Book Review of “Ukraine’s Orange Revolution” by Andrew Wilson
Andrew Wilson is a distinguished senior lecturer of Ukrainian studies in the University of London. With his plethora of knowledge regarding the subject, and strong grasp of the events that surrounded one of the most heard about revolutions in Eastern Europe, the author presents a very comprehensive, yet easily comprehended narrative of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
The work begins with a description of the night of the presidential election on November 21, 2004. The central actors in the drama are the main political figures involved during the election of 2004. Former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, enjoying support from Yulia Tymoshenko, challenged the then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who was known to be backed by Russian influence. Links to the more criminal elements of post-Soviet Ukrainian society that were a part of both sides but significantly supported the Russian backed candidate, are expressed in collection with narratives about the massive, proven fraud that handed the election to Yanukovych. Yet shortly after that, the Orange Revolution went underway as the capital city of Kiev was shook with huge demonstrations and commotion. Most of these happened with Western help and had an element of pre-planning in them. This was followed by a subsequent round of fresh voting in December in which Victor Yushchenko emerged victorious.
The events of 2004 require a significant amount of background knowledge to be taken in context and analyzed as to the extent of their importance. The author provides these backgrounds with detailed biographies of all the principal actors in the events, as well as brief mentions of their major advisors and aides. The economic, social, and personal connections between each major candidate, their advisors, and their adversaries are presented in much detail. This is accompanied by transcripts of talks and conversations that were released to the public to give a view of the reprehensible plans the sides had for each other. Following that, the narrative returns to the present with an update of the situation in Ukraine following 2005, and of the implications for Ukraine’s relations with its immediate neighbors as well as the EU and the USA. As Wilson illustrates, Ukraine’s authoritarian, or emerging democratic regime neighbors are predominantly pessimistic of the reforms brought along with the revolution, with some hoping for success but most preferring these remain constrained to Ukraine.
The work is very blunt in terms of assessing the perspective of the current events in Ukraine and the broader circumstances in which they arose. Most of this is blunt and candid yet fits in perfectly. This level of openness is particularly evident in his analysis of the revolution’s short-term results. These he specifies as not being able to bring a social revolution in the classic regime transformation sense but notes that some significant changes are clearly noticeable. There exists in post-2004 Ukraine a fundamental expectation of change. There is also a desire for change that seems to go beyond simply electing a new president and prime minister with Yushchenko’s victory. Kiev is now seen as the epicenter for change, whereas it was considered the change averse center of old Ukraine. Furthermore, citizens are demanding solutions other than pseudo-democratic regimes as it Belarus; and the revolution seems to have heralded in was in many ways kindled and nurtured by the internet and alternative media (199-203).
Wilson’s mastery of the intricacies of Ukrainian politics and knowledge of the language and cultural geography of the Ukraine is apparent in every passage of the book. The work is also rich with anecdotes and explanations that give the narrative additional depth and makes it a good read. That Wilson was himself present to witness the events of the revolution in 2004 as well as having been present when Ukraine first declared independence from the Russian Federation in 1991 lends his work an additional authoritative dimension. The resources presented here are especially useful, given that most actors in this drama are unfamiliar to all but well-initiated scholars in the field of Ukrainian politics. Illustrations in the book include campaign posters and the secret written agreement between the opposition rivals Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to cooperate against establishment parties backed by Russia. Wilson also provides translations and explanations of many of the witty slogans, flyers, and Internet sites used to mobilize the opposition and establishment forces during the course of the Orange Revolution.
In short, this is an outstanding analysis of the Orange Revolution and a wonderful presentation and sound critical scrutiny of its many underlying facts. Wilson minimizes his theorizing about the Orange Revolution and he does not really try to decide whether it qualifies as a revolution or not, as he sensibly considers it too early to do so. It is also an exciting read. This volume positions Wilson as one of the leading analysts of Ukrainian domestic politics. It surely provides an insight into this relatively recent event that other works will have a hard time copying.
WILSON, Andrew. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Yale University Press, 2005.