On March 13, 2006, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a meeting entitled “What Does the Orange Revolution Tell Us about Ukraine’s Future?” to commemorate the publication of the new book Revolution in Orange. Speakers included the co-editors of the volume, Anders Aslund (Institute for International Economics) and Michael McFaul (Carnegie), as well as contributor Nadia Diuk (National Endowment for Democracy). Carnegie Senior Associate Andrew Kuchins moderated the session.

In Revolution in Orange distinguished contributors from Ukraine, Russia, the US, and elsewhere illuminate the stories behind Ukraine’s revolution of fall and winter 2004. The authors disentangle the Orange Revolution from the myths it has already spawned, examining the roles of actors ranging from civil society to the media, great powers to ordinary people.

Nadia Diuk opened the event by stressing the lasting social changes wrought by the Orange Revolution. The events of 2004 politicized Ukrainian society, leaving what Diuk called “an indelible mark.” The civil groups organized during the revolution remain today and continue to act as checks on the government. While media ownership remains in just a few hands, both print media and television have generally maintained an independent stance.

The panelists agreed that the government of President Viktor Yushchenko has been disappointing thus far, but nonetheless expressed equanimity. Both Michael McFaul and Anders Aslund pointed to last year’s sacking of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as a sign of a healthy political system. McFaul argued Tymoshenko’s biggest problem was public relations, not policy. In his view Tymoshenko fell victim to the inflated expectations that commonly follow revolution. He made the case that some blame should lie with Yushchenko. Said McFaul, “Yushchenko was seen as unprincipled and passive.” Aslund faulted Tymoshenko for her dalliance with wholesale privatization, the prospect of which decimated investment and overall economic growth.

Could the Orange Revolution be reversed? The most intriguing debate of the event centered on this question. Diuk saw no road back. In her view civil society will serve as guarantor of democratic continuity. McFaul was more equivocal, asking, “Is this People’s Power in the Philippines or Solidarity in Poland?” He claimed it was too early to tell. Revolutionary coalitions usually coalesce against something, so after they seize power some fragmentation and disarray are natural. McFaul did note that Ukraine has already begun to form its revolutionary myths and symbols, which will do much to consolidate the revolution’s gains. Like Diuk, Aslund took a relatively optimistic stand. He said the revolution had brought democracy and a western-oriented foreign policy to Ukraine for good.

Even Diuk, however, conceded that it will take years before some changes filter down to the quotidian level of Ukrainian life. While national politics will now include a tradition of opposition and the rule of law, petty graft remains a fact of life for many Ukrainians.

All three panelists agreed that Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions will probably come in first in this month’s parliamentary elections. Opinion polls put the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc in second and Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine in third. All three major parties have been talking to each other about possible coalitions, though in some cases politicians have publicly denied this. McFaul saw a Tymoshenko-Our Ukraine coalition as unlikely due to personal acrimony between the two sides. The consensus most probable coalition was Regions-Our Ukraine.

However none of the panelists thought Yanukovich would become prime minister. Instead McFaul and Aslund said current Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov was likely to be the choice of any plausible coalition. Aslund further explained that Yekhanurov relies on young technocrats like Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Minister of Economy, and will seek to bring more such officials into the new government.

Diuk and Aslund emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s westward shift in foreign policy. With Congress poised to lift the Jackson-Vanick amendment, Ukraine can realistically look forward to WTO accession and a NATO membership action plan in the near term. While Regions still professes the need to join Russia’s Single Economic Space, the party’s largest backer, Rinat Akhmetov, is western-oriented and would oppose such a step. Foreign policy successes with the West, however, will continue to irritate the Kremlin and complicate relations with Russia. 

In addition to the challenge of managing the Russian relationship, Ukraine faces domestic obstacles to economic and political development. McFaul expressed concern about the uncertainty stemming from the constitutional reform, calling it “a birth defect of the Orange Revolution.” He also pointed to continued East-West ethno-linguistic polarization and the failure thus far to hold figures from the Kuchma regime accountable for their crimes.

Summary prepared by Matthew Gibson, Junior Fellow with the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.