Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Drowned in a sea of orange?

No doubt many of you are aware of what is currently going on in Ukraine at the moment. Allegations of widespread corruption had marred the election from the outset - in particular, Mr Yanukovich, the candidate backed by Russia and the outgoing President, was accused of having undue influence over the media outlets in the country. Journalists from two TV Channels walked out of their jobs in protest at the attempts to exercise undue influence. Independent observers, who in the earlier poll had highlighted several irregularities, are saying that the final vote results are hopelessly flawed.

This link, from A Fistful of Euros, is very useful for regular updates. It seems that many people in Ukraine agree with Mr Yushchenko that the vote stinks, and they are out on the streets protesting. Tomorrow I shall be joining them in wearing orange, for I sincerely hope that their protest is successful. There is a fair chance of this, for Kiev city council, and four other major cities have all refused to accept the validity of the election results - a testament to the strength of feeling in these cities; thus forcing the city deputies to respond to people power. However, Donetsk, the major mining area, and a lot of the south of the country appear to be supporting Mr Yanukovich; this will hamper chances of success. The Kiev Post here draws comparisons to the revolution in Georgia; the most telling sentence is this:
If Ukraine's protesters are banking that sheer numbers will prevail - that
they'll compile a critical mass that will convince the authorities change is
unavoidable - they'll likely need far more than have gathered so far.

What has interested me most is the democratic symbolism that has been used so far in the protests. Obviously the wearing of orange - the Yushchenko campaign colour - has been a crucial feature; but the protests at Parliament seemed to be highly orderly (except for a temporary storming of the Parliament building by some protestors) and focusing very much on the democratic norms of the society. In particular, the swearing of the Presidential oath, if on a Bible and not a copy of the constitution, as constitutionally defined, was highly significant as it places in the popular mindset the image of Yushchenko as the figure of authority. Also telling was the absence of the pro-Yanukovich bloc in Parliament; this deprived the sitting of a quorum, but also, to me at least, gave the impression of Yushchenko and followers as the ones upholding democracy.

I suspect that their own attempts to overturn the election results will be unsuccessful. The country seems to be split east-west, rather than an urban-rural split which would have favoured the civil disobedients much further. This is regrettable, because my firmly held opinion is that democracy is much more successful when policed internally. However, the interest then shifts to the Realpolitik of the situation. Yanukovich is favoured by the former President, and has been recognised as the new leader by Russia, because he favours a pro-Russian policy; thus probably keeping a huge amount of corruption within the running of the economy (Yanukovich himself has been convicted of corruption). Yushchenko is significantly more pro-Western; all EU countries have summoned their Ukranian ambassadors; the EU and the US obviously have strong questions about the validity of the poll too. It seems likely there will be a heavy battle for influence if the popular movement does not succeed in getting Yushchenko installed. Thus, the denouement could be an interesting test of popular power and the influence of Russia.