Friday, May 20, 2005

WHAT WE DIDN’T HEAR ABOUT THE ORANGE REVOLUTION

"Many independent monitors have stated that it has almost definitely been rigged", I wrote about the elections in Ukraine back in November last year. But - rigged by whom, how, and to what extent?

Today I happened to read an article by Johannes Wahlström about the same topic. After a few paragraphs, I even stopped noticing the frequent mistypings and, not least, comma mistakes, because the things he was writing about were quite interesting.

Basically, Wahlström argued that the Orange Revolution had been orchestrated by organisations backed by the USA, mainly those sorting under National Endowment for Democracy (NED), such as Renaissance Foundation, National Democratic Institute and their likes. NED has been financing numerous more or less successful attempts at shifting to more US-friendly regimes all over the world, among which can be mentioned Albania (1996), Serbia (2000), Venezuela (2002) and Georgia (2003).

Before you start shouting "conspiracy theorist!", read, for instance, what Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the highest ranking advisers of the US president, wrote already 1997 in his The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives. There, Brzezinski argued that Ukraine is geopolitically central when it comes to transforming Russia. "If Moscow regains control over Ukraine with its population of 52 millions, important resources and access to the Black Sea, Russia will automatically regain the power to become a great empire stretching across Europe and Asia. The states that require the strongest geopolitical support from America are Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan [hint, hint] and Ukraine, all three of them squares of vital importance."

In his article, Wahlström describes the US 'chess strategy' for Ukraine step by step. The Ukrainian people on the barricades where but pawns in this game.

1st move: E2 to E4, A classical opening - Reject the result of the election!
The largest part (80%) of the accusations of electoral rigging came from the Committee of Ukrainian Voters. This committee was formed, and financed since 1994, by the National Democratic Institute. Wahlström has visited its chairman Alexander Chernenko, who does nothing to hide his and the organisation's sympathies. His office is filled with electoral material, posters and brochures for Yuschenko, and he says that those who voted for Yanukovych were mainly Russian, of low education, stupid and fooled. Considering the electoral results in Eastern Ukraine, this description should apply to 90% of the voters in the region.
The organisation's report describes how the sympathisers of Yanukovych systematically rigged the elections, physically abused observers and burned ballots. In Western Ukraine, where some constituencies reported a support of over 94% for Yuschenko, Chernenko argues that "there was no massive rigging of the elections".

2nd move: Break through the opponent’s line of defence - show an alternative result!
When the accusations of rigging had been presented, statistics showing the actual result were required. This was taken care of by the well-established sociological institute Democratic Initiatives Foundation (DIF). It was formed in 1992 by NED, and is financed by the same organisation and its suborgans.
Together with four other sociological institutes DIF had conducted three large electoral investigations, but they had soon encountered problems. Two of their partner organisations claimed in a press conference that the donors were making political pressure, wanting the investigations to show that Yuschenko had won. Il'ko Kucheriv, director of the DIF, saw this as nothing but a political move from the Yanukovych-friendly directors of the two institutes. When the results of their investigations eventually turned out to be in favour of Yanukovych, he decided to exclude these institutes and carry it through with just the two remaining ones - both Yuschenko-friendly. The director of one of them, Razumkov Centre, was at the same time director of Yuschenko's electoral staff, and is nowadays minister of defence.

Third move: Check! - Pawn threatens king - the agitated masses.
Already three hours after the closing of the polling stations, a stage had been built on the central square of Kiev. Here, the spontaneous popular uprising was acted out.
Iryna Chupryna, the coordinator of Pora ("it’s time") explains that "in three hours, we had understood that the elections had been rigged". But she says that they had actually been making preparations for two years. Besides, the stage was not theirs, but was supplied by Yuschenko. The Guardian has estimated that the costs for the concerts, the free food, drink, tents and LCD screens should be over ten million Euros. But Pora has no financial means of its own, and it has never existed as an organisation standing alone.
In the days of revolution, Pora was actually the assumed name of the organisation Freedom of Choice. Freedom of Choice was formed in 1999, and is financed by organisations sorting under NED. Part of the financing also comes fro the US embassy.

4th move: Put the bishop out of action - seize power over the media!
As 2.5 million people were demonstrating at the same time in Donetsk against what they saw as Yuschenko's attempt at a coup, it was important that the Orange Revolution get the media on their side.
The strike that spread from the journalists in the private TV Channel 5 to half of all the journalists employed by the state, was an important part of the revolution. Wahlström has spoken with Sergei Guzh, chairman of the Ukrainian Journalists' Association, that played an important part in the strike. According to Guzh, discontent was widespread among the journalists, but the initiative for the strike came from Yuschenko's supporters and PR agents.
Guzh used to be one of the most active fighters against censorship, but lately he is less optimistic. In terms of censorship, nothing has changed with the Orange Revolution. Guzh tells of how the association recently received a letter from the vice-prime minister Nikolai Tamenko, asking them to stop writing about governmental corruption. It happened in the wake of a scandal where the minister of justice had embezzled hundreds of millions through his oil company. The worst thing, says Guzh, is that the journalists really have stopped writing about it.
While these kinds of things are going on, Yuschenko has been able to maintain an impeccable democratic image in the European media. If anyone has written critical reports, they have nonetheless for the most part been stopped by their own Western editors.

5th move: Checkmate - the hidden agenda!
With its strong image of success, democracy and music, Yuschenko's government has basically been given a free hand to carry on the same kind of corrupt rule as the previous government, without scrutiny or complaints from the West.
Wahlström mentions the wide-scale reprivatisation, where 3.000 companies belonging to the former circle of power will be nationalized, because they were bought for a too low price when the Communist monopoly fell. (Of course, this does not apply to the companies owned by the current government, such as the gas empire of prime minister Timoshenko.) The nationalized companies will then be privatised again, and it's not hard to guess who is most likely to get the best deals, and whose supporters are most likely to achieve a total dominance on the Ukrainian market.
Wahlström's article ends with even bigger plans exposed. At the office of Freedom of Choice/Pora, planning is in full action to start an international organisation - International Democracy Institute. Its aim is to pull through shifts of regimes in other parts of the former Soviet Union, using Ukraine as an example. They have already formed sister organisations in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Moldavia, Belarus and - not least - Russia. The financing is already secured: the US congress has already agreed on a quarter of a billion dollars for democracy building in the former Soviet Union.

Politics have always been a pretty dirty game, and always will be, so it isn't very surprising when someone suggests that Yuschenko's government is just as corrupt as the previous one, though it's certainly depressing that people buy their propaganda of democracy and righteousness.

However, the activities of the organisations backed by NED are quite fascinating. What role do/will they play in the current proceedings in Uzbekistan? What role will they play in other parts of the former Soviet Union? How will the region transform?

I want to find out more about this.

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"Spelet om Ukraina" by Johannes Wahlström was published in Ordfront magasin 5/2005. Bad transcriptions of places, organisations and names, if they should have occurred, are mostly his.