Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 2

Ukraine’s Constitutional Court seems to have given the country’s communists something of a New Year’s present. On December 29, chief judge Viktor Skomorokha announced the court verdict annulling the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) decisions that in turn temporarily banned the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) on August 26, 1991 and subsequently outlawed it on August 30, 1991. Verdicts by the Constitutional Court may not be appealed or revoked, so the Communists are now out of their legal limbo.

The ban, which the Rada introduced immediately after the abortive Communist coup in Moscow in August 1991, had devastating consequences. Ukrainian Communists lost not only their legal status, but as well all the vast property that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Ukraine had held, which was nationalized after being taken. Ironically, the presidential administration building in Kyiv had also belonged to the CPU. This might have been historical justice, but the CPU was not banned by court, as democratic convention would require, but by the Rada presidium (an organ that no longer exists), which did not have the legal jurisdiction to do so. Because the court received a relevant appeal signed by 139 Rada deputies from leftist factions, the judges could do nothing but proclaim the August 1991 ban of the CPU by the Rada unconstitutional, guided by the principle of division of powers, confirmed in the Ukrainian constitution of 1996.

To avoid claims for the property, the Constitutional Court ruled that today’s CPU, headed by Petro Symonenko, which was registered on July 22, 1991, is not a legal successor to the Communist Party of Ukraine under the Soviet Union. This only plays into the CPU’s hands, given that Symonenko has always insisted that his party was morally “clean,” that the party banned in 1991 was the Soviet one, and that that party–not his–was responsible for the crimes ascribed to Soviet Communists. While indeed, Symonenko claimed, it is true that today’s CPU cannot demand restitution of Soviet Communist property, it does have legal right to property it acquired or held after July 1991. This is a line of distinction that might be very difficult to draw. Still, the property is not the most important issue for Symonenko and his comrades at the moment. In comments to a Ukrainian daily newspaper, CPU’s informal Number 2, Georgy Kryuchkov, said that his party had not even raised the property issue in court.

Legal victory and moral satisfaction is what counts as the CPU prepares for the Rada elections now less than three months away (March 31). The party may not be a legal successor to the USSR Communist Party, but sympathizers and enemies alike view it as the effective one. It goes without saying that the Communists are sure to exploit the ruling in their campaign to enhance their status as a “persecuted” minority, something the Slav mentality tends to favor. And it is quite possible that some obscure group may yet proclaim itself the legal heir and demand the return of the former Soviet property (Forum, December 29, 2001; Segodnya, Ukraina Moloda, January 3).