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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 26, 2002

26 March 2002, Volume 4, Number 12
IT'S BELARUSIAN MODEL, OFFICIALLY. Addressing a training seminar for Belarusian government officials last week, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced that the country under his leadership has worked out a new form of economic development. All that is taking place in Belarus's economy should now officially be called the "Belarusian model of development."

"You know, even before the presidential elections [in 2001], even before the beginning of 2001, or maybe at some point in 2001 -- I cannot remember exactly when -- my aides, former presidential administration head Mikhail Myasnikovich and many others in the government, included the phrase 'Belarusian model of development' in reports to me. And I crossed out this phrase each time," Belarusian Television quoted the president as saying. "I was afraid that I would be criticized for inventing some special Belarusian model, some special way. But today, particularly after the election, we decided to openly speak up about the Belarusian model of development, after foreign partners as well as opponents, not only partners, spoke out about that of their own free will while assessing our way of development."

According to Lukashenka, the basic features of the Belarusian model of development are: strong and efficient state authority, equal development conditions for the state-controlled and private sectors, privatization in the interests of the state, and orientation toward integration processes with the CIS in general and Russia in particular.

Lukashenka admitted that he devised the Belarusian model of development while studying Western European economies:

"The German and Swedish economies provide standard examples of the socially oriented market economy. I told you about that five or six years ago. And we were guided by [these examples]. Their main distinctive feature is active participation of the state in regulating socioeconomic processes. In the Swedish [Scandinavian] model, the state is given the role of the main socioeconomic force. Therefore, [Sweden's] results in the socioeconomic sphere are the most striking among all states on the globe.... Why have we risked creating our own model? The point is that, while studying the experience of economic transformation in other countries, we have seen that there is no universal model of development. It is impossible to mechanically adapt the [economic] practice of one country to another because of the peculiarity of economic life and national traditions in each country. Our approach suits the traditions of the Belarusian people and the interests of citizens to the maximum possible extent. Our model assumes that the solution of even the most complex socioeconomic problems should be sought with the least social costs."

President Lukashenka went on to promise his ministers and regional-level officials that last week's training seminar will become a regular event, and that he will personally take charge of and responsibility for their economic education.

PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION AS STRATEGIC 'FOOTBALL.' President Leonid Kuchma on 22 March termed as "unprecedented" the 20 March resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives urging the government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair parliamentary election on 31 March. "Are we a nation, or are we a football playing field for strategic partners?" Kuchma asked indignantly.

The stage effect of this pronouncement would have been quite impressive had it not been spoiled by Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin a day earlier when he asked, "Why could Ukraine not make a statement to the effect that [people] in the U.S. elected one president but are ruled by another?" Chernomyrdin suggested a response to the U.S. resolution, adding that Washington appears to "dictate" what Kyiv should be doing. Kuchma followed Chernomyrdin's suggestion, though not literally.

Last week, Chernomyrdin was also quoted as saying that Russia is with those parties and election blocs in Ukraine that call for the development and deepening of relations between the two countries. He suggested that some constituent forces of Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc do not pursue such a goal, adding that this "cannot but worry us."

Other Russian officials and politicians were not so elusive about Moscow's political preferences in the Ukrainian ballot. Russian presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin said that For a United Ukraine, the Social Democratic Party (United) of Ukraine, and the Communist Party of Ukraine are the forces that promote strengthening Russian-Ukrainian relations. "Unfortunately, [Our Ukraine] includes political forces that have overtly anti-Russian positions," he added. And Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the Russian State Duma's International Relations Committee, noted that if "nationalist forces" win the upcoming parliamentary election in Ukraine, Moscow and Kyiv may face problems in bilateral relations.

U.S. officials are extremely reserved about openly declaring with whom their political sympathies are in Ukraine, but it is no secret to anyone that Washington would like to see the pro-Western and pro-reform Yushchenko emerge as the winner of the 31 March vote. This position is widely shared in Europe. While not seeing Ukraine as ready for integration with Europe right now, European politicians seek to make the country a friendly buffer zone separating the expanding NATO and EU from Russia. "Ukraine has a European history, European life, and European civilization," OSCE Parliamentary Assembly head Adrian Severin asserted in Kyiv earlier this month. But many in Ukraine, among both the electorate and politicians, have remained unimpressed.

