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East: Ukrainians, Georgians See Few Social, Economic Improvements After Revolutions

  • Jean-Christophe Peuch

Georgian President Saakashvili (file photo) (AFP) On 22 November, Ukrainians will mark the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution. A day later is the second anniversary of Georgia's Rose Revolution. 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. But there are concerns that the new leaders in both countries have not done enough to fight graft or to revive the stagnant economies. Ordinary citizens seem somewhat disillusioned with their new leaders.


Prague, 21 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has signed a decree making 22 November a public holiday.

Not everyone agrees with the idea. On 20 November, hundreds of leftists rallied in Kyiv decrying the proposed Day of Freedom. They called for the president's resignation, saying he had sold the country out to the West.

The last year has not been smooth sailing for Ukraine.

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

In September, the government faced a political crisis, triggered by public allegations of corruption in the presidential entourage and the sacking of the cabinet of Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Government officials under Tymoshenko -- who many Ukrainians saw as the heroine of the Orange Revolution -- were accused of pursuing private interests while implementing Ukraine's new privatization program.

But, for many Ukrainians, the legality of their leaders' financial activities is not their biggest worry.


Andriy Bychenko, who heads the sociology department at the Oleskandr Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies in Kyiv, says Ukrainians are more concerned with the general state of the economy: "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 says his department in August conducted an opinion poll that shows most Ukrainians believe their economic situation has not improved since last year's Orange Revolution: "Twenty-one percent of our respondents think the overall economic situation has improved, compared to 42 percent who believe it has deteriorated. 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."

There are similar sentiments and concerns in Georgia.

On 23 November, Georgia will mark the second anniversary of the Rose Revolution that toppled the government of former Soviet Politburo member Eduard Shevardnadze.

Results of a study conducted in 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 revolution.

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

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. The ban triggered street protests in a
country where the unemployment rate is believed to have soared past 30 percent.

Noghaideli said in August 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.

Official statistics seem to give credence to popular concerns in Ukraine.

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.

The Georgian economy has fared a little better. Noghaideli told journalists in September that Georgia registered 7.5 percent economic growth in the first half of 2005, compared to 6.2 percent in the corresponding period the previous year.

Perceptions of political and economic inertia have created a sense of disillusionment among members of both countries' political elite who supported the revolution.

Davit Zurabishvili, a one-time human-rights activist, joined Saakashvili's party at the time of the change of political leadership. He went on to become a deputy chairman of the progovernment majority group in parliament. In an interview with RFE/RL for the first anniversary of the Rose Revolution in November 2004, 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. 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 Adjara, and efforts made to improve conditions for soldiers serving in the country's armed forces.

However, in August Zurabishvili publicly resigned from the parliament majority. He subsequently joined the parliamentary opposition, effectively becoming one of its leaders.

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

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

Speaking to RFE/RL's Georgian Service recently, Zurabishvili 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. 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 be the other way around. We cannot settle the territorial integrity issue without first making Georgia a democratic and economically strong country."


Future elections should determine whether Georgians and Ukrainians have had enough of their current leaders -- and if
they're prepared to give their old leaders another chance.

Ukraine will hold parliamentary elections in March 2006. Georgia will hold parliamentary elections in 2008 and a
presidential election the following year.


Sociologist Andriy Bychenko says his recent opinion poll 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.

And in a poll conducted by the Razumkov Center in early November, 59 percent of respondents said Ukraine is on the
wrong track. Of those polled, 18.3 percent said the country was on the right track.

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

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

There are enough politicians waiting in the wings, ready to push themselves back into power.

Earlier this month, former Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili (no relation to Davit Zurabishvili) set up her own civic movement with a view to challenging the government in future elections.

And in Ukraine, former security chief Oleksandr Turchynov -- a member of Tymoshenko's team -- said recently that corruption would dominate the upcoming election campaign: "We see ourselves heading for victory. The real power that we will seize will help us stem corruption and bring order in the country."


Ukrainians and Georgians have heard such words before. Now they want them to ring true.

(Tamar Chikovani of RFE/RL's Georgian Service and RFE/RL's Luke Allnutt contributed to this report.)

The Orange Revolution


An archive of RFE/RL's reporting and analysis on Ukraine's Orange Revolution.

REVOLUTION IN THE AIR: Listen to an audio portrait of the Orange Revolution from RFE/RL's archives.
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