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Ukraine: Leftists Commemorate Bolshevik Revolution With Antigovernment Rallies

An estimated crowd of 10,000 people took part in an antigovernment picket in front of the government's headquarters in Kyiv on 7 November. The picket, as well as a somewhat smaller rally on Independence Square shortly before it, was organized by the Communist Party of Ukraine to commemorate the 88th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.

In 2000, the tradition of celebrating Revolution Day on 7 November ended when it ceased to be a state holiday in Ukraine, but Ukrainian communists and other leftists continue to mark the date with street demonstrations every year. Such rallies are usually attended by older people and pensioners; that is, by those Ukrainians who harbor nostalgia for the Soviet era and routinely vote for forces that pledge to reestablish the former Soviet superpower in one form or another, be it a hypothetical union of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus or the proclaimed Single Economic Space that involves these three predominantly Slavic countries plus Kazakhstan.

This year, the attendance at October Revolution rallies in Ukraine was hardly better than in previous years. Apart from the 10,000-strong demonstration in Kyiv, there was only one more major rally in Mykolayiv in southern Ukraine, which attracted some 5,000 people. The attendance at 7 November demonstrations in other Ukrainian cities was reportedly quite low: Kirovohrad -- 1,000 people, Odesa -- 1,000, Simferopol -- 1,000, Dnipropetrovsk -- 600, Sumy -- 500, and Sevastopol -- 400.

This is a rather puzzling fact, for at least two reasons. First, Ukraine is on the eve of a major campaign for the March 2006 parliamentary elections. The Communist Party of Ukraine, which earlier this year formed the so-called Left-Wing Front as an election coalition for 2006, could seemingly use its rallies on the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution as a test as well as propagandistic confirmation of its political readiness to enter the parliamentary campaign as a meaningful force. Judging by what actually took place this 7 November, the Communists continue to remain a minor political player in Ukraine.

Second, this 7 November Ukrainian left-wingers had a unique chance to hurl all of their repertoire of political and socioeconomic criticism at a single and clear-cut target -- President Viktor Yushchenko and his government. To them, Yushchenko embodies all the evils that have plagued Ukraine since its independence in 1991. To name just a few points of this repertoire -- Yushchenko is a pro-Western politician and wants Ukraine to be integrated with the West in the World Trade Organization, NATO, and the EU; Yushchenko is a nationalist and anti-Russian politician; Yushchenko is an oligarch and wants to sell Ukrainian national assets to either Western economic moguls or Ukrainian oligarchs of his own ilk. In short, President Yushchenko is a much better target for leftist criticism on 7 November than his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, was in the past decade.

As should be expected, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko listed all these points regarding Yushchenko in his speech on Independence Square in Kyiv, and they were voiced in different variations by local communist leaders in other Ukrainian cities. But the general impression of Ukrainian media and commentators was that this year's October Revolution commemorations were sluggish and uninspiring for adherents of the communist ideology in Ukraine, despite the fact that the country is now governed by combatants and followers of the "nationalistic" and "anti-Russian" Orange Revolution. This may be a signal that Ukraine's communists and leftists, in general, need a new political agenda or new leaders -- or both.

There also is no unity or solidarity among Ukrainian leftist forces regarding the celebrations of Revolution Day. The Socialist Party of Oleksandr Moroz was conspicuously absent from Kyiv streets on 7 November. The party has several ministers in the government, so it probably decided to stay away from what promised to be an antigovernment public event. And Communist Party followers prevented the Progressive Socialist Party of Natalya Vitrenko -- a no less fierce opponent of President Yushchenko than Symonenko -- from laying flowers at the only remaining monument to Vladimir Lenin in Kyiv. The Communists consider the Progressive Socialists to be sidekicks of the Donetsk oligarchic clan, whose political arm is the Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

What was actually new during the 7 November rally and picket in Kyiv was the appearance of a relatively new group called the Eurasian Youth Union of Ukraine, which was represented by two dozen young Ukrainians. The organization is an apparent branch of the International Eurasian Movement, which is sponsored by some forces in Russia as a "Eurasian" response to what they see as the onslaught of Western "Atlanticism" on Russia and its post-Soviet neighbors, including Ukraine. Members of the Eurasian Youth Union of Ukraine busied themselves in Kyiv on 7 November by throwing rotten oranges at government building, and police reportedly arrested nearly all of them in the process. It is difficult to say whether in the future this group will be able to pose a more serious treat to the Yushchenko government than 7 November. However, its emergence seems to be emblematic, and those trying to rebuild a "Eurasian" empire have not yet run short of initiatives, supporters, or money.