For those who haven’t been keeping up, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of November 2004 – optimistically and wildly inaccurately lauded at the time as a triumph of democracy over the forces of post-Soviet repression – has had rather a rocky time of it over the last year and a half. It was all so easy to see the scenes in Kiev all those months ago as a repeat of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But, as with so many popular uprisings throughout the former Soviet bloc in the last few years, once the images of jubilant protestors had left our screens, so the little progress that appeared to have been made seemed to evaporate.
Now it appears finally to have stuttered and died as the Revolution’s main opponent, Viktor Yanukovych (often described as “pro-Russian”, but that’s hardly accurate either), looks set to be made Prime Minister, the old Orange coalition of Viktor Yuschenko (grey-haired and haggard through poison) and Yulia Tymoshenko (glamorous and sexy, in a Swiss milkmaid kind of a way) has once again failed to overcome the massive egos and financial interests that always seem to have lain behind the political machinations of the country.
The events in Ukraine were never – really – about democracy, though many of the people donning their Orange gear may sincerely have believed and hoped that it was. They were all about the ongoing power struggles of a small political elite. Once the west’s eyes were once again averted, the internal squabbles once again rose to dominate in a country that, though it may be split right down the middle on political lines, is unlikely to see any real stability for a long time yet. Fifty years after Hungary made the first moves to shake off the Soviet system, its after-effects still dominate. Ukraine showed signs of hope, and there is still hope there – but it could all too easily go the route of Belarus and slide slowly towards dictatorship.
It’s well worth paying attention to, this one. After the spats over gas pipelines and elections, Ukraine could end up being the testing ground for the future evolution of the relationship between Russian and the EU. And as the EU gradually absorbs more and more former Soviet states into its sphere of influence, some kind of confrontation is long overdue – and instability on the eastern frontiers of Europe could spell disaster for those of us safely tucked away on the Atlantic fringe.