Ukraine is wracked by the biggest protests seen since communism's collapse over a decade ago. Julia Tymoshenko, a former deputy prime minister turned dissident, explains why.
A poisoned public atmosphere threatens everyone who lives in Ukraine. Corruption and incompetence have forged a state in which tens of millions of lives lay broken and hopeless; where vast swathes of the economy are in ruin; where internal and external debts multiply into many billions of dollars; and where an inept army of corrupt bureaucrats presides over a government that cannot meet the most elementary needs of Ukraine's people.
President Leonid Kuchma's regime tries to lull both Ukrainians and the outside world about this dark state of affairs. It parrots soothing words about democratic principles, about the need for "social stability," and about signs of long-term economic growth that it alone sees. But everything Kuchma's cabal says mocks the truth. For as Kuchma's government mouths its platitudes, its cronies loot the national patrimony, handing it over to family and friends while they desecrate, plunder and sell the nation's independence to the highest bidder.
Why should people outside of Ukraine care? Ukraine's fate matters because the country plays an important role in how the countries of the former Soviet Union are perceived. A strong, prosperous Ukraine would make the whole region east of the Elbe look different. A weak, poor Ukraine will always be in danger of whetting the appetites of Russia's unvanquished nationalists, thus undermining President Putin's efforts to make Russia a normal European country. It will also incite fears of chaos in our neighbors.