The time machine from Bankova Street. How Victor Yushchenko changed the past

26 August 2021
The time machine from Bankova Street. How Victor Yushchenko changed the past
Home > Parliamentary Republic > The time machine from Bankova Street. How Victor Yushchenko changed the past

There are at least five facts proving that President Victor Yushchenko used a time machine.

What can we say about Viktor Yushchenko as a president? First, he was the first President of Ukraine that pointedly and consistently addressed the national memory policy: memory of the Holodomor and other victorious and tragic pages from the history of Ukraine for the first time were commemorated at a state level during his presidency. Second, he won the election when the President had no powers to micromanage the country (unlike his predecessor Leonid Kuchma).

Viktor Yushchenko, though, was not a politician that strictly adhered to the Constitution. On the contrary, sometimes Yushchenko even tried to change the past and created problems like in the movie the Butterfly Effect, and these problems haunt Ukrainian presidents to this day. For example, Yushchenko tried to unmake decisions appointing state officials. First, he dismissed Prosecutor General Sviatoslav Piskun who occupied this position since the time of Leonid Kuchma. Piskun, though, was reinstated by a court because no cause for his dismissal was provided, so Yushchenko had to dismiss him again. A much more serious situation was with the dismissal of the judges when Yushchenko rescinded the decrees appointing three judges of the Constitutional Court. They were also reinstated after several years of legal wrangle.

Not all of the President’s travels through time were failures, but day-to-day life and politics in the time of Viktor Yushchenko were hard. The only thing that saved him from a total disaster was the prosperity that the Ukrainian economy enjoyed from 2000 to 2008: the hryvnia was stable and prices on Ukrainian raw materials grew. After Ukrainian authorities announced that the country is open for foreign investors — after the reprivatization of Kryvorizhstal — international companies started to feel safe operating in Ukraine.

A disquieting thing, though, was the management style of the President. Kuchma’s approach had its flaws but it was easy to understand what he was doing: the Director of Ukraine steamrolled the governmental hierarchy and micromanaged everything. By the end of his second term in office, the concentration of power in his hands started to backfire: protests that began with a demand to investigate the disappearance and death of Heorhii Gongadze ended up in months-long and numerous actions of “Ukraine without Kuchma.”

In Yushchenko’s time, though, management was much more chaotic. Due to the changes to the Constitution of 2004, Viktor Yushchenko became an equal — or maybe even weakest — side in the Parliament-Cabinet-President triangle.

While the Orange Revolution was in progress, there was an impression that its leaders have a plan on how to clear the state machine from “Kuchmism”. After his victory, President Viktor Yushchenko entrusted Yuliia Tymoshenko to form the Cabinet. Other participants of the Orange Revolution also were appointed to positions of power. Not only within ministries, central executive bodies, and powerful state agencies, but throughout the hierarchy of the executive branch: from Pechersk Hills to remote raion state administrations.

The unity of “the revolutionary team” lasted only for seven months. On September 8, 2005, the head of Yushchenko’s secretariat Oleksandr Zinchenko gathered a press conference and claimed that the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Petro Poroshenko and President’s assistant Oleksandr Tretiakov abused their power to strengthen their influence over bank and energy sectors and interfered with the work of the media. He emphasized that this situation was a threat to the state since it could result in the usurpation of power. Poroshenko denied all charges as groundless. That same day Tymoshenko resigned and, after several weeks, Yurii Yehanurov became the Prime Minister.

In 2006, Ukraine held a parliamentary election. For the first time since independence, Ukrainians voted only for political parties — the majoritarian system was abolished. The heads of political parties got significant power to influence who will become MPs since they controlled who gets on election lists. After the first year of the “Orange team,” citizens lost faith in it because of constant quarrels between the former associates.

As a result, the biggest faction was formed by the Party of Regions. Block of Yuliia Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine lacked the numbers to gather a coalition. However, there was also a faction of socialists that were active participants of the Orange Revolution.

