The United States isn't the only country having a presidential election in the next few days. There is also an important vote coming up in Ukraine on Oct. 31. The election there will be far more momentous for that country than ours will be for us. Whoever wins here, our basic policies will not change fundamentally. In Ukraine, by contrast, the election could be revolutionary.
Like many of the former republics of the old Soviet Union, Ukraine has struggled, politically and economically. It has no history of either democracy or self-government, having been a vassal of Russia long before the communist takeover. And because of communism, Ukraine's economy never developed naturally so as to exploit those industries and businesses most appropriate for its location and resources. Under central planning, production was guided by political whim, with the result that much of the industry located in Ukraine at independence was inherently unviable in a free market.
Ukraine also suffers in other ways from the communist legacy. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is still a mess, and the nation has never fully recovered from the awful famine inflicted upon it by Josef Stalin in the 1930s that is estimated to have killed as many as10 million people -- far more than died in the Holocaust.
However, other former Soviet republics and even Russia itself have also had to deal with the consequences of communism and most have done a better job than Ukraine has done. This is primarily due to abysmal leadership. Its current president, Leonid Kuchma, is highly corrupt and a thug, as well. There is strong evidence that that he may have had a journalist killed a few years ago for looking too deeply into his affairs. Fortunately, Kuchma is not running for re-election. But he is backing someone -- Viktor Yanukovych -- who looks like his clone.
Thankfully, there is an alternative. Viktor Yushchenko, a former prime minister and head of the central bank, is leading a reform bloc that has a good chance of winning if the election isn't stolen from him -- or worse. Just a few weeks ago, it appears that he was deliberately poisoned in an effort to thwart his campaign.
As it happens, I know Yushchenko's wife, Katherine Chumachenko, an American of Ukrainian descent. She and I met in the late 1980s when she was working in the human rights bureau at the State Department. Later, we worked together at the White House, where she was in the Office of Public Liaison, and the Treasury Department, where she worked in the executive secretary's office.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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