Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 152

Natalya Vitrenko, 47, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine (PSPU), is the most radical Red among the runners in the current presidential race. In the intensity of her antimarket and anti-western views, she outstrips even Communist Party First Secretary Petro Symonenko. Vitrenko, a Soviet-trained economist, began her political career as assistant to Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, former chairman of the Verkhovna Rada. During the mid-1990s, however, she diverged from Moroz’ relatively moderate leftist views to organize the radical PSPU. This very small and financially weak party is essentially a club for the worshippers of Vitrenko’s revolutionary zeal, and will not be of much help to her in her campaign. Vitrenko’s strength is her personality. She has managed, over the past several years, to captivate a significant portion of the leftist and protest electorate with her energy, rabble-rousing eloquence and spectacular disregard of conventional norms of political behavior.

Vitrenko–who calls herself a “true Marxist”–advocates full state control over most sectors of the economy and rules out privatization of land. Rhetorically she threatens forced labor and Siberian exile for liberal reformers, which she hopes to achieve through a Russian-Ukrainian “confederation” with a common currency and a common nuclear arsenal. Vitrenko detests NATO and other Western organizations, blaming Ukraine’s economic hardships on the International Monetary Fund’s “plots.” Her accession to power would undoubtedly entail Ukraine reneging on its debts to international financial institutions and isolating itself politically and economically from the West.

Vitrenko rules out any coalition with either Moroz’ socialists or Symonenko’s communists. Like her idol Lenin, she despises such politicians, who are not radical enough to suit her views, even more than the “bourgeoisie.” She is therefore in a position to divert a part of the protest and leftist electorate from the potentially stronger Reds–Symonenko, Moroz and Tkachenko. Vitrenko’s sectarianism is being exploited by President Leonid Kuchma’s campaign managers. The presidential and local administrations are said to covertly assist Vitrenko’s campaign and to facilitate her access to pro-Kuchma media–such as UT-1, Inter, “Fakty i komentari,” and “Segodnya”–in order to increase Vitrenko’s standing with the protest electorate, at the expense of her leftist rivals. Vitrenko denies this, but it seems undeniable that the media exposure has boosted her popularity and hurt Symonenko and Moroz, who are being isolated from the central media by the government. Gallup polls over the past six months have repeatedly placed Vitrenko second after Kuchma among Ukraine’s presidential contenders. At the same time, she is harmless: Though very popular in the Red strongholds in Ukraine’s populous east and south, Vitrenko is unelectable due to her radicalism, absence of funds and lack of political allies (Den, April 17; Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 22; Segodnya, June 30; Zerkalo nedeli, July 3).