The Orange Color of the Bourgeoisie
No. 1 2005 January/March

Kiev’s ‘orange revolution’ coincided almost to the day with the
first anniversary of the ‘revolution of roses’ in Tbilisi. The past
year was also marked by the ‘mini-revolutions’ in Georgia’s
breakaway republics of Adzharia and Abkhazia. The wave of change in
the post-Soviet space is gaining momentum and may well become for
Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States
a repetition of the ‘velvet revolutions,’ which shook Eastern
Europe in the late 1980s. Those years saw the end of an epoch which
had exhausted its historical potential; the leaders were not
susceptible to change, and even their most loyal associates chose
not to defend them. Similarly, in November 2003, the Tbilisi
police, as well as the security forces of former Georgian President
Eduard Shevardnadze, stepped aside before the crowd.

Yet, although there is a temptation to perceive the ‘orange
revolution’ in Kiev and the ‘revolution of roses’ in Tbilisi as a
continuation of the East European ‘velvet revolutions,’ in reality
they are not. Unlike Prague of 15 years ago, the post-Soviet mutiny
is not ripening amongst dissidents, intellectuals and students, nor
are the oppositional parties responsible for setting up the tents
in the central squares. Naturally, no changes are possible without
a wave of popular discontent with the government, but genuine
tectonic changes take place inside the ranks of the ruling

A change of power in conditions of free competition offers a
chance for all groups and political forces to fulfill their
ambitions. The reluctance of the ruling regime, however, to
relinquish its power, or extend its existence through a successor,
dashes these hopes. The realization that there is an absence of
prospects generates resistance, in which street support acts as a
trump card. The bureaucratic revolutions of the early 21st century
are not popular uprisings that change the social order of a
country. In a way, they are new versions of the bourgeois
revolutions of the 17th-18th centuries, as the most active part of
the ruling class feels that the frameworks of the existing
political and economic system are already too narrow for it.


The post-Soviet model of power rests on the controlled transfer
of authority; this is the essence of ‘managed democracy.’ These
kinds of systems are very stable, and the millstones of the
nomenklatura mechanisms easily crush any charismatic amateur.
Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why the post-Soviet
opposition is so unimpressive. Public oppositional activity appears
to be so hopeless for successful self-expression that those who
could theoretically become a Russian VЗclav Havel or Lech Walesa
[Czech and Polish dissidents turned presidents] prefer to engage
themselves in other spheres instead – business, science or
journalism, or to simply emigrate.

The threat to bureaucratic stability, however, lies in the
depths of the regime itself. Such regimes, even those that have
succeeded in building ‘power verticals,’ have to constantly realign
their elements to maintain an inner balance. This policy works for
some time, until the regime launches “Operation Successor,” which
becomes a critical factor. The selection of candidates to the role
of successor is a very painful process. Inside the system a new
elite is growing, which does not want to continue playing by the
old rules of the game.

Some members of the new elite (like Mikhail Saakashvili, a
formally loyal follower of Shevardnadze) simply do not have enough
patience to wait for their official nomination. Others (like Boris
Yeltsin, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, Kazakhstan’s ex-prime minister, or
Victor Yushchenko) have been cast aside by the authorities. Still
others (like Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urekyan) feel the regime’s
instability and go into opposition, while maintaining their high

The challenge sent to the authorities may be quite moderate, but
it becomes a clear signal for the nomenklatura. The stronger the
regime’s pressure and the greater the risk to give away its
intentions, the more tensely the nomenklatura waits for this
signal. The former Minister of Foreign Economic Relations of
Belarus and former ambassador to Latvia and Finland, Mikhail
Marinich, was barred from participating in the 2001 presidential
elections in his country and later arrested – but not because he
stood a chance to win. This was a clear signal to the Belarusian
elite that said: “Don’t even think about challenging us!” In
countries where disloyalty is not suppressed like this, everything
may collapse overnight, as happened in Adzharia. The outward signs
of Aslan Abashidze’s absolute rule did not save him from the panic
flight of the nomenklatura, an event which decided his fate.

In fact, the smooth transfer of power has so far only occurred
in Russia and Azerbaijan. In Central Asia and Belarus, i.e. in
countries where the construction of the ‘power vertical’ has been
completed, their leaders have guaranteed for themselves a lifelong
right to re-election. This right, however, does not guarantee their
eternal rule because the local bureaucracy, placed into such narrow
constraints, is experiencing the same inner processes that occur in
countries with freer systems.
Shevardnadze paid a high price for the inexcusably long delay in
drawing up a cast of candidates to be his successor. This might
have served as a lesson for Leonid Kuchma, but the Ukrainian
president did not have enough time to make use of it, despite the
fact that the looming succession problem had been realized in Kiev
almost three years before, when the ruling regime’s vote-rigging
powers failed to prevent the Yushchenko-led Our Ukraine coalition
from winning parliamentary elections. It became clear then that the
regime would not be able to create a serious challenge to
Yushchenko in the remaining time. Nevertheless, Kiev considered
several options. One of them was the “Russian way” – nominating
Vladimir Radchenko, the then head of Ukraine’s Security Service, as
Kuchma’s successor. Kuchma, however, rejected that option, as he
doubted the would-be successor’s loyalty.

