"Razom nas bahato! Nas ne podolaty!" The rhythmic chant spread through the crowd of hundreds of thousands that filled Kiev's Independence Square on the evening of November 22. "Together, we are many! We cannot be defeated!" Emerging from a sea of orange, the mantra signaled the rise of a powerful civic movement, a skilled political opposition group, and a determined middle class that had come together to stop the ruling elite from falsifying an election and hijacking Ukraine's presidency.
Over the next 17 days, through harsh cold and sleet, millions of Ukrainians staged nationwide nonviolent protests that came to be known as the "orange revolution." The entire world watched, riveted by this outpouring of the people's will in a country whose international image had been warped by its corrupt rulers. By the time victory was announced--in the form of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko's electoral triumph--the orange revolution had set a major new landmark in the postcommunist history of eastern Europe, a seismic shift Westward in the geopolitics of the region. Ukraine's revolution was just the latest in a series of victories for "people power"--in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia in the late 1980s and, more recently, in Serbia and Georgia.
THE WINDS OF CHANGE
The spark that ignited the popular fire in Ukraine's case was election fraud. Nonpartisan exit polls during the November 21 presidential runoff election had given Yushchenko a commanding lead, with 52 percent of the votes, compared to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich's 43 percent. Yet when the official results came in, Yanukovich, the favorite of Ukraine's corrupt elite, had supposedly beaten the challenger by 2.5 percent.
This tally was immediately challenged. When the polling stations had first closed, the Central Election Commission (CEC) had reported that voter turnout in Ukraine's Russian-speaking eastern districts was consistent with the nationwide average of 78 to 80 percent. But four hours later, after a prolonged silence, the election commission radically increased the east's turnout figures. The eastern Donetsk region--Yanukovich's home base--went from a voter turnout of 78 percent to 96.2
- Full website and iPad access
- Magazine issues
- New! Books from the Foreign Affairs Anthology Series