Publication: Prism Volume: 4 Issue: 10

By Oleg Varfolomeyev

Many observers in Ukraine see Yevhen Marchuk, who spent over thirty years climbing up the career ladder in the security services and one year as prime minister, as President Leonid Kuchma’s strongest rival in the presidential elections scheduled for the fall of next year. Marchuk, 57, a general since 1994 when he headed Ukraine’s successor to the KGB, the SBU, apparently feels quite confident of victory in 1999 — so confident that he announced his intention to participate in the presidential election two years before the event, in October 1997. Marchuk made his announcement as soon as Kuchma announced his decision to run for a second term.

Ukrainian public opinion now seems quite ready for such a politician to come to power. A poll recently conducted by SOCIS-Gallup shows that over 70 per cent of the Ukrainian electorate believes that the country needs a new authoritative leader. The SBU remains one of the most trusted institutions, trailing only the Church and the Army. At the same time, popular trust in President Kuchma has steadily fallen over the years of his presidency, from 36 per cent in October 1994 to just 10 per cent in April 1998, as the Ukrainian newspaper Den reported on April 30.

Leonid Kuchma should have trouble competing for a second term. Kuchma’s name is strongly associated with unfulfilled promises in the Russian-speaking East and South, which will hardly forgive Kuchma’s reneging on his electoral promise to make Russian the second official language back in 1994. Kuchma became president thanks to the overwhelming support for him in the East and South. In the nationalist Western Ukraine, his popularity, though slightly improved after 1994, remains rather low. There he is perceived as a man of the nomenklatura, a “red director” from the East, who in four years as president, failed to learn to speak Ukrainian fluently.

Unlike Kuchma, Marchuk does not make too many promises, limiting himself mostly to criticism of the present administration, which is not a difficult task in a country with a deteriorating economy and thriving corruption. Marchuk, a trained philologist, in addition to his impeccable Ukrainian and Russian, has a perfect command of two European languages, German and English. This is a rarity for Ukrainian high officials, whose backgrounds are usually in engineering, and whose only language is neither Ukrainian nor Russian, but a rather pathetic hybrid of the two. Besides his philological education, Marchuk also has a law degree.