Follow That ‘Revolution’

by , June 02, 2005

The problem with Ukraine’s “orange revolution” was perhaps symbolized by the country’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest, Greenjolly’s “Razom Nas Bahato” (Together We Are Many). Of course it’s just a coincidence that the song was the election campaign theme of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko‘s party. It was entered at the last minute at the behest of the Ukrainian government against the favorite, by Ani Lorak. The Yushchenko campaign jingle won under what Ms. Lorak complained were suspicious technical circumstances. As Australia’s The Age put it:

“TV viewers were due to choose Ukraine’s Eurovision candidate last week. But with just days to go before the audience vote, the Government realised the likely winner had stood on the other side of the barricades in November. Singer Ani Lorak was widely expected to win the nomination.

“But Lorak, 26, voted Ukraine’s sexiest woman, had made the mistake of singing at concerts in support of losing presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich.

“At the last minute, Greenjolly was entered into the finals at Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko’s request. The group therefore bypassed the heats, participation in which was supposedly obligatory. The Government justified its decision by pointing out that the process of finding a winner had begun before the Orange Revolution. The mass movement had such an impact on Ukrainian society that this ought to be reflected in the contest, Mr Tomenko said.”

The vote, in short, appeared to have been rigged – but that’s par for the course in Ukraine, where the Orange Revolution appears to have soured – and nothing has really changed. Indeed, this most highly touted of the Bush-backed color-coded revolutions appears to have set Ukraine back in its supposedly determined march toward freedom and independence.

There were two aspects of pre-“revolutionary” Ukraine that got under the skin of Yushchenko supporters: the domination of the economy by the state, in the Stalinist tradition, and the domination of the country by a foreign power, namely Russia – again, in the Stalinist tradition. In the first instance, the “revolution” appears to have gone in the complete opposite direction from the one promised. Yushchenko mouthed all the platitudes that he had to in order to get Western aid – “free markets,” “privatization,” “free trade,” etc., etc. – but the reality has turned into something quite different.

The privatizations carried out under the former regime of Leonid Kuchma are being revisited in many important cases – leaving the status of business uncertain. For example, a major steel company is going to be renationalized. As Anders Aslund put it recently, Yushchenko’s Ukraine has “surprisingly opted for an economic policy that appears to be socialist and populist in nature.” An editorialist in the Kyiv Post concurs:

“When Viktor Yushchenko assumed Ukraine’s presidency, believers in free-market principles were optimistic that positive change would come. The Western-leaning economist would institute reforms that would put the Ukrainian economy – still largely socialist – on a firm capitalist basis.

“Maybe we were too optimistic. Sadly, the Yushchenko administration’s impulses so far have too often been consistent with Ukraine’s socialist past. Consider an issue that was much in the news last week: the Economy Ministry’s putting limits on gasoline prices. …

“It’s shocking that a country that wants to be granted free-market status and join the World Trade Organization is using state pressure to tell oil companies at what price they’re allowed to sell gasoline. In a crucial sector of the economy, the Yushchenko government has taken Ukraine right back to the days of the Soviet command economy.

“The effects are already being felt. Ukrainians have been lining up for gas outside filling stations that – logically enough – are refusing to sell gasoline at the low prices the law demands. In Kyiv, it’s difficult to find gasoline at all. The government’s socialism has taken us right back to the scarcity days of the Brezhnev era. And observers could only hang their heads in despair when Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov announced on May 13 that the Cabinet of Ministers would devise a special formula for calculating prices of petroleum products. A working group consisting of both government officials and representatives of Ukraine’s petroleum refineries was charged with coming up with this formula before the end of June.”

It isn’t just the price of gas that the Ukrainian government aspires to control: They have also slapped price ceilings on the cost of meat. Butchers cannot charge more than 30 Hr. for a kilogram of veal. The effect has been predictably disastrous.

The triumph of the so-called Orange Revolution has meant the victory of statism on every front. The burgeoning power of the Ukrainian state over the economy has plenty of overtones as far as the country’s precarious civil liberties are concerned: for example, the ability of the anti-government NTN television network to secure and keep its broadcasting license – in the face of continued agitation by pro-government groups to kick them off the air – remains very much in doubt. Yushchenko’s March 5 speech to the congress of the ruling Nasha Ukraina coalition, in which he denounced the “clan” that controls the anti-government media, did nothing to alleviate fears that the new regime would resemble the old. “The entire spectrum belongs to another clan,” he said, declaring he does not want his children to be “taught by such clan-run media.”

In Ukraine, as in much of “formerly” Stalinist Eastern Europe, to be in the wrong clan is to be on the outside looking in – if not in jail. Yushchenko’s opponent in the election, Viktor Yanukovich, may have something to worry about in this regard, as state prosecutors have recently called him in for questioning (that’s the second time since Yushchenko’s disputed “victory” at the polls).

