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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 4, No. 33, 3 September 2002

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team


YUSHCHENKO URGES KUCHMA TO STAND FOR DEMOCRACY. Last week, the Our Ukraine bloc led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko publicized an open letter to President Leonid Kuchma. The letter seems to contain Our Ukraine's harshest criticism of the authorities as yet but avoids pointing to personalities, apart from the head of the presidential administration, Viktor Medvedchuk. Our Ukraine's letter may be read as a kind of response to Kuchma's recent proposal to launch a systemic reform in the country to move toward a parliamentary-presidential republic (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 August 2002).

The letter warned the president against a "systemic crisis of the authority that has hit all spheres of social life." According to Yushchenko's bloc, "actions by the authorities are threatening Ukraine's national interests, national security, the independence of the state, and are provoking civic confrontation." Our Ukraine reiterated its charge that the presidential administration created an "artificial majority" in the parliament by pressuring deputies in order "to give the parliamentary leadership to outsiders in the election race." "One has the impression that the parliament, the government, and the media have been leased to the head of the presidential administration [Medvedchuk] and his oligarchic clan," the letter noted. Our Ukraine also complained that the opposition has no access to the state-run media. According to the bloc, "the situation in the state has been heading toward unpredictability and uncontrollability."

Our Ukraine called on President Kuchma to make a choice between "democracy and dictatorship" and take urgent measures "to remove threats to Ukraine's democracy and statehood." In particular, the bloc demands that a democratic parliamentary majority be created around Our Ukraine and a coalition government be formed by this majority. Our Ukraine also postulates that the authorities secure equal access to the state media for all political forces, stop political persecution, and strengthen Ukraine's integration into "European and trans-Atlantic structures," while simultaneously abandoning talk of Ukraine's accession to the Eurasian Economic Community.

Our Ukraine said it is necessary to unite all democratic forces in the country to overcome the current crisis, adding that it wants to gather a nationwide forum of democratic forces on 15 September -- on the eve of the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" protest campaign by the opposition -- to contribute to this end. An enigmatic threat of more radical actions -- in the event the president fails to heed Our Ukraine's appeal -- was included in the letter's last sentence: "The inability of the authorities to stop the country's slide toward a social and economic catastrophe and the continuation of the policy oriented toward curbing democracy and constitutional civil rights and freedoms will force us to call on voters to stand in defense of democracy, national interests, and the independence of the Ukrainian state."

Judging by the content of this open letter, Yushchenko has not yet lost hope to strike a deal with Kuchma and some of the pro-presidential parliamentary factions to form a "coalition government" that he could head, thus positioning himself better for the presidential elections in 2004. The letter obviously carries Yushchenko's blackmail message: If he is not given leadership of the government, he will take the leadership of the antipresidential opposition. As of now, both options seem to be possible for Yushchenko, whose political sway, measured by both Our Ukraine's parliamentary representation and his personal popularity among the electorate, remains very strong. But time is swiftly running out, and there is a threat that following the planned outbreak of opposition protests on 16 September, Yushchenko's political maneuvering and wavering may place him closer to the sidelines rather than the center of political developments in the country. (Jan Maksymiuk)

IS KUCHMA GENUINE IN HIS POLITICAL REFORM? President Kuchma used the anniversary of the declaration of Ukrainian independence on 24 August to announce his support for political reforms. How genuine was he?

Kuchma has always supported a presidential system modeled on Russia's and has opposed a law on proportional elections. The highly flawed April 2000 referendum aimed to transform Ukraine into a presidential republic and create a smaller, bicameral, puppet parliament. Last year, Kuchma vetoed a law on fully proportional elections five times.

Kuchma announced his intention to launch political reforms because the opposition plans to hold mass demonstrations on 16 September, with Our Ukraine holding a forum of democratic forces the day before. Worse still for Kuchma, and a sign of the rising public hostility to his regime, is the decision by the moderate business group Razom -- the "pragmatic" and "constructive opposition" within Our Ukraine -- to support a referendum on early presidential elections. (The speed with which events are moving can be seen in the fact that a failed referendum drive by Yuliya Tymoshenko in spring 2001 was not then backed by Our Ukraine.) Yushchenko also wrote his most critical open letter to date to Kuchma on 29 August (see above).

