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'Orange Revolution' in Ukraine - an eyewitness account
LAST NOVEMBER/December, huge opposition protests took place in Ukraine against the official results of the country's second round presidential elections, forcing new elections on 26 December.
This 'Orange Revolution' was led by Viktor Yuschenko, the pro-Western presidential candidate, against the November 'winner', Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by the Russian government.
On 11 January the Electoral Commission announced that Yushchenko won, with 51.99%, against 44.2% for Yanukovych.
Niall Mulholland, (CWI), visited Ukraine's capital, Kiev, during the protests and met socialists, opposition activists and trade unionists, from the east and west.
"The first protests were huge, with up to half-a-million marching in the centre of Kiev. People were outraged that the second round elections were rigged in favour of Yanukovych, who rested on the super-rich individuals that have enormous power - the 'oligarchs' - in the industrialised east of the country, and had open support from Putin. After a decade of disastrous capitalism, the Kiev protesters were fighting against attacks on democratic rights, corruption and poverty.
The biggest demonstrations involved many workers, as well as students and middle-class people. But workers were not there in an organised way - there are few independent unions in Ukraine.
Miners and other workers were bussed in by Yanukovych to protest against pro-Yuschenko demonstrators. Very often when they met, however, both sides found out that they had more in common with each other than with the different ruling-class factions trying to manipulate them.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the 'Orange Revolution' was dominated by Yushchenko and his main ally, Tymoschenko, who has worked with far-right, Ukrainian nationalists and fascists. The half-mile long 'tent city', set up in the heart of Kiev, was controlled by people in paramilitary uniforms.
The main opposition student organisation, 'PORA', was created with US funds, and its leadership is right wing. Yet there are many students genuinely searching for a radical alternative.
Importantly, many protesters vowed that they would return to the streets if Yuschenko, a right-wing, pro-market politician, does not dramatically raise their living standards - which, of course, he will not do.
Both Yuschenko and Yanukovych played the 'national card'. Yushchenko visited the predominantly Russian-speaking Crimea, in the far south, last summer, and openly sided with leaders from the Tartar minority. Yanukovich whipped up Russian nationalism in the east, where local leaders threatened to hold referendums on 'autonomous rule'.
These cynical, reactionary policies threatened to split the country into two and to provoke a civil war. But it was clear from the comments of activists from the east, west and Crimea that working people resisted this course.
A new Yuschenko regime will most likely soon come into conflict with workers and youth in the industrialised east and will also bitterly disappoint those in the west, who are desperately looking for EU-style living standards.
This gives the workers' movement a great opportunity to build a powerful force, but only if it rejects all ruling elite factions, outside capitalist powers, and reactionary nationalism, and stands on independent, socialist policies, guaranteeing full rights to minorities."
In The Socialist 22 January 2005: