Despite leadership failings, nation more mature than five years ago

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Nov. 26, 2009, 9:54 p.m. | Op-ed — by Oleh Rybachuk

A couple relaxes in front of a billboard for presidential candidates Sergei Tigipko, left, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Kyiv. Voting in Ukraine’s presidential election is scheduled for Jan. 17, with a second round three weeks later.
© AP

Oleh Rybachuk and Taras Chornovil write: The country needs more responsible citizenry to make the political elite more responsible. Konrad Adenauer, the former German chancellor, said: “History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided.” It is an appropriate epigraph to what Ukraine has lived through since the Orange Revolution five years ago last weekend.

There are different views on what happened, but it is clear there are no winners and losers. Ukraine has been united by common disillusionment.

The bitter taste of frustration gave people some hope. Perhaps politicians are still not fully aware, but Ukrainians have become wiser and more mature. Upcoming presidential elections on Jan. 17 no longer split the country: people understand they are regular occurrences and not an irreversible choice.

No longer do people perceive political leaders as either godlike messiahs or synonyms for national disaster. Lower expectations and fears will enable us to vote using not only our emotions but our wisdom as well. Whoever becomes president will not be an icon, and people will try to use the institutions of civil society to force them to keep their pre-election promises. We are gradually returning to fundamental European principles for how politicians are elected and interact with the electorate.

In the same way, presidential candidates know the emotional background of the previous election is unlikely to be repeated. Although they played the traditional blame games afterwards, they have also made more of an effort to persuade us which of them would be the best manager of the country. They may slip into populism, but their discussions of who is better at taking care of social standards or at fighting the financial crisis will not split the country. Some will still hunger for absolute power, but we have learned how to combat that.

There was no festive mood on the day of the anniversary last weekend, but the Orange Revolution has set the foundations of the country Ukraine must become.

First there was the emergence of real political competition. No one has a monopoly on politics, business or mass media any more, and those in power cannot abuse the resources at hand. In the parliamentary campaigns of 2006 and 2007, the opposition gained the upper hand. The country is now in the middle of a presidential campaign and again the opposition looks set to win.

The most frequently mentioned result of what took place five years ago in Independence Square is the arrival of freedom of speech. It is now taken for granted by Ukrainians but it must be continuously guarded by civil society as something very precious and fragile.

Another achievement, which has been overshadowed by the global economic crises, was the long-awaited accession to the World Trade Organization as well as noticeable progress in the European integration process. The latter gives Ukrainian businesses a chance to access the largest market in the world.

To understand Ukraine one has to understand its history. There was no well-established democratic tradition and no time-tested checks and balances of government or political culture. There remains rocketing corruption, and the irresponsible ruling elite are not concentrating on the vital issues facing Ukraine, even as the world has fallen into one of its most severe financial crises.

Increasingly, we hear from Europe and the United States that they are “fed up with Ukraine.” But while one can be frustrated with individual Ukrainian politicians whom were often indulged by Europe and the U.S., one should not be disappointed with the country as a whole.

Today Ukraine is more mature than it was five years ago. And any partial rejection of Ukraine by the democratic world, which is occasionally inspired by our partners in Russia, may become an unfair and very dangerous blow in this complicated period.

Today it is important to give Ukraine clear conditions for Europen Union membership, using small, specific steps such as action plans and supervision. Deepening integration will follow. One priority must be to build a transparent energy security system which involves Ukraine, Russia and Europe.

Ukraine is on the eve of its presidential elections. There is a strong feeling that it does not matter who wins, but how the position will be influenced, monitored and controlled by the Ukrainian people. The country needs a more responsible citizenry to make the political elite more responsible.

Oleh Rybachuk was chief of staff to President Victor Yushchenko in 2005. Taras Chornovil was chief of Victor Yanukovych's presidential campaign in 2004. This opinion appeared in the Nov. 23 Financial Times and is reprinted with the authors’ permission.
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Anonymous Nov. 29, 2009, midnight    

It is encouraging that Oleh Rybachuk & Taras Chornovil came to the same opinion regarding the level of political maturity of the Ukranian electorate.

Let us hope that their message of civic responsibility will inspire Ukrainians to elect responsibile leaders who will pledge to pursue the ideals of democracy, prosperity and protect Ukraine's sovereignty.

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Anonymous Nov. 29, 2009, 4:29 p.m.    

Good luck.

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Anonymous Nov. 29, 2009, 11:20 p.m.    

Let us hope that Ukraine will abandon the presidential system and embrace a European parliamentary model of governance. Then and only then will Ukraine become a true democratic state.

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Anonymous Nov. 30, 2009, 8:50 p.m.    

Wrong again!... 80% of Ukrainians (correctly) support a strong presidential system.

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Anonymous Nov. 29, 2009, 5:09 p.m.    

Very nice article, which makes hope! I hope in some years I will read the following in Kiew-Post: The people of Ukraine understood in the last years that they had to change this country by theirself and they did! First they started to pay taxes, then they did not accept corrupcy any longer (they easily stopped paying). They started to save energy and did all to hold their towns clean. But what was most important: They felt responsible for what happend in their own towns and villages. Thats why they formed civil resistance against each wrong govermental decision. They learnt how to use basic democracy!

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Anonymous Nov. 30, 2009, 8:25 p.m.    

Agree 100%.

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Anonymous Nov. 29, 2009, 11:18 p.m.    

I agree a much more balanced article

The Orange revolution was filled by the desire for democracy and change.

Sadly the people of Ukraine and the supports of the "revolution" where betrayed by Vikotr Yushchenko and his party Our Ukraine.

In 2006 the Orange coalition had a chance to unite and form a governing coalition. Instead of unity Yushchenko and "Our Ukraine" sold out and refused to share power and build a democratic Ukraine.

Yulia Tymoshenko was forced to making public pleas to Yushchenko to help unite Ukraine. the rest is history the Yushenkos betrayed the revolution and Ukraine. He was a failed president and the catalysts for destabilization in Ukraine. he was the wrong choice and wrong candidate to front the "revolution"

Where once he held 52% support and was the toast of the free world and nominated for a Nobel prize today he commands less 4% support and the US president would not meet with him when he visited New York. 83% if Ukrainians will not vote for him.

His failure and demise could not be more dramatic.

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Anonymous Nov. 29, 2009, 11:27 p.m.    

The EU has made it clear. Political stability and democratic values are the Key to EU integration. if Ukraine want to become a part of Europe then it should be looking at adopting European values and European models of governance. Ukraine was the only former Soviet State not to adopt a Parliamentary system. The soviet presidential system has failed Ukraine. Ukraine has struggled to established a true democratic state since its independence.

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Anonymous Nov. 30, 2009, 8:49 p.m.    

80% of Ukrainians (correctly) support a strong presidential system.

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Anonymous Nov. 30, 2009, 5:51 p.m.    

Of course the orange kleptomaniacs caused Ukraine to become more "mature" - millions of destitute and impoverished Ukraine young people fled the orange craphole to sell themselves abroad.

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