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Ukraine: Is the Revolution Over?

Ukraine's Orange Revolution late last year raised hopes that an honest, new government would reduce official corruption and unleash that country's enormous economic potential.

During the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko's name echoed across Kiev's Independence Square as hundreds-of-thousands of Ukrainians reversed a fraudulent presidential election and put Mr. Yushchenko in office. But after just nine months, the President's Chief of Staff resigned, after leveling corruption charges against the highest levels of the new administration. The ensuing crisis has disenchanted many in Ukraine.

Ukrainians Disappointed with the Government

Expressing disappointment with politicians, however, is something ordinary Ukrainians did not have freedom to do in the past. For centuries, Ukrainian political rivalries were hidden from the public or led to bloody social upheavals. According to Ukrainian historian Orest Subtelny of York University in Toronto, Canada, the current crisis in is unusual in Ukraine's history, but not in the history of democracies.

Professor Subtelny says, "In parliamentary democracies, we often see governments falling, governments being dismissed. For example, we see a very serious crisis in Germany right now, which everyone knows will be resolved sooner or later and the system will go on."

President Yushchenko initially appointed Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister, despite the fact that her socialist economic views contradicted his own free market position. After abruptly dismissing Ms. Tymoshenko, the President, in need of votes for a new prime minister, signed a political agreement with Viktor Yanukovych, the man who allegedly tried to steal last year's presidential election.

Andriy Usov, a member of the Pora Party, which actively supported the Revolution, says the agreement was shortsighted.

"Yanukovych has not led any political processes in Ukraine for a long time," says Mr. Usov. "I'm disappointed that Yushchenko's advisors and Yushchenko himself made such a move because they revived Yanukovych as a political leader in Ukraine."

At the same time, the dynamics of independent nationhood enable Mr. Yanukovych to advance his interests in Kiev, rather than in the capitals of former empires that once ruled Ukraine. From this perspective, historian Roman Szporluk at Harvard University's Ukrainian Research Institute says the Yushchenko-Yanukovych agreement promotes that country's political integration because it recognizes a substantial segment of voters in eastern and southern Ukraine who supported Mr. Yanukovych in the presidential election.

According to Professor Szporluk, "These people see that they do have a stake in Kiev, that their voice is heard there and that makes them, I think, more attached to the idea [and] reality of a single Ukrainian nation."

Reforming the Government

But with allegations of corruption even in the Yushchenko administration, some Ukrainians dismiss all politicians as dishonest. Pora Party activist Andriy Usov, however, notes that a certain level of corruption exists in virtually every country and calls upon ordinary Ukrainians to take an active interest in their government. "My fellow Ukrainians - you made a revolution, however, that was but the first and certainly not the last step. You should continue to closely monitor the actions of Ukrainian authorities and the situation in Ukraine," says Mr. Usov.

Political observer Valeriy Chaliy at the Razumkov Center, a research group in Kiev, adds that politicians have a special obligation to institute reforms and to set an example of moral leadership.

Mr. Chaliy says, "Today, the only important thing is that all politicians prepare not only to win a certain number of seats in Parliament, but also start thinking today about how they will compromise and how they will cooperate for the good of the country."

Mr. Chaliy warns that the failure of politicians to cooperate and to govern responsibly could have serious consequences. He says, "A desire could emerge for a return to an iron hand; to a strong form of presidential rule."

Many observers say that Ukraine's leaders reflect the country's corrupt social and economic system, which has forced even grandmothers to trade cigarettes on the black market. They say the ideals of the Orange Revolution appear trapped in a viscous cycle of corruption and poverty with deep roots in the Soviet and Tsarist past.

Opposition activist Andriy Usov says the first organized attempt to break that cycle -- the Orange Revolution -- demonstrated the emergence of civil society in Ukraine and a sense that people can control the nation's destiny. Asked about the political future of President Yushchenko, Mr. Usov says recent weeks have shown that it is pointless to make predictions for individual politicians.

"I'm more interested in making political predictions for ideas rather than people," says Mr. Usov. "The ideals of the Orange Revolution will surely live on because they are timeless and universal. Our position is for or against ideas. The spirit of Independence Square should continue always regardless of politics or any kind of crisis in Ukraine."

The Orange Revolution is admired around the world as a remarkable display of democratic ideals. At the same time, hard political realities make it difficult to realize those ideals. To the extent that Ukrainians openly and actively seek to improve their society, analysts say, they will be keeping their revolution alive.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, “VOA News Now.” For other “Focus” reports, Click Here.