According to the changes to the Constitution adopted during the Maidan time, political parties forming a coalition, i.e. having 226 or more MPs and agreeing on key policy issues and key appointments, were supposed to form the Cabinet as they see fit, without directives from Bankova Street. However, Our Ukraine, backed up by the President, started to claim that their representative should be a speaker and not a representative of the socialists if the Cabinet is going to be formed by Tymoshenko. After several months of negotiations, the leader of the Socialist Party Oleksandr Moroz decided to go with the Party of Regions and the Communist Party (they agreed to give him a seat in the presidium). As a result, Viktor Yanukovych, the main opponent of the “Orange team,” became the Prime Minister. After the “Universal of national unity” prepared on Bankova was signed, representatives from Our Ukraine were included in the Cabinet.

The Parliament and the Cabinet formed in such a fashion were unable to work properly, so in April of 2007 Yushchenko dissolved the Verkhovna Rada. MPs in return dissolved the Central Election Commission that was supposed to organize the early election. The political crisis ended only after MPs from Our Ukraine and Block of Yuliia Tymoshenko resigned. After the election, former partners from the “Orange team” have formed a very unstable coalition. Yuliia Tymoshenko became the Prime Minister and occupied the position until 2010.

In chaotic times, the easiest time have those who live for the day. Such were the top government officials, the majority of MPs, and ministers. They cooperated with one another, quarreled, made peace, and worked for their businesses or prepared for the next elections.

During this time of relative economic prosperity, Ukraine got its pantheon of oligarchs who remain in power to this day. The first place went to Rinat Akhmetov. His interests included mining and processing of iron ore, telephone communications, and media. He owned one of the largest daily newspapers “Segodnia” (“Today”) and the TV Channel “Ukraine”. Gradually Akhmetov and his JSC “System Capital Management” has taken over coal mines, mining and processing plants, and many thermal electric power stations. At the same time, he also bought regional power distribution companies. As a result, Akhmetov got a monopoly over the electricity market: from coal mining and refining to production and delivery of energy to households. Leaders of the Orange Revolution promised justice — in particular, just regulation of the economic and financial issues, — but have not stopped the rise of the empire of Rinat Akhmetov. In 2006, he became the number one on “The most influential people of Ukraine” list of the weekly journal Correspondent.

At the same time, Cabinets of Yushchenko’s times paid no attention to energy efficiency. Oligarchs needed cheap Russian gas to make their products competitive in foreign markets. As a result, Russia that supplied gas until 2009 via a straw company RosUkrEnergo started to blackmail Ukraine. Later, the situation became even worse. During a cold winter, supposedly to help the European consumers, Putin and Tymoshenko have signed the so-called “gas agreements”. After that, the price of natural gas for Ukraine was raised by 9 times in the course of several years. The Kremlin, on its part, threatened to sue Ukraine if it buys less gas than stipulated by the agreements.

In the same years, Ukraine felt the results of the world economic crises. The government was incapable of regulating the work of banks, so the events of the end of the 2000th were a shock for the Ukrainian economy and citizens.

Such were the results of how the state was managed in the time of Yushchenko: the President distanced himself from making decisions while his entourage in his name or in their interests shuffled the system of governance like cards. Quarrels, finger-pointing, failure to fulfill obligations — all these were usual practices on Pechersk Hills in the time of Yushchenko. People understood this perfectly: after five years as the President, he got less than 6% of the votes. Disillusioned by the greed and irresponsibility of the “Orange team”, the majority of voters bought a motto “Viktor Yanukovych is an efficient leader that will make Ukraine work.” However, it is also important to point out that more than a million voters in the second round of the presidential election of 2010 came to polling stations just to state that they “do not support any candidate.”

This was a fatal turnaround for Ukraine and its disappointed citizens to the authoritarian past. That is also one of the important results of the presidency of Yushchenko and the work of his “dear friends.”

Specially for