Along with Russia, Ukraine saw its share of celebrating the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution on November 7. The events in Kyiv, however, were far from impressive. At most, some 3,000 to 4,000 marchers appeared on the streets of the capital, a far cry from the 20,000 the Communist Party alone had announced. They were, furthermore, outnumbered by the police in attendance, who numbered some 6,000. Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, whose parliament is chaired by Communist Leonid Hrach, saw a 3,000-strong Communist rally.
The elderly dominated in the demonstrations and rallies, just as they dominate the Red electorate. Most working-age Ukrainians simply went to work as usual, in part because the banking holiday previously held the same day was dropped from the calendar in a parliamentary session last year. Even in the 1990s, however, this group made a poor showing in such demonstrations. The young, the most apolitical stratum of Ukrainian society, were present to some degree in the Communist Party of Workers and Peasants march. They carried banners with Stalinist slogans and the old communist flag along one of Kyiv’s downtown streets, but when the day was over some of them, making faces at the cameras, claimed that they had been paid to participate. There was no violence.
The weakness of the demonstrations was not simply numerical. There was not even a pretense of unity. Each group–the Communist Party (CPU), the Socialist Party (SPU), the Progressive Socialists and the Communist Party of Workers and Peasants (CPWP)–each had their own show.
The CPWP seems to serve as an example of certain government “support” in its move to sow dissention among the leftist ranks. Traditionally, the Ukraine’s leftists are the poorest of the political groups. Given the claims of the Kyiv teenagers with the Stalinist banners, the question might then arise as to how the CPWP, for example, could afford the luxury of paying anyone to participate in demonstrations. It is also interesting to note that less than a year after its founding–by Volodymyr Moiseyenko, who had been expelled from the CPU for his radical views–the CPWP party was the only one permitted to demonstrate in the square in front of Kyiv’s only surviving monument to Lenin.
The Progressive Socialists gathered at a solitary place on a slope above the Dnieper River. The CPU held its march and rally several districts away from CPWP’s. CPU leader Petro Symonenko did not conceal his disappointment at having failed to organize a multiple-party event. At the celebrations in eastern Donetsk, the Socialists reportedly asked the Communists to conduct a joint rally, but the latter refused. As a result, there were two separate rallies, one Communist and the other Socialist, on the same Lenin Square. The closest Symonenko came to success was that Justice, a small group that split from the SPU last year, joined the CPU march. Asked by television crews filming the rallies about why he failed, Symonenko suggested only that they should ask the same question of the SPU leaders.
Meanwhile, the SPU abstained from demonstrating in order to picket the Cabinet of Ministers, protesting high utility tariffs rather than commemorating the 1917 revolution. Furthermore, the party is refusing to forgive the Communists for their reluctance to join the antipresidential protests of late 2000-early 2001, in which the SPU played a pivotal role.
The annual Bolshevik Revolution celebrations have always been a good indicator of the condition of Ukraine’s leftist movement. This year the indicators were not good. If, less than five months before the next parliamentary elections, Ukraine’s leftists wanted to show the country that they were as strong as they were before the last round, they failed miserably. They are not only more fragmented than usual. Rivalry and even hostility are emerging, especially between the two largest leftist parties–the CPU and the SPU. Ukraine’s Red movement, in crisis since its defeat in the 1999 presidential race, does not appear at all strong enough to mobilize effectively for the parliamentary campaign that gets underway in early January (New Channel TV, STB TV, Ukrainska Pravda, November 7).
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