Despite the fact that as many as 33 parties and blocs are vying for mandates in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the current election seems to have polarized the Ukrainian electorate into two camps -- one of the "Western option" (supporters of Our Ukraine) and the other of the "pro-Russian option" (supporters of For a United Ukraine, the Communist Party, and the Social Democratic Party) -- to a much greater extent than all previous election campaigns in the country.

Polls by several independent polling centers concurrently suggested over the past few months that Our Ukraine may obtain up to 50 percent of the vote in western Ukraine and definitely less than 10 percent in eastern Ukraine, while the pro-government For a United Ukraine and the Communists may count on substantial support primarily in eastern and southern regions. Ukraine's "west-east split" was somewhat blurred in the 1999 presidential election, when Kuchma ("pro-Western option" for the electorate at that time) not only beat Petro Symonenko ("pro-Russian option") in western Ukraine but also fared fairly well in eastern oblasts. This year the split among voters seems to have been restored and even deepened by deliberate efforts of the authorities, which are busily working toward securing the best possible result for the For a United Ukraine bloc.

Confronted with the unpleasantly high popularity of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine among voters in western Ukraine, For a United Ukraine campaign planners have resolved to mobilize as yet undecided voters by appealing to anti-U.S. sentiments in the country. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, along with the vociferously antipresidential Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Socialist Party, has been accused of preparing a U.S.-sponsored "Yugoslav-scenario" coup in Ukraine. According to this sinister plan, the opposition is allegedly going to declare the official results of the 31 March election falsified and create a separate parliament based on an alternative vote calculation. An important role in this plan is to be played by U.S.-trained sociologists from the Razumkov Center of Political and Economic Studies. This immediately calls to mind the widely publicized "White Stork" operation in Belarus -- an invention of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the eve of the 9 September presidential election alleging that his opponents were planning to overthrow him with the help of U.S., German, and British intelligence forces under a similar scenario (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 September 2002).

Moreover, a documentary broadcast twice by ICTV Television earlier this month unambiguously suggested that Ukraine's infamous tape scandal -- which implicates Kuchma and other top officials in the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze -- was used by Washington to exert pressure on Kuchma in order to depose him and install Yushchenko. For many observers of Ukrainian politics, the documentary was primarily intended to sow distrust in Yushchenko by suggesting to Ukrainians that he is plotting behind the scenes with Americans to the detriment of his native country. Kuchma, who appeared in the documentary, commented that the crisis connected with the tape scandal was effectively over when Yushchenko was sacked as prime minister by the parliament in April 2001.

To polarize voters even more, Communist lawmakers questioned the legality of the registration in 1992 of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) and accused it of appropriating property from the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). It is hardly possible to imagine a more improbable defender of "canonical Orthodoxy" than the Communist Party, but this issue was publicized by the Ukrainian Communists on purpose. The Communists know that the faithful under the Kyiv Patriarchate are more likely to support pro-Western Yushchenko in the election, so they have tried to curry favor with those under the Moscow Patriarchate in order to win their votes or at least to inflame the religious antagonism and deepen Ukraine's "west-east split" for the duration of the election campaign.

It is no wonder that Ukrainian voters, bombarded with these "strategic-football" issues in the state-run media and a cacophony of accusations and counteraccusations of foul play, are actually not paying (or even not bothering themselves to pay) much attention to what the competing parties and blocs propose in socioeconomic portions of their election programs. Our Ukraine -- with a moderately reformist economic program -- may eventually obtain some 100 seats in the Verkhovna Rada as many polls have predicted, but it seems that the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine -- by using administrative levers, intimidation of voters, and massive advertising in the media -- will get no fewer. And this will almost certainly mean that a new government will be very similar to the one Ukraine has at present.

The current election campaign is not an exception to the string of election campaigns that independent Ukraine has already faced; stakes are very high and the play is habitually foul, but when it comes to summing up postelection gains and losses, it turns out that the preservation of the status quo is the only unquestionable consequence of all the preceding political commotion. The best prospect for Ukraine after 31 March would be to see a parliament that could prevent Kuchma from amending the constitution and staying in office for a third term. What Ukraine primarily and urgently needs is to embrace a positive and efficient economic program, not a civilizational or geostrategic choice between the West and the East, or between Washington and Moscow. This is what all Ukrainians, including those from "nationalist" Galicia and "socialist" Donbas, would apparently accept without reservations and animosities. Unfortunately, Ukraine's political elites are still incapable of offering and/or agreeing on such a program.

