Ukraine’s parliamentary election campaign is in full swing. In accordance with political reform approved in December 2004 (see EDM, January 3), the election scheduled for March 26 will be contested exclusively by parties and blocs of parties, without any first-past-the-post constituencies for individual candidates. By January 6, the Central Election Commission (CEC) had received 53 applications and registered 42 parties and blocs to participate in the election, denying registration to the rest on formal grounds, such as improperly completed forms or failure to comply with deadlines. They can appeal until January 13.
A race among more than 40 parties will be a record for Ukraine. Opinion polls show, however, that only six or seven parties are likely to clear the 3% vote threshold. For most of the small parties running, this election will be nothing more than a good opportunity to air their views. Some of those views advocate ethnic intolerance and even racism at the expense of the taxpayers — as the state, according to the election law, has to partially cover party expenses for political advertisements.
One of these parties registered by the CEC is the Ukrainian Conservative Party (UCP) of Professor Georgy Shchokin, the rector of the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP). MAUP is known for its repeated calls for the UN to withdraw its 1947 resolution on the establishment of the state of Israel. Shchokin’s anti-Semitic leaflet, “Personal-Plus,” which is distributed freely across Ukraine, openly backed recent anti-Israel statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Shchokin believes that all Ukrainian bodies of power should consist of at least 80% ethnic Ukrainians, that Jews should be barred from top positions, and that only ethnic Ukrainians should be eligible to be elected head of state.
Several CEC members voted against the UCP’s registration, but the majority of the body decided that the party should be allowed to run in the election. The CEC took a more radical decision on a party professing a similar ideology — the Freedom party (formerly the Social-Nationalist Party). The CEC suspended Freedom’s registration and suggested that the Justice Ministry turn to the Supreme Court in order to forbid Freedom from running for parliament.
According to the CEC, several points in Freedom’s program contradict the constitution, particularly, the provisions calling for a ban on communist ideology, for approving a new law on citizenship that would prohibit people who are not Ukrainian-born and not ethnic Ukrainian from obtaining citizenship, and for restoring the Soviet practice of marking ethnic background in passports (incidentally, the UCP backs Freedom on this issue). The Justice Ministry, however, decided that there was nothing wrong with Freedom’s documents and requested that the CEC register Freedom.
The presence of xenophobic parties in the elections may taint the parties that are part of the government coalition, notably President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc, because of past association. The UCP is not linked to Our Ukraine, but Yushchenko once sat on MAUP’s board, and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk — one of Our Ukraine’s leaders — was honorary director of one of MAUP’s subdivisions until last year. Yushchenko resigned from MAUP several years ago, following MAUP’s criticism by Jewish organizations. This past December, Yushchenko condemned MAUP for the anti-Semitic content of its publications.
Unlike the UCP, Freedom used to be part of Our Ukraine, and Freedom leader Oleh Tyahnybok positions himself as a pro-Yushchenko member of parliament. A TV channel hostile to Yushchenko highlighted this connection at the height of the presidential election campaign in mid-2004, featuring Tyahnybok delivering a fiery anti-Russian and anti-Jewish speech in western Ukraine. Yushchenko publicly reprimanded Tyahnybok for that outburst and expelled him from Our Ukraine. Still, Tyahnybok refused to repent.
Several radical initiatives put forward by Tyahnybok after his expulsion from Our Ukraine found support in parliament, such as a non-binding petition asking Yushchenko to drop Russian liberal politician Boris Nemtsov from his pool of advisers, and the recommendation issued to the Lviv city council in June last year to cancel the opening of a Polish war memorial because inscriptions on the graves were in Polish, rather than Ukrainian.
Yushchenko did not sack Nemtsov, and the Polish memorial opened, so the influence of radical xenophobes in Ukrainian politics should not be overestimated. But their participation in the election campaign is potentially harmful to Ukraine’s international prestige. Israeli diplomats have on several occasions expressed their dismay over Shchokin’s activities. Shchokin’s anti-Semitic diatribes also were reportedly among the reasons behind the U.S. reluctance to cancel the Jackson-Vanik amendment in relation to Ukraine. The U.S. Congress approved the amendment restricting trade in 1975 to punish the USSR for discrimination against Jews.
(Inter TV, July 19, 2004; Interfax-Ukraine, June 3; Kommersant-Ukraina, December 8; Maidan.org.ua, December 25; Dengi-info.com, January 3; Fakty i Kommentarii, January 5; Channel 5, June 23, December 26, January 6)