Thursday, October 27, 2005

Going once, going twice…

Viktor Yushchenko will do anything to regain the West’s faith in the ‘Orange Revolution’.

Ukraine’s latest reality TV sensation hit the screens for one night only this week. But it was reality TV with an orange complexion.

Two of the world’s steel giants, Mittal (UK) and Arcelor (France), competed with Ukrainian firm LLSC-mart Group, in a live TV auction for the purchase of the nation’s largest steel producer, Kryvoryzhstal.

The Ukrainian company dropped out early, as the price went higher and higher. Millions gasped as Britain’s Mittal - the only one still standing – wrote out a bank transfer for 24 billion hryvna (about 5 billion dollars) to the Treasury.

‘Going once, going twice, gone - to the dodgy looking British bloke at the back’.

Lakshmi Mittal is Britain’s richest man, and has been accused of using political influence in a series of takeovers of eastern and central European businesses.

The aim of the show was to demonstrate to potential western investors that Viktor Yushchenko has got his grip back on the situation, after having to sack his entire ‘orange revolutionary’ government - including his number two, Yulia Tymoshenko - for being corrupt. And you can’t get any more ‘transparent’, and corruption free, than by selling off a national asset live on television.

The sale – at a price over 60% higher than Yushchenko was hoping for - is symbolic for him. The state firm had originally been sold a few years ago to the son-in-law of (the then) president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma – a man accused of rigging elections, being involved in murdering journalists, and generally being a bad egg. Yushchenko had the deal revoked in parliament (when he still had his old government).

But his orange supporters are not happy. There were protests outside the TV studio as the auction went ahead, saying ‘Ukrainian steel should stay Ukrainian.’ And Valentyna Sesemyuk – who was in hospital at the time due to high blood pressure - resigned her post at the state treasury, in protest at the sale.

With economic growth slowing this year, and corruption clinging on to the fabric of Ukraine, and with political rivals waiting in the wings for a slip, the orange revolution must be tasting a little sour to Yushchenko, these days.

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