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Profile: Ukrainian Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn

By Irena Chalupa --> Volodymyr Lytvyn ( Volodymyr Lytvyn is currently the chairman of the Ukrainian Popular Party, formerly the Ukrainian Agrarian Party. His centrist electoral bloc, named Lytvyn's Peoples Bloc, is expected to be one of the winners in Ukraine's March 26 parliamentary elections.

Lytvyn, 48, has been the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament since 2002, when he was elected to parliament as leader of the pro-government For a United Ukraine bloc of parties. For this career historian and President Leonid Kuchma's speechwriter and chief of staff, this was his first experience in real politics.

Humble Beginnings

Lytvyn was born in the quiet northern Zhytomyr Province village of Sloboda Ramanivska . His parents, Mykhaylo (b. 1930) and mother Olga (b. 1929) were peasants.

He graduated from Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv in 1978 with a history degree. He is married, his wife Tetyana (b. 1960) is an economist. The couple have two children, Olena (b. 1982) and Ivan (b. 1989).

From his university graduation until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 he taught History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to university students and worked in Soviet Ukraine's Communist Party apparatus. In 1991-94 Lytvyn switched to Ukrainian history, and in 1995 he defended his doctoral thesis on Ukraine's political elite.

In 1994, newly elected President Leonid Kuchma picked Lytvyn as an aide in his office. Kuchma's administration presented a quick career path for Lytvyn. In November 1995, he became the administration's deputy chief. In 1996-99, Lytvyn served as Kuchma's first assistant and chief speechwriter. In November 1999, Lytvyn became chief of Kuchma's administration. It was then that Ukrainian journalists dubbed Lytvyn the "gray eminence" for his discreet and effective style.

Scandal Allegations

Major Mykola Melnychenko (epa file photo)

In the fall of 2000, Major Mykola Melnychenko, former presidential bodyguard, accused President Kuchma of ordering the kidnapping of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Melnychenko presented audiotapes made in the presidential office to substantiate his claims. One of the voices on the tape was identified as Volodymyr Lytvyn's and he was subsequently accused of complicity. Lytvyn denied the accusations.

Kuchma chose Lytvyn to lead the pro-government bloc For A United Ukraine during the March 2002 parliamentary elections. The bloc was extremely unpopular at this time largely because of the tape scandal and the Gongadze murder. Despite this unpopularity, using administrative and political pressure, Lytvyn was able to lead the bloc to victory. For A United Ukraine came in second as a party bloc and formed the largest, albeit extremely short-lived parliamentary faction.

Political Player

In May 2002 a Ukrainian parliament bitterly divided between the ruling elite and the opposition elected Lytvyn speaker by 226 votes -- just one vote more than necessary to secure the post. Since then, Lytvyn has ably maneuvered the interests of parliament's numerous groups to retain his position. He is not a close friend or bitter enemy to any of parliamentary players -- essentially he has remained Kuchma's man. Lytvyn's balancing powers were clearly evident during the heady Orange Revolution; the parliament was the only branch of the Ukrainian government that continued to function. This brief period of Ukrainian history cemented Lytvyn's reputation as an able and competent politician.

Not all of Lytvyn's activities have been as smooth as his political rise. In 2002 he was publicly accused plagiarism. An article on civil society that Lytvyn published in the respected weekly "Dzerkalo Tyzhnia" was found to be a direct copy of an article by Dr. Thomas Carothers in the 1998 winter edition of Foreign Policy.

Lytvyn's hobbies include reading, football, volleyball, and raising dalmatians.
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