In her latest attention-getting gambit, former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko expresses her “joy and admiration” at the rioting in Egypt and Tunisia. Kicking off what is likely meant to be a scathing indictment of the Ukrainian government, “The Revolution Betrayed” reminds readers that Ms. Tymoshenko is someone who has led a peaceful revolution. She appears unaware that the Egyptian protests have resulted in people trampled to death, wounded and vehicles burned; while the carnage is limited for the scale of numbers involved, it is not a “peaceful revolution”, and would likely have involved much higher casualties had not the riot police withdrawn rather than have to escalate to live fire.
That’s likely irrelevant if your purpose is to capitalize on protest elsewhere in the world in an effort to inspire Ukrainians to overthrow their government.
The trick to writing a political editorial is to inflame readers’ passions without ever actually taking a position you might be held to later, or directly accusing anyone when it might come back to bite you. Still, even in this exercise in full-contact avoidance, there are a few gems. The first is Ms. Tymoshenko’s contention that “elections do not a democracy make”. Well, yes, Yulia; actually, they do. You might not get the democracy you wanted, but free and fair elections do in fact constitute the definition of a democracy as we know it. I get the impression from this and other statements that Ms. Tymoshenko believes it’s only a democracy if the winner is the one you wanted. That’s not really as funny as it sounds, because an astonishing number of people who ought to know better also appear to believe it. You can tell who they are by the shrieking that the winner cheated, which follows elections both free and less so as reliably as mud follows heavy rain. Being part of a free democracy means those who lost the election are under no obligation to straighten up and fall in line with your plans; instead, they’re free to undermine your position and authority with every device at their command short of treason. Isn’t that what you’re doing with this article?
Ms. Tymoshenko accuses Mr. Yanukovich of hijacking the election in 2004 that ultimately brought Viktor Yushchenko to power (after a re-do which resulted in the candidate she thought should have won indeed winning, which perhaps validated her understanding of democracy), although he defeated Yanukovich by only 8% in the second vote. Yanukovich’s win in 2010 had him ahead of Tymoshenko by only 3%, but she implies he stole that election as well. Sorry, Yulia – international observers gave the 2010 election a clean bill of health. The people of Ukraine were not prepared to simply keep holding runoffs until you won. Even the Ukrainian press agreed the election was fair, which is curious given slightly more than half of Ukrainians voted Yanukovich should lead the country, while that was unacceptable in 2004. So the vote everyone agrees was fair varied from the one Orange Revolutionaries screamed was a fraud by only 5%. You’d think a rigged vote would be a little more one-sided.
Regardless, even those who supported the Orange Revolution agree the political regime which followed it was a disaster for Ukraine. Yulia Tymoshenko owns a big part of that disillusionment, although it might not be a surprise to those who thought a government led by a banker and an energy oligarch – who could not agree between themselves who was actually in charge – was dysfunctional from its outset. In the 2010 election, even some of Ms. Tymoshenko’s supporters agreed she had “failed to show any real achievements on the path to economic recovery” during her time as Prime Minister, and that which candidate was pro-western and which was pro-Russian had meant little to Ukrainians “exhausted after all the political uncertainty” and focused on who would be more likely to rebuild the cratered economy.
Well, since we’re here, let’s take a look at Ms. Tymoshenko’s editorial, and how the reality of her life fits her words.
