Last year, as families throughout Europe celebrated winter holidays, millions of Ukrainians rose up against a discredited regime in what became known as the Orange Revolution. That peaceful and bloodless uprising against election fraud came to a close last December 26. Voters chose European democratic values and elected me as independent Ukraine’s third president.
Belief remains that the Orange Revolution will change Ukrainian society. Politicians offering illusions about simple solutions wrapped in populist rhetoric have lost trust. Yet, citizens expected and this year we began delivering policies that provoked a new political, economic and social discourse within our country. The competition of ideas and sometimes disorderly nature of democracy is testament to a vibrant young nation that is steadily evolving.
On our path will be the rise and fall of political parties, alliances and coalitions. My challenge is to ensure that each of them contributes towards realising those hopes, values and ideals that provoked my countrymen to rise against a despotic regime. While it is impossible to transform instantaneously a country of 47m, significant and irreversible changes, unthinkable 12 months ago, have been implemented.
First, we instituted the basic freedoms of speech and assembly, which replaced media censorship and planned democracy. A policy dialogue was established with citizen groups. Only informed and empowered constituency groups can make the difficult choices required to transform a closed society into a competitive nation.
Second, inbred state corruption and privilege enjoyed by oligarch business interests was terminated. Pillaging state monopolies for personal gain ended. Tax holidays, budget subsidies and devalued state asset sales ceased. Our financial and industrial groups possess great entrepreneurial talents. They can win public trust if they show they are paying taxes and fair and legal wages and become promoters of corporate social responsibility.
Third, our battle against poverty produced results. Closing budget loopholes and policies that attacked the shadow economy allowed us to double revenues and restore basic social services for the most needy.
Fourth, barriers to investment are being reduced. Transparent privatisation tenders brought renewed trust for state asset sales – especially the $4.8bn (£2.7bn) sale of the Kryvorizhstal metal works. More businesses paid taxes than ever before. A visa-free regime for citizens from our main trading partners opened doors to visitors and investors.
Fifth, petty corruption among law enforcement, tax and customs bodies was attacked head-on. Rogue law enforcement officers were investigated and those guilty of crimes were removed from service. Thousands of local officials were brought to justice for abusing power, taking bribes and tampering with election results.
Finally, after years of isolation, Ukraine re-emerged as a democratic regional player and a constructive international partner. Our plan to settle the Transdniester conflict was supported in Europe, Russia and the US. Trust among strategic allies was restored. Progress was made on international recognition of our market economy, which will clear our eventual membership of global trading bodies.
Today, these macroeconomic and structural accomplishments are taken for granted. After six consecutive years of economic growth, citizens are demanding deeper private sector reforms, more transparent market rules, with fair and speedy legal adjudication of disputes. These issues form the core of future economic success.
At the height of the Orange Revolution, agreement was reached to shift the balance of some constitutional powers from the presidency to parliament from January 1 2006. A new era of parliamentary democracy will be ushered in, bringing to a final close our post-Soviet period.
In March, voters will once again cast ballots for a new parliament. The winning parties will form a workable coalition government. I will ensure that the elections are a free and fair expression of our people’s will. No abuse of public office or misuse of public financing will be tolerated during the campaign or during vote counting. International election observers are welcome.
I am convinced that Ukraine’s voters will again support those parties and platforms that extend the tide of personal liberty and economic freedom, just as they did a year ago. The Orange Revolution proved that individual yearnings for freedom are universal and that abuse of public trust can be overcome anywhere.
By Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine.
Financial Times, London, UK
Thu, December 22 2005