A year before the elections, Kuchma sought out the Kremlin’s
reaction to his possible third presidency. Moscow, tired after
repeatedly explaining itself to its Western partners with regard to
another “fraternal” president (Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus),
did not agree to that variant. Thus, Ukraine began to implement a
scenario of its own: Kuchma would take the post of prime minister,
whose powers would be essentially extended, while the functions of
a new president would be reduced to representative ones.
Characteristically, the political reform, in accordance with which
this scenario was planned to be carried out, was thwarted by Victor
Yanukovich who was not interested in playing the role of an

Three years ago, studying the pre-election lists of Kuchma’s and
Yushchenko’s parties – the real and potential parties of power –
was a captivating occupation. While Kuchma’s list would include a
governor, for example, Yushchenko’s list would include a
vice-governor or ex-governor. Things were the same with ministers
and big business figures. Kuchma’s list included an oligarch who
pinned his hopes only on the incumbent authorities, while
Yushchenko’s list included a candidate for the oligarchs, whose
only obstacle to the top of big business was the ruling regime. The
new president’s closest associate, Petro Poroshenko, was,
incidentally, one of the founders of the Party of Regions which was
behind Victor Yanukovich. In other words, the new people coming to
power in Ukraine are not terribly different from those whom they
are replacing. The situation is not the same as Vaclav Havel
replacing GustЗv HusЗk in Czechoslovakia, for example, or even
Algirdas Brazauskas replacing Petras Griskevicius and Ringaudas
Songaila in Lithuania.


The extensive record of the post-Communist transformations has
shown that the desire to be free from external dependence is the
most efficient stimulus for liberal reforms, which, however, are
very painful. “Away from the empire!” was the main slogan of the
‘velvet revolutions’ in Eastern Europe.

The takeovers of power in all the republics of Transcaucasia in
the early 1990s took place under the same slogan, while the first
president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, came to power largely due to
the support of the nationalist Rukh movement. Rukh was not remotely
a liberal movement, nor were all the other people’s fronts,
including Lithuania’s Sajudis. Unlike regular parties, these
people’s fronts do not need profound programs or an intelligible
ideology. They are created with only one purpose: to defeat the
ruling regime; thereafter, they become the material for normal
political structures, as happened in Eastern Europe and the
Baltics. Occasionally, however, this process fails, as was the case
in Ukraine, Belarus or Transcaucasia, where the initial impulse of
escape proved not enough to make a breakthrough into a new

Developments in the autumn of 2004 illustrate what
transformation this anti-imperial impulse has undergone. The
Ukrainian political scientist Oles Doniy believes that the ‘orange
revolution’ is not what is generally viewed as the conclusion of
the political process which began with the student protests in
1990, and continued with the protest movement under the slogan
“Ukraine without Kuchma” in 2000-2001. Doniy believes that the
recent developments are a continuation of a very old competition
between two projects in Ukraine – “Russian” and “Ukrainian.”

The Ukrainian consciousness is traditionally divided. On the one
hand, the Ukrainians want to regain the independence they once
lost; on the other, they gravitate toward empire, in which Ukraine
was always a cornerstone and an important component (but never a
colony). Accordingly, the “Ukrainian project” was until recently
devised to spite Moscow: the Ukrainian language as a form of
self-assertion, together with the endless debates on language, the
Crimea and the Black Sea fleet. The “Russian project” was intended
to preserve Ukraine’s former orientation to Russia and thus
reflected the habits of the post-Soviet nomenklatura and the
peculiarities of its business.

At the same time, both projects are actually Ukrainian, and
their presence does not mean the country’s division, although the
problem of its political and geographical heterogeneity does exist.
These projects also have a rather distant relation to the problem
of language and self-identity which, in turn, no longer depends on
the language very much. Between the censuses of 1989 and 2001, the
number of Ukrainian citizens who consider themselves Ukrainians
increased by three million people, although the majority is still

The Yushchenko-Yanukovich confrontation in 2004 was a remake of
the 1994 confrontation between Kravchuk and Kuchma. The rivalry
between the former Ideology Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist
Party, who accidentally became an exponent of the interests of the
more nationalistic part of the elite, and a representative of the
former Soviet military-industrial complex, who inspired hopes for
the revival of a great country, ended in Kuchma’s victory (i.e. in
favor of the Russian cultural project). Kuchma’s role in that
project was very negative, as Russian influence in Ukraine began to
be strongly associated with a corrupt and undemocratic regime due
to his policy. Therefore, businesspeople and representatives of the
bureaucracy who were not needed by this regime, yet sought their
political self-determination, inevitably came to the only existing
alternative – the “Ukrainian project.”