Let’s start with yesterday, when she blasted the Yanukovich government for sending 60 Ukrainian peacekeepers to Ivory Coast. It’s worth noting here that this is a U.N. operation, and in response to a request from the United Nations Security Council. Still, Ms. Tymoshenko flings herself into an ecstasy of righteous fury, calling out the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada for approving Yanukovich’s initiative. These deputies, we hear, “…most of whose families live outside Ukraine, including on yachts, in the Canary Islands, in Europe, are now with one click sending our children to someone else’s war…the president, who himself under certain circumstances did not serve in the Army, whose sons have not served in the military, who does not know the grief of mothers who lose their children in someone else’s war…”
Ms. Tymoshenko does not know the grief of losing a child in someone else’s war, either; has never served in the military, and has had family living outside Ukraine – her daughter, Eugenia, lived in London while she acquired her education there, married a rock musician from Leeds and is in no danger of ever serving in the Ukrainian Army. But let’s skip that – where families of Verkhovna Rada deputies live is irrelevant to a commitment of peacekeepers to U.N. operations. The whole point of that rant was to get it out front that Yanukovich never served in the military, but is in charge of sending others, and to make it appear that’s some kind of disgrace. No, it’s the insinuation that political figures are fat cats whose lucky families occupy their days lolling around on yachts and nibbling at the travel opportunities Daddy’s money provides. That bothers me a little, not least because one of Ms. Tymoshenko’s most ardent backers is Verkhovna Rada deputy and member of Tymoshenko bloc Kostyantin Zhevago; at 36, he was the youngest billionaire in Ukraine, and by some accounts the youngest billionaire in Europe. In 2010 he missed every one of the 51 Verkhovna Rada meetings.
Were she not among them, Ms. Tymoshenko would have a point about the rich in Ukraine; the capital controlled by the top 50 wealthy Ukrainians would finance the state budget for two years, and comprises 85% of Ukraine’s annual GDP. Thus, although the USA is an energetic cheerleader for NATO membership for Ukraine, the EU is less so. That’s not because they don’t like Ukrainians, who are among the friendliest and most hardworking people in the world. It’s because Europe needs a large, poor neighbour like it needs a chocolate teapot. And make no mistake – Ukraine’s finances are a mess. The economy imploded on Yushchenko’s and Tymoshenko’s watch. You could argue the whole world’s economy walked off the edge of a cliff in 2008, and you’d be right. But I suspect if Yanukovich had been at the helm, he would have gotten little charity from Tymoshenko. Just as the abrupt change from negative to positive in real GDP growth year-over-year as soon as Yanukovich took over, as well as the positive effect of real income growth, could be spun as just something that was going to happen anyway. Yanukovich just happened to be the lucky guy in charge when things started to go from bad to better – you can make statistics say anything you want. But it’d be hard to make a case that Ms. Tymoshenko’s education in economics served Ukraine in any meaningful or constructive way. In fact, in a report prepared for the U.K.’s Conflict Studies Research Centre, James Sherr argued that Ms. Tymoshenko’s 2005 increase in public-sector salaries by more than 56% “flew in the face of economic reality”. Mr Sherr also suggested Ms. Tymoshenko “is not averse to confrontation, and seems determined to exercise authority without limit”. If you were wondering what a Tymoshenko presidency might look like, Ukraine, there’s a preview that ought to scare you sober.
All right – she’s a hypocrite about wealth and power, and a shameless co-opter of popular movements for personal chest-thumping. But you can’t say Ms. Tymoshenko isn’t a tigress where it comes to Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence from the grasping talons of its greedy neighbour, Russia.
Actually, you can. Before entering cabinet for the first time, and despite energetic opposition to the use of the Russian language since, Ms. Tymoshenko spoke Russian, and did not know Ukrainian. There are suggestions that her mother’s family name, Telgina, is probably Russian. One of the most controversial decisions made by the Ukrainian government, the extension of Russia’s lease to base its warships in the Crimea at Sevastopol – one which Ms. Tymoshenko railed against, calling Mr. Yanukovich “Moscow’s puppet” and angrily accusing him of selling out Ukraine’s national interests – turns out to have been Ms. Tymoshenko’s suggestion in the first place, according to Ukrainskye Radio. The two apparently could not come to an agreement on financial details. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov reported the 2010 conversation between Mr. Putin and Ms. Tymoshenko was recorded, and that he intended to ask Mr. Putin to make the recordings public.
In the days leading up to the delirium and hope-on-steroids of the Orange revolution, Ms. Tymoshenko acquired a worldwide reputation for “fiery rhetoric”. The trouble with rhetoric is that it doesn’t need anything to back it up – and often doesn’t have it. “The Revolution Betrayed” is just more empty – but fiery – rhetoric.