Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 41

The ten-year-old People’s Movement of Ukraine–commonly known as the Rukh, the main opponent of Ukraine’s communists in late 1980s and early 1990s–has split. The cause of the rift: its leadership and selection of a candidate for the upcoming October presidential elections. Yesterday the Rukh’s congress elected former Environment Minister Yury Kostenko, 48, as the Rukh’s new leader by a vote of 390-6, with 4 abstentions. It proposed that Vyacheslav Chornovil, Rukh’s leader since the early 1990s, take the ornamental post of the honorary party chairman. Chornovil, who did not attend the congress, declared it illegitimate because twelve of Ukraine’s twenty-five regions were not represented. Chornovil and that portion of the Rukh still loyal to him are planning to hold a separate congress in early March (Ukrainian television, February 28).

On February 22 the party’s central committee approved a no-confidence motion against Chornovil and elected Kostenko in his place as Rukh faction chairman in parliament. On February 23 Chornovil filed a request with parliament to register a new faction called People’s Movement of Ukraine First. More recently, Chornovil is said to have also asked the Justice Ministry to rule the February 28 party congress illegitimate. Justice Minister Suzanna Stanik spoke in support of Rukh’s unity in her televised statement, but made it clear that the government will not intervene (Ukrainian agencies, February 23; Ukrainian television; February 27; see also the Monitor, February 22).

Kostenko and his followers accuse Chornovil of authoritarianism, lack of pragmatism and an inability to raise funds for the party. Chornovil claims that the current split reflects the attempt of big business–in particular, a gas industry lobbyist, Oleg Ishchenko–to control the party. Both sides accuse each other of playing into President Kuchma’s hands by splitting the Rukh and the nationalist electorate. Chornovil also reportedly accused both Kuchma’s administration and another presidential candidate–former KGB general and premier, Yevhen Marchuk–of conspiring against him by assisting his opponents. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Hennady Udovenko–who the Rukh had nominated as a tentative presidential candidate on December 15, 1998–took Chornovil’s side in the current dispute (Ukrainian media, February 23-27; see also the Monitor, December 15, February 23). At a February 27 press conference, Udovenko branded yesterday’s congress illegal. Chornovil’s opponents argue that Udovenko, 67, lacks experience in public politics and is too old to run for president. It is generally expected that Kostenko will be nominated as the Rukh’s presidential candidate. This split in the party annihilates Udovenko’s presidential chances and enhances Kuchma’s as the only liberal candidate capable of winning against the “reds” in the October elections.–OV