Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 202

On October 25, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) passed legislation in a vote of 232-2 legalizing private ownership of land in Ukraine. The leftist factions–the Communists, the Socialists and the Progressive Socialists–did not register for the vote in protest against exposing the agriculture to the “capitalist relations” and “selling the land out to bandits.”

The Land Code adoption showed how huge the ideological gap is between the left wing and the rest of the Rada. This time, however, unlike in the 1990s, the Communists and their allies were in a minority. They claimed violations in the vote procedure, saying that the first reading of the Land Code on July 6 was rigged, but the majority denied it. Standing no chance of winning by civilized means, the Communists resorted to uncivilized ones. They blocked the rostrum, destroyed the microphones and the electronic vote system, and–later, when the majority decided to vote by ballot papers–smashed the ballot box and ripped the ballots. It came finally to fist fights, but the leftists eventually lost.

The desperation of the left wing is easy to understand. Opposition to private land ownership has been one of the key points in their programs. Collective farm bosses, who dictated the peasants who to vote for, have been, along with the elderly, the pillar of the Communists’ election success. When private ownership of land comes to Ukraine, the Communists will lose most of the agricultural electorate.

The determination of the right-center in the Rada was both political and economic. The agricultural lobbyists understood that this was their best chance to push the land legislation through. With the Rada elections of March 31 nearing, the deputies’ concern about their own campaigns will grow, to the detriment of the legislative process. On the eve of the Land Code vote, Agriculture Minister Ivan Kyrylenko warned that in the absence of the land legislation and, consequently, little or no investment in farming, there would be little to salvage in domestic agriculture in two years’ time. President Leonid Kuchma also pushed for adopting the Land Code, so even those in the Rada who have little or nothing to do with agriculture were encouraged to fight for the code in return for the government’s favor toward their parties in the upcoming elections.

Some right-wingers from the moderate antipresidential opposition, emerging from the session hall, did not conceal the fact that their votes were purely ideological (they voted for the private ownership), and admitted to flaws in the legislation. The law, adopted in haste “for the elections,” is believed to be far from ideal by economic experts, who say that it will need elaboration in the form of amendments. The Land Code also turned out to be a product of compromises with those forces that understand the need of private ownership, but fear that the land may be privatized by criminals and oppose on principle selling agricultural lands to foreigners. According to the new law: (1) no land may be sold until 2005; (2) from 2005 to 2010, it will possible for private citizens to buy 100 hectares of agricultural land, but no more than that; (3) agricultural land may be sold only to those with background in agriculture (education or working experience) or to agricultural enterprises; and (4) foreign citizens and companies will be allowed to acquire only nonagricultural lands.

The Communists threatened to appeal against the Land Code in the Constitutional Court. But the adoption of the code was predictably hailed by Kyrylenko, who described it as “the world’s most dynamic and progressive land code,” and by Kuchma, who said that this was “a victory.” It is not doubted that Kuchma will sign the law, despite its flaws, thus supplying market reforms in the Ukrainian agriculture with legal foundation (Forum web site, STB TV, October 25; UNIAN, Inter TV, October 26; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Den, October 27).