OUR UKRAINE AS TRANSFORMATION OF RUKH. The Ukrainian Movement for Perestroika (commonly referred to as Rukh) was established in 1988-89 as a popular front comprising former prisoners of conscience from the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and members of the cultural intelligentsia. Rukh became a catalyst for other opposition parties and civic groups that came onto the scene during the last few years of Soviet rule.

During the 1990s, however, Rukh became progressively marginalized within Ukraine's evolving multiparty political system. In 1992, the movement divided into two wings, one led by Vyacheslav Chornovil who stood in "constructive opposition" to President Leonid Kravchuk, and another that supported Kravchuk and created the Congress of National Democratic Forces (KNDS).

In the second half of the 1990s, Chornovil's Rukh had better relations with President Kuchma because of Kuchma's support for reform in 1994-96 and his pro-Western orientation between 1995-99. By 1998-99, though, relations were beginning to sour as Rukh became disillusioned with the type of regime emerging in Ukraine, the rampant corruption, and the widening gap between rhetoric and policies. After the death of Chornovil in a suspicious car accident in March 1999, Rukh again split into two wings. One wing, led by former Foreign Minister Hennadiy Udovenko, maintained good relations with the government, while the other, led by Yuriy Kostenko, leaned toward the opposition and kept close ties with Yuliya Tymoshenko's Fatherland party.

Former Prime Minister Yushchenko has transformed the splintered Rukh into Rukh-2 (Our Ukraine) for the current elections. That transformation has been so thorough that the only similarity left between the old Rukh-1 and Our Ukraine is that pop singer Taras Petrenenko continues to close all of Our Ukraine's rallies with Rukh's unofficial anthem "Ukraine, Ukraine!"

Our Ukraine is more popular than Rukh-1 for a number of reasons. Unlike Rukh-1, Our Ukraine has a socioeconomic program, and about two-thirds of Yushchenko's typical campaign stump speech is devoted to laying out this program. The Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) and the oligarchs voted no confidence in Yushchenko's government in April 2001, despite his record as prime minister in 1999-2001, when he paid back wages and pensions and presided over Ukraine's first period of economic growth in a decade. This track record seems to be working in Our Ukraine's favor.

In Yushchenko, Our Ukraine has a charismatic leader who is able to bridge the gap between citizens and rulers, a gap that was already large during the Soviet era and which grew wider in the 1990s. Our Ukraine has managed to reunite the two wings of Rukh and the successor to the KNDS, the Christian Republican Party. Our Ukraine now consists of 25 political parties, including liberal, patriotic, and Christian-democratic factions, as well as the Federation of Trade Unions. It has also broadened Rukh-1's old social base by incorporating pragmatic bankers and others from the financial sector, as well as representatives of business and state officials. Roman Bezsmertnyy, political coordinator of Our Ukraine, is still the president's representative in parliament and is a former member of the Republican Party and of the People's Democrats (NDP). Bezsmertnyy resigned from the NDP after he joined Our Ukraine, while the NDP aligned with For a United Ukraine (ZYU).

Pragmatists have been attracted to Our Ukraine because it defines itself as an alternative -- rather than an opposition -- in a country where optimism for a better future has all but evaporated. If Rukh-1 could be described as romantic, Rukh-2/Our Ukraine is purely pragmatic -- Ukraine's first real alternative to either a sort of return to the past, as envisioned by the KPU, or continued muddling along with no clear strategy, as favored by the oligarchs.

It was always a mistake for Western and Russian commentators to categorize post-1992 Rukh-1 as "nationalist," a holdover from the Soviet era, when a "Ukrainian nationalist" was by definition from western Ukraine, spoke Ukrainian, and supported center-right parties. It is also a mistake to define Our Ukraine as "nationalist." Our Ukraine supports the Jewish former mayor of Odesa, Eduard Hurvits, who is now running on the Our Ukraine party list. In mid-March, Our Ukraine condemned anti-Semitic leaflets that were circulated against Hurvits. Our Ukraine's party list also includes Crimean Tatars and ethnic Russians. Volodymyr Hrynyov, a Kharkiv-based former head of the Russophile Social-Liberal alliance during the 1998 elections, is now supporting Our Ukraine. The hard-line national-democratic and nationalist parties have joined Tymoshenko's bloc, not Our Ukraine.

