I deliberately did not write anything about Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" when it was going down 10 months ago. Really, what to say? Everything about it was so depressingly predictable that there was nothing left to the imagination: the student protests, the staged rock concerts, the proliferation of colors and slogans, the shocking scandals, the corruption charges, the elections that weren't "free and fair" according to Western standards.You knew well who would win – the pro-democracy, pro-free-market reformers – and if it was just like a bad Hollywood movie it's because that's what it was: scripted, funded and produced in America.
There was further little need to write anything because the mass media, usually asleep at the wheel, could not completely avoid – finally – the obvious similarities between Ukraine and its Serbian and Georgian revolutionary precedents. It was not as if such reports would change anything, because the government-friendly media was by and large won over by the citrine revolutionaries and their ostensible cause.
The Orange Revolution, like its predecessors, was a non-event. It proves once again the old thesis of Jean Baudrillard regarding the modern world's tendency towards simulation and the precession of events by information, in which the story precedes and in fact creates the event. Since such a theory would mean the death of journalism, journalism accordingly had to fight to prove its undiminished vigor. A massive Western media and PR bombardment perpetuated the fraud, gearing up before the Ukrainian election, as a sort of "softening up" campaign meant to instill an advance understanding in the global audience of who was good, who was bad, and what it all meant for freedom and democracy, and to deliver such a blow that the opponents of these could not possibly recover.
Such a campaign followed predictably the strategy used in Serbia and Georgia. Devised by well-paid foreign lobbyists, human rights activists, indigenous politicians and other quasi-officials, this tactic succeeded due to the sheer and unrelenting information overload it created. At the same time it revealed a deep-seated contempt for the intelligence of the average Western citizen, as well as for the imaginations of those foreign puppets tasked with performing their appointed roles before the eyes of the world audience.
If that were all, and that's where the story ended, it would be depressing enough, but at least we would have some closure. Not so. Since nothing is ever over, even things devoid of any real and singular existence, the whole revolutionary drama continues – long after the dust has settled on election day, or after the palace has been cleared up after the coup – ineluctably to its second phase.
Some Post-revolutionary Recaps
Needless to say, there is a gamble involved in any such adventure, primarily for those who seek to gain most through it – i.e., the power-mad politicians who feign love of their country and citizens in order to seize absolute power for themselves. For them, the day after the revolution ends, there begins the roller-coaster ride in which all manner of unpredictable things – even up to their own ouster – can occur. At every moment, they are reminded that the (American) Kingmaker is in fact King; he who giveth can taketh away.
Now, with three revolutions under our belts over the past five years (Kyrgyzstan got a little too messy to fit the mold) this phase of the media event is well-attested. Kostunica, Western darling when it was time to oust Milosevic in Serbia, has ever since been harangued by the West for everything from non-compliance with the Hague to his policy on Kosovo.
In Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili was allegedly told to rein it in when he practically declared war on Russia last summer, proving that even American patronage has its limits. And the new outburst of public dissent and opposition to his rule – ironically enough, from rivals latching on to the same "freedom and democracy" mantra he successfully used to overthrow Shevardnadze – has both embarrassed "Mishka" and prompted him to new levels of authoritarianism. Since politics is always cyclical, the seeds of a new revolution may already have been planted.
Although it has had a much shorter incubation period than its predecessors in Belgrade and Tbilisi, the Ukrainian Orange Revolution is showing signs of being by far the most grotesque. The same post-revolutionary malaise has set in, and at this stage it is more worthwhile to write about, considering that a certain humor value has finally established itself in Kiev, whereas there is nothing funny at all about the states of either Serbia or Georgia.
Revolutionary Actors and Outcomes
While short-sighted politicians latch on to the rhetoric to enrich themselves quickly, the people who are really left untouched by the post-revolutionary traumas and public malcontent are the less famous employees of Revolution Industry – the students, activists, NGO leaders-turned-consultants, whose entire job portfolio is creating ferment for revolutions which, since they claim to be in support of universal values, can be exported globally, duplicated like CDs, ad infinitum.
However, since the implementation of these allegedly universal values requires stripping them to the lowest common denominator, precious little real "democracy" and "human rights" can be successfully delivered. If a doctor gives a sick man half of the necessary dose of medicine and, when he gets sicker, repeats the process, no one can say that he didn't give the patient medicine; technically, at least, the doctor didn't do anything wrong, and the process must go on until the patient vegetates in the same state, dies – or changes his practitioner.
