Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 171

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Hennady Udovenko and former Environment Minister Yuri Kostenko, leaders of the two rival wings of the Rukh, are both running in next month’s presidential race. As contenders representing a single party, they continue tearing apart this once formidable political force.

The Ukrainian Popular Movement (Rukh), founded in 1989, was until quite recently the country’s main national-democratic force. That description implies dedication to the goals of national independence from Russia, internal derussification and decommunization, building democratic state institutions, free market economics and a Western orientation in foreign policy. The Rukh spearheaded the national movement for independence during the final years of Soviet rule.

Having attained that goal in 1991, the Rukh by no means lost its raison d’etre. To the contrary, the agenda of internal political and economic reforms–barely tackled during the initial years of independence–stood before it. Due to complex political differences and to personal and group rivalries, however, the movement gradually dwindled in size, lost sections which became independent mini-parties–often rivals to the Rukh–and saw itself reduced to a rump, which ultimately split into the Kostenko and Udovenko wings, each of which claims to be the true Rukh. The Kostenko wing officially broke away in February 1999 in a rebellion against Rukh’s chairman Vyacheslav Chornovil, at a congress ignored by Chornovil and his loyalists. Chornovil, the Rukh’s most respected leader, died in March 1999 and was succeeded by Udovenko as leader of that wing of the Rukh at its own congress.

Each of the two wings declares itself in favor of reunification–but on its own terms, on which neither would compromise. Not until September 10, the ten-year anniversary of the party, did Udovenko and Kostenko grudgingly sit together at one table–due to the insistence of Ivan Drach, a prestigious co-founder of the Rukh–for the first time since the split. After the meeting, Udovenko accused Kostenko’s followers, who organized it, of turning the celebration into a one-actor, that is Kostenko, performance. President Leonid Kuchma, for his part, used the occasion to appeal to the two wings to “overcome current internal problems, join forces in a common goal and play a constructive role in the country… the Rukh has come to embody the Ukrainian people’s permanent desire to decide its future on its own,” Kuchma’s message noted, pointedly treating the Rukh as a unit in spite of its current split.

The rift has sapped the popularity of both wings. In public opinion polls over the last several months, the ratings of Udovenko and Kostenko taken together hardly exceed 4 percent. Kostenko is stronger in Kyiv, while Udovenko outstrips him in the Rukh’s traditional stronghold–the western regions. On a countrywide basis, Udovenko’s poll ratings are higher than Kostenko’s. Neither Udovenko nor Kostenko is willing to agree on a single candidate for the presidential race. Kostenko and commentators who support him accuse Udovenko of fragmenting the right-wing vote to help incumbent President Leonid Kuchma win the election. Yet the right-wing Reforms and Order Party, with its phalanx of experienced economists and financiers, is in the Udovenko camp. Their current predicament notwithstanding, both Udovenko and Kostenko are–as policymakers–closely associated with the process of Ukrainian state-building, and may each yet play that role if the divided national-democrats manage to close ranks.

Udovenko, born in 1931 to an engineer’s family in the southern industrial city of Kryvyi Rih, is one of the most experienced Ukrainian government officials, but at the same time one of the least experienced among the party leaders. Trained in international relations at Kyiv University and in economics at the Ukrainian Research Institute for Agrarian Economics, Udovenko spent three years in the 1950s as the director of a collective farm–a fact he likes to recall during meetings with rural voters. His thirty-two-year career with the Foreign Ministry of the Ukrainian SSR–a republic symbolically entitled to such a ministry under the Soviet dispensation–included service in international economics and the United Nations, ultimately as Soviet Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN from 1985 to 1991. A quiet sympathizer of the Ukrainian national movement during the final phase of Soviet rule, Udovenko began from his UN post cautiously laying the groundwork for a diplomatic service of an independent Ukraine. After 1991 Udovenko played a major role in setting Ukrainian foreign policy on its course of full independence from Russia and cooperation with the West in the political and security spheres. He served as President Leonid Kuchma’s foreign minister from 1994 until 1998, when his like-minded first deputy Borys Tarasyuk became minister. In 1997-98 Udovenko was the chairman of the UN General Assembly–a selection meant to acknowledge Ukraine’s newly won place in international affairs (see the Monitor, September 18, 1997).

Udovenko entered public politics only in 1998, was elected to parliament that year on the Rukh’s ticket, and supported the movement’s leader Vyacheslav Chornovil against Kostenko’s challenge, and was elected as leader of the Chornovil wing after Chornovil’s death in March 1999, by which time the Kostenko wing had already split off (see the Monitor, March 26). Udovenko’s performance in the electoral campaign is generally deemed lackluster, and it has been noted that the candidate is not especially active on the stump. This has reinforced suppositions that Udovenko may be running as a stalking horse for Kuchma, ultimately to line up behind the president in the first or the second round of the election–depending on the force of the leftist challenge.

Kostenko, born in 1951 in the west-central Vinnytsya Region to an engineer’s family like Udovenko’s, and trained at the Zaporizhzhya Machine-Building Institute, worked as a research and development scientist at Kyiv’s prestigious Patton Institute. He was one of the Rukh’s founders in 1989; was elected to parliament in 1990, 1994 and 1998; and served under two presidents as minister for environmental protection and nuclear safety from 1992 to 1998–the longest tenure of any Ukrainian minister. That ministry is an especially difficult one because it deals with the lasting consequences of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster. In that post Kostenko became an experienced international negotiator seeking Western assistance to cover the costs of closing Chornobyl. Kostenko’s negotiations were crowned by the Ottawa Memorandum and other documents which pledged the assistance, but the disbursement thus far is well behind the agreed levels and schedules.

The legitimacy of Kostenko’s leadership was not recognized by Chornovil, by Rukh’s partner in the center-right coalition–the Reforms and Order party–or by the Ukrainian Justice Ministry. Ultimately, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Udovenko wing–as successor to the Chornovil-led Rukh–is the only legal Rukh. Technically, therefore, Kostenko runs as the nominee not of the Rukh, but of a congress of Kyiv voters. Yet, in the two wings’ contest for primacy, Kostenko scores some points with the argument that he is a co-founder of the Rukh, whereas Udovenko only joined the Rukh parliamentary group in 1998, and became an official member of the movement only in 1999.

The electoral programs of Udovenko and Kostenko–representing the same pro-market views and European-style conservatism–differ only in details. Kostenko’s program tends to be more specific and somewhat more radical on some points. Both candidates, if elected, promise: (1) replacement of the holdover nomenklatura with new personnel in administrative positions; (2) close relations with Euro-Atlantic institutions, including the EU and NATO, while maintaining good relations with Russia; (3) reduction of tax pressure through a more equitable taxation and more effective collection; (4) consistent privatization of industry and private ownership of land; and (5) cultivation of Ukrainian national traditions and enhancement of the position of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of public life. Kostenko, for his part, supports the unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox church–now divided between Patriarchates in Moscow and Kyiv–into a single national church.

Udovenko and Kostenko are virtually the only consistently pro-market and outspokenly pro-Western presidential runners. That stance implies writing off those massive sections of the electorate which are still imbued with socialist ideas and nostalgia for the Soviet past, and are still hesitant or ambivalent about national identification. Kostenko and Udovenko can afford to do this because they have no chance of winning this race, in a debilitated society in which reforms as such may have been discredited by their slow and inconsistent application (STB-TV, July 27; (UNIAN, August 22, 27, September 3, 8, 11; Ukrainian Television and Radio, August 19, September 10, 12; UT-1, September 6; Vechirny Kyiv, August 20; Holos Ukrainy, September 1; see the Monitor, March 1, 9, April 1, August 27).

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