A comparison of public opinion polls conducted by several organizations in mid-March by the Internet publication "Ukrayinska pravda" gave Our Ukraine a popularity rating of between 24 and 33 percent, far higher than pro-presidential blocs or the KPU, and an increase from 18.8 percent a month earlier. The Center of Economic and Political Studies predicts that this could reach as high as 29.3 percent, due primarily to Yushchenko's personal popularity. Unlike Rukh-1, Our Ukraine's more pragmatic program has generated support in eastern and southern Ukraine, albeit far less than in western Ukraine where polls give it 50 percent support.

Yushchenko has refrained from criticizing the government, and his only criticism is directed at oligarchic groups such as the Social Democratic Party Ukraine (United) (SDPU-O) and former Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko's NDP, which is one of five parties that make up ZYU. "The SDPU-O is as likely to evolve into social democrats as sea lions into lions," Yushchenko tells his supporters at rallies. Yushchenko has also ridiculed the claim that the 1997-99 Pustovoytenko government laid the foundation for Ukraine's economic revival, claiming that Ukraine was on the verge of bankruptcy when Yushchenko himself became prime minister in December 1999.

It is also wrong to consider Our Ukraine "nationalist" because its support for radical economic and political reforms and for Ukraine's integration into European and trans-Atlantic structures are hardly traditionally nationalist positions. Our Ukraine simply seeks to take back from the oligarchs the control of a country that was propelled to independence by Rukh-1 in 1989-1991. That is what Yushchenko means when he tells supporters at rallies, "This is your Ukraine! This is your Ukraine!"

Our Ukraine argues that the national revolution successfully launched by Rukh-1 needs to be completed now by a democratic revolution led by Rukh-2. One of the priorities for Ukraine is to overcome its "crisis of power" and change its "momentocracy" for a medium- to long-term plan. "Over the last 10 years, no system has been created that would guarantee Ukrainian democracy," Yushchenko wrote in the weekly "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya."

Our Ukraine has entered Ukraine's political arena during a generational change similar to that experienced by Russia in the late 1990s. Our Ukraine is a young bloc, with an average age of 40 among its candidates. The generation represented by former President Boris Yeltsin in Russia and Kravchuk and Kuchma in Ukraine will go into retirement in two years' time. The generation following them, represented by Vladimir Putin in Russia and Yushchenko in Ukraine, are now taking their places. If Our Ukraine does well in the elections, it could serve as a powerful launch pad should Yushchenko decide to run for the presidency in 2004.

(This report was written by Taras Kuzio, a research fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.)

"I think that today it is necessary to appeal to our believers. Since [the Orthodox] Lent began on Monday [18 March], they should in no way vote for the 'food' that was prepared on Bankova Street [the presidential administration] to nourish our believers, particularly Orthodox ones. [I mean] Za YedU and Our Ukraine. One should not commit that big a sin during Lent." -- Petro Symonenko, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 22 March. The Ukrainian acronym Za YedU stands for the For a United Ukraine election bloc and may also be translated as "For Food."

"On the faces of those campaigning in the [For a United Ukraine] bloc you won't see any intellect, spirituality, or morality." -- Former Ukrainian Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko to a crowd in Simferopol on 23 March; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website.

"Ukraine is being torn to pieces by global interests -- Chernomyrdin and Putin on one side, the U.S. Congress and Bush on the other." -- Yuliya Tymoshenko at a news conference in Simferopol on 23 March; quoted by Interfax.

"[The coming to power] of pro-American [Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine] might speed up the separation of forces in Ukraine and the emergence on the political arena of healthy pro-Russian forces.... Fallacious reforms conducted by Yushchenko could speed up the clarification of Ukraine's political structures and bring everything to a logical end -- possibly, to a split of Ukraine. Then Ukraine's eastern and southern parts, with a majority of the Russian-speaking population, would become oriented toward Russia." -- Russian State Duma deputy speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, explaining his statement that a victory of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine in the 31 March election could in the long run be advantageous to Russia.