2. 2005 MARKS THE YEAR UKRAINE BEGAN TO GROW UP

Timoshenko repeatedly ran roughshod over President Viktor Yushchenko’s free market principles, attempting unsuccessfully to fix retail prices for fuel, meat, public transport and utilities.

EUROPE FEATURES:
By Stafan Korshak, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, December 20, 2005

KIEV – It’s been a bumpy and often uncomfortable 12 months since Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, and Ukrainians have grappled with unfamiliar problems large and small. The big one, of course, has been: ‘How do you run Ukraine democratically, when no-one has ever done that before?’

So far, the answer has been ‘with difficulty’. The coalition government propelled into power by the Orange protests in December 2004 and in January, was riddled with in-fighting and lasted only until September.

As always in Ukrainian politics, stylish Julia Timoshenko was at the vortex of the proceedings. During her nine months as prime minister, Timoshenko repeatedly ran roughshod over President Viktor Yushchenko’s free market principles, attempting unsuccessfully to fix retail prices for fuel, meat, public transport and utilities.

Even worse, she led a government vendetta aimed at reversing billions of dollars in privatizations. Timoshenko’s logic was calculated to strike to the heart of the average Ukrainian voter’s antagonism towards the high and mighty.

She argued the country’s narrow tycoon class, who unsurprisingly detest Timoshenko, stole Soviet factories and farms during the 1990s, and should now cough up the loot.

Conservative lending agencies like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund not to mention Timoshenko’s boss, Yushchenko, were appalled.

The latter sacked her and made it clear the privatizations would stand allowing investors to heave a sigh of relief.

Yet in November, Yushchenko’s government sold off a giant steel mill to an Indian investor for a cool 4.8 billion dollars in an absolutely transparent auction, Timoshenko, supposedly in political exile, was right there.

Stylish in a Louis Vitton suit, a beaming Timoshenko declared to cameras, ‘Ukraine supports free markets and foreign investors … this is a great victory for our government.’

More foreign investment arrived in Ukraine in 2005 than in its entire previous 13 years of existence combined.

Ukraine’s economy hit the doldrums in 2005, with GDP flattening out to about 2.8 per cent due partly to lower international prices for Ukrainian industrial commodities, and partly ‘because for the first time in history a Ukrainian government made public honest economic statistics,’ as Yushchenko puts it.

The news was bad on the Ukrainian health front as well with bird flu winging its way to Ukraine in late November, with inevitable scandal as local officials appear to have ignored the outbreak for almost a month. By the end of the year, Ukraine was the site of Europe’s largest-ever outbreak of bird flu.

And the worst Ukrainian problem of all, corruption, remained the prime concern for Ukrainians in 2005, Transparency International found.

Yet even when it came to greedy state employees, unforetold steps were taken in Ukraine. The year saw purges of the venal customs, tax police, and regional prosecutors’ offices. In June, Yushchenko (after having driven a couple of hundred kilometres behind the wheel of an unmarked car) simply abolished the traffic police, on the grounds all they did was collect bribes.

Yet some Ukrainians set new standards of propriety as well during the year.

Vitaly Klitschko, world heavyweight boxing champion, proved his class in October. Hit with an injury shortly before facing a challenger, he laid down his belt and retired from the ring, rather than fight a round or two, take a fall, and collect an automatic 13 million dollar purse. As the year ended, he was widely rumoured as Kiev’s next mayor.

Football saw a dramatic Ukrainian first this year: the national team, after more than a decade of trying, qualified for the World Cup tournament. The achievement of first place in a tough group including Denmark, Turkey and Greece, caused more than a little political discomfort in Ukraine.

Ukraine Football Federation chief Hryhory Surkis and coach Oleg Blokhin are Yushchenko’s opponents, and stood on the opposite sides of the barricades, when Yushchenko was leading the Orange Revolution.

Yet, when Yushchenko first met the team including international superstar Andrei Schevchenko, but mostly consisting of hard-working unknowns like Dynamo Kyiv half-back Ruslan Rotan, the president was visibly as proud as Surkis and Blokhin.

‘Congratulations, boys, on what you have done,’ Yushchenko said. ‘You have proved your pride in your country. Now go to the World Championships, and prove your country is as good as any other.’ -30-

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