Ukraine prepares to mark 2nd anniversary of the Orange Revolution quietly

Mara D. Bellaby, AP Worldstream

KIEV - There are no orange banners hanging from the street lamps, no stage being erected on Ukraine's Independence Square, no festivities planned.

Quietly, quietly is how Ukraine plans to mark what has become for many in this ex-Soviet republic a bittersweet occasion: the second anniversary Wednesday of the Orange Revolution. Ukraine's topsy-turvy politics have made any official celebration of the mass protests awkward.

The man whose fraud-marred presidential victory sparked the uprising is back in his old job as prime minister. And the Orange Revolution team is again in opposition.

But President Viktor Yushchenko's popularity is so low that a recent opinion poll showed he would get less than 15 percent of the vote if the election were held now.

The revolution's slogans - including "Bandits in Jail," referring to corrupt bureaucrats and their businessman cronies - and its promises of a quick embrace by NATO and the European Union turned out to be naive. Now members of Yushchenko's camp, too, have been accused of corruption.

Ukrainians' quality of life has not significantly improved since the popular uprising: salaries and pensions rose, but so, too, did energy and food prices.

Even the hopes of shrugging off Russia's influence seem premature; analysts say Ukraine's energy dependence on Moscow means the Kremlin's shadow will continue to advance over this nation of 47 million.

But on the eve of the anniversary, Yushchenko defended his record in a televised interview, insisting the mass protests had brought results.

"The main thing that was achieved is something which you never feel when you have it - it is freedom," Yushchenko said. "It cannot be put on a sandwich, it cannot be seen by the size of your salary."

Many Ukrainians, however, expected more.

"We were very romantic and idealistic," former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose glamour and fiery speeches made her the revolution's heroine, told The Associated Press earlier. "We believed that everything would happen quickly and beautifully."

Today, the only prominent orange on Independence Square is on the hats and scarves of girls working for a Ukrainian mobile phone company, and hawkers manning the souvenir tables have added buttons and T-shirts depicting his 2004 foe, Viktor Yanukovych to their stocks. Portraits of the unpopular president have been dropped altogether.

"We stood on the square for a month in the bitter cold and what did we get? They're in opposition again," said Kiev resident Pavel Korneichuk, who said he spent a month freezing in the protesters' tent camp two years ago. "What kind of victory is that? I don't see anything to celebrate."

Yushchenko's party initially planned festivities on Independence Square - the focal point of the 2004 protests - but called them off after consultations with its "orange blood brothers," party spokeswoman Tetyana Mokridi said.

Instead, Our Ukraine members will mingle with whoever shows up, and Yushchenko will host a small reception at Mariynskiy Palace.

Tymoshenko, who plans to be out of the country, has said political leaders don't deserve to mark the day publicly until they have fulfilled their promises.

"Most people are disillusioned with politicians but not disillusioned with the ideals of the Orange Revolution," said analyst Serhiy Taran of the International Institute of Democracy. "They realize that what they did two years ago was the right thing, but there is still a way to go."

The Orange Revolution began hours after the polls closed in the Nov. 21, 2004, presidential election. As the Central Election Commission began churning out fraudulent vote counts in favor of Yanukovych, Russia's choice, Yushchenko - the pro-Western candidate - summoned his supporters to Independence Square.

They flooded in. Night after night, Yushchenko and his allies rallied the orange-bedecked crowds from a giant stage, promising them a bright, democratic future. Musicians kept the crowds boogying through the cold.

Twelve days later, the Supreme Court declared the vote count fraudulent and ordered a rerun _ which Yushchenko won.

But the euphoria ended as Ukrainians grew disillusioned with the power struggles, rising gasoline and meat prices, and allegations of corruption among a group that had promised to be squeaky clean.

By the one-year anniversary, the leaders were divided against one another, a division that cost them dearly in the March parliamentary election.

Yanukovych's pro-Russian party won the most votes, put together a majority coalition and formed the Cabinet. Yanukovych - the victor of a vote recognized as Ukraine's freest and fairest ever - took back the premier's job. And thanks to Constitutional reforms, he also enjoys more power than before.

"My heart cries over how this turned out," said Lubov Slesarchuk, 68, who manned a booth dedicated to providing information about the benefits of NATO membership - a Yushchenko promise that Yanukovych has put on hold.

But Slesarchuk said she was still hopeful. She and others say despite the disappointments of the Orange Revolution, there is a new openness in Ukraine: freedom of speech and an end to the monopoly on power that had persisted since the breakup of the Soviet Union.   

Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service


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