Parliamentary Vote Approaches in Ukraine
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A year after Ukraine's Orange Revolution, most Ukrainians say they're unhappy with their new government. They say it has failed to live up to its promises but those on the front lines of the revolution disagree. They praised President Viktor Yushchenko for achieving democracy in Ukraine. NPR's Gregory Feifer reports from Kiev.
GREGORY FEIFER reporting:
Every evening, crowds of young Ukrainians, the kind who provided the manpower for last year's Orange Revolution, hang around in the smoke-filled pedestrian underpasses of Kiev's Independent Square.
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FEIFER: One of those listening to the buskers in the damp cold is a student named Viktor Malishenko(ph). He supported the Orange Revolution. Now he says he's disappointed.
Mr. VIKTOR MALISHENKO: (Through Translator) If it's democracy that people are directing at one another with everyone yelling out what he wants to, if that's democracy, then I don't like it.
FEIFER: Malishenko's not alone. Most of the city's residents are poor and they're increasingly unhappy. Recent surveys show that a majority is dissatisfied with fast-rising prices and the slow speed of reforms so much so that the Party of Regions headed by Viktor Yanukovych, the man who lost last year's presidential standoff, is actually ahead in the polls before crucial parliamentary elections next March. Vladimir Robak(ph), a leading party member, says most Ukrainians are worse off than a year ago and that Yushchenko refuses to listen.
Mr. VLADIMIR ROBAK: (Through Translator) Today, the participants of the Orange Revolution are pressuring the president to be leader of the Orange revolutionaries, but also theological polls say they only represent 12 to 13 percent of the population. We want the president to be the head of the whole nation.
FEIFER: Earlier this month, Yushchenko defended his administration, saying it put an end to press censorship, spying on citizens and plundering the treasury.
President VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO (Ukraine): (Through Translator) Today, you see a different country where democracy is a way of life for 47 million people. Today, you can see these changes mean political democracy is breathing with full lung fulls of air.
FEIFER: Many who helped carry out the Orange Revolution agree. They cite the country's new freedoms, rule of law and declining corruption. Law student Vladimir Zapidorshney(ph) was one of those who took part in the protests. He says the very criticism directed at the government speaks of its new openness, something that didn't exist a year ago.
Mr. VLADIMIR ZAPIDORSHNEY: (Through Translator) I don't think you can do everything at once, but so much has already been done in the past year that I'm very happy about it.
FEIFER: Earlier this year, Para(ph), a grassroots organization that helped organize the Orange Revolution, turned itself into a political party. It's planning to run in next March's parliamentary elections.
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FEIFER: At the party's offices, young members are busy setting up desks and hooking up computers. Uvginza Thadorf(ph) is one of Para's leaders. He says Yushchenko's achievements can't be underestimated.
Mr. UVGINZA THADORF: (Through Translator) After all, this has been a year of democracy. It's perhaps the first year of democratic rule in Ukraine, the first year in which there have been democratic relations between the government and society.
FEIFER: What Yushchenko supporters do criticize is a split between leaders of the Orange Revolution. Last September, Yushchenko sacked his main ally, the popular Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. She was fired after setting price caps on basic goods and demanding the re-privatization of state assets which worried foreign investors. Although Tymoshenko plans to run against Yushchenko's party in the March elections, she defends his record on democratic reform.
Former Prime Minister YULIA TYMOSHENKO (Ukraine): (Through Translator) No one knew how the process would take place, getting from point A to point B, but the path we're on looks good. The main task is not to allow a backwards slide because we didn't achieve everything we wanted in the first six months.
FEIFER: No one's predicting who will come out on top in the upcoming parliamentary elections, but all parties seem to agree that what Ukraine needs most is consensus to stabilize its new democracy.
Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Kiev.
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