Chrystia Freeland: Ukrainian election marks end of one struggle, new phase of another
The clear outcome of Sunday’s presidential election was a validation of Ukraine’s so-called “dignity revolution,” but many challenges remain for the country’s new president.
By: Chrystia Freeland Published on Mon May 26 2014
Sunday’s election was the last day of the maidan, the remarkable, self-organized, unanticipated popular uprising that overthrew Viktor Yanukovych’s kleptocracy in Ukraine. To Ukrainians, the meaning and purpose of the maidan was clear from the start: this was a struggle, built from the grassroots and rising up, for democracy and the rule of law. It was, as Ukrainians described it, their “dignity revolution.”
But outside Ukraine, the significance of the maidan and its goals were more ambivalently interpreted. The Kremlin, which fears Ukraine’s revolt against kleptocracy could spread north, tried to brand Ukraine’s struggle as either a fascist coup or a Yugoslav-style ethno-cultural civil war, or both.
Sunday’s vote settles this argument for good.
We see this in the strong and festively patriotic turnout. Even in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk, where I spent much of election day, people came to the polls in embroidered shirts, blue and yellow dresses and with blue and yellow nail polish. At some polls, voters sang the national anthem after casting their ballot or came to vote wearing blue-and-yellow flags draped over their shoulders as capes. And, among Ukraine’s digitally savvy hipsters, who started the maidan uprising back in November, an Internet meme has been spreading of cats wearing embroidered shirts and flowered wreaths. Time, surely, for a Buzzfeed feline listicle!
We see this in the strategic voting. For the first time since independence, Ukraine elected a president on the first ballot. It was a high hurdle: to win outright, a candidate needed to attract more than 50 per cent of the vote, a challenge in a field of 17 candidates.