Today, competition between the two projects continues, but their
content is changing. As the Ukrainian state is developing, the
“Ukrainian project” is gradually becoming valuable per se, while
the issue of confrontation with Moscow is receding into the
background. Those who voted for Yushchenko proper, or simply
against Yanukovich, did not necessarily vote “against Moscow.”
Similarly, the supporters of Yanukovich were not casting a vote
“for Moscow.” The “Ukrainian project” is gradually being
transformed, albeit with difficulty, into a civil state project.
The “Russian project” is not against the Ukrainian state either,
but it relies on other, more Soviet principles of state

Whereas ten years ago the “Russian project” was advanced by
Leonid Kuchma, for whom Moscow was a habitual center of governance,
Yanukovich and his business patron Rinat Akhmetov, the leader of
the Donetsk group, are guided by other motives. They owe all their
achievements exclusively to independence, or perhaps to two kinds
of independence – that of Kiev from Moscow and that of Donetsk from
Kiev; they understand perfectly well that the second kind of
independence would have been impossible without the first one.
Their business is based on subsidies from Kiev, on the monopoly
blessed by Kiev (on mutually advantageous terms, of course), and
dumping exports to the West. Such things are impossible in Russia

And even in Donetsk, where the people are believed to support
the idea of reunification with Russia, things are not quite that
simple. The majority of Donetsk residents consider themselves
Ukrainians. Some time ago, it was at the Donetsk coal mines that
Rukh and even the Helsinki Group set up their first East Ukrainian
organizations. Miners came to Kiev to express their solidarity with
student protests and even warned Kuchma against attacks on Yulia
Timoshenko, the then vice-premier in charge of the fuel/energy
sector, who decided to bring order to the coal-mining industry.

Yushchenko’s victory has sparked a color-changing process among
the bureaucracy. Businesses, sidelined by the previous regime, have
sensed an opportunity for restoring their positions. Almost every
regional leader who stood with the “white-blue” team of
Yanukovich-Akhmetov now has an “orange” opponent. Yanukovich is
opposed by the leader of the Donbass Industrial Union, Vitaly
Gaiduk, for example, while the “white-blue” chief of the Kharkov
administration, Yevgeny Kushnarev, is opposed by Kharkov Mayor
Vladimir Shumilkin, and so on. The new elite, which was formed
under the conditions of Kuchma’s Byzantine system, is gradually
discovering that a state where one need not spend energy on endless
maneuvering between clans and interests offers much more political


The “contest of projects,” like the one in Ukraine, is actually
occurring in all the CIS countries, and a preference is being given
to an ideology which until recently could be called “national,” but
which now could be described as a “civil-state” ideology. Since the
choice of alternatives is not wide, these projects objectively
gravitate toward the European model. In the early 1990s, the
nomenklatura realized what benefits that sovereignty (a “flight
from empire”) could bring; likewise, today the bureaucrats have
realized the opportunities they will have if their state
successfully develops and is recognized by the West as a

Late February will see elections in Kyrgyzstan, where the
opposition is wearing yellow and officials are rapidly growing
“yellow,” too. The outcome of the elections in that country,
however, is not evident. In Moldova, by contrast, only a miracle
can save the ruling Communists from the “yellow-orange” offensive,
led by Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urekyan. In Kazakhstan, many veteran
members of the elite are ready to support a nomenklatura riot. The
Belarusian nomenklatura is waiting for a signal, as well, and
President Alexander Lukashenko is going to encounter great
difficulties at the next presidential elections, despite the
perfect ‘power vertical’ which he has built; who will lead the
opposition is the only thing that remains unclear. Mikhail Marinich
will be released from prison only in five years, however, no one
expects the “Belarusian project” to be victorious so soon

Political scientist Dmitry Furman once wittily described the CIS
as a “community of presidents helping each other.” They could
engage in heated debates over any issue, but all their differences
– be it the Pankisi Gorge or the Black Sea Fleet – moved into the
background whenever the phantom of an “Operation Successor” began
to loom above any one of them. The breach made in this united front
by Mikhail Saakashvili is steadily widening, and one should not
blame Russian political technologists or Kremlin strategists for
this situation, as this process is absolutely objective. From a
foreign policy perspective, there is nothing dramatic about it.
After all, what Moscow sees as the ghost of future isolation may
turn out – if Moscow displays a sound approach – a stimulus for
catching a slowly departing train, especially since there are no
other stimuli in Russia for change, nor is there a “contest of
projects.” On the contrary, all possible alternatives have receded
into the background, giving way to only one project – that of a
vague revenge. Only the pickets of protesting pensioners can be
viewed as a resemblance to something “orange,” however much it may
seem like a parody. Such movements can hardly serve as a decent
political niche for equidistant products of the nomenklatura

Thus, Russia may end up being one of the last post-Soviet
countries to undergo a bourgeois revolution, and even then it will
be a managed revolution, just like the present democracy.