Ukraine’s Watershed Election

Ukraine’s politics are not those of the steppe. Our voters cannot stroll in one direction during one poll, and in the opposite direction the next time they vote, without worrying about falling over the edge. Ukrainians are people of the watershed: we live on either one side or the other of a great divide.

A year ago, Ukrainians dared to risk the unfamiliar territory over the hill, and found democracy and the promise of a more open and honest economy. But democracy is messy; with some of our Orange Revolution’s promises postponed or disavowed by President Viktor Yushchenko, there is a chance that on March 26, when Ukrainians vote for a new parliament, they may in their disappointment choose to return to the realm of corrupt and autocratic rule.

The alternatives – for my country, for Russia, and for Europe – are clear. Of the three leading electoral coalitions that are challenging each other, the forces that supported the Orange Revolution seek a modern and democratic future for our country. The other bloc offers the near-certainty of a return to a surly and squalid isolation ­ -- perhaps the beginning of the end of our hard-won independence.

Of course, our Orange forces are not perfect, and Viktor Yanukovych – who again opposes Ukraine’s democrats – is not Stalin reincarnated. But the records of both alternatives suggest that Ukraine under those who backed the Orange Revolution will remain a member of the club of democracies and open economies, whereas under Yanukovich, Ukraine would turn its back on reform, and may re-embrace the grimmest aspects of our Soviet past.