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Back in November 2004, a regime-controlled media had claimed the victory for Viktor Yanukovych who had been handpicked by a corrupt president at the time. Even though exit polls indicated Viktor Yushchenko as the winner of the election, it was clear to the public that election fraud had been committed. This was just the beginning of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine that placed the country’s political future on the line. More so, most experts would agree that the 2004 presidential elections were ‘the dirtiest elections held since Ukraine’s proclaimed independence in 1991’. Even though the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) declared Yanukovych as the winner, Yushchenko opposed this and called on his supporters to meet at the Maidan. The corrupt regime feared a crowd baying for blood but instead it became a peaceful protest with ‘people from diverse backgrounds who had risked their safety to defend simple ideals of decency and fairness that were readily understood throughout the world.’ Successfully overturning the rigged election, the CEC eventually called for another election to be held which resulted in Yushchenko being the clear winner and being sworn in as President in early 2005.
This case study will analyze the Orange Revolution in Ukraine through the theoretical framework of revolution theory. Therefore, it will focus on the aftermath of the revolution itself and how this coincides with academic literature based on revolution theory. By utilizing revolution theory as a framework for the analysis, I will be able to fully comprehend the post-revolutionary state of Ukraine by also examining the main principles of revolutions as proposed by academic scholars such as Sidney Tarrow. Comparing the case study to the main notions of revolutions, it will allow me to establish a pattern of revolutionary similarities whilst also looking into what differentiates them from one another. Furthermore, to examine and understand what the Orange Revolution was about, it would be important to define what a revolution is. According to Charles Tilly, the definition of a revolution is ‘a forcible transfer of power over a state, in the course of which at least two distinct blocks of contenders make incompatible claims to control the state and some significant portion of the population, subject to the state jurisdiction, acquiesces to the claims of each block’. In other words, a radical change requires overthrowing an old regime by replacing it with a new one. This would normally entail a conflict between two competing forces within a country.
When looking at revolution theory, it is important to look at how it originally relates to the Aristotelian notion of a cultural basic value system being tenuous resulting in a society being vulnerable to a revolution. Any radical amendment in basic values or beliefs within a community provides the ground for revolutionary upheaval. Besides, Anievas argues how revolutions have been vital to the structure and dynamics of international relations and ‘begin to understand the interconnections between revolutions and international relations as organically emerging from a unified process of world-historical development’. Furthermore, Tarrow identified four stages in which make a social movement such as the Orange Revolution successful. The first dimension is having a political opportunity structure which in this case would be the corruption and electoral fraud committed by both Kuchma and Yanukovych. The second dimension focuses more on how to adapt to different political opportunities by using ‘repertoires of contention as a strategy and tactic to produce political change. The third and fourth dimensions focus more on mobilizing structures and framing. Mobilizing structures consist of institutions or organizations that give the movement a platform to bring about political change and framing entails looking at how the movement communicates its goals to the wider population. Even though the social movement theory is not sufficient enough to explain the post-revolutionary situation in Ukraine, it highlights the conditions that lead up to the moment of political change within the country. It also fits well with the main tenets of revolutions which, as Tilly stated, is ‘a forcible transfer of power over the state…’ which is what has been accomplished here.
Concerning this, Michael Kimmel focuses more on the aspect of whether the revolution itself produces a society with more equality, justice, or freedom than the previous regime. In this case, it would be fair to say that Yushchenko managed to achieve this by gathering the public at the Maidan and conducting a peaceful protest that resulted in another election being held due to voter fraud. To a greater extent, the main aim of the revolution was to contest the original results declared and this was easily achieved through Yushchenko and his fellow supporters being united and determined to get the CEC to declare another election. Even though ‘one cannot measure either the cognitive state of mind of large masses of individuals…’ the paradigm shared amongst the general population was a demand for a no longer corrupt Ukraine via Yushchenko becoming the new President. Although there is no set rules or path a revolution will follow as each is different and has its own goals, it is evident that many revolutions relating to an old regime being overthrown tends to use the power of the people to be heard but also pushes for action to take place for political change to occur.
Applying this theory to my case study, the four dimensions proposed by Tarrow fits relatively well with the Orange revolution. The political opportunity structure would be the electoral fraud and corruption which made the country susceptible to change. The adaptation to different political opportunities by providing ‘repertoires of contention’ to bring about political change would be the civic youth organization called ‘Black Pora’, pora meaning it’s time in Ukrainian. This movement was established in 2004 which coordinated young people to stand up against Kuchma’s corrupt regime and has since split up into two different entities. Mobilizing structures and framing would be the aspect of using media outlets to convey the message to the rest of the world that Ukraine is standing up against corruption and will no longer want the country to continue being an authoritarian-style regime. The fact that ‘popular demand and coordinated pressure from the international community pushed forward the institutional approach’ demonstrates how Yushchenko and his fellow supporters were successful in gaining support from the international community by upholding the Orange Revolution and also shows the rest of the world that what the people want is what matters more than greedy power-hungry people. ‘We are free. The old era is over. We are a new country now.’ also highlights the successful outcome of the revolution. This also points to an exclusivist approach due to how the focus is more on the end result of the revolution which in this case was getting the CEC to hold another election to prevent voter fraud and corruption from occurring.
Focusing more on the aftermath of the revolution, it was evident that Yushchenko was dealing with Kuchma’s years of criminal activities, his sequence of illegal political intimidation, and also focusing on media reform because of how there was too much propagandist programming in the old regime. Yushchenko also had to deal with Putin’s Russia even though Putin backed Yanukovych and spent money supporting his campaigns, it was important for Ukraine to remain a stable civil relationship with the Russians. The new Ukrainian government was seeking to improve relations with Europe to consolidate its democracy but also a market economy. Relating this to revolution theory, many scholars would agree that there is no actual step-by-step guide to be followed when it comes to the aftermath of revolutions due to how each revolution has its personal goals, in this case, it was overthrowing the old regime by establishing a fairer democracy ridding of corruption and heavy propaganda. It is normal for the newly appointed leader to deal with the issues of the previous regime which is what Yushchenko had to do. Additionally, Goldstone even argues how ‘revolutions have generally failed to deliver their chief promises’ but it is clear for Ukraine this was not the case. Their ultimate goal was achieved and Ukraine is no longer being led by a corrupt power-hungry leader.
To conclude, the key principles of revolution theory have been established particularly through the social movement theory proposed by Tarrow but also the aftermath of the Orange Revolution itself and how no aftermath after a revolution will be the same. After evaluating these four dimensions, we can begin to understand the successful overthrowing of the old corrupt regime with a more democratic non-corrupt leader. Although additional research is required to fully comprehend similar patterns in the aftermath of revolutions, each has its own goal and for Ukraine, it birthed a new regime of equality and fairness for the nation. Thus, this case study has been able to demonstrate how the Orange Revolution integrates the main principles of revolution theory effectively despite
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