Publication: Prism Volume: 7 Issue: 7

By Volodymyr Zviglyanich

The endorsement of the new prime minister of Ukraine, 47-year-old Anatoly Kinakh, took place in an almost workaday fashion, without the country’s usual scandals, threats to dissolve parliament and other fireworks. The group of 239 (the number of votes cast in favor of Kinakh’s endorsement) were preoccupied with the next parliamentary elections–for which preparations are due to begin in the fall–and with their holidays and doing some home improvements. Meanwhile, a coup was quietly taking place in Ukraine, one that cannot even be described as constitutional; it was simply an administrative coup. Executive power in the country was effectively liquidated. Ministers became part of the political decor, ceding their everyday business to permanent secretaries of state appointed by the president. Significantly, the decree to establish the posts of secretaries of state at all governmental levels was signed by Kuchma and Kinakh almost on an equal footing: Kuchma signed a decree appointing Kinakh prime minister, and then they both signed the decree on administrative reform, the significance of which went almost unnoticed by western analysts. But it should not have been, because by implementing it Kuchma is resurrecting the institution of political commissars introduced by the Bolsheviks after the October revolution and perfected by Stalin. It was the institution of political commissars that was the secret of Soviet totalitarianism. But let us start at the beginning.


For the 1930s cult Soviet socialist realist movie Chapayev, which tells the story of a civil war hero, cavalryman Vasily Chapayev, Stalin’s producers used the memoirs of the first political commissar of the civil war, Dmitry Furmanov, who was seconded by the Bolsheviks to Chapayev’s cavalry division, which was fighting to establish Soviet power in the Urals after the revolution. The central theme of the book is how Chapayev’s random, uncontrolled method of waging war is curbed and guided into the correct channel–implementing party directives.

In fact, the actual commander of the division–and this was the point of the cultural and political message of the Stalinist propaganda–was Furmanov, who came from a poor Jewish family, rather than the eccentric World War I hero Vasily Ivanovich Chapayev, who became a synonym for stupidity in millions of Soviet era jokes. Significantly, there are almost no jokes about Furmanov, such was the suggestive power of the collective unconscious of this character.

The movie was hugely, stunningly successful. Tens of millions of Soviet people watched it again and again; whole generations were brought up on it. Soviet totalitarianism and the idea of the one true guiding force of the party were ingrained in the minds and lives of the people in many ways because of this movie. Labor camps and psychiatric hospitals awaited the doubters. At the root of the party leadership’s paradigm of loyalty there lay an idea so simple it was ingenious: In addition to truth [istina] there is “the truth” [pravda]; in addition to the law there is “the idea”. Truth is a combination of thought and reality, but “the truth” is how thought conforms to the thoughts of the leadership. The law means norms of behavior common to all and developed collectively; “the idea” means exceptions to the law for certain individuals, but exceptions raised to the level of norms.

The Soviet totalitarian party nomenklatura, which lived in accordance with “the truth,” and read the newspaper of the same name–Pravda–arose and established itself on the basis of these simple ideas, and successfully replaced the law with “the idea” that they themselves were the exception and with the habit of making legal decisions over the telephone, which the post-Soviet nomenklatura is still vainly trying to change to this day (by means of its notorious legal reforms which are doomed to failure).

Moreover, it transpires (as Kuchma demonstrated just a few days ago) that the truth/”truth” and law/idea dichotomies do not impede the division of power into the executive, the judiciary and the legislature, but on one condition: That these dichotomies are imbedded within each branch. To begin with, Ukraine’s post-Soviet nomenklatura, fearful of losing power on the crest of the wave of euphoria that greeted the collapse of the Soviet Union, and influenced by the national democrats who had been released from the camps and hospitals, truly believed that the branches of power should be independent, as indeed they are if one thinks according to truth (in the countries to which Ukraine supposedly aspires). But the devil of the nomenklatura training of literally every Ukrainian leader seduced their delicate souls with the question: Why bother? Why should we live according to truth, when power is in our hands, and thus “the truth” is too? Essentially, Kuchma’s entire political career has revolved around his constant attempts to subjugate the legislature, first by creating a pro-presidential majority, which collapsed, and then by holding a referendum to amend his constitutional powers (the right to dissolve parliament). This is the path of Dmitry Furmanov.

