Roman Bezsmertny, a high-ranking member of President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine (NU) party, has left its leadership and is not going to run for parliament this year. Bezsmertny’s departure is part of an evolutionary process affecting Our Ukraine. The group of businessmen active in politics, commonly referred to as the “dear friends,” and the party functionaries linked to them helped Yushchenko come to power in 2004, but now are being banished from top positions in NU. Yushchenko apparently holds them responsible for the party’s — and to a certain extent his own — low popularity. The head of Yushchenko’s secretariat, Viktor Baloha, is managing this process.
When the top ten names on Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense (NUNS) bloc list for the September 30 parliamentary election was made public on July 5, it turned out that there was no place in it for any of the “dear friends.” Neither Bezsmertny, who built NU’s party organization at Yushchenko request in 2005, or Yuriy Yekhanurov, who was prime minister in 2005-2006 and topped NU’s list for the March 2006 parliamentary election, made the top ten.
Baloha, however, is among the top ten. In addition to managing Yushchenko’s office, he has also been appointed to steer NU’s election campaign. Yekhanurov has been relegated to chairing NU’s election headquarters in Dnipropetrovsk Region. On July 12 Bezsmertny resigned as chairman of NU’s political council. In addition, he asked the NU leadership to completely strike his name from the NUNS list. He said that his mission had been to bring Baloha and the current chairman of NU, Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, to the top of the party. Now that this mission is completed, Bezsmertny is leaving.
This must have been a difficult decision for the ambitious Bezsmertny, who served four terms in parliament. He said he would not leave NU altogether, and will continue to serve in Yushchenko’s secretariat. Speaking in an interview with Glavred, Bezsmertny made it clear that he did not like the Yushchenko-Baloha plan to disband all pro-Yushchenko parties and create one super-party in their place after the election. “Please understand that for me, who was at the birth of Our Ukraine, it is not easy to see it disappearing for the sake of creating a new party,” he said.
Bezsmertny called on NU not to view his step as a “demarche.” He said he was stepping down so that his “younger” colleagues in the party have more freedom of action, even though Bezsmertny himself is only 42. Two other prominent members of NU, former Zaporizhya Region governor Yuriy Artemenko and NU Vinnytsya Region branch leader Mykola Sokyrko, have been more outspoken. They left NU on July 11, protesting what they saw as lack of democracy in the party. Both are believed to be close to Petro Poroshenko, one of the “dear friends.”
Two political websites, For-ua.com and proUA.com, have predicted that Poroshenko may be expelled from NU ranks by the end of this year along with several other “dear friends.” They suggested that this may result in NU losing financial and mass media support, as much of that has been coming from the “dear friends,” while NU is turning into a monolith structure run by the “authoritarian” Baloha, who received carte blanche from Yushchenko to “purge” NU.
Analyst Oles Dony, commenting on Bezsmertny’s departure from NU’s leadership for Segodnya, a newspaper linked to NU’s bitter rivals from the Party of Regions, suggested that Bezsmertny might launch a new party targeting the protest electorate. He also said that the former leader of NU’s Ternopil branch, Oleh Humenyuk, a dark horse who unexpectedly replaced Bezsmertny as head of the NU political council, is a relative of party chairman Kyrylenko. If this is true, it is a boon to those critics of Yushchenko who claim that family ties are no less important in the presidential team than professional qualities.
Yushchenko banished the “dear friends” from the NU leadership last December, simultaneously instructing Baloha to rebuild the party with an eye to an early parliamentary election (see EDM, December 13, 2006). Several of them were publicly accused of corruption by a former head of Yushchenko’s secretariat, Oleksandr Zinchenko, in September 2005. Yushchenko apparently blamed the “dear friends” for NU’s defeat in the March 2006 parliamentary election.
“Dear friends” have been steadily losing political clout ever since, while young party functionaries like Kyrylenko and Humenyuk have come to the fore. Glavred, a website linked to one of “dear friends,” Oleksandr Tretyakov, has warned that this strategy of promoting the young and inexperienced may result in another election defeat for NU and another term as prime minister for Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the Party of Regions.
(Interfax-Ukraine, July 5, 12; proUA.com, July 12; For-ua.com, July 13; Segodnya, July 14; Glavred.info, July 13, 16)