The idea that the U.S.-backed “Orange Revolution” represented anything other than a naked power grab by Washington’s handpicked satraps was always absurd – and today it is or ought to be totally discredited, even among those who support the idea of “exporting” Western-style democracy as a foreign policy strategy. U.S. tax dollars went to support a candidate who promised free markets and delivered state socialism. Yushchenko and his team promised liberty – including the freedom to choose among competing media and viewpoints – but the new regime is making a crude attempt to seize control of the national media on behalf of the Orange Revolutionaries.

A recent open letter signed by several high government officials, including Yulia Timoshenko, the volatile prime minister and former “Gas Princess,” denounced Ukraine’s media for the “deliberate discrediting of the new authorities.” Yushchenko’s speech to the party congress bespeaks a willingness to go along with the authoritarian vision of his socialist and “revolutionary” allies, including Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, in more than just economic matters.

Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.

The color-coded “revolutions” that supposedly augured the “fourth wave” of democratization sweeping the world – ostensibly as a result of the Bush Doctrine of “exportingfreedom – were hailed as great successes by Washington and its amen corner, and then largely ignored. If we look at what has actually occurred in these “liberated” countries, however, the results are not all they’re cracked up to be. Indeed, in the case of Ukraine, the country appears to have gone backwards in some important respects.

So what was the point of these “revolutionary” upsurges, anyway? Were the millions we poured into organizing and publicizing them – via the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, and other U.S. government agencies – all for nothing?

Not as far as Washington is concerned. These U.S.-installed governments – from the Orange Revolutionaries of Ukraine to the “rose revolutionaries” of Georgia – are pliant instruments of American foreign policy, and that is all this allegedly freedom-loving administration cares one whit about. In Georgia, President Mikhail Saakashvili is belligerently confronting the Russians in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where pro-Moscow minorities hold out for cultural and political autonomy. Yushchenko plays the same vanguard role in what used to be the heartland of Russia’s Eurasian empire: neighboring Belarus is reportedly next on Washington’s “regime change” agenda, and the Ukrainians are proving cooperative. Kiev has also taken the lead in making GUUAM – the anti-Russian military and economic alliance of former Soviet republics – into a pro-U.S. version of the Warsaw Pact, aspiring to make it a solid ring of hostile states surrounding the Muscovite core. Both Ukraine and Georgia are being rewarded not only with a golden stream of economic and military aid, but also with the likely prospect of NATO membership.

As long as the United States government gets cooperation in achieving its geostrategic goals, Washington couldn’t care less what happens inside any given country. It’s only when someone gets out of hand – like, say, Russia’s Vladimir Putin – and begins to challenge what America regards as its imperial prerogatives, that a strict “democratic” yardstick is applied. That is the lesson of Uzbekistan and the real meaning of the so-called Bush Doctrine.

I might also add that, in following events in Ukraine, we really ought to start our inquiry with the progress of the investigation into the alleged poisoning of Yushchenko. This, you’ll recall, was the signal event that generated international sympathy for him and his fellow Orange Revolutionaries. While the means used was highly unusual – dioxin poisoning is almost unknown – and the circumstances surrounding the whole affair were more than a tad suspicious (why use dioxin – which has never been known to kill anyone?), this aspect of Yushchenko’s dramatic story wasn’t examined too closely, either, as the media played up its chosen narrative of heroic Orange Revolutionaries versus the evil KGB-backed poisoners around Yanukovich.

There were, however, a few dissenters, including myself, the writer John Laughland, and Dr. Lothar Wicke, the chief medical doctor at the Rudolfinerhaus private clinic where Yushchenko went for treatment. Wicke claimed that the symptoms presented by his patient did not show evidence of deliberate poisoning and declared that he had been threatened with death unless he came up with the politically “correct” diagnosis. The good doctor called a press conference detailing his story and was summarily dismissed by the clinic: he promptly sued to get his job back. Wicke, who still maintains his consistent position that he could find no evidence that Yushchenko had been poisoned, recently won his lawsuit for reinstatement at Rudolfinerhaus.

The meaning of Wicke’s legal victory is open to interpretation; however, if a medical doctor had deliberately misled his patient and the public in an instance where the truth mattered as much as it did in this case, one wonders how he could ever hope to be reinstated in any medical facility on earth, let alone the one that fired him.

As to the progress of the promised investigation into who, if anyone, poisoned Yushchenko, we have heard hardly a word, except vague accusations of audiotapes purporting to expose a KGB connection – widely dismissed as a hoax when played on Kiev’s pro-Yushchenko Channel 5 television station – and a murky announcement from the alleged victim:

“There are certain people that are on the run with respect to this case. But nobody will run anywhere.”

If I were one of Yushchenko’s Ukrainian political opponents, I’d be running, all right. I guess that’s why Ukrainian customs authorities have begun limiting the amount of money people can take out of the country. The Kyiv Post complains:

“In a free-market economy, as opposed to a socialist one, it’s no business of the government’s what a person does with his legally earned money, including take it out of the country.”

The problem is that Ukraine is still a socialist country, albeit one that has moved out of the Kremlin’s orbit and into America’s.

Read more by Justin Raimondo