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Georgia/Ukraine: Citizens See No Improvement In Society, Economy After Revolutions

  • Jean-Christophe Peuch

Presidents Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia and Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine both rose to power on a combination of factors, including public anger at rampant corruption in the then-ruling regimes. Georgia's economic degradation and Ukraine's poor human rights record also helped fuel the countries' peaceful political changes -- Georgia's Rose Revolution in 2003 and Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004. But in both countries, the post-revolutionary euphoria is now over.

Prague, 19 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ten months ago, Georgia marked the first anniversary of the Rose Revolution that toppled the government of former Soviet Politburo member Eduard Shevardnadze.

Davit Zurabishvili, a one-time human-rights activist, joined Saakashvili's party at the time, and went on to become a deputy chairman of the pro-government majority group in parliament. In an interview with RFE/RL last November, he said the political upheaval had mixed results.

“The main achievement of the Rose Revolution is that a genuine democratic statehood is now in the making," Zurabishvili said. "The process has been launched, so to speak. Under Shevardnadze -- particularly during the last two to three years of his rule -- we had reached deadlock. State structures were decaying, the economy was crumbling, and corruption was taking on considerable proportions. This is a fact. In principle, the Rose Revolution helped us get out of this deadlock.”

Zurabishvili said he regretted a lack of progress on human-rights issues. But among the positive achievements of the new leadership, he cited the ousting of Aslan Abashidze, the rebellious leader of the autonomous republic of Ajara, and efforts made to improve conditions for soldiers serving in the country’s armed forces.

Three weeks ago, however, Zurabishvili publicly resigned from the parliament majority. Speaking to RFE/RL's Georgian Service, he said he had become disillusioned with Saakashvili.

“He made the wrong strategic choices, provided we can talk of ‘strategic choices’ in a country where chaos is prevailing and where there is no clear-cut policy," Zurabishvili said. "His main strategic goal is [to restore] Georgia’s territorial integrity. He believes that to achieve this we need to build up a strong army and concentrate all powers in a few hands and that all the rest is secondary. I believe it should the other way around. We cannot settle the territorial integrity issue without first making Georgia a democratic and economically strong country."

Zurabishvili has linked his resignation to the controversial arrest of television journalist Shalva Ramishvili on charges of blackmailing pro-government deputy Koba Bekauri.

Ramishvili, who was remanded in custody for three months, denies the accusations brought against him. He says he was framed while probing Bekauri’s alleged financial misdeeds.

Critics say Ramishvili’s arrest is yet another episode in what they say is the new Georgian leadership's battle against independent media.

Ghia Nodia, the chairman of the Tbilisi-based Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development, recently noted in an article for RFE/RL's website that Saakashvili remains wildly popular among Georgians, however autocratic his rule may seem.

It is unclear, however, whether his team enjoys the same popularity.

Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli has backed a number of controversial decisions, including a move to ban street peddlers and collective taxis from the center of Tbilisi and other Georgian cities.
An opinion survey shows that most Ukrainians believe their economic situation has not improved since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

The ban triggered street protests in a country where the unemployment rate is believed to have soared past 30 percent. Critics called on the government to find new jobs for all those left without income because of the new regulations.

Noghaideli also said last month that budget constraints would force his cabinet to postpone until next year the payment of wage arrears and the launching of a relief program to help the poorest of Georgia’s 4 million residents.

Results of a study conducted last May by the U.S.-based InterMedia Survey Institute show 66 percent of Georgians remain dissatisfied with the economy, with more than half saying their life has not improved since the Rose Revolution.

The survey also shows Georgians' primary concerns remain unemployment and corruption.

In Ukraine, corruption has been a recurring theme in recent political developments.

President Viktor Yushchenko last week sacked Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko’s cabinet amid accusations that government officials had been pursuing private interests while implementing Ukraine’s new privatization program. Tymoshenko has said she will challenge Yushchenko’s team in next year’s legislative polls.

Yushchenko last week said nearly half of Ukraine's economy remains tied to "shadow" enterprises that fall outside government control and contribute no state taxes.

Former Security Minister Oleskandr Turchynov -- a member of Tymoshenko’s team -- this week made it clear corruption would dominate the upcoming election campaign.

“We see ourselves heading for victory," Turchynov said. "The real power that we will seize will help us stem corruption and bring order in the country.”

It was allegations of corruption against members of Ukraine's former ruling elite that helped Yushchenko rise to victory in the disputed 2004 presidential polls.

But whether accusations of corruption will appeal to Ukrainian voters in the upcoming election campaign is in question.

Andriy Bychenko, head of the sociology department at the Oleskandr Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies in Kyiv, told RFE/RL that Ukrainians do not seem overly preoccupied with the legality of their leaders’ financial activities.
About 66 percent of Georgians remain dissatisfied with the economy, with more than half saying their life has not improved since the Rose Revolution.

“In the view of the population, the main problem in Ukraine today is that the salaries and pensions remain low while prices are going up,” Bychenko said.

Bychenko said his department last month conducted an opinion survey that shows most Ukrainians believe their economic situation has not improved since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

“Twenty-one percent of our respondents think the overall economic situation has improved, compared to 42 percent who believe it has deteriorated," Bychenko said. "Those who think their personal welfare has increased are 17 percent, while 39 percent think it has deteriorated. The rest either think there hasn’t been any changes, or cannot answer.”

Official statistics seem to support these statistics.

Government figures show Ukraine’s gross domestic product in August 2005 was lower than that in August 2004 -- the first such decline since 1999. Industrial production and investments have been steadily shrinking in the past few months.

Whether Yushchenko’s decision to part with Tymoshenko will help him restore his postrevolution popularity will depend on the ability of the new cabinet of Yuriy Yekhanurov to reverse the country’s economic decline.

Bychenko said his recent opinion survey shows that only 37 percent of Ukrainians believe their new leaders are better than the previous ruling team.

Twenty-eight percent believe they are not different. Another 21 percent say that they are worse.

(Tamar Chikovani of RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report from Tbilisi.)