But Furmanov had only Chapayev to educate; Kuchma was opposed by a host of legislators who were not directly dependent on him. Just like Lenin, he decided to follow a “different road” (Lenin’s words after the execution of his brother Aleksandr for participation in a terrorist act against Tsar Alexander II). After his unsuccessful attempt to subjugate the legislature, Kuchma decided to subjugate the executive. For this, he had to remove the intractable Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, who was always trying to live by truth.


Viktor Yushchenko shared his thoughts on his dismissal with the Canadian newspaper The Globe & Mail. “The formal reason for the no-confidence vote is because the government failed to win the support of parliament. The real reason is that members of parliament moved against those of our government’s policies aimed at denying preferences for certain financial-political groupings. They moved against our policy of honest, transparent and equal rules of the game for all, particularly in the area of large-scale privatization” (Globe & Mail, May 30, 2001). This quotation is pure Yushchenko: Here we see his determination to seek out truth everywhere, and to see justice done.

In what is a huge article by newspaper standards, there is not one word about the president’s policies, which were deliberately designed to bring about his resignation. The communists and oligarchs are to blame for everything. According to Yushchenko, he took away the protest vote from the communists by improving the standard of living, and he stripped the oligarchs of their profits, calling on them to live by the law rather than “the idea.” It seems that “honest” Yushchenko does not even want to try and guess the answer to the question: If the president replaces the prime minister without touching the government (except for one or two intransigent culture ministers appointed by Yushchenko), and even exploiting unnatural coalitions between communists and oligarchs, then where does the problem lie–with the prime minister or the government? Even after the president clearly signaled to Yushchenko that, when the focus of Ukraine’s foreign policy was being shifted wholesale from the nebulous West to the more realistic Moscow, the pro-western Yushchenko with his American wife was an encumbrance, Yushchenko swore filial love for the president and denied any oppositionist feeling. Instead of Yushchenko, who favors truth, Kuchma chose Anatoly Kinakh as his next prime minister. Would Yushchenko have agreed to follow the path of Furmanov and gone along with the introduction of secretaries of state? A rhetorical question.


The new premier, Anatoly Kinakh, is seen in Ukraine as a compromise candidate who will not breathe down the president’s neck. Kinakh is close to Kuchma in mentality and even in appearance. One Ukrainian political analyst said that next to Kinakh, even gray would shine with all the colors of the rainbow. The ability to remain in the president’s shadow will probably define the policies (which are as yet indeterminate) of the new Ukrainian prime minister, who hails from Moldova and is a shipbuilding engineer by training (coincidentally Kinakh graduated from the Leningrad Shipbuilding Institute and may have ridden the metro with Putin). Kinakh will be at Kuchma’s mercy. He will be unable to pursue any policy that goes beyond the program of the president’s administration. This is why the choice of Kinakh may to a certain degree be called strategic: He will work according to “the truth”, and will carry out all the administration’s instructions, reinforcing the impression of stability in Ukraine following the scandal of Major Melnychenko’s tapes and the case of the journalist Georgy Gongadze, which seriously undermined Kuchma’s reputation in the West. His task is to bolster the president’s position, and to give the impression in the West that Kuchma will be continuing down the path of reform.

The public knows very little about Kinakh himself. Opinion polls confirm this. Between April 20 and May 3 the Razumkov Center for Analysis in Kyiv carried out a survey of 2,000 people. In answer to the question: “Who would be able to improve the economic situation in Ukraine if they were prime minister?”, Kinakh was named by just 2.1 percent of respondents, which is within the margin of error.

