Is the Orange Revolution Over or Did It Never Happen?

Mitchell, Lincoln A.

Viktor Yanukovich's victory in the Ukrainian presidential election Sunday has predictably sparked a spate of commentary that Ukraine's Orange Revolution has come to an end. This conclusion seems natural given that it was the same Yanukovich's efforts to steal the 2004 presidential election that led to the Orange Revolution. At first glance, it is difficult to imagine a more clear symbolic rebuke to the western oriented reform agenda of President Viktor Yuschenko, who defeated Yanukovich in 2004, but received only 5% of the vote in the first round of this election, and to Yulia Timoschenko, the other major leader of the Orange Revolution, who lost to Yanukovich on Sunday, than Yanukovich's victory. This, at least, is how the election has been portrayed in most media. A narrative has been created that the elections of 2004 and 2010 represented swings in the Ukrainian electorate signaling the beginning and end of the Orange Revolution. An alternative narrative has also emerged claiming that Yanukovich's victory is evidence of the success of the Orange Revolution. Alternation of power through fair elections, as Ukraine has just experienced, is, after all, a defining characteristic of a democracy. However, there is a considerably more plausible, if less dramatic, explanation of the events of the last decade or so in Ukraine. Perhaps Yuschenko's narrow victory in 2004 and Yanukovich's similarly narrow victory this year are part, not of a cycle of revolution and counter-revolution, or of a consolidation of democracy, but simply stages of Ukraine's slow and bumpy post-Soviet history. In this view, Yuschenko's victory in 2004 reflects a process of regime development of which Leonid Kuchma's presidency, which began in 1994, is also part.

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Harriman Institute
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October 13, 2011