The bulk of Ukraine’s most popular nationalist force, the Rukh, is going to the March 2002 parliamentary elections under the banner of former Premier Viktor Yushchenko. A newly formed group, however, seems intent on trying to ride on the Rukh’s name-recognition coat-tails. Likely result: confusion among the electorate.
On November 8, Bohdan Boyko, the leader of the fragmented Rukh’s third and smallest portion–the People’s Movement for Unity (PMU)–announced the creation of an electoral bloc called, confusingly, the People’s Movement of Ukraine. The People’s Movement of Ukraine party (Udovenko’s Rukh) together with the Ukrainian People’s Movement party (Kostenko’s Rukh) forms the core of Yushchenko’s bloc Our Ukraine. But Boyko’s will be a bloc, not a party. This line of distinction makes it possible that the Central Electoral Commission might not be able to find a legal basis to deny registering it for the upcoming spring elections.
When Boyko set up the PMU last year, he proclaimed the unification of the Rukh, which split in 1998, as his party’s main goal. Yet ever since the PMU has only complicated the re-unification of the three Rukh fragments. When Udovenko and Kostenko announced plans to reunify this past summer, with joint participation in Our Ukraine at the first stage, Boyko refused to join. He objected to joining forces with Yushchenko, arguing that the Rukh would be diluted in Yushchenko’s broad coalition (see the Monitor, September 14).
Boyko developed this argument more fully at a press conference on November 8. “The parties of Udovenko and Kostenko are living out their last months,” he declared. He then proclaimed his new bloc as the only real successor to the Rukh of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was the driving force behind Ukraine’s independence. Boyko does not support Yushchenko’s liberal ideas; he aims instead at the far-right political niche. “In the current situation,” he said, “those who have always voted for the Rukh, would have no one to vote for. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine does not stand for the national-conservative ideology: His ideological platform is [too] liberal.”
The new “Rukh” bloc will not be large. Among its future participants, Boyko managed to name only the ultranationalist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the obscure Third Millennium. But he is also looking for support from, even depending on, the factions within Udovenko’s Rukh that oppose a union with Yushchenko, in particular, the leader of Udovenko’s Rukh Dnipropetrovsk organization, Serhy Konev.
The bloc’s strength will be in its name. “The voter will come, see the Rukh name, and vote for the Rukh,” Hennady Udovenko admitted. This may be enough for the bloc to meet and pass the 4-percent barrier to parliament. Where Boyko wins, Our Ukraine loses, given that the two blocs will contest the same right-wing electorate in the nationalist west of Ukraine. But Our Ukraine is not likely to lose much here, because its strength is not in the “genuine” Rukhs, but in Yushchenko, who remains Ukraine’s most popular politician six months after his dismissal from the government. Thanks to his popular approval ratings, never below 20 percent in a country in which politicians are traditionally mistrusted, Our Ukraine is leading the opinion polls, running neck and neck with the Communists.
Boyko, like Yushchenko, proclaimed the Ukrainian national idea as his bloc’s underlying principle. But his opponents believe that his principles are dishonest. Udovenko said that Boyko’s plan was “extinction of the Rukh.” Yushchenko called it “part of a plan to falsify public opinion through the creation of blocs and parties with similar names.” Taras Chornovil, an Our Ukraine leader, reiterated his earlier claims that Boyko’s Rukh was established by Kuchma’s administration with the goal of fragmenting the right wing. He asserted that there was, in all likelihood, proof of this in the Melnychenko tapes (Ukrainska Pravda, November 8; Interfax-Ukraine, Unian, November 9; Korrespondent.net, November 10; see the Monitor, October 19).
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