It is too early to tell what will happen in the post-revolutionary countries of the east, but at least there is a certain paradigm established. Serbia by all accounts has continued to vegetate; Georgia, if it keeps provoking its neighbors and internal ethnic minorities under Saakashvili's brand of human rights and democracy, might end up dying. And then there's Iraq, whose "red revolution" (as in blood red) has been much less scripted and much more spectacular. There it looks like the patient is changing doctor and will come out of it one-hundred percent better – as an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law – a non-revolution turned from red to green.
What, then, of Ukraine, where the precession of events achieved its vertiginous climax? (Really it was the most spectacular revolution so far, like how the Olympics get more lavish and more expensive every time).
As could be expected, images were everything. So even if his German doctor stated that Viktor Yushchenko was not actually poisoned, could his horribly pockmarked face and vertigo point to any other conclusion? And as for his right-hand collaborator, Yulia Tymoshenko, how could this super-rich tycoon not be a woman of the people, what with that knotted loaf of peasant bread hairstyle?
Let the Branding Begin!
Even if the Orange Revolution has since turned red (As in Soviet red) preserving its nostalgic remembrance means that it requires safeguarding. This, of course, is obviously why the Orange brand was quietly given to the playboy teenage son of President Yushchenko for safekeeping:
"…Local media said the revolutionary slogan 'Tak!' (Yes) and a downward-facing horseshoe symbol were now registered trademarks owned by [Yushchenko's] 19-year-old son, Andriy.
"The President's eldest son, Andriy has been under media scrutiny after the internet newspaper Ukrainska Pravda publicized his high-stepping lifestyle.
"Andriy, a university student, says he has a part-time job that enables him to rent a BMW and a spacious Kiev city centre flat, pay for a personal bodyguard and hang out in chic restaurants, nightclubs and casinos."
Kommersant newspaper adds:
"…the Orange theme is widely used till now and Orange goods cost pretty [large amount of] money. For example Orange flag with slogan 'Tak!' costs from 5 to 20 UAH ($1-4) – it is 10% of [the] average Ukrainian pension. So, if an old man decides to present ten [of] his old friends with such flags he must spend all his monthly income given by the state.
"Experts puzzle to fix definitely an income from the copyright but they state that it is pretty big money. According to Yuri Kogutyak, the co-founder of advertisement holding Euro RSGG& Partners, the brands of Yushchenko's campaign cost about $100 million."
Yushchenko's yes-men defended the deal. Yaroslav Lesyuk, who apparently created both a color and a word, "…said Mr Yushchenko had done nothing wrong in transferring the rights to his children. 'From the point of view of fairness and ethics only Viktor Yushchenko has a right to manage "orange brands." They were done for him and because of him.'" But some Ukrainians were less impressed:
"…Irina Bekeshkina, a sociologist, wrote on the Ukrainska Pravda website: 'Explain to me what the difference is between privatization of political brands of the orange revolution by the current president and privatization of Kryvorizhstal by the previous president's son-in-law.'
"Kryvorizhstal, Ukraine's largest steel plant, was sold last year for about $US800 million – below other offers – to Viktor Pinchuk, son-in-law of the former president, Leonid Kuchma, and his business partners."
While the analogy is not exactly precise, there is something to be said here. Ukraine has developed the worst characteristics of America – or at least tiny slivers of its elite have. In 2005, Revolution Industry has become so professionalized that nothing is allowed to be forgotten: the anticipated future profits of branding yesterday's uprisings are earmarked for a sort of trust fund, so that the president's teenage son can enjoy a life of luxury far beyond that of the average Ukrainian, while simultaneously proliferating a legacy that never was.
But why should they complain? After all, like the article said, they can enjoy their civic right to patriotic pride, just by paying their meager pension to feel the special joy that only orange revolutionary souvenirs can bring. After all, this was a revolution of the people. I don't know how the fruit mongers are doing, but chances are among all the problems facing Ukrainians, scurvy isn't one.
