Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 162

Oleksandr Moroz, who leads the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU), is one of the most experienced among Ukraine’s current presidential contenders. As chairman of the Verkhovna Rada from 1994-98, Moroz built for himself a platform as the top political rival to President Leonid Kuchma. That political rivalry acquired strong emotional overtones and became a central feature of Ukraine’s political life. The Socialist Party, however, performed poorly in the 1998 parliamentary elections, and Moroz–while reelected to parliament from his native district–lost the parliamentary chairmanship, the second-most influential post in the country.

Born in 1944 to a peasant family in the Kyiv region, Moroz is a trained agricultural engineer who rose in the ranks of the Communist Party and was the communist parliamentary majority’s leader until 1991. Following that year’s ban (later rescinded) on the Communist Party, Moroz created the Socialist Party and was elected its leader at the party’s founding congress in 1994. He came third–with 13 percent of the vote–in the presidential race of 1994, behind the winner, Leonid Kuchma, and former President Leonid Kravchuk.

The SPU, along with the communists, has staunchly opposed the government in the Rada on reforms and foreign loans. Moroz, as a typical Red, abhors private land ownership and advocates populist social programs. He, however, explains his opposition to Kuchma’s economic programs not by loyalty to socialist doctrine, as the communists do, but by the desire to impede corruption. Moroz does not reject market reforms outright; he calls instead for the coexistence of various forms of ownership–a stance implying a strong state sector and at least a stop to, if not reversal of privatization.

Moroz is less indoctrinated with Soviet-era beliefs than other leftists. Recently, explaining differences between the SPU and the Communists, Moroz argued that the SPU: first, stands for a variety of economic approaches; second, sees the past differently from the communists; and, third, does not call for revision of constitutional order. Speaking in Washington in April, and conveying a moderate stance for his Western audience, Moroz blamed the Soviet legacy for Ukraine’s current economic hardships. Nothing similar can be expected from the communists, for whom the Soviet past is sacred. Moroz is also less than enthusiastic about a “Slavic Union” with Russia and Belarus than his Red allies. Speaking for closer economic integration, however, he rules out unification. Neither does he reject NATO outright, but is on record as attacking Kuchma’s policy of cooperation with the alliance. One of Moroz’ pet projects has been a conference on European security in Kyiv at which Ukraine’s equidistant role between East and West would be consecrated.

Moroz is considered charismatic, but his party is relatively weak and has scanty financial resources. He has been keen on creating alliances, but has met with little success; the SPU lost a coalition partner in parliament last October, when the Peasant Party defected from the Socialist-Peasant bloc and later backed the current Rada Speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko as a presidential candidate. When former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko fled Ukraine in February, Moroz apparently lost a financier designate of his future campaign. Moroz himself, however, denies having had close ties with Lazarenko; association with this suspected embezzler could seriously mar his self-styled image of a corruption fighter.

Moroz is now reportedly being eyed by some of Ukraine’s national democrats, who, in the absence of strong market-oriented presidential contenders, see him as a lesser evil compared to more outspoken Reds and even to Kuchma, whom they consider a vehicle of corrupt clans. In recent opinion polls, Moroz runs neck and neck with communist leader Petro Symonenko, behind Kuchma and the radical Red Natalya Vitrenko. Moroz’ stronghold is in rural areas, especially in central and western Ukraine, where he will be challenged by Tkachenko. It will be hard for Moroz to last until a run-off in November; but if he makes it, he is more likely–having moderate views and an ability to make friends–to make a strong showing against Kuchma than any other leftist. Moroz is plagued by health problems. Last week he was forced to interrupt his presidential campaign and was hospitalized with a recurrent kidney ailment (Ukrainian radio, July 11; UNIAN, June 21, July 12, 27, August 30-31; Kennan Institute lecture (Washington), April 27).