On September 27, Ukraine’s former Deputy Premier Yulia Tymoshenko called on former Premier Viktor Yushchenko to form a single bloc of the opposition together with her National Salvation Forum (NSF) and the Socialist Party (SPU). “There is no time to think anymore,” she said. “It’s time for action and decisive steps.” Such a bloc, if formed, would be the strongest force in the elections of March 2002, Tymoshenko claimed. She proposed that Yushchenko be the leader of the bloc. Yushchenko, who was the main hope of the opposition forces in the antipresidential protests of late last year-early this, is currently Ukraine’s most popular politician with popular approval ratings hovering around 25-30 percent.
Those forces are now in different camps. If Tymoshenko’s was a genuine attempt to pull them together under Yushchenko, her effort was therefore futile. But if she wanted only to test the ground to learn the intentions of her rivals in the upcoming election campaign, she succeeded. As expected, her proposal was turned down the same day. Yushchenko’s bloc Our Ukraine “is not aiming to fight the authorities,” as he put it. “We are not going to consider somebody else’s advice or recommendations. We have our own vision.” This was an unequivocal confirmation that Yushchenko will not stand up against President Leonid Kuchma’s government. Commenting on Tymoshenko’s statement, Yushchenko advisor Pavlo Kachur said that a bloc with NSF would be possible only if the NSF changed its philosophy. Thus a union with Tymoshenko, who builds her campaign on radical anti-Kuchma slogans, is apparently out of the question.
Representatives of the right-wing parties forming the core of Our Ukraine, who were Tymoshenko’s allies less than a year ago, were no less negative about an NSF-SPU union. Leaders of both wings of the Rukh, Yury Kostenko and Hennady Udovenko, pointed out that the ideological differences between the right wing and the left center were insurmountable. To name just a few: The SPU is nostalgic about the Soviet era, while the Rukh has always been unequivocally anti-Communist; the SPU opposes land privatization and an open market economy, but the Rukh advocates them. The ideologist of another right-wing partner of Yushchenko, Reforms and Order, Serhy Sobolev, put forth a formal reason against a union with Tymoshenko. It was already too late, he said, to contemplate a unification with the NSF and the SPU, because the election campaign would officially start in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the SPU is drifting toward the left. Its leader, Oleksandr Moroz, spoke in a television interview on September 30 for an even wider coalition than Tymoshenko, suggesting–probably tongue-in-cheek–to also invite the Communist Party to join. Moroz obviously is somewhat skeptical of the right-wingers. Instead, he is reportedly negotiating a wide coalition with other leftists, the Communists being first in line. The Ukrainian Social Democratic Party and the Party of Workers have already announced that they would, if asked, run in the elections with the SPU. The NSF would scarcely fit easily into such a union, and Tymoshenko apparently doesn’t want it anyway. She said that, should a union with Yushchenko fail, neither would there be a bilateral union between the NSF and the SPU.
Yushchenko’s refusal to join forces with Tymoshenko and Moroz shows all-too-clearly the impossibility of building a wide coalition among the opposition in present-day Ukraine. The right-wingers, the NSF and the SPU were able to override, or at least displace, their differences when the opportunity to replace Kuchma’s regime on a wave of popular protests seemed possible. But only a charismatic leader such as Yushchenko could try and keep them together after the protests subsided and it became clear that Kuchma would remain in power. Now that Yushchenko has refused to join the opposition, let alone lead a coalition of several opposition forces, the differences among the three forces have become the last word (Ukrainska Pravda, Forum, ICTV, September 27; Studio 1+1 TV, September 30; Versii.com, October 1; see the Monitor, September 28).
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