Kuchma's representative in parliament, Oleksandr Zadorozhnyy, admitted two reasons for Kuchma's new policies in an interview in the 31 August-7 September issue of the "Dzerkalo tyzhnya" weekly. First, "[Kuchma] was forced to move to this [supporting political reform] because opposition forces in parliament had adopted as their program the movement toward a parliamentary-presidential republic," Zadorozhnyy said. Second, Kuchma had an eye to the 2004 parliamentary elections. Zadorozhnyy argued that Ukraine has no individual to whom the extensive range of powers that Kuchma enjoys today could be transferred, i.e., neither to an oligarch nor to Yushchenko. "That is why these powers require serious modification," he said.

A move toward a parliamentary-presidential republic would reduce the power of the next elected president, which, as polls consistently show, would be Yushchenko. If the constitution is changed by the next presidential elections, the parliament, which has a pro-presidential majority, would elect the next president by a majority vote, a system in place in Estonia and Moldova. This would resolve the problem of a pro-Kuchma presidential candidate's not being subjected to a popular vote and would deal with the lack of any popular oligarch who could be elected by popular vote as a successor to Kuchma and would give Kuchma immunity from prosecution after his retirement. The pro-presidential parliamentary majority would simply elect one of its own to replace Kuchma.

In Ukraine, the pro-presidential blocs fought the elections in support of a presidential system and the implementation of the April 2000 constitutional referendum. This has now been dropped and changed five months after the elections when the executive ordered them to support a parliamentary-presidential system. Lacking any ideology and objectives other than maintaining power, centrist oligarchic parties can very easily change their programs.

Of Ukraine's virtual, centrist oligarchic parties, only the Kyiv oligarchic clan has attempted to create a functioning party, the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) led by Viktor Medvedchuk, who now heads the presidential administration. The SDPU-o is de facto becoming the new "party of power" and heads of raion administrations are being replaced by SDPU-o loyalists. The Popular Democratic Party (NDP) failed to fulfill this role after the 1998 elections, and For a United Ukraine (ZYU) disintegrated almost immediately after the March 2002 elections.

Our Ukraine leader Yushchenko claims that Medvedchuk has become Ukraine's "Rasputin." The SDPU-o has openly bragged that it is behind Kuchma's political reforms, working behind the scenes. Medvedchuk is reputed to be the most intelligent and "ruthless" (i.e., in Kuchma’s view, the most efficient) among Ukraine's oligarchs, especially in comparison to the weakness shown by former presidential administration and ZYU head Volodymyr Lytvyn. Medvedchuk and Kuchma have a major factor in common: They both hate Kuchma's enemies, especially Yushchenko.

The SDPU-o is the only oligarch party that has always supported a fully proportional election law. Medvedchuk -- the leader of the SDPU-o, which was the last of the parties that made it through the 4 percent threshold in the March elections when it won only 6.27 percent of the vote -- is behind the attempt at tampering with the election results in the parliament by creating what Yushchenko calls an "artificial administrative [pro-presidential] majority."

The nine factions from the former ZYU and the SDPU-o that have created this majority are unlikely to obtain agreement from Our Ukraine to join it because this would contradict Yushchenko's long-held argument that a "democratic majority" can only be built around his bloc that won the elections. In addition, Yushchenko has ruled out joining a majority "created by the SDPU-o."

Regardless of the truth behind Yushchenko’s arguments, they have no resonance with centrist political forces steeped in Soviet political culture. Such a political culture defines those in opposition as illegitimate, i.e., "destructive forces"; attempts to co-opt political groups, trade unions, and nongovernmental organizations to help "consolidate society"; and still uses the security service to collect information on the opposition in the same manner as the Soviet KGB. Such views prefer an authoritarian, corporatist state and have little to do with a liberal democracy.

In January 1999, 237 parliamentary deputies voted in favor of abolishing the presidency, a reflection of how the presidency had already by then been discredited by Kuchma. Kuchma's political reforms aim not to replicate this move from three years ago but to consolidate the former Soviet Ukrainian nomenklatura as the country's ruling elite and to marginalize the opposition by ensuring that a safe successor is elected from among the pro-presidential parliamentary majority. (Taras Kuzio)

"Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc lawmaker Serhiy Holovatyy: 'There is no difference with which hand, right or left, you hit Kuchma in the snout.'

A conversation at the 2 September news conference of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party, announcing that on 16 September, they will begin their open-ended civic protest campaign "Rise Up, Ukraine!"; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website.

