Friday, September 21, 2007
The failures of Viktor Yushchenko
When Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko this week told my friend Ron Popeski (the Reuters correspondent in Kyiv) that he could envision Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister following the Sept. 30 parliamentary elections, he was admitting two things:
1) That he erred (although he rightly suggests there's plenty of blame to go around) in firing Tymoshenko back in 2005, thereby rupturing the "orange" coalition that brought him to power. Although he doesn't go on to say it, Yushchenko surely knows he made an even bigger error by replacing her with his old enemy Viktor Yanukovich - a move that led directly to the current political crisis. (As an aside, and proof that Yanukovich never changed his stripes, read this tale about how three years later, the prime minister still can't stand to even look at the colour orange.)
2) That his own Our Ukraine movement is now a spent political force, meaning there's virtually no chance the premier will be coming from its ranks. It's Tymoshenko or Yanukovich. (The latest polls show Yanukovich's Party of Regions leading with about 31 per cent of the vote, with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc running second at 19 per cent. Our Ukraine trails with just under 16 per cent, with the Communists and perhaps one other party looking likely to crawl over the 3 per cent barrier needed to win seats in the Rada)
How did we get here?
Ask a Ukrainian who lives west of the Dnipr River what they think of Viktor Yushchenko and they'll likely respond with a sigh and a shake of their head. After putting so much blind faith in him during the heady days of the Orange Revolution, they feel incredibly let down. Even betrayed.
Two unsolved mysteries have come to symbolize how quickly the air went out of the orange balloon: the 2000 murder of investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (pictured) and the near-fatal poisoning of Yushchenko himself during the 2004 presidential campaign.
When I met with the president at his office in Kyiv earlier this year, he told me that "certain progress" was being made in the poisoning investigation. "The investigators have received sufficient data on how this poison works, and what’s the technology of its application. Where the poison could be produced, in which lab, and how it could be delivered to Ukraine," he told me. (To read a complete transcript of the interview, click here.)
Yushchenko made it sound like investigators were closing in on the truth, but since then we've heard nothing. We've heard even less about the investigation into Gongadze's killing, a case that's nearly as important to Ukrainians. Gongadze's murder, and the evidence pointing to former president Leonid Kuchma's office, ignited the groundswell of protest that culminated in the 2004 uprising. Many who stood on the streets during the Orange Revolution cited their disgust at the poisoning of Yushchenko and the grisly Gongadze killing as reasons they decided to take action.
They want the culprits - whether they be in Kyiv or Moscow, part of the current administration or the last one - identified and brought to justice. But it's looking increasingly unlikely that will ever happen.
Earlier this month, the International Federation of Journalists criticized the Ukrainian government for lacking the "political will" to pursue the Gongadze case to its conclusion.
Unfortunately for Yushchenko, many Ukrainians are looking at the two cases and concluding that perhaps he also lacks the political will to lead.