It's the Economy, Comrade
Image is everything when it comes time to woo the voters, but substance is sometimes required after winning their confidence. And this is why the new government is getting flustered. After only 8 months, Revolution Industry Phase 2 has set in, with the growing public discontent towards the government's policies, chief of all its economic ones, feeding the dialectic of endless infighting and political turmoil.
These tensions have resulted in open disputes between ranking ministers of differing mindsets. While claiming to be in favor of "Western-style reforms" and economic stimulus, the government under the iron-fisted Yulia Tymoshenko has gone Soviet. As the Washington Post reported in May, government-ordered price controls, a mass renationalization process, onerous taxes and other indiscretions are giving people that Back in the USSR feeling. But the new state socialists in Kiev are very happy with the state of affairs:
"…a new socialist minister of privatization has been appointed who opposes privatization in principle. She asked recently: 'What is so bad about renationalization?' Tymoshenko concurred in a recent newspaper interview: 'The biggest enterprises, which can easily be efficiently managed, must not be privatized, and they can give the state as an owner wonderful profits.'"
Tymoshenko's misunderstanding of economics is not really theoretical, nor is her undeniable statism; rather, as a worshipper of absolute power, she has come to identify herself with the state. As prime minister, all those "wonderful profits," as with everything else, will now come under her control.
Tymoshenko offers a certain dramatic flair as well. As she blustered the other day, "...I am stumbling over obstacles that were unheard of in the previous government... I would prefer if the government in Ukraine could work as a balanced team, but at the moment that's not the case."
Indeed, the Ukrainian economic policy is in disarray as the factional disputes of a jury-rigged coalition government erupt – even, it seems, over which party owns the rights to the "Our Ukraine" brand name used by the revolutionary coalition. Further, adds a recent report from the Jamestown Foundation,
"...The continued presence of big businessmen in the Yushchenko camp will make it difficult to separate business and politics… Despite making "a major campaign issue" out of the relationship between the oligarchs and the corrupt Kuchma administration, Yushchenko still finds Ukraine's big businessmen useful allies."
The article goes on to talk about the alleged demands Tymoshenko and her rivals – er, colleagues – are placing on one another in the run-up to next year's parliamentary elections, which Tymoshenko, given her newfound fondness for being the state, is dead set on winning.
Problems on the Horizon
But it's going to be a bumpy ride. CNN adds that "…Tymoshenko regularly clashes with her deputy, Anatoly Kinakh, who is the leading pro-business member of Ukraine's Western-oriented government." And voters who were seduced by the billionaire's populist appeal are confused. First they were awarded arbitrary increases in salaries and pensions; then Tymoshenko announced regional governors would be awarded based on how much tax money they could bring in, and her government decided to "...allow imports of Brazilian sugar at the expense of the local sugar industry," a decision which was criticized openly by Agriculture Minister Oleksandr Baranivsky.
Now, the IMF has urged caution, with a report that shows alarm at "...the government's populist policies that have led to an increase in pensions and wages had also caused [15 percent] inflation growth." Now, ordered by the IMF to curb inflation and correct its budget deficit, the Tymoshenko government hopes to raise 600 million euros by "floating" a ten-year Eurobond.
Reports Kommersant, "...lower-than-expected revenues from privatization appeared to be behind the move." According to analyst Vassyl Yurchychyn, "...privatization has stalled, most strategic enterprises won't be sold until after the legislative elections and the government has one sole instrument to cover the deficit – borrow the money from abroad." And this is the proud, strong and independent "Our Ukraine" government nationalistic voters fervently supported 8 months ago!
Further, gasoline prices in the country continue to rise precipitously; A recent Itar-Tass report claimed that "…prices are rocketing in the Crimean, Dnepropetrovsk and the Trans Carpathian regions. In the meantime, three oil refineries in Ukraine have suspended production… The stoppage of half of Ukraine's refineries is fraught with major fuel shortages. Import may prove the sole solution."
Major energy supplier Russia, which has been watching Yushchenko's floundering with delight and which supplies Ukraine with 90 percent of its crude oil, still has a card to play here. Gazprom head Alexey Miller stated that Russia will triple gas prices for Ukraine; it looks as if severing the "special relationship" after the Orange Revolution will have consequences. Yushchenko adviser Boris Nemtsov lamented that "...Ukraine is going to have hard times in the coming months." That sounds about right.