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Ukraine: New Government Moving On Reforms -- But Not Fast Enough For Some

Three months have passed since Ukraine's Orange Revolution. Viktor Yushchenko and other opposition figures who led last winter's street protests now occupy government offices. Analysts say the government is trying to implement the reforms it promised -- and is succeeding in some cases. But many Ukrainians are hoping to see more reforms -- and sooner.

Prague, 30 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Igor Losev teaches history and philosophy at Kyiv's Mohyla Academy. He says the Orange Revolution has brought some immediate benefits to his country -- like a new tolerance for freedom of expression, particularly in the media.

"Ukraine never knew such press freedom before. We've never had such freedom to criticize the authorities -- not only in semi-underground opposition newspapers, but also in very respectable ones. And sometimes this criticism really pushes the boundaries," Losev said.

The new government has moved quickly on reforms since Yushchenko's inauguration on 23 January. Officials have taken steps to cut back industry tax breaks and investigate past privatization deals. Parliament last week approved a revised 2005 budget supporters hope will lay a course for aggressive economic reform.

There have also been changes in the way the government appears to view its electorate. Stuart Hensel of the Economist Intelligence Unit says authorities now treat society with respect.

"There seems to be a general change in the tone of the leadership in Ukraine, which is a very positive thing," Hensel said.

Still, observers say it is still too early to talk about major reform. Hensel says the new government's work is still largely rhetorical -- and focused more on small changes rather than sweeping actions.

"It's still very early to look for any concrete changes. They [the new administration] in fact spent most of the past two months focusing on issues like personnel changes, and haven't actually come up with any really concrete pieces of legislation that they can move through parliament," Hensel said.

Such delays are not surprising to some. One of the first tasks of Ukraine's new government is to streamline the state apparatus by creating a firm separation between business and politics. But it's a delicate maneuver. Many on Yushchenko's team are themselves successful entrepreneurs.

The administration has also begun the difficult task of reforming the police, secret service, and border and customs officials.

The most visible change to date may be in foreign policy. Ukraine has moved quickly to ingratiate itself with Western bodies like the European Union. Still, such gestures will have little impact until Kyiv is able to fully implement its internal reforms.

Losev of Mohyla Academy says the enthusiasm and excitement that infused the Orange Revolution have faded as the government gets down to the practicalities of holding good on its promises. He says many Ukrainians are impatient, and want to see reforms instituted as fast as possible.

"I think that a lot of things have changed, but people's expectations are too high. We have a specific mentality. A person thinks that if he comes to a rally today, by tomorrow everything in the country should have changed -- and changed exactly the way he wants it to," Losev says.

Still, most Ukrainians still appear to have trust in their new government.

A February poll shows 63 percent of people support Yushchenko -- a rise of 27 percentage points over last October, before the height of the Orange Revolution.

By contrast, support for his former rival, Viktor Yanukovych, has dropped by 8 percentage points, to 29 percent.