"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR PROTESTS TO OUST PRESIDENT... At a joint news conference in Kyiv on 2 September, the leaders of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party appealed to Ukrainians to take part on a massive scale in the open-ended nationwide protest campaign that is planned to begin on 16 September, the second anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Ukrainian media reported. Yuliya Tymoshenko, Petro Symonenko, and Oleksandr Moroz told journalists that the protest campaign will be continued until President Leonid Kuchma and "other representatives of Ukraine's top authorities" resign their posts, UNIAN reported. The three leaders also called for an early presidential election. "We cannot wait for another 2 1/2 years [for the regular presidential election in 2004] because then we will get Kuchma or his successor," Reuters quoted Tymoshenko as saying. JM

...AS KUCHMA CONTINUES TO URGE POLITICAL REFORM... President Kuchma has addressed a letter to the Verkhovna Rada, which opened its autumn session on 3 September, asking the parliament to back his proposal last month to introduce constitutional amendments in order to move Ukraine toward a parliamentary-presidential republic. "My proposal is not a joke or a test of loyalty, but a considered choice. I hope that after the initial shock, political leaders will understand the seriousness of the president's intention and start work on changing the constitution," Reuters quoted from Kuchma's letter. Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn in his opening address to the session warned deputies against "drawing the parliament into debates on early presidential and parliamentary elections," UNIAN reported. "A dynamic transformation of the feeble Ukrainian political process into an outburst of political emotions, multiplied by the president's political initiatives and innovations, is fraud, apart from everything else, with pushing to the background all the remaining urgent problems connected with the country's vital functions," Lytvyn said. JM

...AND YUSHCHENKO WANTS TO FORM COALITION GOVERNMENT. Addressing the parliamentary session on 3 September, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko called on deputies not to yield to pressure from the presidential administration while constructing a democratic parliamentary majority, UNIAN reported. According to Yushchenko, the most urgent tasks facing the Verkhovna Rada are forming a coalition government and signing a political accord on harmonious cooperation between the prime minister, the president, and the parliament. "There is no other way, all the rest is fuss," Yushchenko stressed. Leonid Kravchuk from the Social Democratic Party-united responded to Yushchenko by saying that a coalition cabinet cannot be formed without introducing relevant amendments to the constitution. Meanwhile, Tymoshenko, Symonenko, and Moroz appealed to deputies to take part in the opposition protest campaign scheduled to begin on 16 September. According to Symonenko and Moroz, the primary task of the current parliamentary session is to adopt a fully proportional election law. JM

GONGADZE'S BODY IDENTIFIED AT LAST. Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun told journalists on 3 September that forensic and medical experts have officially established that the headless body stored for almost two years in Kyiv is that of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze who disappeared in September 2000, UNIAN reported. Piskun added that Gongadze's family will finally be able to bury him. JM

CURRENT LINEUP IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT. Parliamentary speaker Lytvyn told deputies on 3 August that the current numerical strength of caucuses and groups in the 449-member Verkhovna Rada is as follows: Our Ukraine (109 deputies), Communists (63), Party of Entrepreneurs-Labor Ukraine (40), Ukraine's Regions (37), Social Democratic Party-united (35), Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (23), Socialists (21), European Choice (18), Democratic Initiatives (18), Popular Democratic Party (17), Power of the People (17), Ukraine's Agrarians (16), People's Choice (15), United Ukraine (nine), and 11 independent deputies. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT PASSES DEBT-RELIEF LAW... The Sejm on 30 August passed a debt-relief law providing for special aid for indebted firms, in line with an anticrisis package proposed by Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 30 July 2002), PAP reported. Under the law, indebted firms will be able to file for the writing-off of their obligations in return for a so-called restructuring fee equal to 1.5 percent or 15 percent of their debts. JM

...WHILE TIRASPOL MARKS INDEPENDENCE DAY. The unrecognized Transdniester Republic on 2 September marked "Independence Day" with a military parade in the capital, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. Defense Minister Stanislav Hajeev, who delivered the main speech at the festivities, deplored the fact that Russia is no longer backing Transdniester as it did in the past but said the separatists are grateful for the growing "political, economic, and humanitarian aid" from Ukraine. The military parade was attended by representatives from the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Region and from the unrecognized republics of Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia. MS