Sunday's (Nov. 14) run-off vote in Ukraine's presidential election is widely seen as a choice between pressing ahead with incumbent Leonid Kuchma's lackluster reform policies or turning the clock back to Soviet times under Communist Party candidate Petro Symonenko. Kuchma has had years in office to make his positions known, but what are Symonenko's views? The Communist candidate talks to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service about decency, union with Russia, and the example of China.
Kyiv, 12 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Symonenko was asked why he thinks a new Communist government would be good for Ukraine, when 70 years of communism had brought economic ruin.
"Concerning the years of ruin -- and there were tragic mistakes -- I have to hope that many who are not against us will look to the future and not to the past. Ukraine, after all, used to be one of the top four countries in Europe. Today, some organizations rank Ukraine as number 102 in the world. What's more, various foreign organizations say that Ukraine has the most corrupt government. That is why I propose that a new government be composed of professional, honest, decent people, regardless whether they are members of the Communist Party or not." Symonenko was asked whether, if he wins the run-off, what role non-Communists will have in his government.
"We stand for a genuine patriotic upbringing for our youth, not for some mongrel idea that prevails today in Ukraine. We are for the defense of common interests and the defense of our national culture. We are for the defense of mass media. You, as a citizen of Ukraine, know that freedom of information has been destroyed here. Therefore, there are very many problems that unite us. But this is the most important thing: We communists have shown that we are ready to enter into principled agreements with others to resolve our common problems."
Asked what kind of union with Russia he promotes, Symonenko mentioned the European Union as a model of independent countries with common institutions.
"In my [electoral] manifesto, I set out in precise terms that I am for a union of independent states. Nobody in Europe is against such unions. Why then do the [so-called] national-patriots who speak out against my programs as a Communist Party candidate not talk about the fact that the rest of Europe has already gone down that [union] path. The European Union now has a single currency, [its own] parliament, its own security council. [Its 15 members] jointly resolve questions of customs and industrial production. Such is the planning and development of society in [Western] Europe."
Symonenko was also asked what kind of "fraternal union" -- to use his term -- Ukraine could have with a chaotically capitalist Russia and a Belarus that is still stuck in Soviet times.
"We are nations that emerged from the same root. We have one common church, [the Orthodox Church]. That is a short answer to what the phrase 'fraternal nations' means. We are from one root, we have a common destiny and a common history."
Symonenko was reminded that, in Soviet times, the Communists had destroyed millions of Ukrainians and the country's elite. Communism, he was told, took away freedom of information, forbade foreign travel, and was responsible for many other forms of repression. Why, he was asked, should voters believe the same will not happen again?
"I openly say that we, as a party, condemn the tragic mistakes of the past. But we have to look to the future. I want today to hear, if the current system is so open and there are no more dissidents, why Ukrainian literature has disappeared and where has the Ukrainian cinema gone? Why don't I see any new ideas or breathe new, fresh creative air that would inspire artists to new, high-quality work? In the past there were, shall we say, tragic mistakes. We discussed these at the 20th congress of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union). But today we should not scare people but, while giving them access to the full truth about our lives, we should work towards resolving those problems that will improve the quality of life for everyone. ... Therefore, I propose a completely different model for the development of the country and different mechanisms that will today bring about the rebirth of our country." When asked how he would handle the economy, Symonenko pointed to the example of China.
"Let us examine a phrase that Zbigniew Brzezinski (U.S. national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter) used. He said that in the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union [the United States] had gained ten times more than they had expended on its destruction. He said that today Russia does not interest [the U.S.] but that [it is] more concerned about China. Why? Because the Communist Party of China used the theoretical knowledge and experience acquired by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and put it into practice. For ten years they examined appropriate ways to put reforms into practice, and then they embarked upon those reforms. I was in China this year at the invitation of the Communist Party of China and acquainted myself with these reforms and their consequences and I can assure you that there is much from their experience that we can use in our country."
Symonenko summed up the values he would promote as president.
"These are the values of honesty, decency, hard work and to be cultured. My wish today is to be of use not only to myself but to be of value to society as a whole. It is bound up with a certain attitude of respect towards parents, the elderly, to women and people as a whole. It is really to do with people's honor and dignity and with decency."
Finally, asked whether a union with Russia could draw Ukraine into the fighting in Chechnya, Symonenko was adamant in his denial. He said he is against any union that would pull Ukraine into armed conflict or destroy the country's independence.