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Ukrainian ballot gives hope that Democracy will flourish



Published: Mon, January 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Viktor Yanukovych has vowed to continue a court fight for Ukraine's presidency, but his resignation as prime minister signals that he knows the fight will be futile.

His decision to resign now simply allowed him to save face. He got to submit his resignation to his one-time ally, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, rather than to his nemesis, Viktor Yushchenko.

Yushchenko's clear victory in a court-ordered revote was a victory for Democracy, but it certainly does not mean democracy is secure in Ukraine. Yushchenko has a lot of work head of him.

Corruption factor

For one thing, Ukraine is a nation that seems to run on graft.

As an Associated Press story reported, university grades can be bought. Traffic cops are easily bribed. Shopkeepers are subject to visits by tax police and environmental, fire, and sanitary inspectors -- many with their hands out. A box of chocolates will move you to the front of the line at a medical clinic.

On a much grander scale, some of the world's biggest steel companies cried foul last summer after Ukraine's main steel producer Kryvorizhstal was sold to a company controlled by Kuchma's son-in-law on a bid lower those of the steel companies.

And so it is heartening to hear Yushchenko pledge to fight corruption as the first task of his presidency.

But Yushchenko also faces the challenge of governing a severely divided nation. It is divided not only over whether Yushchenko or Yanukovych should be president; it is divided over whether it should maintain its strong ties with Russia or develop new ties with Europe.

Yushchenko is clearly inclined toward the West, but he must be careful to keep his nation unified.

An eye on the nationalists

Finally, Yushchenko must be cognizant that some of his supporters are more than willing to take Ukrainian nationalism too far. While the popular supporters of Yushchenko were inclined to identify themselves with bright orange garments, behind them stood a legion of far-right nationalists wearing green camouflage uniforms.

The Ukrainian National Assembly-Self Defense Organization, which claims to have provided much of the muscle behind the weeks of protests in support of Yushchenko, is intensely nationalist and anti-Russian. Its members have joined rebels to fight against Russian troops in the first Chechen war and in the 1991-1995 Balkan wars.

And on the farthest fringes of the organization stand a band of neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. While Yushchenko has specifically repudiated the Nazi element, he must remain aware of its ability to infiltrate his nationalist supporters.




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