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Ukraine - caught between a rock and a hard place
THE UKRAINIAN capital Kiev has been rocked by the biggest protest movement since 1991, triggered by the murder of a journalist. But in the absence of a working-class political party capable of arming the movement with a clear programme and strategy, the protests have degenerated into a clash between clans and vested interests. The following report is from Rabotnichii Sprotiv - Committee for a Workers International, Ukraine.
GEORGII GONGADZE was a journalist investigating top-level corruption who disappeared last September. His beheaded body was discovered in a forest outside Kiev in December.
Alexander Moroz, leader of the Ukrainian Socialist Party (the USP is part of the former Communist Party which moved very quickly to the right. Moroz was for some time Parliamentary Speaker), released a tape of what he claimed was President Kuchma instructing the head of the secret service "to deal with" Gongadze.
The USP then formed a block with over 30 other parties most of which are right wing, some of which are openly fascist, in their "Ukraine without Kuchma" movement.
A tent city was set up in the centre of Kiev before the New Year, with protesters demanding the resignation of Kuchma, an investigation into Gongadze's death and the sacking of the so-called "forces ministers" - heads of the army, police etc.
Kuchma was forced to sack the head of the secret service. But on 1 March, 400 police dismantled the tents and arrested 40 demonstrators.
Scramble for wealth
THIS DISPUTE, however, is about more than the fate of one journalist: it's about who gets the right to own Ukraine's industrial wealth.
Kuchma before his election was the head of Ukraine's largest factory in the eastern city of Dnieperpetrovsk. As elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, the Ukraine has experienced some growth in the past year or two, mostly in the energy and metallurgy sectors.
The privatisation of these sectors, in particular the industrial giants in the (Russian speaking) East Ukraine, started in late 1996 and culminated last April in an auction of three of the biggest plants. In each of these three auctions, the Western bidders lost out to Russian interests.
The Ukrainian Aluminum Plant was sold to Siberian Aluminum (headed by a Russian 'businessman' currently sitting in a New York jail). The Energy Network was sold to a group of Ukrainian industrialists closely linked to the Social Democratic Party and the Russian energy monopoly Gazprom. The Zaporozke Metallurgy Plant also went to Russian capital.
These sales went ahead despite intense political pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The Russian bids proved to be stronger because Russia can, and frequently does, cut off the Ukraine's energy supplies.
The only consolation for the West was that under the threat of stopping a further tranche of IMF money, they forced Kuchma to replace his Premier, Pustovoitenko, with the pro-Western Yushenko.
It is against this background that the protest events in Kiev took place.
The two main parties in the "Ukraine without Kuchma" bloc are the Socialist Party and the Batkivshina, Yushenko's Party. The movement has been well financed by former deputy premier Yulia Timishenko.
The other parties that have been involved have been either those that have not been included in the share out of profits by the Dneiperpetrovsk clan or are anti-Russian, pro-Western nationalists from the West Ukraine.
Nevertheless, the camp in the Centre of Kiev attracted all sorts, each with their own grudges against Kuchma. There were groups of miners and at one stage the Communist-led trade union organisation participated with 1,000 people.
Most who participated had illusions that somehow an IMF-nominated Yushenko was better than Kuchma.
Moroz's Socialist Party has clearly played a disgraceful role - in effect has been doing the dirty work of the West.
Moroz is hoping he can reap the benefit of this movement to emerge as the strongest opposition candidate. At the start of the protest he instructed the party to drop its flag and use the Ukrainian flag.
Those parties that maintain a Left position have been caught completely off guard by these events. The biggest, the Communist Party, is strong enough to have pushed this movement in a left direction but its leadership was completely indecisive. Siminyenko would ask to speak at the demos but would be pushed aside by the leadership who did not want to frighten off their Western backers.
The other left party - the Progressive Socialist Party - adopted a completely sectarian position. Their members were banned from even trying to sell their paper on the demos by the party leadership. Their only strategy was that everyone should join their party.
The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) did put a clear position. It distributed leaflets against both Kuchma and Yushenko and raised the need for a workers' party.
After this leaflet was circulated to the CP Deputies, they adopted this position as their own (including the call for a workers' party!). But having long ago lost the chance to take the initiative they have only belatedly attempted to set up a "Ukraine without Kuchma and Yushenko" movement.
IN THE New Year, events took a very nasty turn. On the 6 February march in Kiev, there were big contingents from the Unso-Una fascist organisation armed with gas canisters and truncheons.
Communist Party leader Simenyenko heading a contingent of about 1,500 approached the Ukraine without Kuchma organisers and asked to speak. They refused and these self-appointed 'democrats' asked the fascist Unso-Una to block the CP contingent. This they did injuring many on the way. They then attacked anybody who was left-wing. One comrade of the CWI - (Vitalii Ploshkin) was badly beaten and spent a week in hospital.
The main bulk of the demonstration then turned its attention to the parliament and the fascist elements tried to storm the building.
About 200 protesters were left in the tent city. Suddenly about 70 truncheon-swinging youth dressed in black with black flags approached the camp and attacked the people there. They wore headbands with an anarchist name on them and handed out leaflets claiming to be anarchists.
These thugs turned out to have been recruited by Kuchma from the SBU academy - the SBU is the Ukrainian successor to the KGB.
In their struggle for control of Ukraine's wealth, these politicians have been prepared to use any means, including fascists. These events have seen the largest ever mobilisation of fascist thugs on the streets of Kiev. Until then, the fascists were only able to mobilise so openly in the smaller cities of West Ukraine.
The CWI in Kiev has approached the other Left parties to form a united front against the fascist attacks and is gaining some success.
In The Socialist 16 March 2001: