Many of us have fond memories of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution. In fact, it seems like it was just yesterday that we were all cheering the throngs of pro-democracy Ukrainians who threw out the nations entrenched post-Soviet oligarchy. And who could forget the faces of the revolution's two dynamic leaders -- presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, his face disfigured from attempted assassination by dioxin poisoning, and his fiery sidekick Yulia Tymoshenko, the blonde-braided orator?
These were the two who were supposed to lead Ukraine to a glorious, democratic future -- and none of us would have guessed that they could fall so far, so fast. Just five short years later, Ukraine has arrived at it's first post-revolution presidential election, and it now appears the Tymoshenko will not only lose her bid to succeed Yuschchenko as president, but she will be defeated by the very man the revolution defeated -- the election-rigging former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych. Furthermore, she will do so without the endorsement of the now hugely unpopular Yushchenko. The former compatriots have now been at each other's throats for years, with the stridently anti-Russian Yushchenko bristling at Tymoshenko's decision to adopt a more conciliatory attitude toward relations with Moscow. They have blamed each other for the recession, they have blamed each other for the two occasions that Russia shut off natural gas to Ukraine, and Yushchenko has even accused Tymoshenko of high treason for not being vocally opposed to Russias war with Georgia.
In a final blow, President Yushchenko has instructed his few remaining supporters to check the "none of the above" box in Sunday's runoff.
However, I think Tymoshenko herself put the final nail in the coffin by declaring Thursday that, if she loses, she will order her supporters into the streets in an attempt to halt a Yanukovych takeover with another Orange Revolution. I partially agree with her reasoning, which centers on her opposition to Yushchenko repealing a law that required all polling stations to be observed by representatives of both runoff candidates. This would theoretically make it easier for Yanukovych to return to his old tricks and rig the vote. However, polls show that Yanukovych probably is the people's choice this time. He will beat her fair and square, and any attempts at removing him by mass protest would be nothing more than an undemocratic attempt to intimidate the electorate into submission (though in reality it will likely not draw much support).
Don't get me wrong -- I think a Yanukovych presidency has the potential to be a huge setback for the transition to full democracy. However, he's what the people want at the moment, and for that we should be placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Tymoshenko and Yushchenko. After only a few years in office, they turned against each other, and bitter hatred for one another eclipsed both the desire for good governance and opposition to Yanukovych. In fact, at various times, both of them entered coalitions with Yanukovych rather than work with each other. Together, they proved to Ukrainians that Western-style democracy meant ineffectiveness and incessant bickering. Good for them.
In all frankness, while many U.S. anti-Communists will lament the defeat of their former heroine, I do not plan to shed a single tear for Yulia Tymoshenko. Yes, her views are a step above Yanuykovych, but she was partially responsible for squandering every shred of progress made in the revolution. And the truly sad part seems to be that the backstabbing has been less the result of policy differences and more a clash of egos between the two Orange leaders. One would normally think that Ukraine's governmental paralysis is what caused the bickering, but in this case it seems that the bickering is what caused the paralysis. The two personalities involved simply couldn't get along, and ultimately they allowed their pettiness to undermine any chance of governmental cooperation.
Sadly, Tymoshenko probably deserves this defeat, and I think some time in the wilderness might be the only way for the Orange forces to remember what they stand for. Maybe after realizing that Yanukovych is back in power, Tymoshenko will shape up and act like a stateswoman rather than a petulant child. Or, perhaps the pro-Western citizens of Ukraine will tire of the drama and find a new leader. Either way, while this is a painful and slow way to make progress, it's probably the only way that progress can be made in a nation that is as fractured now as it was before the revolution.
So, now we erect a headstone for the most promising pro-democracy movement of the new millennium. Let us hope that a more meaningful movement for Western democracy will rise from its ashes.