Newborn Christian democrat
It is election season once again in Ukraine, and Yulia Tymoshenko, who two years ago was the Joan of Arc of the "Orange Revolution," is doing what she does best: she is fighting. Her chances in the Ukrainian parliamentary elections are good.
The fact that her voice has become raw over the past few days only enhances its impact. It is election season once again in Ukraine, and Yulia Tymoshenko, who two years ago was the Joan of Arc of the "Orange Revolution," is doing what she does best: she is fighting.
Under her gold-blonde wreath of hair, half crown, half halo, her ivory white, fitted dress shines against the steel gray of the housing complexes.
Nobody can understand how someone can look so immaculate after an eighteen-hour day on the campaign trail. But this is Yulia Tymoshenko: part blushing bride of the fatherland, part queenly Morgan le Fay.
Bila Tserkva is typical post-Soviet industrial town, nothing more than a big factory on the steppe surrounded by a couple of dilapidated apartment buildings.
The Fighter attracted five thousand people to the marketplace here: young activists are there in their white campaign t-shirts with a red heart on the breast, workers from the tire factory in worn-out caps, sturdy women in scarves adorned with flowers.
For "Yulia," they are willing to stand for two hours in the rain. The fact that the heroine on the stage is audibly torturing herself with her sore threat enriches the scene by providing a hint of her true suffering for justice.
This woman wants to make it to the top. In 2005, after the "Orange Revolution" swept the Moscow-backed clan of President Kuchma from office after a clumsily-falsified election, she was well on her way. Her partner in the revolution, current President Victor Yushchenko, made her Prime Minister.
For over half a year she fought a turbulent struggle against the industrial barons of the old regime. Because she earned the wrath of economic experts in this battle, with her mandated price controls and threats of expropriation, and perhaps also because she dealt all too frivolously with some of Yushchenko`s rich patrons, she was dismissed in September 2005 following a dramatic struggle with the president.
The revolutionary alliance shattered. Yushchenko looked to the former team, and today a foster-child of the steel barons is sitting in the Prime Minister`s palace: Viktor Yanukovych of the Russian-influenced East.
The president`s efforts to work with the old clans threw the country into an unbroken cycle of crises - to the point where Yushchenko saw no other choice but to dissolve parliament in a constitutionally-disputed attack and call for new elections.
Yulia Tymoshenko now senses her second chance. "We are the only force in Ukraine that has not broken its promises," she says in an interview with this newspaper. "My government was the first and the last that tried to roll back corruption and the shadow economy." Her chances are not bad. The "orange camp" is back together.
There is a clear coalition alliance between the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT) and Yushchenko`s party, "Our Ukraine - People`s Self-Defense Bloc" (OU-PSD).
Moreover, the president has disassociated himself from his old financier, the opaque chocolate manufacturer Petro Poroshenko, with whom Julia Tymoshenko was in conflict.
Arrangements have already been made that, in the event of a victory, the stronger of the two "orange" parties should choose the Prime Minister. In the current state of affairs, that choice can only be "Yulia."
Yushchenko has lost significant face through his failed pact with the election-counterfeiting party of Yanukovych and, in current polls, is only placing between ten and 15 percent. Tymoshenko`s BYuT, on the other hand, appears to be a solid 10 percentage points stronger.
Together they have a good chance to outdo Yanukovych`s "Party of Regions," which, because of its support in the Russian-influenced East, stands at 30 to 35 percent, as long as no minor parties leap across the three-percent threshold and confuse the calculations.
For her comeback, Yulia Tymoshenko has resolved to avoid old mistakes. As Prime Minister, she earned a reputation for harming the economy in her battle against the old clans.
Her campaign for renationalization scared honest investors along with deceitful private firms, and when she sensed Moscow`s manipulation behind a sudden increase in gasoline prices, she reacted by decreeing price controls until the market collapsed and the lines at gas stations reached Soviet-era lengths.
In order to cast off her reputation for amateurish interventionism, Yulia Tymoshenko decreed a breathtaking transformation to her party. Within a few months, it left behind its previous "social-democratic" profile and now propagates a political program of the middle-right.
With the help of the "European Business Association," one of the business alliances supported by the EU Commission, the American Chamber of Commerce and the Rand Corporation, she tailored a political platform in the style of the European Christian Democrats.
When Edmund Stoiber visited recently and talked about "laptops and lederhosen," she listened attentively, and European parliamentarian Elmar Brok (CDU) gave her a CD entitled "Women Rule the World."
Finally, her party applied, with good chances for success, for observer status in the "European People`s Party," which also includes members of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Socialist Union.
Apart from this swing to the middle-right, the most noticeable reform in Tymoshenko`s campaign is the opening of her previously radical "Western" party to the Russian-dominated eastern regions of Ukraine.
Her strategists assume that, even in Yanukovych`s eastern strongholds, there is enough frustration over the continuous "government corruption" that many are beginning to feel a Soviet-type nostalgia to search for greener pastures.
So as not to scare these voters, Yulia Tymoshenko has strictly restrained herself regarding those points to which the East is most sensitive - for example, accession to NATO, which many in the "Western" camp truly want, but which many in the East would perceive as treason against their Russian brothers.
"Presently," she says, this step should be "neither the first item on Ukraine`s agenda, nor the second, nor even the fifth." National unity is more important than membership in any club.
When those in the Russian-speaking East speak of their longing for a return to "morals" and "effectiveness," which was always a promise of Soviet-era propaganda, Yulia Tymoshenko plows forward, making it clear that, despite its ties to Moscow, Yanukovych`s party has no such Soviet virtues, but instead is a breeding ground for corruption.
"They are demanding that we make Russian an official language, but they would also demand the same for Mongolian if it would keep their party coffers full."
Evening has come to Bila Tserkva. Amidst the tattered wallpaper of the local television studio, Yulia Tymoshenko has endured an interview that ran long, where she further strained her throat by giggling now and then, adding just a touch of flirtatiousness to her multi-faceted visage.
She managed not to allow a visit the rather revolting restrooms darken her mood; now she is stepping out into the rain. A collective scream breaks out from the waiting crowds standing in front of the transmission tower.
Fathers of families, children and grandmothers rush forth to grab her hand. Her bodyguards, colossuses in snow-white with hearts on their breasts, close ranks. One more autograph, one more kiss on a child`s cheek, then the door to the limousine closes. The motor roars and the taillights fade. Morgan le Fey disappears into the night.
By Konrad Schuller, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ)
Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday, September 23, 2007 (In German)
Action Ukraine Report (AUR) #872, Article 8
Washington, D.C., Thursday, September 27, 2007 (In English)