|Ukraine President Sworn In,
Promising to Promote Unity
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
Published: January 24, 2005
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/24/international/europe/24ukraine.html?th (must register to view original article)
KIEV, Ukraine, Jan. 23 - Viktor A. Yushchenko, his face disfigured by poison and his fate nearly undone by electoral fraud, took the oath of office as president of Ukraine on Sunday, vowing to unite a poor and deeply divided country and lead it into the mainstream of Europe.
Speaking first in Parliament and then in Kiev's central square, Mr. Yushchenko declared Ukraine's freedom and independence in thinly veiled remarks aimed at the departing president, Leonid D. Kuchma, and at Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, who openly supported Mr. Yushchenko's opponent.
"Armed only by their faith and beliefs, the people won a beautiful and peaceful victory," he told tens of thousands of Ukrainians waving flags and banners in Independence Square, the site of the demonstrations that helped usher him to office. "It is a victory of freedom over tyranny, of law over lawlessness, of future over past."
Mr. Yushchenko's inauguration punctuated an extraordinary period in Ukraine's history that included two rounds of voting last fall, followed by huge street protests and a legal challenge that ultimately overturned the declared victory of his opponent, Viktor F. Yanukovich, and led to the third round of voting on Dec. 26, in which he triumphed.
In his speeches, Mr. Yushchenko, 50, was alternately conciliatory and defiant. His, he said, was a victory for all Ukrainians, and he pledged to honor the people's right to worship in their own faith, to embrace their own politics and to speak in the language of their ancestors; the last was a reference to the divisive issue of the Russian language, which Mr. Yanukovich had promised to make equal in law to Ukrainian.
Mr. Yushchenko also vowed to fight the corruption and the shadowy economy that had become characteristic of the tumultuous decade under Mr. Kuchma, during which a few people closely allied with power accumulated vast fortunes. "We shall create a democratic power - honest, professional and patriotic," he said. "The wall that separates government from the people will be destroyed."
Mr. Yushchenko, a former central banker and prime minister under the man he ultimately replaced, became the third president of this country of 48 million people since it declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
He did so facing not only the usual challenges of a new leader, but also expectations intensified by the eruption of public discontent after efforts by Mr. Kuchma's government to install Mr. Yanukovich as his chosen successor.
"The expectations are too great," Yulia Tishchenko, of the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research in Kiev, said in an interview before the inauguration, warning that the public's jubilation over Mr. Yushchenko's victory would soon confront the harsh reality of governance. "Different segments of the population have different expectations. And he will not be able, in a short period of time, to live up to them."
The country has been strained by stark divisions of wealth, by poverty and by unemployment, which has forced millions to seek work abroad. Recent economic growth has slowed, while the federal budget has gone from a surplus to a deficit within months after a raft of campaign-related expenditures on pensions and other social benefits under Mr. Yanukovich, who until Dec. 31 was prime minister.
Mr. Yushchenko's aides and independent analysts also said that during the prolonged electoral dispute, the government continued to sell off state assets and provide long-term leases on commercial buildings in Kiev and entire enterprises in other parts of the country. "They are basically stealing stuff," said Roman M. Zvarich, a member of Mr. Yushchenko's coalition in Parliament.
Above all, Ukraine remains politically divided. In spite of Mr. Yushchenko's pleas for unity, Mr. Yanukovich did not attend the inauguration. Mr. Kuchma, who did, did not answer Mr. Yushchenko's subsequent call for all in Parliament to join him for his inaugural address on Independence Square.
Mr. Yushchenko also faces the difficulty of holding together the broad but fractious coalition that challenged the results of the first runoff. He has yet to announce his appointments for prime minister and other posts in the new cabinet, a delay that experts say has already slowed the momentum of his presidency in its infancy.
On Sunday, the acting prime minister, Mykola Y. Azarov, who took over when Mr. Yanukovich stepped aside, announced his resignation, as required by law. But in Mr. Yushchenko's first act as president, he asked Mr. Azarov and the current government to continue working until he chose a new government.
"The choice was always between a consolidation of democracy or a consolidation of authoritarianism," Hryhoriy M. Nemyria, director of the European Center for International Studies in Kiev, said in an interview. "The choice was made toward the consolidation of democracy, but it needs to be consolidated. The revolution is only the beginning."
The inauguration was attended by the presidents of seven countries - Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Molodova - as well as by political leaders from many others. For the United States, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell attended. Russia, by contrast, sent Sergei M. Mironov, the speaker of the upper house of Parliament.
As each of the leaders was announced in Parliament, the loudest applause erupted for the leaders of countries who had over the decades risen up against Soviet domination: President Aleksandr Kwasniewski of Poland; Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president; and Nana Burdzhanadze, the speaker of Georgia's Parliament.
Mr. Powell met with Mr. Yushchenko before the inauguration and, echoing a congratulatory telephone call from President Bush on Saturday, said the United States was prepared to help in the country's transition. "The United States wants to do everything we can to help you meet the expectations of the Ukrainian people," Mr. Powell said, making an unexpected final overseas trip as secretary after a delay in the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as his successor.
Mr. Yushchenko, after their meeting, responded with a list of requests, including recognition of Ukraine as a market economy, support for its membership in the World Trade Organization and a lifting of sanctions imposed under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a cold-war-era law that limits trade because of Soviet restrictions on emigration.
He later spoke of Sunday as a turning point in the country's history. "Today's event has proven once more that the Ukrainian nation and the Ukrainian state have arrived," he said in Parliament, after taking the oath of office with his arm draped over a 500-year-old Bible and a copy of the Constitution. "Citizens of Ukraine have achieved a fair election. A legitimate handover of power has taken place."
He later vowed that he would lead Ukraine into its proper place in Europe - and specifically in the European Union, which has only just absorbed many of Ukraine's Central and Eastern European neighbors and appears wary of inviting still another larger, developing nation.
"We are no longer on the edge of Europe," he said. "We are situated in the center of Europe."
Throughout Kiev, the mood was ebullient. Rivers of orange - flags, banners, scarves and hats in the color of Mr. Yushchenko's campaign - coursed through the streets. For many in Independence Square, it was enough to witness his inauguration and his address, which ended with confetti and balloons rising into a cold, leaden sky and a concert of the songs that provided the revolution its overture.
"To tell you the truth, to the last day I did not think it would happen," said Vitaly K. Samusevich, a retired miner who had joined the thousands who went to the streets to protest the initial results that made Mr. Yanukovich the winner. "When he showed up today, I cried."
Natalia D. Shafar, an economist and translator, came to the square with her daughter, Olya. She said the events of the last months had created a "national idea," something Ukraine lacked before.
"Of course, we do not expect that overnight we will have a better life," she said, "but at least now we have hope."