Originally created 12/29/04

Orange crush



When historians look back on the year 2004, they may well see it as the beginning of a new era of freedom and democracy in countries that had been ruled for decades, if not centuries, by various tyrannies: the liberation of Iraq; free elections in Afghanistan; the death of Palestinian terrorist Yasser Arafat followed, hopefully, by the rise of a democratic Palestinian state at peace with its neighbor, Israel.

At the very top of the movement toward freedom and democracy will be the remarkable transformation of Ukraine - the last of the old Soviet republics whose government was steeped in corruption and thuggery, and had stayed closely tied to Moscow.

A sham presidential election earlier this year produced Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, a Moscow stooge and political apparatchik, as the winner over pro-West reformer Viktor Yushchenko, an apparent victim of a poisoning plot that left his face scarred and pockmarked.

Political observers in Ukraine and around the world knew the election was stolen by the incumbent pro-Russian government, but instead of acquiescing in the theft and the nearly successful effort to kill their reform leader, outraged Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev by the hundreds of thousands to demand a new and fair election.

What became known as the "Orange Revolution" was peaceful but insistent and went on for weeks. It reminded many of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in Communist East Germany or the end of the apartheid government in South Africa. In its own way, it was just as important as those historical events.

The Orange Revolution, with a key ruling by the Ukraine Supreme Court, forced the government to grant a new and honest election overseen by the European Union and other international monitors. The result, as expected, was a resounding victory Sunday for the pro-Western Yushchenko.

Unfortunately, even though trounced 52 to 42 percent, Russian favorite Yanukovych says he'll appeal the vote count to the supreme court, which is virtually certain to turn him down.

But as is always the case in historical events like that going on in Ukraine, the dawn of freedom and democracy - the turnout was 77 percent - is not an end in itself. It is the start of something bigger.

Yushchenko must turn all of his attention now to governing - and with the bureaucracy still firmly in the hands of the old regime, it will not be easy for him to break away from Moscow and integrate with the West.

From time to time, he may even need to call the "Orange Revolution" back into action as he did Tuesday when he asked demonstrators to blockade the Cabinet of Ministers building to prevent Yanukovych from holding a government session; in other words, from continuing the kind of government business that the voters just repudiated.