Ukraine’s political analysts are equally vague in their comments on Kinakh. Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the Kyiv Center for Political Research and Conflictology, thinks that Kinakh as prime minister is the best solution for parliament, for the president, and for a balance of political forces. Pogrebinsky thinks that Kinakh still has a chance of cooperating with the Right, even though they did not support him. Gleb Vyshlinsky, deputy director of the International Center for Advanced Research, is more specific. He thinks that the policies of the new government will be weaker than those pursued by Yushchenko, because Kinakh’s majority does not have common ideological views. Vyshlinsky fears that the new government will try to find a compromise between the interests of the political groups that supported him. This is an unpredictable policy, which may pose a serious threat to economic growth in Ukraine (Ukrainska Pravda, May 30). Those who voted to endorse Kinakh in parliament included independent deputies, Aleksandr Morozov’s socialists, the Popular Democratic Party, the Social Democrats, Working Ukraine, Solidarity, Yabloko, Regions of Ukraine and Democratic Union. The Communists and the Right voted against. Kinakh was endorsed thanks to the sixteen votes of Morozov’s socialists. The consensus among Ukrainian analysts is that following Kinakh’s endorsement the president will be the key figure, and the president’s administration will balance the interests of the key groups that determine policy in Ukraine.


Kuchma lost no time in showing who was boss. He has concentrated in his hands power such as none has wielded in Ukraine’s new history. It all happened instantaneously, with a flourish of the president’s pen, as he signed a decree with the innocuous title “On further measures for the continued implementation of administrative reform in Ukraine.” The president is creating the posts of secretary of state for the cabinet and secretaries of state for the ministries. They are appointed for the duration of the president’s term of office–five years–and only the president can dismiss them. The secretaries of state will have deputies and staff. At the same time, ministers are being divested of their deputies and their staff. When governments are dismissed this will not affect the secretaries of state, just as Chapayev was killed, but Furmanov survived and even wrote a book about him. The task of the secretaries of state–the new political commissars for the post-Soviet era, and Kuchma’s contribution to the administrative formation of a new nomenklatura in the post-Soviet space–is to watch that ministers do not stray from the “correct” path and to ensure continuity of power when there is a change of cabinet. In other words, the cabinet can change, but “the truth” remains the same–the president’s. The duties of the secretaries of state, according to the decree, include organizational, legal (the law/idea dichotomy!), analytical, informational and logistical support for the activities of the cabinet and the ministries. The premier and his ministers are now political figures (although the government of Ukraine is nonpartisan) and no longer fall under the law on state service. For example, the secretaries of state confirm staffing levels with the ministry of finance and the prime minister, they submit recommendations to the minister with regard to spending budgetary funds, they coordinate the activities of the territorial organs of the ministries and enterprises, and they run the apparatus of the ministries, controlling the budgets, staff and all appointments to key positions.

With disarming frankness, the head of the president’s administration, Vladimir Litvin, said: “Effectively the levers of influence are concentrated in the hands of the secretaries of the ministry” (Ukrainska Pravda, May 29). Kuchma has effectively transformed Ukraine from a presidential-parliamentary republic into a presidential one, leaving behind a referendum not recognized by the European Union.

Yet this decree has not even been mentioned in the western press. I think the reason is that the Western liberal democratic mentality has been raised on the presumption of the legitimacy and integrity of the powers of national leaders–prime ministers, ministers and judges. The Western consciousness, raised in the spirit of Platonic rationality, can separate truth from opinion, and has fully assimilated the Socratic maxim: “Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth.” The impeachment of president Clinton–which was pointless from the point of view of post-Soviet devotees of “the truth”–was done for the sake of truth.

However, the Western mentality finds it very difficult to build the truth/”truth” and law/idea dichotomies into the activities of the post-Soviet administrative Bolsheviks. Rereading George Orwell’s classic 1984 may help here. The new Bolsheviks who come after Kuchma will have something to break up–the Bastille of administrative despotism which he so lovingly erected, describing it as the next stage in the “democratic reforms” to the sound of applause from left liberal politicians in the West.

Volodymyr Zviglyanich is a senior research fellow of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, a research associate at George Washington University and a senior fellow of the Jamestown Foundation.