Courtesy Reuters

Thermidor in Ukraine?

On the 9th day of the month of Thermidor, five years after the storming of the Bastille, the French Revolution's radicals were ousted by more moderate forces. Nonviolent civic revolutions have had their own Thermidors as well, and this pattern is what some have identified in last month's dismissal of the Ukrainian government by President Viktor Yushchenko, less than a year after reformers there toppled the previous regime. In fact, however, Yushchenko's actions are best understood not as a retreat from reform but rather as an effort to put the country back on the original path of last fall's Orange Revolution.

Many people lay claim to the legacy of Ukraine's nonviolent civic struggle, but there is little doubt that the Orange Revolution was about three things: democracy, transparency, and an economy based on competition. Indeed, one of the leading organized forces advocating change last winter, the Pora youth movement, consisted of thousands of young activists driven by a belief in liberal politics and free-market principles.

In keeping with this spirit, the recent government reshuffling reflected Yushchenko's frustration with a stalemate in his coalition government that had produced a rudderless economic policy, part statist, part liberal. The charismatic prime minister whom Yushchenko dismissed, Yulia Tymoshenko, claimed she was a modern, market-oriented leader but in fact had pursued a moderately populist agenda, pushing for large increases in social spending. Although her policies to increase pensions and state-sector wages by 80 percent, impose price controls on commodities, and support widespread reprivatization were popular, they contributed to a slowdown in economic growth from 13 percent in 2004 to a projected 5.5 percent in 2005.

Endless backbiting and mixed economic signals had scared off investors at home and abroad. After matters came to a head with charges and countercharges within his Orange coalition about judicial tampering in reprivatization cases and alleged inner-circle corruption, President Yushchenko chose to act. He asserted his mandate as the country's legitimately elected leader and replaced Tymoshenko with Yuri Yekhanurov, a quiet technocrat with a reputation for

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