DUMA WANTS INFORMATION ON KIRIENKO'S CITIZENSHIP. Duma Speaker Seleznev on 3 April announced that the Duma has requested information from the government on whether Kirienko has Israeli as well as Russian citizenship, Interfax reported. In an interview with NTV on 24 March, Kirienko was asked about his ethnic background and replied that his father is Jewish, his mother is Russian, his surname is Ukrainian, and he was born in Abkhazia. While criticizing Kirienko's lack of experience, Duma leaders have so far remained quiet about allegations that the acting premier attended a seminar offered by the Church of Scientology three years ago in Nizhnii Novgorod (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). LB

METHANE GAS BLAST IN DONETSK MINE KILLS 63. A powerful methane gas explosion occurred in the Skochinsky coal mine in eastern Ukraine's city of Donetsk on 4 April. A fire that followed the blast killed 63 people and injured 71. It was the worst mine accident since Ukraine gained independence in 1991. "It's scandalous," AFP quoted Deputy Coal Minister Dmytro Herasymchuk as saying. He said maintenance of mines has been neglected because of a lack of funds. The Skochinsky mine in Donetsk is notorious for its dangerous work conditions and gas emissions. The government has set up a commission to investigate the disaster. It proclaimed 5 and 6 April days of mourning. JM

The impressive showing of Communist Party candidates in the Ukrainian and Moldovan parliamentary elections has prompted some observers to make apocalyptic predictions about the future of those countries. The day after the Ukrainian vote, one Kyiv newspaper asked whether the results constituted a new "red dawn." Other commentators suggested that the vote for the Communists meant a return to the past and a reorientation toward Moscow.

But an examination of both the returns in those countries and what actually happened in the elections suggests that the future of the two states is unlikely to proceed in that direction.

On 23 March, the Communist Party in Moldova received 30 percent of the vote, far more than any other party but also far less than a majority in the parliament. Not surprisingly in such a situation, the party's leader, Vladimir Voronin, indicated that the Communist deputies would seek to form a coalition with the country's main centrist bloc and would not demand that a Communist be named prime minister. And while Voronin said that his party would seek to promote the economic "rebirth" of the country, he also said that the Moldovan Communists would not oppose privatization, a key part of the reformist program.

Six days later, on March 29, the Communist Party in Ukraine received approximately one vote in four, giving it 25 percent of the 225 seats allocated by party list, far more than any other political party in that election. But the Communists triumphed in fewer than 40 of the 225 parliamentary seats chosen in single-member districts and thus will be forced to seek allies among other parties if they hope to participate in the government or determine policy outcomes.

More to the point, in both countries, there are three important reasons to think that this increase in the vote for Communist deputies does not presage a return to the past, either domestically or internationally.

First, the Ukrainian and Moldovan Communists won in competitive elections rather than through the use of revolutionary methods. As such, they are far more like leftist parties in Europe than their Bolshevik predecessors. They have had to make promises to voters. They have not won a majority that would allow them to run roughshod over others. And they are forced to seek coalitions to be effective.

Second, the Communists won as the result of a protest vote by those who have suffered owing to social and economic dislocations of the past decade. As one of the more thoughtful Ukrainian newspapers said earlier this wee, "Ukraine voted in protest -- not for the Greens or other colors of the spectrum but against the way we are living." Pensioners and many workers there have not been paid for months. Many people are suffering from the decline in public services. And still more are frightened about what will happen next.

Not surprisingly, they voted for Communist candidates who promised to ease their situation. If those making promises cannot keep them any better than the parties they defeated, they too will lose at the next election.

And third, the vote for the Communists was not necessarily a vote for closer ties with Moscow, let alone a return to some kind of revived Soviet Union. While some people in both countries may have voted communist out of a misplaced nostalgia for the past, most voted the way they did out of domestic considerations rather than foreign policy calculations. And even if some Communist candidates did promise to improve ties with Moscow, they also spoke out in favor of strengthening the national governments they hoped to be elected to.

Indeed, precisely because of the legacy of the past, many of the Communists adopted campaign rhetoric as nationalist as any of the other candidates.

To say all this is not to welcome the votes for the Communists in either Moldova or Ukraine. On the one hand, the vote for them represents a repudiation, at least for a time, of those who have sought to promote democracy and free markets. On the other hand, Communist deputies in both countries are likely to be able to block or at least water down further efforts toward those two goals.

Rather, it is to suggest that this pattern of voting may be part of the birth pangs of a democratic system in Moldova and Ukraine, instead of its death knell as some fear.