeing many signs that [President] Yushchenko and his government are even seriously thinking about tackling corruption."

In fact, Mr. Lozowy notes that, just a few months ago, President Yushchenko was forced to fire his cabinet - just seven months into his term, amid multiple charges of high-level corruption against members of his own team.

Analyst Lozowy says the president has yet to really recover in the public eye from the allegations, even though they were never proven. He also says the president has taken a political beating from falling out with and firing his orange revolution partner, former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, who remains one of the most popular politicians in Ukraine.

In a recent interview in Kiev with the French news agency, AFP, Ms. Timoshenko warned that pro-western reform forces in Ukraine will be defeated in next year's crucial parliament elections, unless she and President Yushchenko once again unite their efforts.

Current opinion polls give the lead to the Ukraine Regions Party of Viktor Yanukovych, President Yushchenko's rival in last year's bitterly-fought presidential elections. Ms. Timoshenko's bloc was not far behind and Mr. Yushchenko's bloc placed third.

Still, Ms. Timoshenko says, if those who stood on Kiev's Central Independence Square last year, think now that they stood for nothing, she says they could not be more wrong. As she put it, They helped remove the cancerous tumor of the old regime.

Analyst Ivan Lozowy agrees. He says the Orange Revolution proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Ukrainians are interested and active in bringing about democratic change. He says they have learned to exercise their voice and protect their rights and that, he says, is something worth celebrating.

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